Category Archives: Death

When I came home yesterday at dusk… Tomorrow & tomorrow & tomorrow…

Durer_NurnbergRuins

I live on the outer edge of London in what is called a Close but is actually a square, with buildings on three sides and, on the other, the back gardens of houses in another street.

When I came home yesterday at dusk, the buildings on the three sides were half demolished, the roofs non-existent, the walls and innards had been broken down to half or more or less than their old height, the bricks and plaster destroyed or exposed and everything was covered with that light white dust of demolition.

When I had walked up the nearby street to my home, there had been red double-decker buses and waste bins and people walking around like it was hundreds of years ago and you were living in and walking through a world you had only known previously from old, faded images. It was dusk and all the 2-dimensional detailing and colours and sounds were there in 3-D reality.

Then I was standing on the Blackford Hill, looking north towards the Firth of Forth and Fife, with the waters stretched out flat and wet before me, the little black island of the Castle Rock sticking out of the water on the left and the larger green island of Arthur’s Seat sticking up out of the water to its right. And, way down, in the waters between them, were the underwater streets and passageways and stone buildings of what used to be Edinburgh. Just dark stone passageways and alleyways in a dark underwater maze now, with light marine growths on the dark stone walls and fish swimming along and between and inside the empty rooms of all the old buildings.

Dreams are strange.

It is very very rare that I remember mine.

Perhaps once a year; maybe twice.

I wish I remembered them more often.

But all the above was not a dream I had last night.

It was yesterday at dusk and I was awake and the images were in my mind.

MyEye_CUT

 

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Filed under Death, Dreams, Nostalgia

Death of comedy critic Kate Copstick

Earlier this evening, I was chatting with comedy critic Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. This is what she said:


Kate Copstick in London earlier this evening

Copstick in London earlier this evening

All the way through my teens and 20s, maybe into my 30s, I knew I wanted to be pretty much in charge of when I die. And I still do. When I die, I reckon it will be when I decide I’m going to die. So I had this plan.

I always thought the icky stuff is being found a bloated, ghastly mess after the deed.

So my plan was that I would build, or have built for me, a bomb – small but powerful.

They’re probably available now. I could probably get Chris Dangerfield to get me something on the Dark Web.

I would take a train to Rannoch Moor in Perthshire in Scotland. It is very, very, very remote and there’s miles and miles of bleak… Well, it’s just a great place to die.

So I would go to Rannoch Moor and it would be winter. I would die in winter. It’s all part of the plan.

When I was a teenager, I always had this big jar of pills – painkillers and Valium and Librium and all that sort of stuff. It was my safety thing. Every time I got crazy – which I did quite a lot – I would look at the jar and think: Nothing ever needs to get too bad. Because, if it gets too bad, I take these pills. It made me feel very In Control.

So, I would have my big jar of pills and I would buy a litre of vodka.

I would get the train to Rannoch and I would get a taxi out as far as a taxi could take me and say: “Bye! It’s alright, I’m meeting somebody here” – unlikely as that would be – and then I would make my way to some place high but not too obvious.

The Black Mount seen from Ranch Moor in winter (Photo by Pip Rolls)

The Black Mount seen from Rannoch Moor in winter (Photograph by Pip Rolls)

Then I would take off any jacket I was wearing, would take the pills and wash them down – just slowly, slowly, so I didn’t throw up – with the vodka and I would lie on top of the bomb, which would be attached by wires not to a timing device but to a rectal thermometer.

I would insert the rectal thermometer and then what would happen would be that, obviously, the pills and the vodka would take effect and I would die and that would be helped by the exposure because it’s bloody freezing on Rannoch Moor in winter.

I would die of hypothermia, drug overdose, whatever.

When my core body temperature sank low enough for the rectal thermometer to register the fact I was dead, that would trigger the bomb and my body would be blown to smithereens and the little bits that landed here, there and everywhere could be eaten by birds, rats, whatever is around there… and there would be nothing left. I would just literally disappear from the face of the earth.

That is still how I would like to go.

I want it to be a little bit like Logan’s Run, where you just walk in and disappear. None of this icky nonsense with bodies and funerals and people pretending that they liked you.

