Category Archives: Humor

John Fleming’s (half) Weekly Diary No 22 – Coughs, teeth, dead surrealists

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 21

SUNDAY 21st JUNE

One of my front upper teeth has gone out of alignment with the others. Hopefully this is a false tooth.

Staying on things oral, I have a lifelong dry, irritating (to others) cough, which is very useful for clearing queues during the current coronavirus outbreak.

One of the many British comedic highlights of the past which I missed was The Fast Show on BBC2 (1994-1997 + 2011-2014). I never saw an entire episode though I saw occasional excerpts.

One thing I apparently missed was a running gag/character called Bob Fleming, who had a dry irritating cough. Someone drew my attention to it today.

I had zero involvement in The Fast Show, but I did (inevitably, though Malcolm Hardee) peripherally have a nodding acquaintance with a couple of the cast members. It would be nice to think one mentioned in passing about this bloke John Fleming who had a perpetual irritating cough. That would be my 15 seconds of inspirational fame.

Alas, I imagine the thought of phlegming/Fleming is a more likely source.

Today I also chatted with TV chap Simon Kennedy for an upcoming blog. Inexplicably, the subject of long-time Chinese statesman Chou En Lai came up… and his famous quote.

Ever-wise, much quoted Chinese statesman

In the early 1970s, talking to Henry Kissinger, he was asked if he thought the French Revolution had had a successful outcome. The French Revolution happened in 1789.

Chou said: “It is too early to say.”

I have always seen this as the epitome of Chinese long-sightedness.

But Simon correctly told me that Chou was actually referring to the 1968 student riots in Paris.

What a pity.

It is far more Chinese to say that 1968 was too early to say what long-term effects an action in 1789 had.

MONDAY 22nd JUNE

China – and, indeed, similar political paradises – are known for their bureaucracy.

So today I arrived at my local hospital at 0845 (with my three appointment letters) for my 0900 Nephrology appointment at Outpatients and, on presenting myself and my three letters at Main Reception, was told the department was closed and all appointments had been moved to another hospital.

I ignored this – as I had had the three letters and had had a phone call confirming the appointment. I phoned the Kidney Man’s answering machine, found Outpatients and sat in Main Outpatients Reception (open from 0830 but with no receptionist).

About 0900, the Kidney Man’s secretary phoned me back to confirm I would be seen and if no-one turned up, to phone her back. I was due to see a Kidney Woman.

I said if no-one turned up by 0920 I would phone back.

The Kidney Woman arrived at 0917, unlike the receptionist.

She (the Kidney Woman) told me that, during my 7-day hospital stay, they had not treated me – just observed. Fair enough.

During that time, my calcium level had gone back to normal without any treatment (except the saline drip for 7 days). My calcium level had been 3.3. I had been told in hospital it should be 2.6.

The Kidney Woman told me: “2.6 would be an absolute maximum.”

Apparently ‘normal’ would be 2.2 to 2.6.

My kidney function last October had been an OK-for-my-age 62 but, on entering hospital, it was down to 19. Over 7 days in the hospital I had been told it had risen to 28 which was concerning but no longer “dangerous” and the Kidney Woman today told me it had been 34 on discharge from hospital.

“Anything over 60 would be OK for a man of your age,” she told me. “Your calcium level would affect your kidney function, but your kidney function could not affect the calcium level.”

Still, there is no hint of why my calcium level/kidney function went haywire nor why I keep waking up 6 or 7 or 8 times a night with a parched, bone-dry mouth and have to drink water. Next week, I will hear the result of today’s blood test.

During the day I am mostly OK though I sometimes have to have a late afternoon nap for a couple of hours; and I go to bed, tired, around 8.00pm or 9.00pm. My normal bedtime used to be around midnight.

Whether this tiredness is a result of my calcium/kidney problems or just being old or having constantly woken up 6 or 7 or 8 times the previous night… Who knows?

TUESDAY 23rd JUNE

The pandemic has resulted in much more dental bureaucracy

The tooth cap that was out-of-alignment on Sunday has now got decidedly wobbly. It is hanging on in there, but threatening to either fall out during the day or (in my fantasies) drop out and get swallowed by me during the night.

Miraculously (because of the coronavirus lockdown) I was able to get a dental appointment next Tuesday. My dentist re-opened last Monday (eight days ago) for emergencies.

I got an appointment after answering a lot of detailed medical questions and, I think, because the dodgy upper tooth is towards the front and visible.

There will be absolutely no drilling of any kind because of the danger from airborne spray from the mouth. So anything that would normally involve drilling will, instead, be temporarily repaired.

Around lunchtime, I was sitting on a bench with someone (the regulation two metres apart) in the Green Belt area near my home when a stray football from a nearby game headed towards us. I got up, kicked the ball back and nearly overbalanced and (did not) fall over.

I am constantly lightheaded during the day and waking up hourly at night.

Who knows why?

In the afternoon, I was told of the death of Douglas Gray last Thursday. He and brother Tony were The Alberts, a surreal comedy duo which linked The Goons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I met the brothers years ago – in the 1980s, I think, at their home (I think they lived in the same rambling house but I could be wrong) in Norfolk. They were interestingly and gently eccentric and one – I think it was Douglas – appeared to be dressed for playing cricket for no apparent reason.

They should have been British cultural treasures but, alas, mega-fame escaped them, like so many worthy performers. I seem to remember that they used to pretend to work on a national newspaper in London, before Margaret Thatcher destroyed the ‘closed shop’ policies of the trades unions.

They told me, I think, that they would drive down from Norfolk to London each Friday, sign on as print workers (they had union cards), then drive straight back to Norfolk. They got paid well for working at the weekends although they were not even in London, let alone working on the production of the newspaper.

They were surrealists on and off stage.

Today was the last day of the daily government Briefings/updates about the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown restrictions will be partially, but not by any means totally, lifted on the 4th of July – our ‘Trim-dependence Day’ as one BBC News reporter put it, because hairdressers will be allowed to open with safety restrictions.

The total of reported UK coronavirus deaths is now 42,927… up 171 in the previous 24 hours

WEDNESDAY 24th JUNE

I have received the three pages of forms I have to fill in before seeing my dentist next Tuesday.

The accompanying letter details what will happen.

The tooth will out…

– I should rinse my mouth with mouthwash before leaving home, to kill off any bacteria in my mouth.

– I should not arrive early, because the surgery’s street door will be locked and I will only be allowed in when the previous patient has left.

– On entry, my temperature will be taken with an infra-red thermometer.

– I will have to wash my hands with anti-bacterial gel before seeing the dentist.

– The dentist and nurse will be wearing protective clothing: presumably face masks and/or plastic face visors.

As if to celebrate my filling-in of the dental forms…

…my tooth fell out.

… CONTINUED HERE

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The death of the second ‘Albert’ – supreme British surrealist entertainers

The Alberts – images from their Facebook page

In a 2014 blog, I wrote about the death of Tony Gray, one of The Alberts – the gloriously eccentric British brothers who linked the shambolic opening night of BBC2 to The Goon Show, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python’s Flying Circus

This afternoon, sadly, I received news from Sheba Gray – Tony’s daughter – that Douglas, the other half of the duo, “passed away last Thursday (18th June), just shy of ninety”…

British Rubbish Revisited, a recent release with recordings from their 1960s shows, can currently be found on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc…

And a 58-minute video – The Alberts – An Evening of British Rubbish – is currently on YouTube.

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John’s Weekly Diary 21 – Bureaucracy, the NHS, a cough, a death, a long walk

… SORT-OF CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 20 …

I have been posting a diary supposedly about life in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic – focussing on the everyday amid the historic.

But it took a sidetrack when, instead of COVID-19, I developed some unknown kidney infection or damage or/and calcium imbalance and/or… well… something. No-one has yet found out what is wrong.

So this strand of the blog will now become a more general diary until I get bored with it or it meanders even more pointlessly than normal like a dildo lost in a jellyfish.


