Category Archives: Medical

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

Political killings in Kenya and in the UK

On Friday (in London) I recorded the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast with comedy critic Kate Copstick on a bad line from a noisy cafe in Nairobi.

Copstick is in Kenya until this coming Friday, working with her Mama Biashara charity, which helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small legitimate businesses to support themselves; and also deals with medical problems.

Here are some more highly-edited extracts from her diary entries which appear in full on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Mama Biashara logo

TUESDAY 14th JUNE

Equal opportunity rejection yesterday… A Presbyterian organisation turned down my pleas for help and we were told that the Moslem children of Kibera would rather be worm-ridden and scabby-headed than have us help as I am ‘unclean’. Not even an infidel. Unclean. To be fair, that is actually quite true at the moment

Doris calls to cancel our afternoon de-worming in Kibera. She says she has been warned off because there is a LOT of tension following some members of the government publicly calling for the shooting of the Leader of the Opposition. Doris has been told to leave if she wants to be safe. So she leaves. Shortly thereafter I get sent a photo of a woman’s body burning on the streets of Kibera.

David and I sit in a massive jam on Moi Avenue caused by the fact that a matatu sacco has its stage there and, on a small two lane road, one lane is permanently blocked solid with parked buses. Ten of the buggers I counted. Why is it allowed? I wonder aloud. I am told: It is not allowed. It is against the law and by laws and City Council rules. But these buses are owned by MPs and so no one will touch them.

In the city centre, everyone is talking about the Kuria – the guy who started all the hate speech and calls for Raila to be killed – and his cronies. Nairobi is not happy.

WEDNESDAY 15th JUNE

A woman burned to death in the streets of Kibera.

A woman burned to death in the streets of Kibera, Kenya.

The government have put six of the hate speech MPs in the cells. The opposition want theirs released immediately as it was the government MPs who started it all. I fully expect one of them to threaten to scweam and scweam until he ith thick. But, instead, they threaten more disruption.

On Facebook yesterday, I posted a fucking picture of a woman ON FIRE in Kibera. They went crazy in Kibera a set a couple of random people on fire because they were the wrong tribe. NOT ONE COMMENT ON FACEBOOK !!! WTF are people about?

I mean, I know that the Orlando massacre was horrific and appalling and now all right-thinking people are standing in silence in Old Compton Street because – of course – that will change everything and not just because it will make THEM feel better. But for fuck’s sake. Sorry. Rant over.

Has America come round to the disappointing realisation that Orlando might just have been old-fashioned homophobia and not new and exciting and politically useful terrorism?

THURSDAY 16th JUNE

A new Mama Biashara juice bar

A new Mama Biashara juice bar recently opened in Nairobi.

As the picture I posted on Facebook of an actual woman on actual fire during riots in Kibera got not one reaction, I thought I would revert to something nicer in the hope that people will notice. This is part of a Mama Biashara Juice Bar. And this tiny space is home to sixty business people : chapati and coffee sellers, sugar cane juice makers, fresh fruit salad and juice sellers, samosa makers and boiled egg peeps. Mostly funded yesterday and raring to go.

I go to the market at Junction to collect stock. Worryingly, Evans – who is making two chess sets for us – has not returned from Kisii. And his phone is not going through.

Online, I read about the MP who has been shot and stabbed in the UK. Bloody hell!

For once, the craziness in the UK exceeds the craziness in Kenya.

Here, all hell has broken loose because some MPs were calling for the assassination of the leader of the opposition. In the UK, they have actually killed an MP. These are bad times. I feel like watching a Shirley Temple film or going to see Spencer JonesHerbert, just to reassure myself that there is sweetness around somewhere.

And my wonderful Uncle Bob has had a stroke. And a child has been eaten by an alligator (or something) at Disney World. And a magpie is stealing blue tit chicks in my stepsister’s garden in Scotland.

