Category Archives: Health

Flying toilets, taking new drugs and having a penis enlargement operation

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I record a weekly Grouchy Club Podcast. It covers more than gossip about the comedy industry as do the monthly, live Grouchy Club meetings. Inevitably, after this week’s was finished, the conversation carried on. Three main anecdotes cropped up…


Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Schreibkraft)

Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya (Photograph by Schreibkraft)

FLYING TOILETS

The podcast is recorded in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London.

The charity works in Kenya, helping small business start-ups.

When over in Nairobi, Copstick lives in slum areas and had this description of the ‘flying toilets’ in Kibera, Nairobi, said to be the largest urban slum in Africa. 

* * * * *

The houses are incredibly close together – you can’t really extend your arms in the little rat runs between the houses. It is much better now but originally there was allegedly 2,000 people to every one long-drop toilet.

Now the government have put in some standpipes and there are public toilets but you are still sharing a toilet with a helluva lot more people than you would like to. If you go out into the darkness of the night – and you really can’t see in front of your face – you have no idea what you are stepping on, you creak open the door of the long-drop toilet and have no idea what state it’s in. It’s a bit Russian Rouletty. You may also get killed or attacked on your way there or back.

So, if you wake up in the middle of the dark night and think: “God! I desperately need a shit!” – which people do a lot because there is a lot of diarrhea around – what you do is go outside and take a shit into a plastic carrier bag, then tie the top of the carrier bag and take the little butterfly bit at the top and whirl it round your head like a Scotsman flinging the hammer. When it gets to peak velocity, you let go and it flies away into the night as far as it can.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you aim high and generally what will happen is that somebody a couple of streets or houses away will hear a SPLATT! on their corrugated iron roof and they will think: Oh fuck! Somebody’s flying toilet! I must remember to go up and scrape it off in the morning!

The shit is in a plastic bag but, when the plastic bag lands, it generally splits open. Also, if you are in a big family – my mate Sylverster has a one-bedroom house for seven of them – as the children get older, when it’s not raining, the girls sleep inside the house but the boys sleep on the roof. So that can get messy.


Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

WHITE BLOOD CELLS

For many years, Copstick has suffered from the painful and debilitating disease lupus. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.

Until 2½ months ago she was in agony most of the time…

* * * * *

Since the lupus struck, I have always had a low white blood cell count – neutropenia. The white cells are the fighter cells and scavenger cells. When you get a bruise, the neutrophils go in and clear away all the damaged blood.

Last June, they put me on this new medication – methotrexate – which I injected into the flub on my stomach. It is a kick-ass drug. It’s used in chemotherapy – for leukaemia and other cancers. Then they found out it really worked for rheumatoid arthritis and, through that, they found it worked for other auto-immune diseases like lupus.

I got put on methotrexate last June/July. Then in August in Edinburgh I got bacterial pneumonia and they thought it might be the methotrexate and I kept taking it and they said: “Oh, your white blood cell count keeps going down.”

Then suddenly, 2½ months ago, I felt great; I felt fantastic. Nothing had been changed in the drugs but I suddenly felt physically great. And the best I’ve felt psychologically for years. I was actually happy. I felt happy. Just wonderful. No pain; no headaches; no tinnitus; no cold sweats; and the white blood cell count had gone down even more.

Then, two weeks ago, the doctors said the white blood cell count had become very dangerously low.

I said: “I’m feeling fine!”

They said: “No no no no no. You’re very dangerously low.”

They kept asking me if I had temperatures and beadaches.

I said: “No! I feel wonderful!”

So, last week, they told me to stop taking the methotrexate because they thought that was lowering the white blood cells. I stopped taking it and I feel like shit this week. As soon as I stopped the injections, I got the pain back – tiredness, pain, headache, dizziness – all the lupus shit.

I mean, everything you take, every normal mainstream medication that you take does something bad to you. I think it should be about what makes you feel good. I’m fucking fed up feeling like shit. I’ve felt like shit for a lot of years, a lot.