A typical 1888 cough syrup (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

SUNDAY 14th JUNE

I had a bad, hacking cough: probably nothing to do with coronavirus.

I took a Tyrozet tablet.

Stephen O’Donnell in Glasgow reminded me of the type of cough linctus they had in 1888 with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia “skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”.

Presumably, if that didn’t cure your cough, at least you would be unaware you had one.

Forget the telephone consultation – It’s a face-to-face meet…

MONDAY 15th JUNE

As is now normal, overnight I woke up about six or eight times – basically, at least once every hour – with my throat parched dry, desperate to drink water.

When I left hospital just over a fortnight ago, the Kidney Man told me he would treat me as an outpatient. Then, a week later, I got a letter saying it would be a face-to-face consultation at the local hospital.

Forget the face-to-face consultation – It’s on the phone…

Then, another week later, I got a text saying that, because of the COVID-19 virus, they were changing the face-to-face appointment to a telephone consultation. I joked to a couple of people that, as the NHS is a vast bureaucracy and all vast bureaucracies are a mess, they were bound to phone me up today and ask why I was not at the hospital.

Today, after over an hour waiting for the call, I phoned to check that all was OK.

The appointments people told me: “He’s not actually ringing absolutely everybody. Some patients he’s looking up on the system and, unless he feels he absolutely has to speak to them, what he’s doing is dictating a clinic letter which will go to your GP and you will get a copy as well… It’s a little bit of a grey area.”

Fair enough.

About half an hour later, the Kidney Man phoned up because he had been expecting me to go in for a face-to-face consultation and wondered why I hadn’t turned up.

Fair enough.

He told me that the Petscan I had about two weeks ago showed nothing abnormal and they still didn’t know what was wrong with my kidneys. So a blood test would be arranged and I definitely had to come in for that, even if I got a letter or text saying I should not.

After that, I went out (perfectly legally) to South London to see my Eternally Un-Named Friend. It was the first day when face masks HAD to be worn on public transport in England. So I wore a face mask on the mostly empty trains.

We walked along the River Thames from Greenwich to the O2 Millennium Dome – a long walk on what (I had forgotten to check) was a Very High Pollen day. I felt hot and sweaty and slightly light-headed and, for my feet, the walk became a plod.

Nothing to do with the pollen or the company. Something to do with the kidneys, I think.

View of Canary Wharf from near The O2 Dome (Photograph by My Eternally UnNamed Friend)

The south (well, really east) bank of the Thames between Greenwich and the Dome has become mostly a post-industrial wasteland which is being flattened or is already flattened for high-rise flats, with some already built. My Eternally UnNamed Friend found some sort of Wordsworthian Romanticism in the open spaces and vistas. I thought it just looked more like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

At 11.15pm, back home in Borehamwood, as I was about to go to bed, sniffles, sneezes and an itchy right eye started to kick in. Over the last few years, I have tended to get hay fever fairly late at night and almost always after dark. What is that all about? What on earth are the flowers doing at 2315 at night?

Well, the news took me a bit by surprise…

TUESDAY 16th JUNE

The man whom I called ‘George’ in my hospital diaries died yesterday. I know this because my friend Lynn spotted his obituary in various newspapers today and – very impressively – guessed it was the person whose identity I had (I thought) disguised in my posts.

I then (perfectly legally) went to East London by train to see writer Ariane Sherine and her daughter in their back garden (well, back decking).

On the way there and back, I wore a face mask in the mostly empty train carriages. There were some other passengers. But we all seemed a bit half-hearted about it as we were all seated so far apart.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 41,969… Up 233 in the last 24 hours.

Me in my lost hat – Maybe not a great loss…

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

I went to Tesco’s in Borehamwood in the afternoon to buy a hat to protect my bald head from the sun. I lost my previous hat two days ago, somewhere by the post-apocalyptic River Thames.

I was hot and sweaty (despite having had a bath at lunchtime) and light-headed.

Ariane Sherine texted me:

“I’ve made a few jokes about you in my new book. I thought I should run them by you to check you’re OK with them.”

I replied: “I will be OK with them. You can say anything you like about me. I fancy being described as a dishevelled, shuffling, shambling mess. I would quite like to be described as a Dickensian character rotting slowly in my wrinkly skin as the dust gathers in my ears. I always think it is better to be laughed at rather than be laughed with… It is much more memorable. People forget jokes but remember OTT characters… Perhaps you could say something like: He was having a mid-life crisis at least 30 years too late, with fantasies of Baby Spice in a bikini rolling around in tiramisu.

Alas, the book is a serious – though populist – non-fiction work and the reply I got was:

“We are at the proofreading stage, so I can’t add anything, but thank you for being such a good sport.”

My heart sank. I quite fancy being a badly-dressed Dickensian character. But I have never aspired to be a sport.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,153… Up 184 in the last 24 hours.

The ever-admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse

THURSDAY 18th JUNE

Last night, in bed, I had about an hour of feverish hot temperatured forehead and a hacking cough.

I think I may be turning into a paranoid hypochondriac. Or is that tautology? Who cares?

Meanwhile, admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse (I blogged about her in 2018) posted on her Facebook page:


Well that’s a first… I’m on the prayer line this morning and the first caller was a man who said he was in social isolation and lonely. He turned out to be calling from his bath… and was making somewhat too-enthusiastic noises during the prayers. He did say, “Thank you,” and that he was feeling a lot better now afterwards. Obviously, I have to report him to the boss… but I think I should have charged him a very large amount of money… and fortunately, I’m just trying not to giggle.


This seemed bizarre and unique to me but apparently not. Comments on Maggy’s post included:


– I had a fair few of them while on my Samaritans hotline 😉
– I used to work for a crisis helpline similar to the Samaritans and we had many a call along those lines…
– I used to be a Samaritans listener… we had similar calls…
– Sounds like the time I was a Samaritan on duty on Christmas Day. The tale was different – at the end he learnt it was seen through and it was good he had opened his ‘Christmas Present’ quickly!!


The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,288… Up 135 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 19th JUNE

Original edition. Lots of good advice.

In 2012, Ian Fox published his excellent book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show which was edited by fellow comedy performer Ashley Frieze.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos in comedy and entertainment generally and the Edinburgh Fringe effectively cancelled this year, the dynamic duo have published a follow-up:

How to Write, Perform and Produce a Cancelled Edinburgh Fringe Show: A complete guide on how to not write, perform and produce a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A new book for the new COVID-19 era.

The book is a must-read. Handy tips include:

  • When and how to cancel things

  • How not to travel to Edinburgh

  • Writing a show that is cancelled

  • How not to get a review for a show that isn’t happening

And it’s all in aid of a good cause… The authors have suggested, for every copy purchased, a donation to the Trussell Trust which supports a nationwide network of food banks.

The book was free until yesterday and may be free from tomorrow in one form or another.

Ashley Frieze says: “The ongoing pricing seems to be some random mystery concocted by Amazon.”

Ian Fox: “Truthfully, we didn’t realise you couldn’t just do free Kindles anymore.”

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,461… Up 173 in the last 24 hours.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in triplicate…

SATURDAY 20th JUNE

As of today, I now have three letters – all confirming my Monday face-to-face appointment at the hospital.

It is to have another blood test, so it is unlikely it will get changed to a telephone call.

But never say never…

Never underestimate bureaucracy…

An article in The Guardian yesterday suggested that, at the height of the current coronavirus pandemic, deaths in the UK may have been 64% higher than reported because, part of the way through the current run of the pandemic, the government changed or, at least, the bureaucracy was able to re-define the type of deaths included in the statistics.

But the worst news of the week is that today I discovered – who knew? – that Tyrozets have been discontinued following a challenge from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) over whether the use of an antibiotic in throat lozenges is “clinically relevant”.

Who cares? They worked.

