Yesterday’s blog told how Britain’s most feared comedy critic Kate Copstick ended up a few weeks ago – with no travel insurance to cover her – at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, having a full hip replacement operation.
“I had almost expected to be in a full body cast when I woke up after the operation,” she told me at her Mama Biashara shop in London two days ago.
“You know those movies about injured airmen, where they have to communicate with people through a sophisticated system of mirrors above their head?… But, when I woke up, it was all normal apart from this massive lump between my legs.
“I thought: They’ve given me the wrong surgery! I’m a man! Now I’m a man! – I seemed to have the world’s largest sticking plaster from waist to knee with padding in the middle.
“I asked What is this? and the doctor explained It’s to keep the pelvis aligned, because it’s very important for you to keep your legs apart.
“Luckily enough, I said, I’ve never had a problem with that. But that was where the loveliness ended. The hospital itself were… Can I say ‘cunts’ in your blog?”
“Well, it’s a term of endearment in Glasgow,” I told her.
“OK,” said Copstick. “They were cunts. I had to fight the large and quite scary nursing staff for my own medication, because I HAVE to take my lupus medication.
“Ah! The doctor has stopped it! they told me… The doctor can’t stop it,” I told them… They just didn’t have a clue.”
“Remind me about your lupus,” I said.
“Lupus,” explained Copstick, “is an auto-immune disease where my immune system is as mental and vicious as the rest of me. Instead of staying where it is supposed to be and attacking only when there is an infection to fight, it regards my own body as an infection… I know there are many comedians who would agree with that.
“But it looks on my body and my organs as infections so, at any given moment, it might go into battle against… well, for example, my lungs are a bit fucked because it attacks my lungs. So you get pleurisy and stuff like that. One time, my kidneys packed up and the doctors couldn’t figure why and it was just my own immune system attacking them. You get incredible fatigue with it. And pain and what can I say? I’m a brave and wonderful human being. I am like a non-blind, non-deaf Helen Keller.”
“How long have you had it?” I asked.
“I was diagnosed about eight or ten years ago.”
“And when does it cure itself?” I asked.
“It doesn’t. Either it stays the way it is or it gets worse and you die… But you’ve gotta die of something.”
“You’re a comedy critic,” I said. “You could die of shame.”
“I was hoping more like exhaustion from alcoholic poisoning,” said Copstick. “I could go out in a blaze of ghastliness as the climax to one of Bob Slayer’s shows.”
“Anyway,” I said, “you are lying in this bed in Nairobi and you have told them they cannot stop your lupus medication…”
“Some of my medication was stolen,” said Copstick, “and there was a large rat running alongside my bed. The day after the operation, I was hobbling around on crutches but the nadir, I think – apart from lying in an agonised crumpled heap in the dirt when I shattered my thigh bone – the nadir was when they wheeled me down to physiotherapy. They took me to a set of parallel bars and nobody said anything.
“I hiked myself up out of the wheelchair because I’d seen it in movies – you know, Reach For The Sky about Douglas Bader… I channelled my inner Kenneth More and pulled myself along the parallel bars twice and there was a man standing there with a Zimmer (walking frame). He didn’t say anything. He just nodded. So then I had to do laps of this little gym on a Zimmer. I just hoped there was no closed-circuit TV and that I would not end up on Instagram.
“The second day I was on crutches.
“The third day they showed me the bill.
“The fourth day I discharged myself.”
“Because of the bill?” I asked.
“Too fucking right!” said Copstick. “It was £6,500 with things like 90p for 9 millilitres of water for an injection and £1.50p for a face flannel which I didn’t get.”
“Just like British private medicine,” I suggested.
“I don’t know,” said Copstick. “I’ve never gone private. I’ve never regarded myself as rich enough.”
“But even when you got out of hospital,” I said, “you couldn’t come home.”
“They said I couldn’t travel for six weeks and I said I’m terribly sorry, but… Luckily I have friends Alan Wickham and Lynita Harris who have a wonderful eco-camp with safari tents and they gave me the spare room on the ground floor of their home, so I was there for three weeks. I only went back to see the doctor once because you get charged £30 for him to say Hello, you’re looking well.
“I told him I have to get home to try and get some work – anything.
“I was on a plane four weeks to the day from the operation. I was supposed to come back on 14th March and ended up arriving back on 4th April.”
“When you were still in Kenya,” I reminded her, “you told me you were even having trouble getting a plane.”
“Well,” said Copstick, “British Airways wanted a huge amount of paperwork because they didn’t want me to die on a flight because it’s terribly bad publicity. The thing that leaves me really angry and frustrated, though, is that it was all entirely my own fault.”
“It was an Act of God,” I suggested.
“No. My own unbelievably stupid fault,” said Copstick. “It would have been better if I had been hideously mugged in the street because then I’d be a victim and Oh dear. But this was all my own fault. All my savings went. All my carefully-calculated Well, this amount will last me this length of time. And I’ve never been in this position before. Never in my life, because I’ve always saved and always worked for money until Mama Biashara.”
Copstick works unpaid for her Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her expenses. She now lives in Kenya for about five months each year and works unpaid in the Mama Biashara shop in London for most of the rest of the year, excluding August when, she says, she is “up at the Edinburgh Fringe treading un-softly on comics’ dreams and, obviously, being part of the increasingly-prestigious and highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and your less-coveted but hopefully increasingly-prestigious chat show.”
“Well,” I said, “that’s not happening this year because I haven’t got a venue.”
“No?” said Copstick.
“No,” I said. “And the Fringe listing is too expensive for a free show. Pay attention. How much longer are you going to be like this?”
“Well,” said Copstick, “I can walk with crutches and I can walk for very very short distances without crutches. I was here in the shop at 8 o’clock this morning shifting furniture and lifting soapstone and all kinds of things I definitely should not be doing. So it gets sore when I do that.”
“Have you got a Zimmer frame?” I asked.
“John,” said Copstick, “look into my beady blue eyes and tell me you think in any universe I would not rather die than be seen on a Zimmer. I feel quite old enough with the hip replacement without getting a Zimmer. The wheelchair is fine, because I can do my Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? impressions. I’m very good as Joan Crawford. The crutches are reasonable for the sympathy vote. But a Zimmer is a walking aid too far.”
“Have you got a ground floor flat at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?” I asked.
“No. But stairs are OK. It’s hills that are a bit of a bugger.”
“You are going to have difficulty going up and down the hills in Edinburgh on crutches,” I said. “Will you be totally mended by August?”
“I had fucking better be,” said Copstick, “otherwise I shall strap myself to a skateboard.”
“The wonderful Tanyalee Davis gave you a lift on her mobility scooter last year,” I reminded her.
“Oh! Tanyalee!” said Copstick with enthusiasm. “I’d love a mobility scooter! Though I suppose I can’t be both the scariest critic in Edinburgh AND a figure of public ridicule as I bump and hum over the cobbles. It’s just not going to happen. I have to be OK by August. You cannot be scary with a walking aid.”
“How about a broomstick?” I suggested.
“Fantastic,” said Copstick. “Or one of those knobbly, gnarly walking sticks. It would look like I might be able to strike you dead with it. Painted black, of course… Or it could be a job opportunity for some young, strong, virile stand-up comedian who feels like earning an extra star on their review to carry me around Edinburgh on their back.”
“An extra star AND a good photo-opportunity,” I said. “Young, virile comics will be lining up to service you.”
“I can but hope,” said Copstick.”