Nothing bad seemed to be happening with the low white blood cells and I was feeling great and I reckon for me that’s better than being like this and taking handfuls of tramadol and dihydrocodeine and anything else I can lay my hands on just so I can be functional.


Devils on Horseback

“A bit like Devils on Horseback” which is dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon

PENIS ENLARGEMENT

In her TV production hat, a few years ago, Copstick developed, wrote and produced a series for the Bravo TV channel called World of Pain.

* * * * *

It was about things like pain for pleasure, sporting pain, all different things. And one episode was called Suffer To Be Beautiful which was about people having plastic surgery and all the crazy shit they do.

So I went to New York to film a penis enlargement operation. It was around the year 2000 and there was nobody in Britain who would allow me to film them. Those who go for penis enlargement tend to want people to imagine that’s how they always have been naturally.

I filmed the entire operation. It was absolutely fascinating. I was the cameraperson. When we sent it to the compliance lawyers, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor not because it was erotic but because there was just so much blood. Somebody was having the shaft of his penis split open with a scalpel and the skin peeled…

What I did not realise was that every man is born with as much penis length as anyone can give you. It just depends if you are a show-er or a grow-er.

If you are a show-er, even when you are flaccid, it is all hanging out there.

If you are a grow-er, there is more to come from inside.

So what they do, when somebody wants more length, is make two cuts in the inguinal area – just above the pubic bone – one on either side – and in there are the ligaments that hold the penis in place and they snip those.

Then – this is true – one doctor or a very strong nurse holds the patient on the operating table while the other doctor grabs the penis and pulls. And I am talking PULLS. We are talking like tug-of-war. And they yank out as much of the penis as they can.

Then they stitch up the little incisions and you are now a show-er.

What surprised me is that men who want more length want it for the locker room. They want it for that moment when the Calvin Kleins hit the carpet and another person – male or female – gets their first look at what you are packing.

This guy I was filming wanted more length. So they did that. But he also wanted more girth.

Enhancement can help a bit on girth with what they call ‘harvested tissue’. Have you ever larded a joint of meat? Where you take strips of fat…

Anyway, what they do is get the penis and slit open the skin down the length of it and then… Have you ever buttered the breast of a chicken before you roasted it?

What you do is you ease your hands in between the flesh and the skin of the chicken and you open it up so the skin separates from the flesh.

So, with penis enhancement, they get little rectangles of harvested tissue, lift the skin of the penis away from the shaft and wrap these bits of tissue around the shaft. Then they sew that bit up and do another bit until… It’s a bit like Devils on Horseback or a beef olive.

Then they stitch the skin back into place and wrap it all in very tight elastic bandage. Then the person goes away with lots of painkillers and hopes that they only think clean thoughts.

Because the single biggest problem with the process is guys who go away from the hospital, take their painkillers and, after a day or so, wake up with a bit of morning glory and burst all their stitches.

As for pee-ing, initially you are catheterised but the answer after that is to pee very very carefully.

How do you get harvested tissue? With a scalpel and a dead body.

So be careful when you sign your organ donor card. You may think you will be giving sight to the blind, but you could end up giving girth to the under-endowed and find yourself wrapped around some tiny-dicked guy’s enlarged penis.

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Filed under Health, Humor, Humour, Kenya, Medical, Poverty, Sex

Sexual perversion or just healthy living? Mud marching in bare feet outdoors…

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna Smith has her own healthy interests

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives in Vancouver, has sent me a plea from the heart which she found online in the local Craigslist.

I can only presume she was diligently looking there on behalf you, our dear reader.

The listing says, under its headline:

MUD MARCHING IN BAREFEET

hi

i am looking for a mud marching partner who would love to march in the mud in our barefeet every saturday starting in march to the fall. i love mud and i love marching in the mud in my barefeet!! this job is for fun!! we will be marching in the mud in parks in langley and whiterock! you must love mud and you must love marching in the mud in your barefeet!!! serious inquries only as i am serious about this! anyone can apply!! you will be paid $30.00 dollars an hour!

Craigslist adds:

Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.

Anna says: "Right now there is only snow marching going on here."

Anna tells me: “Right now there is only snow marching going on here.”