Does anybody know where I can get hold of some 1888 cough syrup “with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”?

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller’s tips on preparing to ease out of the lockdown

The UK’s coronavirus restrictions are beginning to lift today. As an 86-year-old American, Lynn Ruth Miller has been trapped in enforced self-isolation in a London apartment since the start of the restrictions. Like most Americans, she has a quaint way of spelling and turn of phrase…


Living indoors can be addictive… So what now… ?

My psychiatrist has confirmed to me that living indoors can be addictive.

The government is easing the lockdown. Now, we can all go outside and shout at each other if we stay six feet apart. What joy!

It was easy to lock us down, but letting us out is far more complicated. You must not rush to freedom all at once. You might trip.

And running outside and hugging everyone in the street without proper planning can destroy your psyche.  

Iron bars do not a prison make but COVID-19 did.

We all need a carefully-considered procedure if we are to abandon the security of our homes, where no-one sees us and we are free to indulge our more primitive impulses, like sleeping until three in the afternoon and forgetting to wear pajamas.  

You cannot do that in the outside world. Other people judge.

Be wise.  

Go slowly.  

Prepare.

Begin your emancipation by wearing clothes.  

Start out with any kind of covering – a pillowcase, a diaphanous scarf.  Gradually, day by day, co-ordinate your outfits so they look planned. 

COVER THOSE LEGS. The way you present yourself sends a message to others.

Up until now, we haven’t HAD any others to send messages to but, very slowly, we are adding them into our lives and, as we do that, we need to hide our bits.

It is the way it is done in a normal world.

Remember?

Ladies! You are going to have to wear your brassieres again. Some of you men should as well. You cannot let those strawberry creams wobble when you are out and about.

Gentlemen! Zip up! Your John Thomas isn’t cute to strangers. Sorry.

And remember your shoes!

People drop unsavory things on the pavement.  

So do dogs.

And take note… People will hear the unexpected sounds your body makes.  

Control your sphincter. Back-end blowouts are not done in mixed company. Unless, of course, you have your dog with you. The trick here is to let it rip; frown at the dog; shake your head. This will not work with a Chihuahua – People are not THAT stupid.

Although we now can sit in a park if we stay 6 feet apart, it is important that your first move out of your home be no farther than your front porch.  The air will have a different smell; there might be a breeze; a bird could shit all over you. Be very careful. Gradually, go down the steps into the front yard; and, in a week or ten days, venture out to the pavement. You can do it. REMEMBER TO WEAR SHOES.

But here is where the real danger lies. You have not seen an automobile for over a month and those things can hurt if you bump into one that is moving.  

In America, it is illegal to run over a pedestrian but here, in Britain, it is every man for himself. Wear helmets. Invest in a suit of armor. Amazon has them for less than a hundred quid.

Acclimating your children to the world outside will be a challenge but, with patience and an open mind, you can do it. Explain to them that those moving objects on the pavement are people and touching them is not done. All that noise coming out of their mouths is called conversation. The rest of the racket in the great outdoors is traffic noise. That screeching does not mean someone is hurt; it indicates an angry driver who has not done proper maintenance on his vehicle.

This is a good time to explain the importance of proper personal maintenance to your child. Never miss an opportunity to teach civilized behavior to your offspring. It does not come naturally. Neither does effective anger management.

Nowadays, we are allowed to create a social bubble. At this point in time, it means you can visit one person, go into his or her home and use his or her toilet. This kind of socialization will soon expand to ten people (but not always ten toilets). 

It is wise to have a good supply of TENA, ladies. Be sure to wear one when you go to the park. All public toilets are closed. Do not ignore your personal needs. The visible result of doing so offends others. And do not fool yourself. It is always visible

If you live alone and have no family to create a bubble, just go out on the street singing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles and you will get plenty of offers.

Once you and your family have mastered emerging into the outside, you need to re-learn your dining habits. No more eating with your fingers or licking the plate clean. YOU MUST USE CUTLERY.

It is fine to grab a quick gin and tonic BEFORE you leave the house, but people will frown if you are seen tippling before sundown.  

Sadly, the pubs do not offer a carry-out service but you can get away with a lot if you bring your Smirnoff with you in a Costa Cup.

Remember, easing out of this lockdown demands proper preparation. But it is nothing to fear.

The only danger to letting your family go out your front door is convincing them to return.

As my grandmother used to say once they gave her false teeth: “How can you keep them in the kitchen after they’ve seen Paree?”

….or something like that.

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Kunt and the Gang with Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and the Yorkshire Ripper

I try to make these blogs fairly immediate. But, in this case, I have failed miserably.

After trying and failing two or three times to meet up online during the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, Kunt (of Kunt and The Gang – is there any other?) and I eventually chatted via FaceTime on 14th May – that’s almost a month ago now.


JOHN: What have you got on the wall behind you?

KUNT: It’s my memorabilia… Look… Here… I got this on my final tour: it’s a signed picture of Rolf Harris, some saucy seaside postcards and…

Kunt in front of his wall of memorabilia… Saucy postcards, a famous family TV star and Kunt’s book

JOHN: Who’s in that picture on your Facebook page? The Yorkshire Ripper and Jimmy Savile and…

Kunt performs in front of the Yorkshire Ripper, Jimmy Savile and Frank Bruno… in Hitchin…

KUNT: On my final tour, at a gig in Hitchin, they said: “Have you got an image you want projected behind you?” and I said, “No. not really, but it’s a shame not to have something projected,” and so we used that one. It’s one of my favourite photos. It’s Jimmy Savile introducing Frank Bruno to the Yorkshire Ripper.

JOHN: He’s a nice man is Frank. Did he know it was the Yorkshire Ripper?

KUNT:  No. he was completely hoodwinked into it. So there’s Frank shaking hands with The Ripper and Jimmy Savile is in the background just looking all pleased with himself. The thing I like most about that photo is that it was obviously years before all the stuff came out about Savile and he’s there in I think Broadmoor with a great big cigar and, behind him, there’s a NO SMOKING sign. That says all you need to know about Jimmy Savile in that one photo, smoking, introducing the Yorkshire Ripper to Frank Bruno.

I also love the fact The Ripper is in a late-1980s/early-1990s shell suit. Savile must have just taken it in on that visit and said: “Here, Pete, just slip this on. This’ll suit ya.”

Kunt’s latest Bumface book – free to download

JOHN: It’s been so long getting to chat, I’ve forgotten what you are plugging. Is it your children’s book Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown?

KUNT: No, I’m not actually plugging anything. That was weeks ago I done that.

JOHN: Look, I’m an old man; I’m sick; I’m not going to last much longer. There’s COVID-19 around. Help me out here. Make up something surreal. Are you plugging your nightly online show Kunt’s Korona Klub?

KUNT: No! I’m not plugging it because I don’t want other people tuning in to it. I like the people who are tuning into it already, because they’ve been with it for kinda 45 nights and, if you tune in now, you just won’t understand what’s going on because it’s sort of developed its own lingo.

JOHN: You don’t want my blog readers? I’m shocked and saddened.

KUNT: A couple of ‘em are alright but the majority of ‘em I wouldn’t give the time of day.

JOHN: You’ve started drinking early…

KUNT: It’s to take the edge off doing FaceTime with you. I don’t really like doing FaceTime. I don’t wanna plug anything, John. I don’t like plugging things; it’s a bit shameless, ain’t it?

JOHN: Shameless? Have you listened to any of your songs??

KUNT: Well, they’ve got their own integrity. But it’s a different type of integrity.

JOHN: What sort of integrity would this be?

KUNT: One that I sort of tell meself is alright.

JOHN: Which is?

KUNT: It’s morphed over the years.

JOHN: On whom did you base this moral code? Heinrich Himmler?

KUNT: Are you comparing me to Heinrich Himmler?

JOHN: No. He was an underling. You’re more Hitler.

KUNT: Well, I have got a moustache, so there are some similarities. Though not a very good one. It has a bit of mascara on it.