Back in my Nairobi home, I discover we have no water and I lug a jerrycan round to my cell so I can wash some clothes. Oh yes. That is how we roll here at Mama Biashara. My hopes of having hot water explode with my kettle on a dodgy plug, so a cold wash has to do. Then I organise the pile of de-wormers, malaria medication, painkillers and calcium, cod liver oil and garlic, multivitamins and cough syrup to be sent to Jayne in Awendo and Julius in Western.

Thence to bed. I play Solitaire obsessively every night, because it is about creating order out of chaos it is incredibly therapeutic for my fraught mind. I have wildly scatological dreams. A first for me… and not in a good way.

FRIDAY 17th JUNE

The administration block of Kenyatta Hospital

Administration block of Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi.

There are a couple of things I have forgotten to mention and one new horror to regale you with.

It turns out that Joan’s account of there being no more free ARVs for HIV+ people in Kenya is true. Médecins Sans Frontières is withdrawing from most places – Homa Bay has gone and Kibera is on the way out. Their clinics are being taken over by the Kenyan Health Authorities which means paying for everything and being treated by doctors who are – in general – doctors in name only.

Felista was also called to a meeting by the NACC (National AIDS Control Council) along with all concerned parties in the Dagoretti area to be told that the ARVs have almost run out completely and there are no more testing kits. It is one way, I suppose, of keeping your HIV infection stats looking chipper – just don’t test people.

In other news, a news crew (Kenyan) got into a small room in Kenyatta Hospital (the biggest in Eastern Africa… A beacon of light and hope blah blah blah) where 36 people were crammed in various stages of injury. These are people who had been injured in an accident and brought to Kenyatta Emergency Department. When it transpired after a couple of days that they could not pay their bill, they were dumped off the ward into this small room. Just a room – absolutely nothing that could be construed as an amenity – and relatives have to bring them food and clothing. No beds, just the stone floor. Some still bandaged up. A couple still bloodied. One bloke has been there for a year.

SATURDAY 18th JUNE

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Kate Copstick (right) with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

I am still angry with the world.

There is a new girl whom Felista wants me to see. Also the dormitory floors are oozing water. And the gate is falling apart.

The new girl – Shiko – was rescued from her uncle. She was sent to live with him after her parents died. She was beaten and locked in a back room. She is mentally impaired because of the appalling traumas she has been through – including being trapped in that locked room when fire broke out and being very very badly burned. It is impossible to tell how badly. Her scars are horrible and she has almost lost a hand. She exhibits quite a lot of obsessive behaviour – as a lot of the badly-abused kids at Felista’s do when they arrive – and eats paper. But she responds to stroking and when we put some music on she dances with me.

Another girl, Muthoni, came to Felista utterly broken after ten years of sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle from the age of five. The uncle has not been imprisoned. He said that, because he ‘married’ her when she was thirteen (and had already been abusing her for eight years) it was all OK. The police agreed.

Muthoni is now a bouncing, healthy, happy teenager. She is very cuddly – sort of like a large seven year old – and she can now see men without screaming. Recently, she has told Felista she wants a husband.

So there is great hope for the new girl Shiko. And Muthoni is looking after her.


MAMA BIASHARA EXISTS SOLELY BECAUSE OF DONATIONS. COPSTICK RECEIVES NOTHING AND SHE COVERS NONE OF HER EXPENSES IN ANY WAY. THE MAMA BIASHARA WEBSITE HAS DETAILS OF THEIR WORK.

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Filed under Charity, Kenya, Medical, Politics

Beth Vyse – How breast cancer turned her from an actress into a comedian

Beth Vyse, eating daffodils

Beth Vyse – showing her animal side earlier this week in Soho

When I met Beth Vyse in London’s Soho Theatre this week, she had come straight from lecturing drama students in acting at the University of Rochester in Kent.

“I didn’t know you lectured,” I said.

I think research can be over-rated.

“Oh yes,” she told me. “I teach at LAMDA. I’ve worked at Rose Bruford, the Manchester Met – all the big Uni colleges.”

“Worked at?” I asked.

“Taught at. Directed at,” said Beth.

“You know a bit about drama, then?” I asked.