So one presumes the demand is so great for barefoot mud marching partners that employment agencies are getting involved.

Anna asks me: “Is this a trend in Britain too? Or is it a colonial perversion?”

I cannot help her. I am a simple soul, raised a Presbyterian.

If you can help, do get in touch privately.

Anna tells me, to add to the advertiser’s woes, there is precious little mud in Vancouver at the moment – just snow.

But maybe cold feet are ever hotter.

 

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Dr Human, the exotic dancer & the nuns

Anna Smith hospital 2013 - CUT!

A couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She lives in Vancouver. The e-mail read:

Oooohhhh… being injected with radioactive metal makes me feel all warm and tingly inside… but so very sleepy. I don’t recommend it… I think acid is probably better for you but I did get a little buzz.

I asked her what on earth she was going on about.

Yesterday, she answered:

I was in the hospital for tests and scanning, as a follow up to my heart surgery, as it is still a mystery why my aorta ripped. The are looking for genetic markers.

I had to fill out lengthy questionnaires at the Aortopathies Clinic. They asked strange, inappropriate questions like whether I had children and how old they were when they died.

A photograph by but not of Anna Smith

Photo by – not of – Anna

On the next form, they asked if I am planning on starting a family so, on the line where I was supposed to write the answer, I wrote: “You must be joking.”

The doctor was laughing by the time he saw me.

When I saw they were going to scan my head I thought: Wait a minute! Isn’t that taking things too far? I know it’s a university hospital, but it’s my heart not my brain that has the problem. I didn’t want to get injected with metal flakes for nothing. They’re not supposed to do that unless it’s necessary.

But my doctor – Dr Derek Human – told me sometimes there can be concurrent artery weakness in the heart and the brain, so they wanted to make sure nothing was going on in my brain. Those might not have been his exact words.

I had so many tests over the last two days that they had to give me a schedule and a map for it all.

Dr Human’s conclusion is that I am perfectly fine and there will be no problem if I want to indulge in activities such as unloading lorries or performing striptease for dykes.

Anna used to be an exotic dancer. Sometimes, on special occasions, she still is. With her message, she attached a link to a YouTube video:

She continued:

This is relevant. I used to have sparkly jeans and the stages in Soho, London, were the size of those cubes they are dancing on.

Anna Smith cutting

Memories of ‘Nurse Annie’

I found this article an hour ago from the Ottawa Citizen in 1980. It is a review of the movie The Tin Drum.

In passing, it promotes me as ‘Nurse Annie’ with ‘The Hottest Operation in Town’. At the time, I was topping the bill at The Zanzibar Circus Tavern in Toronto. I had forgotten till today that I was mentioned in a review of The Tin Drum, along with the films Midnight Desires and The Waitress

The latter two movies were filmed in ‘Eroticolor’,  a process I had also forgotten till just now. I guess David McGillivray must know all about it.

I probably saw it, without realizing what it was, in Belgium.

The Zanzibar in Toronto

The Zanzibar Circus Tavern in Toronto

At the hospital this week, I ran into my hairdresser. Unfortunately he didn’t have his scissors with him. 

I had a couple of hours to wait till my next invasive procedure, so I walked around and waited while he had his blood drawn and he explained to me where all the secret pharmacies and drinking water dispensers were.   

The hospital is owned by some extraordinarily wealthy nuns. I believe they came here to Canada from France hundreds of years ago and the first time they tried to get here they ended up in Chile by accident.

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Pit bull dog attacks Calvin Wynter, theatre producer, in New York City

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

This morning, I Skyped theatre producer Calvin Wynter in New York City. He used to be an equity trader on Wall Street. We had not chatted for a while. I thought it would be interesting to hear how the comedy business is going in New York.

As is often the case, the conversation got sidetracked.

He had suggested I Skype him at 11.30am, UK time, so I did.

“It’s 6.30am in the morning in New York,” I said.

“I’m up at 6.00am five days of the week,” he told me, “and 4.00am on two days.”

“Why?” I asked.