JOHN: Why have you got mascara on your moustache?

KUNT: Because it’s flecked with grey. I’m going prematurely grey.

JOHN: So the ego has landed? You have done pretty much everything. What is there left? You’ve done books, albums, stage shows, become a cult Kunt…

KUNT: I think I’m gonna fake my own death from COVID-19 to make it current and then I’m going to surruptitiously put the thousands of CDs I’ve got stored round me mum’s house on eBay, but in dribs and drabs. It’s the perfect time to hold a funeral and get away with it.

JOHN: Does it have to be a fake death? It would be better if it were real. I could get people to kill you. As a favour, obviously – mate’s rates.

“This is my actual hair. There’s rumours about it being a wig.”

KUNT: John, this is my actual hair.

JOHN: Eh?

KUNT: There’s a lot of rumours about it being a wig.

JOHN: Don’t mention hair to me. Why did you write a children’s book anyway?

KUNT: I’m not plugging it.

JOHN: So it started because…?

KUNT: I went round my mate’s house one day and, on his fridge, he had this picture pinned up of this character with an arse for his face and these poo hands. I asked: “What the fuck is that?” And he said, very matter-of-factly: “That’s Bumface Poohands.”

He said: “I just do these little drawings and leave ‘em in me daughter’s lunchbox to make her laugh.”

JOHN: Has he ever read any books on parenting?

KUNT: No. My mate told me: “He’s a down-at-heel character who ends up in all the situations.” So I said to him: “Have you ever thought of making it into a children’s book?” and I… well… Well, it was just an excuse to meet up every few weeks. We’ve got about a dozen books written now and half a dozen illustrated and we’ve put two out – Bumface Poohands: A Birthday Surprise and Bumface Poohands: A Snowy Day and now we’ve just put this Coronavirus one online as a free e-book.

JOHN: How is Bumface going?

KUNT: It’s going alright. Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown seems to have landed quite well. I’m quite happy with it. It sort of tells a story of what we’re kinda stuck in at the moment… in a fairly jocular way, compared to how bleak things actually are – and it seems to kinda cross over with adults and kids.

But Bumface Poohands is like everything I do. I always think Oh! This’ll be the thing that crosses over. But it never is. The ideas I have always have a very finite amount of people who are gonna like them. I thought at one point that Bumface Poohands would be my retirement plan, but now I’m looking at alternative arrangements.

JOHN: If you have 12 new ones written and 6 illustrated, it may yet still happen. JK Rowling approached every sensible publisher in London with Harry Potter and they all turned her down – quite rightly. It’s a ridiculous idea: a boy wizard in this day and age! No-one is going to buy that. Totally uncommercial. But then she got a publisher and now everyone is drowning in dosh.

KUNT: Yeah. I can just see Bumface Poohands becoming the new Harry Potter… It’s never gonna happen, John.

The great showman’s autobiography…

JOHN: Well, you’re a great lyricist; you write great tunes; if you drop a few of the ‘cunts’ and ‘fucks’… You are an Essex boy made good… or bad. Rags to riches story or whatever…

KUNT: But I came from a working class, aspirational middle class family. There’s no story there. It’s not rags to riches.

JOHN: What’s it been like round your way?

KUNT: It’s been strange round here. My mate’s doctor died and the landlady at one of the local pubs. But, other than that, it feels like it’s all kinda happening in London and the cities, not Essex.

It’s like it’s happening somewhere else.

JOHN: I think I have enough for a blog there.

KUNT: I don’t think so.

JOHN: I think so. I will craft it into a thing of fascinating beauty and riotous fun.

KUNT: I don’t think so, John. I read the last one you did.

JOHN: Have you ever had anyone write a brilliant, incisive piece on Kunt and the Gang?

KUNT: No. Anyway, a brilliant, incisive piece wouldn’t really be right for Kunt & the Gang.

JOHN: Then I’m the ideal person for you.

KUNT: Just make it sound better than it actually is, John, and then it’s maybe worth this awkward FaceTime.

JOHN: Do you still feel awkward?

KUNT: You haven’t put me totally at my ease… Heinrich Himmler?

JOHN: This might not get posted in the next two days. I might be sleeping.


Exactly one week later, I was taken into hospital for seven days with low kidney function and high calcium problems. I don’t blame Kunt. Not totally. But I did think it might be a good excuse for taking so long to post this blog.

He finished his nightly Kunt’s Korona Klub shows on YouTube with Episode 58 on 31st May.

Last night, 8th June, I got an email from Kunt. It read:

“How you keeping John, not chasing you up, just seeing how you are?!”

I took this as a veiled threat – he lives in Essex – and I had run out of excuses for my laziness in transcribing our chat. I did not think the fact I currently have constipation would be justification enough.

On a cheerier note, he added: “I’m going to start a new monthly YouTube show called The New Normal in a few weeks time… 

“In one section, Down Meme-ory Lane, I turn investigative journalist and hunt down people whose image became a viral internet phenomenon…

“In another, I’ll Be The Judge of That, I adjudicate over petty Facebook disputes and make a ruling as to who has been the biggest cunt…

“And there is going to be a continuing serial drama following the inhabitants of ‘Yewtree Close’… a bit like Neighbours for sex offenders.”

The man is unstoppable.

 

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Dave Brooks, RIP – astonishing original

Dave Brooks with his sons and daughter (Charlie on right)

I was asleep today – about 11 in the morning-  when Martin Soan phoned to tell me Dave ‘Bagpipes’ Brooks – an early member of The Greatest Show on Legs – had died, aged 72. Dave’s son Charlie Brooks had announced on Facebook that his father died at the end of last week.

Charlie wrote: “He passed away end of last week. They broke the mould when they made him. Here’s to all of you who played music with him, loved him, got exasperated with him(!) and had fun with him over the years. With the coronavirus situation, we don’t know what will happen with the funeral at the moment.” 

(Charlie lives in Oregon; Dave lived in the UK.)

“At some point, there will be a moment to remember Dave and it will involve music and a few drinks.

Dave playing at Charlie’s wedding (bride & groom on left)

“Charismatic and occasionally cantankerous, but always quick with a joke and someone who definitely lived by his own rules, for better or worse. He was also a brilliant musician, starting as a jazz sax player in the 1960s, then becoming a piper.

“Going to miss you, Dave… everyone is unique, but they truly broke the mould when they made you. They say you can’t choose your family, but if I could, I’d choose you again. So sad I didn’t get to say goodbye. Love you.”

Martin Soan remembers: “Dave joined The Greatest Show on Legs very early on…

“I don’t know what year or indeed how we came to meet him in the first place, but he was a valued member and was a very funny man indeed.

“Going on tour with ‘The Legs’ wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea: it was a hand-to-mouth existence and a lot of anarchy to put up with, but he fitted in without any trouble and sometimes led the way in outrageousness. 

(L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Martin Soan, Jools Holland, ‘Digger Dave’, Dave Brooks (Photograph supplied by Martin Soan)

“I performed with him a few times in later years and we both slotted in where we left off. It was simply natural to perform and hang out with him.

“His temperament was sunny and always even but also he was very educational (important when spending long hours in a van), He introduced Malcolm Hardee and me to garlic, which Malcolm hated… He knew what was happening politically and, of course, musically expanded our minds… Above all, I will always remember his wicked sense of humour and infectious laugh.

“He excelled on stage and personally made sketches of ours complete and perfect and, after he went his own way, we had to drop the routines he had made his own. The Human Scottish Sword Dance and Dirty Ol Men were his sketches .”

In 1981, Dave performed The Human Scottish Sword Dance with The Legs on ITV’s ratings-topper Game For a Laugh

I myself met him, I think, only twice, maybe three times: clearly my loss. As well as having an original sense of humour, he had wide talents. 