I’ll go when I feel it’s time.

In control.

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Filed under Death, Suicide

“Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…” it said in the guestbook

Logs_FraserRiver_VancouverAs a follow-on to yesterday’s piece from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives on a boat near Vancouver… overnight, she sent me this.


In a Catholic Chapel at an institution that I visited recently, there was a notebook, like a guestbook, where people had written letters directly to God.

So I leafed through it.

Most were short and unhappy requests for help with medical problems, but I was struck by one friendly letter which began:

Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…

I felt the vague urge to write something in it too – any kind of book with individual entries is tempting – but I stopped myself.

Right now, I am sitting in a chair on a deck at the tip of Lulu Island, where the Fraser River splits into three channels. I can see powerboats racing around and the river is strewn with logs from the freshet.

This is the worst time of year for drownings,

Last week one man was found dead after he crashed a jet-ski and another man vanished while swimming with a group around the foundation of a bridge.

The north arm of the Fraser River is the skinniest and maybe the spookiest. In the background is Tree Island, a burial ground.

A few nights ago in the dark, near my boat, I found a life ring (a lifebuoy, in British English) in the water, with something unidentifiable stuck in the middle. I noticed it was attached by a rope to something. I lifted it out of the water and then quickly dropped it back with a splash. I thought: It can wait until morning.

The next day I saw what it was.

One of my neighbours had put a potted lavender plant in the middle of the life ring.

“It will never grow,” said another neighbour. “Salt water.”

The best-known person I heard of dying in the Fraser River was the famed Manx landscape painter Toni Onley, who crashed his amphibious plane into it in 2004.

I was on my boat when I heard the news. I like his work.

His body was found three months after his plane crashed and I had kept wondering if it might float past. I was rather hoping it might, just so he would not be lost forever. They found him when a small boat operator noticed his body floating in a log boom, about four kilometres downstream from where his plane crashed.

He had crashed another plane on top of a glacier a few years earlier, landing on top of a crevasse and he had written an interesting description of that experience.

Just before he died, he had been practising takeoffs and landings on the river, east of Vancouver.

He had been born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, in 1928. He moved to Canada in 1948.

In 1955, he won an award at the Western Ontario annual show of young artists. Later, he exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours. His collage paintings won critical recognition and he used a Royal Canadian Academy award to fund further study in England. His award-winning painting Polar No. 1 was presented to the Tate Gallery in London for a 1963 exhibition.

When I first went to England, the thing I thought was the most fascinating was not the music or fashion or comedy. It was the plastic pudding or jello molds (jelly moulds, in British English) shaped like a sort of realistic rabbit that you could buy at Woolworths. I made crème caramel in them and red raspberry jelly rabbits.

One time, I went on a picnic in Epping Forest with John Hegley and some other comedians. I brought one of the jelly rabbits with me but we were chased out of our picnic spot by an aggressive herd of cattle.

I have a Victorian book about the regulations in Epping Forest. At that time, both photography and  dancing were not allowed in the park.

I used the jelly rabbits in my comedy act and mailed the molds to my friends in Canada. I could not understand how something so beautiful, fun and inexpensive wasn’t all over the world. I think my English friends were puzzled that I liked those molds so much.

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Memories of a visit to a man who sent best wishes from his dead parents

Brown_lady_ghostSandra Smith – this blog’s South Coast correspondent – sent me this memory:


Some years ago my daughter mentioned that she had met a Jewish man called Lawrence, who would often come into the place that she worked for a chat.

He eventually started to send me a card at Christmas time, sending best wishes to me, from him, and from his dead parents.

This continued for two or three years, until he eventually extended an invitation to go to his house for a cup of tea.

Nicky and I duly turned up at the appointed time and, as we entered a very gloomy hallway, to the sound of him locking the front door behind us, I could just make out many neat piles of what appeared to be newspapers.

We were  shown into his sitting room, a room clearly frozen in time.

I made my way to a chair, through knee-high cobwebs to the left and right of me, where nobody had walked for some time.

I sat down.

While Lawrence went to make some tea – there was the offer of ginger beer if we preferred it – I noticed a chair in front of me with a shawl and dressing gown folded over its back. The table to the left of it had a cup and saucer on it, with a book and spectacles that looked as though they had been discarded for a moment and that the owner of these would be back very soon to continue reading  their book.