“This time last year, I went to Vipassana, a Buddhist retreat. We don’t burn incense, we don’t wear flowers, we don’t wear diapers; we just sit in our regular clothes. If you can do the lotus position, fantastic. If you can’t, you sit in a chair.”

“You’re wearing a yellow rubber glove and a sling round your neck,” I observed.

“This is me after wrist and arm surgery.”

“Why?”

“Between Wall Street and now, I spent way too much time on the computer and so I didn’t get carpal tunnel syndrome but I got some sort of pinched nerves. I ended up in hospital last year and a neurosurgeon noticed something, asked me to do a few things and said: Do you need an orthopaed referral? I said: No, as it happens, when I was attacked by the pit-bull, I got a… because, when you get your hands chewed on, they either call in a plastic surgeon or an orth and when you have your hands and leg and thigh bit away – like a 3 or 4 inch piece of my thigh was bitten away, the fat and skin…

“So I told him this and he then brought in a specialist. They did the test and then they ordered me a brace for a month but I went back and said: Look, you give the brace to most people because most people are afraid to go into surgery. You do it for them, they get a little better, it gives you time for them to get to trust you and then you do the surgery. He said: Yes. So I said: Just do the fucking surgery. And, in less than a week, he did the surgery.”

“I think,” I said. “I missed a link there. It was the bit where you said: when I was attacked by the pit-bull.”

“You didn’t know about that?”

“No. I have a shit memory, but even I would have remembered that.”

“OK. Well, this time last year – end of August, beginning of September – at the Vipassana retreat, I decided: Let’s lose a little weight. They feed you three meals a day. You got a choice of vegan and/or vegetarian and they’re delicious. You’re not starving. But I decided, because I was 245 lbs… I went through the three meals and measured out what was the amount of food you’re supposed to eat at the size I wanted to be. And I did hours and hours of walking. You’re in the country: streams, lakes, trees, all that stuff. And you’re doing chores when you’re not doing ten hours a day of meditation. After ten days, I lost 10 lbs. Then I lost another 10 lbs.

“So I lose all this weight, I’m dehydrated and I get the equivalent of the worst migraine I’ve ever had and I’ve never had a migraine – or maybe I’ve got a brain aneurism. So I’m rushed to the hospital. They perform every test possible and send me home thinking it’s a migraine and give me a strong Tylenol.

“When I call my doctor, she says: No, no. I want you to get some Aceterin. The next day, it gets really bad. So I think: If two pills are good, I’m gonna take four. Then six. I overdose. I start hallucinating. I mean, you know like Fantasia? I see a musical that I will create one day that will become the gold standard of musicals.

“But, in New York City, you never tell the doctors in the emergency room that you are hallucinating because they will put you on the psych ward and hold you for 72 hours. And, if they don’t have a psych ward, they will transfer you to one and the No 1 psych ward they like to transfer you to is Bellevue which is essentially like Bedlam in the UK.

“I remember a comedian I knew who won the big award in Edinburgh – he went to the British equivalent because he wrote his name in faeces on his wall. You know who I’m talking about.

“Anyway, I’m back in hospital again. They admit me. For six hours I tell them: I will NOT take any opiates. I was in so much pain they wanted to give me morphine and codeine. Not oxy cotton. No, they were going for like the strongest friggin’ pain pills they could give me. Finally, after six hours, I am told: We will have you committed if you don’t take it, because – you don’t know this, but – you are curled up in a ball in the corner of the bed. You are sweating profusely, you’re shaking, you’re mumbling and, every once in a while, you scream out so loud we can hear you down the hall.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“So I take the damned opiates,” Calvin told me. “And, after three days of taking them, it did lower the pain, but there was still excruciating pain. In the interim, they find my kidneys are now in renal failure and I had a macro pituitary adenoma. In other words, I had a tumour that was 1 centimetre in diameter at the centre of my head, right about where all the nerve endings are for your eyes, pushing back on my pituitary.

“Day Three of all this, I say: Fuck it! I get consciousness for a moment and I meditate solidly for an hour. You just observe and, for some reason, I kept observing one of my teeth up top and I remembered I was told to have the tooth removed but my insurance would not do an implant. Somewhere along the line, I forgot about that.