He was wonderful on the Highland bagpipes (and saxophone) playing Irish Traditional and Scottish Traditional music and jazz with many other artists including Joan Armatrading, Graham Bond, Elkie Brooks, Phil Collins, George Harrison, Dick Hecksall-Smith, Manfred Mann, Count Dracula and The Barber of Seville. Probably also Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

He played weddings with Sikh dhal drummers

He had an 18-month run in London’s West End as a piper in the stage production of Brigadoon (where he had his bagpipes sent to sleep for 100 years) as well as appearing in the BBC TV production of People Like Us and in the movie Loch Ness.

He also performed and played bagpipes on the alternative comedy scene with Arnold Brown, The Greatest Show on Legs, John Hegley, Marcel Steiner (Smallest Theatre in the World) as well as Keith Allen (whose record company, Dave said, still owed him £60!).

In the US, he was a founder member of infamous band The Don Wannabes.

Back in the UK, he played various Scots and Irish piping at weddings, funerals and divorces and had his own Irish ceilidh band Sham-Rock, sometimes appearing playing the bagpipes with them as the Green Man, dressed in a suit of leaves. He claimed he was thinking of branching out. He is on whistle in this video…

For Asian weddings, he appeared playing bagpipes with Drummers Delight – two Sikh dhal drummers.

On 29th July 1996, the Corporation of London prosecuted him at Hampstead Magistrates’ Court under an 1890 by-law for “playing a musical instrument (his bagpipes) on Hampstead Heath on three separate counts. This was despite the fact that Dave had been playing his pipes on the Heath for an hour every morning for 15 years without any complaint from anyone.

As part of Dave’s defence, solicitor George Fairburn cited the legal precedent of Jimmy Reid, Highland Bagpiper, who, on October 2nd, 1746 – after the Battle of Culloden – was charged with playing an instrument of war and insurrection. Jimmy stated that his Highland pipes were a musical instrument not an instrument of war (which sounds reasonable). But the Lord Chief Justice of England overruled the original jury’s not-guilty verdict and dismissed their later plea for mercy by declaring that the bagpipes were indeed an instrument of insurrection. On the strength of this, Jimmy Reid was hanged, drawn and quartered.

After the Battle of Culloden, they were “an instrument of war””

Dave Brooks said that if his Highland bagpipes were an instrument of war – as stated by the court in 1746 – then now, in 1996, his Highland bagpipes remained an instrument of war and insurrection and could not possibly be a musical instrument as charged. 

The 1996 judge – Stipendiary Magistrate Michael Johnstone – said that the case of James Reid and his Highland bagpipes was a gross miscarriage of justice – a point not picked up by the press at the time – and then bizarrely threatened to have Dave Brooks and his Highland Bagpipes charged with bearing arms on Hampstead Heath. He said that, if this interpretation was accurate, Mr Brooks could be charged with carrying a dangerous weapon on the Heath and the penalty could be a prison sentence rather than a fine. He asked the bailiff of the court if he was ready to take Mr Brooks, Highland bagpiper, to the cells below the court never more for his bagpipes to be heard,.

Dave was found guilty on three counts of playing a musical instrument and fined £15 on each count plus £50 costs. 

In his summing-up, the magistrate said: “In time of war the bagpipes are an instrument of war and in peace they are a musical instrument”. He dismissed a petition of 2,500 signatures collected around Hampstead by people who liked the Highland pipes. 

Dave with his Scottish military weapon

The Corporation of London as a token gesture gave consent for Mr Brooks to play his bagpipes for one hour, three mornings a week on the bandstand at Parliament Hill Fields. He was also given permission by the management of Alexandra Palace to play his bagpipes in Alexandra Park anytime, which he then did regularly in return for playing his bagpipes at various charity functions for them.

Stipendiary Magistrate Michael Johnstone, in delivering his judgment, conceded that many might not consider the bagpipes to be a musical instrument, although he said he was not saying it was one.

When Dave’s case first came to prominence and he became a cause célèbre in piping circles, the College of Piping in Glasgow offered some words of comfort: “Well, if they hing you, dinnae you worry. We’ll compose a fine lament to your memory!’’

Tracks on subsequent albums released by Dave included the evocative Birds Eat Turds, a flute and pipe combination of Irish and Mauritanian songs like A Chailleach do mharrias me/Arts Plume and the classic Did They Come From Outer Space? No. They Came From Hendon Central.

RIP an original.


Here is Dave Bagpipes Brooks playing Auld Lang Syne…

…and playing solo bagpipes with an Indian theme…

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 11 – 86-year-old’s Lockdown Survival Guide

“Life is a bitch these days for everyone…”

Lynn Ruth Miller is 86, a US comic currently self-isolating in North London.

She has some valuable lockdown advice to share…


Life is a bitch these days for everyone. But I have lived through so much worse. I lived through the polio epidemic, the sinking of the Titanic, the Dust Bowl… But enough about my sex life.  

Let me give you some tips I have learned through the years to help each and every one of you get through this crisis, even though we are all beginning to look like our hirsute four-legged ancestors, walking around with holes in our soles.

The first rule is TOUCH NOTHING. The trick here is to learn to use your elbows and your nose instead of your hands. Fortunately for me, I am Jewish and my nose has a great deal of dexterity. I have trained it to open the mail, turn a door knob and sniff out infections. If you are not Jewish, you will have to wear gloves and be forced to use your hands. Elbows cannot turn on lamps or open a gate. Sorry.

“Now is the time to read a hardcover book…”

Now is the time to read a hardcover book. You don’t have to tuck reading material into your backpack to read on the tube; you can now do your reading at home. So haul out those hardcovers, especially the ones with titles you don’t want others to see, like Dirty Girls Come Clean or Talk Dirty to Me. The latter is a guide to effective bedroom talk so, if you are having a bit of trouble getting the children to go to sleep, this might be just the advice you are looking for.

We all need exercise and we have been told not to leave our homes. What to do? Well, we could all learn a lesson in perseverance from Captain Tom Moore, who raised over £31 million for the NHS, toddling around his garden in his Zimmer frame. He not only got the exercise he needed, but he managed to stay fit for his 100th birthday.

Of course, the captain HAD a garden and many of us live in flats several floors above ground. It is very important that you move your arms and legs and keep your muscles working. Try running up and down the stairs in your building, waving your arms shouting “Fire!” That will get everyone else up and moving as well.

Laundry can be a bit of a challenge when you are stuck at home. It is not healthy to wear the same clothes day in and day out but, if you do not have a washer in your home, what to do? The best solution is not to wear any clothes at all. No-one is going to see you anyway. The Naturists among us will tell you that staying naked improves your sleep, strengthens your skin and bones and enhances your self-image. The idea is that everyone else looks a lot worse than you do, so why worry?  

“Living in the buff…” (Photo by Peter Klashorst)

Living in the buff does set up an extra challenge for parents stuck at home with the kids. You will need to explain why your body has a few things on it that your little ones do not have. Try hard not to frighten them when you tell them that all that hair and those funny things that stick out will happen to them one day.

If you are stuck at home, you have to create three meals a day for yourself and your family. Options to order out are very limited – Too expensive and besides who wants to open the door to a masked, cloaked stranger with gloves on after dark? Way too risky.

The answer is to make soup. You do not need a recipe for soup. You just open the fridge and grab whatever is in there, boil it up with a bay leaf and pulverize it. If you wait long enough between meals, your family won’t care what it tastes like.  

Hunger can be very non-discriminating. I once made a soup of rotten lettuce, a decaying peach, two sprouting onions and a worn-out sponge. The dog loved it.

All of us like to look our best, but – Hey! – you are at home and you can’t go out. Who is looking? Let your hair grow; wear a towel if it’s chilly; forget underwear – it just catches in crevices anyway – and (this is the trick that makes it all worthwhile) COVER ALL THE MIRRORS. You will feel beautiful. If your partner makes a smart remark, whip out a hand mirror to show that bastard what HE looks like (it is always a He). Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

Many of us are all alone in our homes with no-one to talk to, no-one to cook for, not even a pet to worry about. That means no hugs, no kisses, no sex until the lockdown is over.