There were a pair of women’s slippers under the television. On the mantelpiece were many containers of pills and, as I looked closer, I could see that they were dated seven years previously.

I was aware that we were locked in the house, as I tried to push the words BATES MOTEL from my mind.

Tea arrived and we chatted for some time, while it grew dark outside.

We chatted about lots of things, as many people do over a cup of tea.

Lawrence touched upon life with his parents but not, as I remember, about the fact that they were dead.

He did mention that people had tried to interfere in his life, but that he had sent them packing as he felt it an intrusion.

I asked him about the newspapers. He just said that he enjoyed keeping them.

The afternoon came to an end and we said our goodbyes.

Nicky saw Lawrence from time to time and she invited him to her wedding.

Some of the older people did ask who he was, as he was a little eccentric-looking. But he seemed to enjoy his time with us and was very chatty throughout the day.

Lawrence did eventually accept the help and support that was being offered to him from all sides.

He eventually moved from his house into what I like to think of as a commune, but was probably called a rest home. And he lived out the remainder of his days enjoying the company of others.

Not lonely anymore.

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Two comedians talk about cannibalism

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Martin Soan

Brian Simpson/Lewis Schaffer (left) & Martin Soan yesterday

Yesterday’s rather self-indulgent blog was about my rail trip to see comic Martin Soan at his home in Nunhead, London. Also there was Brian Simpson, the English character actor who performs as the New York Jewish comic Lewis Schaffer. We chatted…


BRIAN
John, is this really the end of the line for your daily blog?

JOHN
On the 31st of December, yes.

BRIAN
My point is…

MARTIN
There’s always a fucking point with you.

BRIAN
Because I’m trying to get some kind of meaning to my life. I’m not like you who is free-floating and everything’s OK.

MARTIN
I don’t think everything’s OK.

BRIAN
You’re contented. I guess the way you get contented is by not having a point. Because, once you start searching for a point, you will not find contentment. I’m always searching for a point, for some meaning.

MARTIN
Become a table tennis instructor. You would be a genius table tennis instructor. All you’ve got to do is just talk at them. Just talk, talk, talk at them.

JOHN
It’s talking balls. It’s ideal for you.

MARTIN
So what are we discussing?

BRIAN
John’s blog.

JOHN
Chris Dangerfield reckons he can’t remember talking to me for any of the blogs he has appeared in. I might as well have made them up. Although I suppose no-one could make up Chris Dangerfield.

BRIAN
You could. You could have made the entire blog up.

JOHN
Like you made up the Lewis Schaffer character? When are you going to come out as yourself?… Well, I suppose you already did in 2013, but people didn’t really believe it.

BRIAN
I am going to come out as Sarah Franken.

JOHN
Will Franken might be in my very last daily blog. I would prefer the last one to be about a court case that is brewing over the Edinburgh Fringe – because then I could end on a whacking cliffhanger, like The Italian Job. But the guy involved doesn’t want publicity yet. How is your campaign to save Southwark Woods going?

BRIAN
Chris Lynam is interested in the trees. He walks his dogs in Southwark Woods and he’s totally gung-ho about it all.

JOHN
If they want to cut down some trees to put in more burial plots, I…

MARTIN
(TO BRIAN) I’m not against your cause at all, but we’re coming to a population crisis in terms of interment. We’ve got to find a cost-effective way so we’re composted and produce crops for future generations to eat. That’s the next stage. But Mankind can’t accept that, so we do these things like cremations and burials. What we gotta do now is…

BRIAN
… chop up the bodies and make them into fertiliser?

MARTIN
Yeah. Absolutely. There’s no other way for Mankind to go on to the next stage in evolution on this planet unless we do that. We’ve got to recycle Mankind.

JOHN
The next stage of evolution is cannibalism?

BRIAN
That’s what I was thinking: Soylent Green.

MARTIN
Yeah, well we’re eating everything else.

BRIAN
The amount of space it takes to plant a dead body is very minimal. But they could just plant them in mass graves – layer them five on top of each other. They did that historically in this country. All of Camberwell Old Cemetery is people who were buried six deep.