“So they remove the tooth and the headache is gone. So now they are working on my kidneys. They changed the meds. After ten days, I lose 10 lbs and I go out. So I had lost 10 lbs there and 20 lbs at the Vipassana retreat.

“Fast forward to May. I walk out of my door, I see a 98 lb woman who I later find out is a 28-year-old from Hawaii, half-Japanese, had never owned a dog before, was in New York City for the first time ever and had rescued this dog which was going to be killed the next day because it was too dangerous. She agreed to have a trainer, spent a lot of time with it before she took it home.

“I see that the dog is acting like an idiot. I make a sharp right turn. I meditate to calm my body so the dog doesn’t sense anything. It’s a pit bull. The dog leaps up. I shoot my left hand to block it.

“My cousin had been the national karate champion before Chuck Norris. My cousin was bodyguard to David Bowie, Mick Jagger right around the time hijackings were happening and celebrities were not able to bring their licensed gun-carrying bodyguards on planes with them.

“So I had lived with my cousin for a month. He had told me: If someone threatens you, you can talk to them for a while – you’re good at that – then you can run like the wind and very few people can catch you. The only time you need to fight is if the son-of-a-bitch catches you, which means he has nothing but ill-intent. Which means you have to kill him. One fast fell swoop. I’m going to teach you to kill people and, in the last week, I’m going to teach you how to kill dogs. With dogs, you break their nose; you jam it into their head; it’s a matter of seconds: they’re dead on the floor.

“Thirty years ago, pit bulls were not a problem. People owned German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers. They didn’t have pit bulls. A pit bull’s entire skull is like a biker’s helmet. You can’t break its nose and shove it into its skull.  The one thing you’re supposed to do with pit bulls is you grab them by the balls and you swing them in the air and neuter them. You bang ‘em in the eye, go straight for their balls, lift them and fucking castrate them right then and there. They will be in so much pain, bleeding profusely and you can get away.

“But I had a bitch… a female dog, right? I get a young female dog. So she gets my arm. Thank god I remember: Use the middle finger and the pointer finger of your hand. So I hit her in the eyeballs. She releases. The other thing my cousin had told me was: Run into traffic when you’re attacked by a dog. You will be able to dodge the cars; the dog will get hit.

“I get one lane out into six lanes of traffic and I, for some reason, take a second to look back. The traffic stops. The dog is coming after me. I get to the other side of the boulevard. As I’m putting my left leg onto the kerb, the dog leaps up, was going for my balls but grabs my upper thigh and was about to clamp in for the arteries, the bones and the muscles. Now I’ve got both hands bleeding, several major lacerations on my left hand, which is my dominant hand though I write with my right hand. I use both hands because both hands are free because she’s on my thigh. I blind her in the right eye, I partially blind her in the left.”

“Literally blind her?” I ask.

“Literally. I crack the right eyeball and there’s ooze coming out. I bang the left one, so it’s partially damaged. I break her right leg. And I take all of my body weight, holding my left arm with my right hand so it has maximum power, and I lunge dead-centre at her spine. I damage the spine. She falls to the ground. She has my blood all over her.”

“Now,” I said, “it’s almost 7.30am in New York. Where are you off to now?”

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but big on the Fringe theatre scene

“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.”

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Critic Kate Copstick and the sexual alure of squeezing teenage boys’ acne spots

Kate Copstick recording the Grouchy Club podcast yesterday

Kate Copstick recording the Grouchy Club podcast yesterday

Yesterday, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded our weekly Grouchy Club Podcast.

Subjects ranged from how to get early reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe to why stand-up comics are lazy and comedienne Janey Godley‘s promise to give Copstick macaroni pies throughout the four weeks of the Fringe in August.

But then conversation turned to comic Omar Hamdi, who currently has a case of facial acne…


Copstick
I used to love… I used to dream about having acne. I never ever had spots.

John
So you went out with boys who did have acne?

Copstick
I went out with boys… one particular boy who had amazing acne. I used to exchange sexual favours if he would let me squeeze his spots.