(Photograph by Daniele Levis Pelusi via UnSplash)

This need not be a problem. For soft, furry cuddles, hug a teddy bear. And be sure to give yourself lots of hot nights out. All you need is a bottle of wine, a bit of imagination and your hand. That talk about losing your eyesight is a lot of poppycock (which is exactly what you will be having anyway).

Boredom can be a real challenge when you are stuck at home. Try to spice up each day with a different activity.

One day, skip around the living room. Another, hide under the bed. Try eating with your back to the plate. Just be sure you put the dog in the other room. Do not worry about the cat. She is far too fastidious to eat from someone else’s dish.

If you are working from home, you can keep your mind occupied for at least 8 hours a day if you ignore the children throwing silverware at the wall or pooping on the rug.

It is the weekends that are the real challenge. 

My advice is to make each weekend a novelty. Wear something unusual; eat an ethnic meal; dance to music you have never heard;  whip up a soufflé; whip each other. There is nothing like a bondage mitt or an anal hook to add a bit of variety to your Saturday night.

The most important advice is to enjoy this lovely time to get to know who you really are. At last, you will understand why you weren’t invited to that posh diner party. Live with it.

And now is the time to accept that your children are real people with distinct personalities. It is useless to murder them. What would you do with the bodies? Garbage collection has been reduced to almost nothing.

Remember, it is those very children who will decide when to pull the plug when you are ill. If you chain them to the bed or tape their mouths shut, they will make you pay.

Above all else, do not share your toilet paper.

Now that the market shelves are empty, toilet paper has become the new currency. Treasure it. When I was young, diamonds were a girl’s best friend. In the early 21st century, it was Botox. Today it is a roll of Andrex.

As my mother used to say: “One good wipe is worth a thousand drips.”

… DIARY CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 9 – Personal stories in a strange new world

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 8

SUNDAY 19th APRIL

Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted another video of family life in lockdown in London:

The latest figures for coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals are 592 deaths in the last 24 hours (down from 888 yesterday)… So now 16,060 in total.

My friend in Central London, who has a close friend with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit updated me on his current situation:

“I spoke to the hospital earlier. Things are not going well since yesterday. They have been reducing sedation over recent days but he was not coming round, so they stopped all sedation last night… but he’s still not waking up. ‘Neurologically unresponsive,’ they said just now. CT scan of brain later. Today will be a tough day. I am full of fear.”

MONDAY 20th APRIL

(Photo by Luke Jones via UnSplash)

A friend who lives near Milan tells me that the Italian government is going to start easing some restrictions and trying to re-start things on May the 4th. I suggested on Facebook that the Italians must be big Star Wars fans… I was told by someone that this did not work when translated into Italian.

In the last 24 hours, there were 449 hospital deaths linked to coronavirus (down from 592 yesterday)… So now 16,509 in total.

Lynn Ruth Miller, an American living in London – who recently contributed a piece to this blog Diary – writes:


I am an 86-year-old woman. I am a performer whose life revolves around travelling throughout the world to do my act. I am in comparatively good health. I live alone. I have no children, no partner, no family. Because I am in a third floor flat, I have no dog or cat. I am in relatively good health with no debilitating pre-existing conditions.

Governments the world over have told their populations that all people over 70 must go into social isolation. That means I must stay home without visitors and talk to no one face to face. If I need exercise I should walk around the garden. But I do not have a garden.

This social isolation is robbing me of my future. Let’s face it. 86 is the beginning of old, old age. Every day my horizons are less distant. The end of my life is nearer. Each moment that I am able to live a purposeful and rewarding life is especially precious to me because those moments diminish every day. They diminish for us all, of course. But the reality is I have less time left to enjoy them than someone who is younger.

Since March 15 when we were advised to stay inside, I have not been face-to-face with a living, breathing human being. I have not held anyone’s hand; I have not hugged a friend or petted a puppy.

I do not want to get sick. I do not want to make anyone else ill. But I do want to smile at someone who smiles back. I want to tell a joke and hear the laughter. I want to feel a human presence. Live-streaming on a computer screen doesn’t do it for me.


TUESDAY 21st APRIL

Wot’s this ear? It’s some wag’s image of van Gogh

Uncertainty continues about whether people in the UK should wear or not wear masks when out. Jokes have appeared online. One source-unknown wag visually pointed out that Vincent van Gogh would have had problems attaching even a simple face mask.

The real world gets even more surreal than that. The price of oil has turned negative for the first time in history. This means that oil producers are paying buyers to take the stuff off their hands because demand has dropped so sharply and suddenly – because lockdowns across the world have kept people in their homes – that the producers’ storage capacity could run out in May.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours rose by 823 (it was 449 yesterday)… So now 17,337 deaths in total…

WEDNESDAY 22nd APRIL

One friend of mine is taking no chances…

The debate on whether to wear face masks or not continues in the press and one friend of mine is taking no chances by wearing full serious face mask and goggles when she goes out. This is 100% true.

Her equipment may seem over-precautious and certainly likely to keep strangers in the street at a socially-acceptable distance. But the virus can enter the body, it is said, through your mouth, nostrils or eyes, so only wearing a flimsy mask covering mouth and nose would leave your eyes open to attack.

Thus her choice of full headgear makes total logical sense.

THURSDAY 23rd APRIL

Correct social distancing is marked on the floor

Most of the large chain food stores now have positions marked-out on the pavement outside and the floor inside to help keep social distancing (2 metres) from each other.

My friend who lives in Central London updated me on her friend who is in Intensive Care in hospital…


It has been a bumpy old week. From being told by a doctor on Sunday that we should prepare for the worst because my friend was not coming round from two weeks of deep sedation and that a CT scan of his head would assess possible brain damage, to being told that the CT was thankfully clear. 

But then he needed several blood transfusions as his haemoglobin kept rapidly dropping. The doctors were looking for an internal bleed somewhere, but could not find one. So that was all very worrying. 

Then yesterday the ICU consultant said my friend was doing as well as can be expected and seems to be following the same course as others who are further along (a week or two) in the COVID-19 disease process. He clarified that As well as can be expected means still critically ill. He also explained (perhaps unnecessarily) that they are literally stopping these patients from dying every hour of every day… A ‘good’ day for a patient means “still alive” and they don’t want to give false hope, even when small forward steps are logged…

However, today when I spoke to an ICU nurse, some small forward steps had been logged. Although still on a ventilator, he is now initiating his own breaths and seems to be holding his own. But, a week after removing all sedation, we are still waiting for him to come round. Last Sunday he was “neurologically unresponsive” which sounded pretty endgame-ish. However today I’m told that his pupils are reactive and that he has a good cough (which, in ventilated patients, is apparently a good thing). Small steps.


The total deaths related to coronavirus in UK hospitals now stands at 18,738 – a rise of 616 deaths in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 24th APRIL

Last night, BBC TV’s Big Night In show, lasting all evening, combining the charity know-how of Comic Relief and Children in Need and featuring a mega-star-studded array of names including Prince William, the presumed future British King, raised £27 million for charity.

Bizarrely, Captain Tom raised more than £28 million by walking round his daughter’s back yard. We live in strange times.

Also last night, “somewhere in Southern England”, my friend Lynn shot a video which shows that cabin fever has hit the local Brits in total lockdown…

In a press briefing yesterday, President Trump suggested that sunlight or ultraviolet light could be put inside the body – or disinfectant injected into the body – to treat coronavirus. After a backlash, particularly from bleach manufacturers who issued statements telling people not to drink their product, the man with his finger on the nuclear button claimed he was being sarcastic and/or joking, despite the video clearly showing he was being serious.

My friend in Central London spoke to the ICU consultant again today.