MARTIN
But now we come to a critical phase of that, cos we can’t bury on Mortlake or Blackheath, because that’s Black Plague ground. We’re not allowed to disturb that ground for 150 years That’s why it’s become common.

JOHN
And I think there are plague pits under Soho. They have problems extending downwards.

MARTIN
So where do we go? We can’t take up more agricultural land. Everyone wants to build everywhere, so there’s less and less space. There’s got to be an efficient way of recycling human beings.

BRIAN
Why not put people six deep in a pit? They don’t do that in this country any more.

MARTIN
You can’t bury six bodies at a time.

JOHN
If the history of the Jews has taught us anything, it’s that you can bury people six deep.

BRIAN
…but they prefer to burn them. Jews are very flammable.

MARTIN
Mankind is expedentiating at a rate of…

BRIAN
Expedentiating? You just made up a word there.

MARTIN
Yeah, but I’m good at making up words, man.

BRIAN
Exponentially…

MARTIN
Expedentially. You understand where I’m theorising from now.

JOHN
You could bury them vertically.

MARTIN
Absolutely. It’s a real fucking issue now that no-one wants to face. It’s as big as chickens.

JOHN
As big as chickens?

MARTIN
Yeah. Don’t you understand?

BRIAN
I do. It’s one of those old sayings. The Bells of Bow Bridge or whatever.

JOHN
What does As big as chickens mean?

MARTIN
Of course it does.

JOHN
What is As big as chickens?

MARTIN
The disposal of Mankind upon itself.

JOHN
It’s a phrase you have just made up.

MARTIN
There is no other way to look at it.

BRIAN
(TO MARTIN) Is that a phrase you just made up?

MARTIN
Yeah.

JOHN
That’s a relief.

BRIAN
The point I am making is… We are not disagreeing with any of your points.

JOHN
Yes we are.

BRIAN
We aren’t.

MARTIN
(TO BRIAN) You just want to argue all the time.

JOHN
(TO BRIAN) You want to argue because you’ve turned into Lewis Schaffer. You made him up and now you’ve become him.

BRIAN
I want to argue because I am an ENPT type on the Myers-Briggs scale. ENPT-T. That’s the rage, now, if you’re interested in what’s going on.

JOHN
What does the T stand for?

BRIAN
Trouble.

JOHN
No it doesn’t.

BRIAN
Turbulent. I’m a debater. I like debating.

JOHN
I have lost the will to live. Set fire to me… Martin, when is your next Pull the Other One?

MARTIN
January the 29th.

JOHN
Who’s on?

MARTIN
Phil Kay, Darren Walsh and The Short Man in Long Socks.

Pull the Other One - 29th January 2016

JOHN
At last I will see him!

BRIAN
Who?

JOHN
The Short Man in Long Socks.

BRIAN
Where’s he from?

MARTIN
He works mainly in the Eastern European cabaret circuit.

BRIAN
What’s his act like?

MARTIN
Indescribable.

JOHN
That’s why I want to see him. He’s a legend.

BRIAN
I’ve never seen him.

MARTIN
Yes you have. We were filming for the 8th anniversary of Pull the Other One, which we called the 10th anniversary for publicity purposes. You were interviewed and…

BRIAN
That’s right! He popped in and popped out. I met him, but I’ve never seen the act.


After that, the conversation degenerated even more.

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To see the world in a grain of time. And heartburn in a re-heated dead chicken.

MyMouthI ate a piece of chicken from a takeaway stall in Camden Lock yesterday afternoon. That was probably the cause. It may have been re-heated.

I felt a little queasy when I got home – nothing serious; just a bit of a dicky tummy – and so I went to bed early.

There then followed a whole orchestra of different little bits-and-pieces which meant I had a troubled non-sleep.

Little bits of coughing (nothing unusual there – someone once gave me the unwieldy nickname John ‘Irritating Cough’ Fleming).

But I also had a burning, acidy feeling inside my chest and in a vertical line down my front – presumably acid reflux. And hiccups. And some bouts of building coughing which never quite got to the actual puke point but which came pretty close. And what seemed like sniffles of the nose like the start of a cold but which, I guess, were caused by the orgasms of coughing annoying my nasal passages.