John
What did you do with the accumulated pus?

Copstick
Nothing. You clean it up. It’s no fun cleaning your face if there’s nothing… OK, it’s ugly, but there’s nothing to clean off. It’s like cleaning a floor. It’s much more satisfying to clean a floor if it’s really dirty. You think Whoa! That’s fantastic!

So – Normal face – That’s just normal – There’s no fun in cleaning it.

Face covered in pustules – You squeeze them, the pus comes out, you clean it up and – Look! – There’s a nice, clean, non-pusy face where, before, there was a pusy face.

John
So let’s say this sexually-attractive boy has, say, 20 spots on his left cheek. Did you squeeze one and clean off the pus. Or did you wait until all 20…

Copstick
No no no no no… In an ideal world, there’s a time… Did you not have spots, John?

John
I did, but I didn’t have a lady to squeeze mine.

Copstick
So what did you do?

John
I squeezed them myself. A lone life.

Copstick
I can imagine that. Talk us through it… Talk us through it… You’d be looking in the mirror…

John
I looked in the mirror, thought: That’s horrible; I wouldn’t have anything to do with that and… I don’t know if I did squeeze them. I don’t know what I did with them. It’s a long time ago.

Copstick
Cast your mind back.

John
It was the mid-19th century. I can’t remember at all.

Copstick
You must have… You must have… You can’t resist… It’s the catharsis. That’s the word. It’s a catharsis. Spot-squeezing is a catharsis.

John
I never had the urge to pop the poppable things in packing. It’s not a thing we Presbyterians do.

Copstick
Really?

John
It’s against God’s nature.

Copstick
Every time we sit here and podcast, I find out more strange things about you. You don’t like to squeeze spots…

John
No.

Copstick
You don’t pop bubble-wrap…

John
No. And I don’t like cheese.

Copstick
And you don’t like cheese… What do you do to relieve tension? Please don’t say Wank.

(LONG, LONG SILENCE)

John
I’ve got nothing to say, really.

Copstick
OK, fine. Back to squeezing spots… If you get the spot at the right point in its spotty little life, when you squeeze it, the pus is projectile.

John
So do you think Omar should actually pursue this as a way of audience interaction?

Copstick
He could auction off his spots.

John
Well, not his spots. His pus.

Copstick
Oh my God! Can you imagine if Bob Slayer could develop a really good-going dose of acne what he could do? The showbiz mileage Bob Slayer could get out of a face full of acne!

John
Bob Slayer is a large man who used to be a jockey, but he is a large man, especially for a jockey.

Copstick
I suppose his face is quite large. But, anyway, back to Omar. It could be end-of-the-show… A couple of nice young ladies, one on either side. (GASP) One on either side!… They race!… They race to squeeze the spots on each side.

John
It’s a TV game show.

Copstick
It’s fantastic!

John
It’s Friday night! It’s seven o’clock! It’s live from Norwich!

Copstick
Oh, wait wait wait wait wait… then he would only be able to do it on the first night, because I don’t think the pus would regenerate. Well, he could do it once a week. I have never had acne, but I assume it kind of regenerates…


You can listen to the full 28-minute audio version of the latest Grouchy Club Podcast on Podomatic and/or download that audio podcast from iTunes.

And you can watch the video version on YouTube.

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Extracts from a diary about a man dying of cancer in Great Britain in 2001…

I was supposed to waken up at 8.30am today. Instead, I woke up at noon.

This is what comes of spending too much time in Cumbria.

So, instead of the planned blog (which involved transcribing a chat) – and because it just involves copy-and-pasting – you are getting extracts from my 2001 diary when my father had cancer.

There have been previous extracts, so I can claim it is a running thread.


My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. I do not know

Tuesday 22nd May 2001

When we visited my father this afternoon, he had one bite of a chocolate cake, then stopped. About three minutes later, he was sick, the chocolate-brown liquid dribbling from his mouth. Today, he had walked eight steps (aided by zimmer frame and two nurses) to his commode (he is badly constipated). Before he was sick, he told us he had little pains all over his stomach – perhaps, I thought, because the liver cancer is gaining strength. How much longer before he needs opium?