“I know a lot about Chekhov and Ibsen and Shakespeare and that kind of stuff. I performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company a few times when I first left drama school – small parts in three Shakespeares and then I understudied the leads. I was in Taming of The Shrew, The Tamer Tamed, Measure For Measure and…”

The Tamer Tamed?” I asked.

“It’s the sequel to Taming of the Shrew,” Beth told me. “By John Fletcher.”

“Were you teaching Jacobean stuff in Rochester today?” I asked.

“I was doing animal studies with them. They study animals and the physiology of animals and how they’re weighted and how they walk and communicate and eat. They find the characters within the movement of animals.”

“Surely,” I said, “there are a limited number of roles to play in Planet of the Apes and Star Wars?”

“You can use it in anything,” Beth told me. “My comedy career, perchance.”

“When were you last a camel?” I asked.

A golden-headed tamarin (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

A golden-headed tamarin – it screeches (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

“I haven’t done a camel,” admitted Beth, “but I’ve done a golden-headed tamarin many a time. Facial expressions. Eating.”

She started making screeching noises like a small monkey.

“I also teach at Soho Theatre,” Beth said. “I teach at the Comedy Lab Plus. I work with people who are already on the circuit, sketch performers, some performance artists, some cabaret performers, some normal stand-ups. I help them to try different things, shape their sets, make them more theatrical, use the audience, eye contact, that sort of thing.”

“You always wanted to study drama at university?” I asked.

“I applied to five universities. I wanted to be a town planner. But I thought: Why not apply to one drama school? So I did. And I got an audition at Rose Bruford, got in and the rest is history.”

“Why town planning?” I asked. “That says to me: a mind that wants to organise.

“I’m quite organised when it comes to certain things,” Beth agreed. “Not with some others.”

“You want,” I asked, “to make sense of the anarchy of life?”

“Yeah… Well, that’s why I teach as well. It helps me make sense of things.”

“You want,” I suggested, “to have control – not in a bad way – over the anarchy?”

“Yeah,” said Beth. “I’m always in control. It might look like I’m completely not, but I think I am. I never let it go too much.”

“So your show scripts are very tight?” I asked.

Poster image for Beth Vyse Going Dark!

Poster image for one of Beth’s earlier shows – Going Dark!

Going Dark! was really scripted. Get Up With Hands! was scripted. As Funny As Cancer is the least scripted. I wrote lots of it, but I’ve also left room for audience members to come and play the different parts in the story – to play the Chinese doctor, to play Michael Jackson, my mum, my dad. They have to read my cancer diagnosis and that’s pretty hard for anyone. It’s funny but dark and dangerous and weird.”

“And you are a Weirdo,” I said. “I missed the Weirdos Christmas Panto AND your Edinburgh show As Funny As Cancer last year. I’m embarrassed.”

“We had a chat in the street in Edinburgh,” Beth reminded me.

“Oh God, did we?” I asked.

“It was when the Guardian article about me came out.”

The Guardian piece was headlined:

FAKE BREASTS, PING-PONG BALLS AND TEARS IN A COMIC EXPLORATION OF CANCER

Beth Vyse - As funny As Cancer

Beth Vyse – the poster for As Funny As Cancer

Beth told me: “You said I had a bigger picture than the Queen of Spain got when she died.”

“I think there was about two-thirds of a page on you,” I said.

“We have gone off course,” Beth mused.

“It happens,” I said. “When is your show next week?”

“On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Proud Archivist in Haggerston.”

“This is your Edinburgh Fringe show As Funny As Cancer…”

“Yes.”

“You started as an actress and then became a comedian.”

“I was always an actor and then I got breast cancer when I was 28 and everything got kind-of thrown up in the air, really, and the acting kind-of dried up because I didn’t really care and then… Well, I always wanted to be a comedian. I wanted to be the David Bowie of comedy or the Kate Bush of comedy – Someone who is kind of weird and experimental and changes themselves each time. I mean, I’m nowhere near doing that. I’m teaching animal studies in Rochester!”