The consultant is cautiously positive about my friend’s progress on the ventilator. He is initiating breaths for himself, and the ventilator helps to fully inflate his lungs. His ventilation requirement is now less than 50%, which is still life support but a lot less than it was even a week ago. This whole process is called ‘weaning’ from the ventilator and is done by minuscule reductions.  

He also briefly opened his eyes this morning before drifting off again. The consultant expects it will still take some time for him to come round properly because his lack of kidney function means the sedation is still hanging around, even a week after they stopped it. Some COVID-19 patients are taking weeks to wake up, he said. 

I asked about the previously mentioned tracheotomy, but they’ve decided not to rush the decision. He said the option with the best outcome would be extubation (removing the breathing tube completely and stopping ventilation) when they are more confident that he can breathe on his own. However, a tracheotomy for continued longer-term ventilation might still be necessary although not ideal, as patients who go this route have a worse prognosis. The consultant said they will see how the weekend goes and review on Monday.  

As always, it was stressed that my friend is still critically ill, needing life support, and that there is no guarantee of a good outcome. But the consultant added that his team does think my friend has a chance of recovery, otherwise they wouldn’t still be fighting for him…

So I see this as a glimmer.

Another friend I know – an anaesthetist at a local hospital – agreed that this all sounded encouraging. However he cautioned that, even if he does make it out of hospital, my friend’s lungs and/or kidneys might be permanently damaged. A high proportion of long-term ICU patients have psychological and psychiatric problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression (not to mention the much-documented ‘ICU delirium’). There is also a high risk of cognitive impairment. And the road to recovering some level of normal life will be measured in years, not months, with an army of physio and rehab support. He will need 24/7 care for months and obviously somebody living-in when he returns home. So there is a glimmer. But. at the same time… fuck!


UK hospital deaths related to coronavirus went up by 684 in the last 24 hours, making total deaths 19,506. Deaths in the US, where President Trump, despite figures to the contrary, says they are over the peak, have gone over 50,000. Globally, deaths are around 195,000.

Meanwhile, Captain Tom got to No 1 in the hit parade with his rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

SATURDAY 25th APRIL

The Guardian reports today on Mark Grenon: “The leader of the most prominent group in the US peddling potentially lethal industrial bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump at the White House this week… Grenon styles himself as ‘archbishop’ of Genesis II – a Florida-based outfit that claims to be a church but which in fact is the largest producer and distributor of chlorine dioxide bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ in the US. He brands the chemical as MMS, miracle mineral solution’, and claims fraudulently that it can cure 99% of all illnesses including cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDs as well as autism.”

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours was 813, making a total of 20,319; we are only the fifth country to go over 20,000.

Meanwhile, in Britain, rounding off the week, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu’s latest video shows he has found it is easy to get distracted when homeschooling his children in locked-down London…

… CONTINUED HERE

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“Max Beeza and the City in the Sky” – an amazingly original British animation

A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I saw an amazingly original British animation and decided to chat to its two young directors. The animation was made in 1977. Below is the resultant article, exactly as it appeared in the March 1979 edition of Starburst magazine. Yup: 41 years ago…


For two years a film made by two National Film School students has been surfacing in some of the most unlikely places. Starburst has tracked down the creators of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky, two young film-makers called Philip Austin and Derek Hayes, and now presents an exclusive look at this rare animated movie.


The film’s hero is a spiv, a con-man/comedian/magician…

Starburst: How much did it cost to make the movie? 

Philip Austin: About £4,000. We put our budgets together and came up with that amount. 

Derek Hayes: The point is that at film school you’re not paying for a lot of things. 

Starburst: I liked the credit at the end. Head Grip: Albert de Salvo. 

Philip Austin: That’s good. Not many people get these things. Few people even notice.


Few people have had the chance to notice the Boston Strangler’s name at the end of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky. National Film School graduates Philip Austin and Derek Hayes have made one of the most original and inventive animated films since the heyday of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. Technically, it looks flawless. But almost no-one has seen their movie. It has been shown only at the 1977 London Film Festival; during lunchtimes at London’s Essential Cinema in early 1978; and at the 1978 Edinburgh Film Festival and Ottawa Animation Festival. 

“The entire population of Britain now lives in a tower city”

It is a future world. Poison gas has spread across the planet and the entire population of Britain now lives in a tower city twelve miles high ringed by clouds. Mrs Ron Weetabix is making her way home along a narrow ledge — until she falls off. A clergyman is preaching a hellfire sermon on sin — until he gradually lapses into the title song of Champion The Wonder Horse. Max Beeza is entertaining a laughing audience — until The Airship attacks. 

The original idea for the 24-minute film came partly from a dream of Philip Austin’s and partly from the “strange tower cities” which fan Derek Hayes used to draw at school. Austin and Hayes met at Sheffield Art College, where they made Custard, a cartoon satire on the obsessions people have in a northern industrial town.

You can see Custard on the BFI website

This won them places in the National Film School at Beaconsfield. Because that was “such a dull place to be”, they decided they would have to resort to pure imagination for their next project. It took 18,000 drawings and 20 months to complete. 

The film’s hero, Max Beeza, is an Arthur English-type spiv, a con-man/ comedian/magician, whose stage act is a cross between Bruce Forsyth (constantly insulting his audience), a slightly demented Max Bygraves and (according to Austin) Elmer Gantry — the sort of person whose only talent is getting on well with an audience. Billed as Max, The Merry Missionary, Beeza’s latest show is in aid of ‘Bison for the Deaf’. 

“Are you thinking?” he asks his audience: “Don’t! You can’t see if you’re thinking.” In his hands, a brick becomes a chocolate biscuit. In fact, it is a chocolate biscuit. Just as a top hat could be, can be and is a flower-pot, a frog-catcher, a bucket, a catapult for custard pies, a frisbee and … a top hat. “Are you thinking?” he yells: “Don’t! You can’t see if you’re thinking. After all, you thought it was a brick — didn’t you!” Suddenly shells whistle through the air, blood spurts, people panic, grenades and bodies explode. 

The tower city is under attack by an airship. In the chaos, a game of cricket has an explosive ending, a suicidal man has problems killing himself and a drunk can’t drink until his head is blown off. The newspaper headlines scream: “War Declared. Win 365 pairs of naughty knickers.” 

Scream: “War Declared. Win 365 pairs of naughty knickers.”

But who is sending the Airship? No-one knows. They can’t see because they’re thinking. Members of the Soccer Hooligans’ Union meet city leader Victor Troutskillet for emergency talks, the war rages on, devastation is everywhere, the bright colours become dulled, Victor Troutskillet forms a Secret Police to stop subversion, Max is excused military service and starts a new show in aid of shell-shocked gulls. 

Part of the enjoyment of Max Beeza and the City in the Sky is the detail. Small bits of graffiti barely-glimpsed in the background; the baroque architecture; in-jokes and obscure references. Directors Austin and Hayes, in fact, think there are too many details in some places. “The script as we originally conceived it would have made a longer film,” says Hayes…

“We had to cut a lot of the story,” says Austin. 

Both are interested in the idea of an animated documentary. “You can make a documentary on a thing that doesn’t exist, like that city,” Hayes claims: “That’s what science fiction does best. It takes people and people’s emotions and it says Right, what IF this happened? How would people react? And some of the best science fiction comes out of that. What we wanted to do with all the characters was to try to make the city look like a real place. Shove everything in and repeat things. Repeat characters — have them pass by in the background — people you’ve seen before — so that it seems to expand outside the confines of the frame and you think there’s something more going on.”

Beware of the innocent-looking but actually armed chair…!

Some of the details can only be seen on a second or third viewing. “That’s where thinking it through quite well is helpful,” continues Hayes: “Even if you don’t get everything right up-front, it’s there in the background and it gives that rich feeling of depth to it.”