Eventually, some time in the middle of the night, I DID mercifully get to the point of mild vomiting in the toilet and that seemed to get me over whatever it was.

But the point is that – somewhere in among all this fitful sleeping – I can’t remember exactly where – I woke up in the middle of a dream which, as long-term readers of this blog will know, means I was actually aware of what was in my dream. I only ever remember having a dream perhaps once every six months if I wake up during one.

I was in a tube train at Camden Town station. No mystery there, as that is the tube station for Camden Lock, where I had been in the afternoon.

The  carriage was quite crowded with lots of people and, of course, they all had different faces.

But, as well as being aware of their different faces, I was aware of the unique, separate strands of their individual lives. I could understand what each person was feeling at that exact moment and how it fitted into their life strand – when they were a child and in their twenties and how their life stretched ahead of them in experiences until their death.

And, as I looked from face to face, I could move from life to life and could experience how all the strands ran separately and how, for just these few minutes, they intersected.

Unique strands running through the same decades but separately, leading to this brief intersection, then each stretching separately ahead along their own unique strand to death.

So it goes.

Who needs drugs?

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The death and funeral of theatre producer Calvin Wynter in New York

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter RIP (25 November 1959 – 30 October 2015)

On 16th September this year, I posted a blog headed:

PIT BULL DOG ATTACKS CALVIN WYNTER, THEATRE PRODUCER, IN NEW YORK CITY

That blog ended:

“I’m headed off right now,” Calvin told me, “to have my teeth cleaned and also they did a biopsy on my jawbone. They performed dental surgery, removed the lesion and put it in for biopsy research. They called me on Friday which means I think I may have cancer. I don’t know. So far, everything that’s thought to have been cancerous was not – like the polyps I got from my colonoscopy. I had three polyps. No cancer. So who knows? Maybe the third time isn’t so good but, y’know look – I’ve had a shaved head before. I can have a shaved head again. I’m still Episcopalian, which is like your Church of England, but my philosophy is Buddhist which is essentially: What do we seek? Happiness. What is pain and sorrow? The route to happiness.”

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

Calvin Wynter when he talked to me in September via Skype

The following day, 17th September, I blogged:

Calvin has now to come back to say: “My jawbone lesion is benign… Yay!”

On 24th October, ten days ago, knowing I was going to be talking in London to US performer Penny Arcade, I asked Calvin if he could give me any background.

His replied included this:

Went under oral surgery to remove the lesion on my jaw and the bone graft from my thigh on Wednesday. I will be able to speak on Monday. Thank God I have experience at being silent. Thank you John for giving sometime to leave experience. Best wishes with your interview. – Cal

He also e-mailed me this selfie of himself headed: ‘Post Oral Surgery’

CalvinWynter_PostOralSurgery_24october

I replied: Holy shit! You look like a cartoon Godfather with one of those very high 1940s formal collars! Blog currently not happening because WordPress are fuck-ups…

His response was: Hahaha… Best wishes with your blog app.

I replied: If you want to tell me about your experience (preferably on Skype – but you might not want to actually talk too much!) just let me know when.

Calvin Wynter in 1977

Calvin Wynter in 1977

He told me: Thanks for the offer, but I can’t speak until Monday. Slow healing process.

I replied: Oh, yes, I meant after that. I doubt if I will have sorted the blog out until Tuesday.

His response was: Perfect timing.

That was the last I heard from him.

Tonight, I received an e-mail from a mutual friend in New York City. It read:

Calvin as a child with his father

Calvin Wynter – happy as a child with his father

I’m sorry to have to tell you that Calvin died last Thursday night. I don’t know specifics, 

I was hoping you could announce Calvin’s passing and the arrangements to the community over there via your blog.

The funeral will be 5.00 pm on Friday the 6th November at Cobbs Funeral Home in East Elmhurst (Queens), NY. Interment Saturday morning at 10 am. He is being interred with his parents at Flushing Cemetery. 

So it goes.

The anniversary of his birth is in three weeks time.

Calvin Wynter (25 November 1959 – 30 October 2015)

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