Wednesday 23rd May 2001

In the morning, when I got up, my mother was sitting weak in her chair, saying: “I can’t use my legs”. Over the course of the day, they got back to normal.

My father in the afternoon was still constipated, as he had been yesterday, still weak and his mind unable to take in anything he was being told until the second or third repeat. My mother, her mind unable to think in a linear way, would say something without context to my father who would be unable to understand until she repeated it, I guessed what she meant and repeated it again to him. Today was the first time he used the phrase: “If I come home….” instead of “When I come home….” The palms and fingertips of his hands were abnormally pink, his fingers thinner and bonier than before, his eyes with a distant white light in their pupils.


Thursday 24th May 2001

After lunch, coming into the living room on her zimmer frame, my mother looked in amazement and confusion at the television set in the far corner of the room, showing an Australian soap, mute. After a few seconds, she said: “I’m going mad. I didn’t know what the TV was.”


Friday 25th May 2001

My mother fell down in her bedroom at 6.30am this morning and was unable to get up for, she told me, half an hour – though I suspect it was much longer.

I knew nothing about it until I got up at 9.00am.

At the nursing home, my father has been given an airbed to avoid bedsores.


Bank Holiday Monday 28th May 2001

Extract from a letter delivered to Colchester General Hospital:

Mike Pollard
Chief Executive
Colchester General Hospital
Turner Road
Colchester
Essex CO4 5JL

delivered by hand 28th May 2001

Dear Mr Pollard,

This letter is a complaint that Colchester Audiology Department are refusing to supply my father (who has liver cancer) with a hearing aid specifically made (after many months) for him. I am being told that the hearing aid must lie on a shelf in Colchester Hospital until such unknown time as a Colchester Audiologist may decide to wander down to Clacton Hospital. This, I am told, could take “up to six months”. I am further told I cannot collect it from Colchester and it must lie unused there “in case it does not work”  and “so we can show your father how to use it”.  These are direct quotes and the reasons given for keeping the hearing aid lying useless on a shelf.

If the hearing aid is supplied, there is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility it will work and my father will benefit from it. There is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility we can work it and my father will benefit from it. However, if Colchester Hospital do not supply the hearing aid, there is a 100% certainty my father will not benefit.

This is not healthcare, this is vacuous, mindless bureaucracy with the emphasis on mindless. My father had his first appointment to arrange the hearing aid at 11.15am on 13th September 2000 although, over-all, the process has been going on for a year.


At the nursing home, my father’s mind was very, very confused. After seeing him, my mother, my aunt and I drove back in total silence.

At home, my mother was very depressed, with deep furrows on brows above pained eyes: “He’s not getting any better,” she said flatly.


Tuesday 29th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

On the phone, my mother sounded depressed, telling me my father was very confused – even moreso than yesterday.


Wednesday 30th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

“His mind was much clearer today,” my mother told me of my father.


Thursday 31st May

When my mother and my aunt (his sister) went in to see my father today, he was wondering where his sister was, despite the fact she was sitting by the bed. Both the matron and my aunt thought he was looking jaundiced, though my mother did not think so. The last time I saw him I, too, had thought his skin looked a little yellow.

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Why comedy club owner Vivienne Soan wants me to fake laughter & happiness

Vivienne’s ABC Laughter Club flyer

I was lured into this by masking the yogic element in  laughter

“It’s a unique concept where everybody can laugh without having to rely on humour or comedy or jokes,” Vivienne Soan told me.

“That could be very useful for some comedy acts I’ve sat through at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

Vivienne and her husband Martin Soan run the bizarre and always entertaining monthly comedy club Pull The Other One in South East London and in Leipzig.

Yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to the first of Vivienne’s laughter workshops at The Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead, South East London, the same venue as Pull The Other One. She is holding another free ABC Laughter Club tonight and on Wednesday & Thursday for the next two weeks to see if it is viable to set up a regular club.

As we got out of the car, my eternally-un-named friend said: “I don’t know if I can do yoga any more.”