“Well,” I said, “David Bowie and Kate Bush’s early performances were both influenced by mime. I saw David Bowie when he was a mime and…”

“I always wanted to do comedy,” said Beth, trying to get me back on track, “but I was never brave enough. So, when I got breast cancer at 28, I decided I was going to write some comedy and get up and perform it. I thought: You don’t know how long life is and you don’t know how long you’ve got. Why don’t I just try it? What have I got to lose?

“So I started writing with a friend of mine and we took a show to Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it and I’ve just been doing more comedy ever since. My comedy is big and grotesque and raw and it’s all to do with me having breast cancer. Everything I do is, really. Once it happens to you, you can’t really change that.”

“But you didn’t talk,” I said, “about breast cancer in your shows before this one.”

Beth Vyse as Olive Hands

Olive Hands: “No-one would have known what it was about.”

“I didn’t talk about it until the five-years all-clear. Before this show, no-one would have known it had anything to do with me having cancer. I played this woman Olive Hands who was a big, grotesque, daytime TV presenter. All she wanted was fame and she had a really nice family at home but never went. A constant want for something. But why? Why would anyone want this type of thing? It was all to do with that theme of wanting something you couldn’t have. In one show, Olive Hands is ill and this is where it all came from. It seemed mental and silly; no-one would have known what it was about.”

“You got the all-clear after five years?”

“Yes. I hadn’t really let anyone know except my close family and got the five-years all-clear and decided last year was the right year to do As Funny As Cancer. I’m taking the show to Leicester, Manchester, Exeter and, in April, New Zealand and I might be going to Los Angeles later in the year.”

“And the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I might take As Funny As Cancer up again, but also a new show. I want to have Gareth Morinan in it, playing Noel Edmonds. I’m quite obsessed with Deal or No Deal. It makes me cry!”

“Why?” I asked.

“People just suddenly win £40,000. I find it very emotional and it’s all done on complete chance. The idea is so stupid and ridiculous, but I find it very emotional and I’m interested in why it gets me like that. It is just boxes with numbers on them. It’s all complete chance.”

“Like life,” I said.

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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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Comedy critic Copstick’s buttocks and Twonky’s Stinking Bishop sans cheese

The Mama Biashara show

The two Mama Biashara Fringe preview shows

In Monday’s blog, I mentioned that Kate Copstick, my Grouchy Club Podcast co-host had woken up with a face that was “massively puffy. Eyes like currants in a dumpling. But a red dumpling.” (Her words.)

Tonight, I went to see one of the Edinburgh Fringe previews which Copstick is hosting at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London – the charity gets 100% of all donations. Well, there were two previews tonight – from Daphna Baram and Sajeela Kershi.

“You look paler,” I told Copstick when I arrived.

“But still not good enough to be photographed,” she said. “You know it’s not good if you walk in and the doctor says: Oh! My goodness!… She started poking at my face, saying: Oh! It’s hot! It’s hot!… Well, I mean, Hello!?? That’s why I’m here seeing a doctor!”

“What was wrong?” I asked.

“Apparently my lupus has kicked itself up a notch,” she told me. “It’s like a computer game and I’m now at Level 5. So I got a arseful of extra steroids. They’re amazing: it’s something called depomedrone. I got a buttock full of it and, believe me, my buttocks are fairly capacious.”

“You only got it in one buttock?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Copstick. “It is on the NHS. If I had gone private, I might have got two buttocksful.”

“So,” I said, “you now have a giant left buttock and a normal right buttock? Don’t you tend to fall off chairs when you sit down?”

Rare sight - shy Copstick - at Mama Biashara

Rare sight – shy Copstick – at Mama Biashara

“No,” Copstick told me, “I just sit with a slight tilt. My right buttock is full of a metal Kenyan replacement hip joint… I think I’m going to make it a thing with Mama Biashara comedy previews that, unless you are sufficiently ill, you can’t perform… People who have some kind of permanent condition… Romina Puma is here on 4th July and has muscular dystrophy, so that’s fine. Tim Renkow is here on Wednesday and he has cerebral palsy, so that means he qualifies. And we have already had Mel Moon.