The two directors are also aware that, in the future, people are likely to buy films on videocassettes. An animated feature for that market will have to be able to stand up to repeated viewings:, “You just put it on in the evening and just see what you can see in it this time. If it’s very, very dense, it will actually stand up to repeated viewings.” Meanwhile, back in the sky . . . 

As Mr Ron Weetabix sits at home listening to a radio speech by Victor Troutskillet, he mutters: “Rubbish.” Arms rise out of his armchair. He is swallowed by the chair, which walks off-screen with him. His son yells out. The settee hits him on the head with a mallet. Gradually, as the film progresses, this surrealism increases. Max discovers who is sending The Airship, but our hero is under the surveillance of four neo-Nazi pieces of furniture, all members of the Secret Police … A chest-of-drawers, a cooker, an armchair and their leader The Deadly Lightshade (a standard lamp). They decide to kill Max. 

Lights burst out! – Sitting on its motor bike is… the cooker…

One dark, snowy night, as Max is trudging home, lights burst out of the blackness. Engines rev up. There, sitting on their motor bikes, are the chest-of-drawers, the cooker and the armchair. They drive their bikes at him, but he escapes by climbing  up a scratch on the film, which leads him to a caption: The next scene contains 20  startling revelations — count them all. 

“A lot of the film is to do with Tex Avery, I think,” says Philip Austin: “Going up the scratch is a Tex Avery gag. He never actually used that gag, but he must have come close to it. He did hairs in the gate and running up the side of the film — stuff like that. Those sort of free-wheeling gags. Disney knocked them out of cartoons. We saw a lot of Tex Avery films at college and we were really knocked out by how zany the gags were and amazed that nobody was doing that sort of stuff any more. So we’re very strongly influenced by Tex Avery. Loony non-sequitur gags . . . chuck them all in.” 

And so to the film’s climax — the confrontation between Max and Victor Troutskillet, the city’s ‘Big Brother’ — a Billy Bunter figure with traces of Frankie Howerd in his voice. The original design for Troutskillet was much thinner: both in name and in style he was originally conceived as a Mervyn Peake-type character. But when his voice was pre-recorded (as it had to be for synchronised mouth movements), the thin character did not work — “So we tubbied him up and turned him into a Bunter-like thing.” 

But Troutskillet is not the ultimate villain of the film, as we discover in the final 20 startling revelations. In the climactic confrontation. Max faces The Deadly Lightshade, The Wicked Stepladder (from Snow White), an array of gun-toting armchairs and The Airship itself, which turns out to be none other than . . . No, I won’t tell you. But look out for the hare — a rather mangy-looking relative of Bugs Bunny, who turns up without warning and without explanation throughout the film.

“Look out for…a rather mangy-looking relative of Bugs Bunny”

Max Beeza is well-worth seeing — if it’s shown. Part of its success is due to the fact that both Austin and Hayes have also worked on live-action films. They try to shoot and cut animated films as if they were live-action ones. “What we’re trying to do is incorporate two things,” says Hayes:

“One is the live-action way of doing things with its emphasis on cutting — because in a live-action film, as opposed to a cartoon, usually you have a lot more cuts and the action is shown through the cuts whereas, in a cartoon, you have things develop within the shot. Also, we wanted to be able to keep on the cartoon things: the kind of graphic shot that leads you into things and gives you fluidity.” 

For some time now, Philip Austin has been working at the Richard Williams animation studio in Soho. Early in 1978, Derek Hayes worked on BBC Bristol’s Animated Conversations: a series of six programmes which combined real conversations with animated visuals. And, in Autumn 1978, the two worked together for two months on an animated sequence featuring Sid Vicious in the Sex Pistols’ film The Great Rock and Roll Swindle (directed by Julian Temple, another National Film School graduate). Austin and Hayes’ next project together will (hopefully) be about a man who keeps an alien in his bedroom. Hayes is also threatening a story entirely, people with animated furniture. 

As for Max Beeza and the City in the Sky, they are still trying to get British distributors to accept it as a supporting feature, if the mechanics of the British distribution system will allow that — there are problems because it was made by students as a student film. It took four years for the brilliantly inventive US movie Dark Star to be publicly shown in this country. I hope Max Beeza doesn’t take that long. It’s British, highly inventive, highly entertaining and well worth seeing.


You can now (in 2020) can see Max Beeza and the City in the Sky for free (it runs 24 minutes) on the British Film Institute website:

… CONTINUED HERE
… after a gap of 41 years …
… in A NEW INTERVIEW with DEREK HAYES …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 8 – Captain Tom and the cytokine storm

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 7

(Photograph by rottonara via Pixabay)

WEDNESDAY 15th APRIL

My friend in Central London, who has a close friend with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit tells me: “He had a stable night. Everything as before except they are trying a tiny reduction in ventilation today. No feedback about that yet. A nursing friend says that ‘stable’ when in ICU is a good thing.

“Over the last week we have been inundated with emails and texts from his colleagues, neighbours and friends. There’s so much gratitude and respect for him out there. He has helped so many people. The moral support from everyone is amazing. We hope he knows just how appreciated he is.” 

The latest government figures today were: 761 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 12,868 in total.

THURSDAY 16th APRIL

The latest government figures today are: 861 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 13,729 in total

There are lots of feel-good factors on the news today because of 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore. He had set himself a target of walking round his back garden (he lives with his daughter) on his Zimmer frame 100 times before his 100th birthday on 30th April to raise £1,000 for the NHS. He started his fundraising on 8th April and completed his 100th lap today… and he has actually raised over £15 million. A petition has started to get him knighted.

Media company Public Radio International reported: ”Kalsarikännit, the Finnish tradition of getting drunk at home in your underwear, might be getting traction globally with over half of the world population under stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus pandemic…”

Reacting to this, Esko Väyrynen, who organises the World Fart Championship in Finland, told me: “The day after proper kalsarikännit is called alushousupäivä (=underwear day). It makes easy to select how to dress. Six feet distance during pandemic is hard to keep. We Finns are so distanced already that no one of us want to go so near to anyone.”

From Holby City fiction to NHS reality…

Another story re-reported today from almost a week ago was the surreal fact that the BBC TV’s hospital drama series Holby City has given two fully-functioning ventilator machines to the new NHS Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London. Quite why the drama series needed a real one is a good question but the surreality of a fictional hospital giving a spare life-saving ventilator machine to a real hospital takes a bit of getting yer head round.

Today, after three weeks, the UK government extended the social lockdown, restricting people to their homes, by another three weeks.

FRIDAY 17th APRIL

By breakfast time this morning, Captain Tom had raised over £18 million.

My friend in Central London told me that the hospital now thought what was happening to her friend with coronavirus is a ‘cytokine storm’ – an over-reaction by the body’s immune system.

Basically cytokines are small proteins released by many different cells in the body, including those of the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation. But, in some patients, excessive or uncontrolled levels of cytokines are released which then activate more immune cells, resulting in hyper-inflammation. This can seriously harm the patient.

Cytokine release (Photograph from scientificanimations.com via Wikipedia)

According to the New Scientist: “Cytokine storms might explain why some people have a severe reaction to coronaviruses while others only experience mild symptoms. They could also be the reason why younger people are less affected, as their immune systems are less developed and so produce lower levels of inflammation-driving cytokines.”

In the evening, my friend in Central London shared with me a newspaper article about a man in similar circumstances to her friend – and of the same age – and in a nearby hospital. The headline was: Dad With Zero Chance of Surviving Coronavirus Weaned Off Ventilator – But He is Not Out of The Woods Yet. The doctors had told his wife that he had no chance of surviving and allowed her and her two children ten minutes with him to say goodbye, though they had to wear Personal Protective Equipment and were not allowed to touch him.

The latest government figures are: 847 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 14,576 in total.

SATURDAY 18th APRIL

The latest government figures are: 888 coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours… so now 15,464 in total 

Captain Tom has now raised £23 million for the NHS.

Captain Tom completes his 100th circuit…

… CONTINUED HERE

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