“It’s not yoga,” I said. “It’s just lots of people laughing.”

“No,” she insisted. “It’s yoga. It’s called Laughter Yoga.”

“I must have missed the yoga word,” I said, “I can’t stand on my head. My stomach would stop me. I would be top heavy and fall over. I will claim I can’t do it because of my time in ’Nam.”

“That was only a holiday,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“I still have flashbacks to Vietnam,” I said. “I may never get over it.”

“You went ten years after the War finished!”

“Post-traumatic sympathy symptoms,” I suggested. “I still wear black pyjamas.”

“What has that got to do with it?” she asked.

“You had to be there,” I said.

But she was right about the new club. Yoga was involved.

Vivienne at her Laughter Club yesterday

Vivienne (right) at Laughter Club yesterday (Photo by my eternally-un-named friend)

“Laughter Yoga is a combination of laughter as an exercise and yogic breathing,” explained Vivienne. “It oxygenates the whole body and makes you feel more healthy and energetic.

“I have a cough,” I said.

“You can breathe in and out of any orifice you are capable of using,” Vivienne told me.

“I might fart,” I said.

“We have whoopee cushions on the chairs,” said Vivienne. “You could just pretend you’re sitting down.”

“Why is it called the ABC Laughter Club?” I asked.

“Because,” said Vivienne, “ my mother died about five days after I went to my Laughter Yoga leadership course with the Laughter Yoga University and my mother was very well known for her extraordinary laughter and sneezing. So I’ve named my Laughter Club after my mother and her initials were ABC – Alison Bazille-Corbin. So it’s in recognition of her laugh and the tremendous happiness she gave to anybody she had anything to do with.”

“So how did this whole Laughter Yoga thing start?” I asked.

Some of yesterday’s group laughing horizontally

Yesterday: London people laugh horizontally (Photograph by Vivienne Soan)

“There was a Dr Madan Kataria in India,” Vivienne told me. “He started in a park in Mumbai with just five people. They began by just telling jokes to each other and laughing. Then they got bored or people started telling bad jokes.

“But they’d all felt much better after laughing, so he set up a scientific study and found laughter makes people feel, behave and act differently if they start off the day just by simulating laughter and happiness even if they don’t feel it. There’s maybe not many reasons for people to laugh in India, but there was a huge response in terms of people’s feeling of wellbeing. Their immune systems were boosted and their stress levels were lowered.”

“Do you want to talk about your own physical problems?” I asked. “Or is that too personal?”

“Well,” said Vivienne, “I have bronchiectasis in the two bottom lobes of my lungs. The right and left hand sides are actually dead. If you think of a piece of broccoli with plastic bags over the bushy broccoli heads, that’s what the bottom part of my lobes look like. They don’t function. They’re supposed to move the air and liquid around. All lungs have got some liquid in them, which is part of the lungs’ function.

“About five years ago, I was suffering from this chronic wheeze and whistle and general lung breathlessness. There was a fear it might be emphysema. Bronchiectasis is a form of emphysema, but it’s not as pervasive. As long as you don’t allow any more scar tissue to develop through infection, you’re OK.

“Every day, I have to do exercises to move the fluid up through my lungs. I used to play the saxophone a lot, which did that – and that meant the function of my lungs has kept at a very good capacity. But I’m not able to play so much any more because, if I did it a lot, every time I played a solo I would end up coughing, which doesn’t look that good on the stage.

“I don’t like much physical exertion – I don’t like running, I don’t actually like yoga or aerobic exercises. I’m a bit like you, John. I quite like sitting round eating lots of biscuits and chocolate.”

“So, instead,” I said, “you’re starting this Laughter Club.”

“Yes and I already participated in conference laughter calls. At 7 o’clock every morning, I phone a conference line of laughter. It costs £5 a month and, every morning, between 7.00am and 7.10am, everyone laughs constantly for ten minutes. It’s fabulous exercise. It clears the lungs, oxygenates the body, puts you in a good mood, sets off the seratonin and the happy hormones and keeps your husband awake. It’s a Win-Win situation for me.”

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