“I am setting the bar. I have lupus. Anyone less ill than me does not get to come and do a show. I think that’s fair. Do you have any stinking bishop?”

“What?” I asked.

Twonkey,” explained Copstick, “having created his marvellous new show, Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, cannot find any stinking bishop.”

“What is a stinking bishop?” I asked.

“A fabulous cheese with a sort-of washed pinky rind and it pongs to high heaven and it’s absolutely delicious.”

“I don’t like cheese,” I pointed out, “so his chances of winning an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award are fading fast.”

“If you mention it in your increasingly prestigious blog,” said Copstick, “just ask if anyone knows where Twonkey can get some stinking bishop in and around the Edinburgh area. It would make him very happy. Otherwise I may have to secrete some around my person on the MegaBus up to Edinburgh – which would be very unpleasant for everyone.”

“You could put it in your buttock,” I suggested.

“There is no space… steroids,” said Copstick.

“Your right buttock?” I suggested.

“Kenyan hip joint,” said Copstick flatly.

Publicity for Twonkey’s stinking Bishop (No, I have no idea why either)

Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop (No, I have no idea why either)

After Daphna Baram and Sajeela Kershi’s previews, Copstick told me: “Twonkey says a sponsorship deal can be only hours away now your increasingly prestigious blog is involved.”

I puffed with pride.

“If you won’t let me take a photo of your face for the blog,” I asked, “can I take a photo of your left buttock?”

Copstick went off somewhere.

Relaxing Canadian cannabis bath bombs

Relaxing Canadian cannabis bath bombs

She never came back.

I left.

When I got home, there was an e-mail waiting for me from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent.

“I just heard,” it said, “that the dispensaries in Vancouver sell marijuana bath bombs and THC ‘gummy bear’ candies.”

I have never taken recreational drugs but, sometimes, it just seems like I have.

Reality. Don’t talk to me about reality.

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Mel Moon – a Sick Girl dicing solo with death away from the Edinburgh Fringe

Mel at home yesterday, with husband Chris

Mel at home yesterday with husband Kris

Comic Mel Moon is being admitted to hospital this afternoon and she is having her throat cut in the operating theatre at 9.30am tomorrow morning.

The Edinburgh Fringe is going to be even more chaotic than usual this year, with some shows not appearing at all and a lot of acts performing at different times and in different venues to what is billed in the official Fringe Programme – all because of the Cowgatehead debacle. (See past blogs if you have to.) But some shows, dates, times and performances have changed for other reasons.

Back in a blog in February this year, Mel talked to me about her show Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death which was to be co-presented with Philip Nitschke of Exit and would discuss her (since changed) decision to commit suicide with advice from Exit.

Now Philip Nitschke is billed as doing the Dicing with Dr Death show solo.

Why the change?

“These things happen,” Mel told me, when I went to her home in Sussex yesterday afternoon. “As is often the case when you work with someone you don’t know, things don’t always work out the way you would hope… I dunno… We were so different. So very different. Even down to some of the things we believe in. Now there are two shows. I wish him the very best of luck. He has put a lot of money into it. We got the Caves for him as a venue and he’s staying there.

“I am doing my show at the Counting House, 8th-30th August at lunchtime – 12.15pm – thanks to the amazing Alex Petty, who ran to my rescue and offered me a fair old chunk of venues.”

“So you,” I said, “are doing your own solo autobiographical show on much the same subject. Which is called…?”

Sick Girl – same title as the sitcom Kate Copstick and I are working on for a TV production company.”

“And now,” I said, “you are going into hospital for an operation…”

“Yes. I’ve been through a bit and I’ve never really been scared before – not scared-scared… but… I spent a good chunk of time wanting to die. And now I don’t want to die. So it would be Sod’s Law if this was the thing that did me in.”

“The operation is going to take nine hours?” I asked.

“That’s the maximum,” Mel explained. “They told me the minimum will be 5 or 6 hours but to expect 9 because of the complications I bring to it.”

“Why the operation?” I asked.

“It’s a combination of factors. I had a car accident in 2008 which caused a bit of disc damage in the neck. Three or four of them dislodged, but it was fine. It was no big deal. I was young, I had a few injections for pain and eventually it stopped hurting.

“Then I got this disease – PGF (polyglandular failure) – and started living off steroids… What do steroids do? – They weaken the bone. In high doses, like I’ve been taking for the last three years, they certainly do. So I’ve been taking a couple of other drugs to protect the bones, but it’s not done enough because there was a weakness there already.

“So all those little discs have started to break up and now they’ve taken ones either side with it, so I’ve now got a neck that is slamming on all the different root nerves. So I don’t feel my hands. They’re just numb. I have no real grip and, if I hold my hand in any position for too long, it starts to twitch. And now I don’t feel anything in my lower arms, so I have burns on my arm where I have leant on the iron without realising.

Burns and a cut on Me Moonl’s arm

Cut & burns: Mel’s un-feeling arm and elbow

“There’s no point them doing a bone graft because I still have to take the steroids and, in a few years time, the same problem would happen again. So they’re going to take away the damage in the neck and rebuild the neck using some titanium rods and some of these… I saw one… it was like a blue disc. I don’t think the discs are titanium, but I’m not sure.”

“The rods are replacing a bit of your spine?” I asked.

“I guess so,” said Mel. “The truth is I have not pushed for too much information.”

“I don’t think I would want to know anything,” I said.

“In January,” explained Mel, “I went for what I thought was a routine appointment to discuss having the next injection, because I’d been getting a bit of pain. They’d been giving me injections in the neck. Even though I didn’t feel my fingertips, the nerve pain deep in my arm was bloody awful.

“It was an orthopaedic surgeon and he said: I’m really sorry, but the option of giving you injections has gone. We need to operate and we need to do it quick. If you have it done, we can’t guarantee that the problem will go away, but we can guarantee it won’t get any worse. If you don’t have it done, we guarantee you will lose your hands within a year.

“So I signed the form, got out of there, cried my eyes out and made arrangements to have it done. It’s my throat they’re cutting. That’s the bit that gets to me.”

“They don’t,” I asked, “go in via the back of the neck where the discs are?”

“No. They say it’s safer to go round the front. That way, they’re less likely to hit the spinal chord. They cut on a crease in the neck and I’ve got loads of them from my fat.”

“Worth it, though,” I said.

“There are two incentives for the operation,” Mel told me. “One, obviously, is I don’t want to lose my hands. The other is I would really like to reduce the amount of morphine I take.”

“How much morphine do you take?” I asked.

“A shitload. I divide it between two doses. I’m on slow-release morphine. So, in the morning, I take between 70 and 90 milligrams. And I take some at night. So between 180 and 190 milligrams a day.”

“And you still get some pain?”

“Yes I do. I have different type of morphine for breakthrough pain but, if I took that as well, I wouldn’t be able to talk, so I use codeine, which I find as beneficial.”

“How long will you take to recover from the operation?”

“Well, they want you out of there as bloody quick as possible. The SALT team (Speech And Language Team) come to see you the next day and, as soon as you can speak, swallow and have your drains out, you can go.”

“I would keep schtum,” I suggested.

Mel Moon performing on stage

Mel Moon performing on stage

“No, I want to get out of there as quick as possible. The hospital I’m in is in Haywards Heath. But they’re moving to Brighton so, if I don’t recover in eight or nine days, I’ll be moved as well and I don’t want that.”

“Have you a poster or flyer for Edinburgh yet?” I asked.

“No. I thought I was doing the show with Dr Death, but now I’m doing my first solo show with no sponsor, no poster, no flyers. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for anything, including my accommodation, but the Independent newspaper asked me to write an article for them.”

“About the disease?” I asked.

“About everything that’s happened,” said Mel. “I was so excited. It should be published next week.”

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‘Sick Girl’ Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death for Edinburgh Fringe Comedy

Mel Moon with her Bassett hounds

Comic Mel Moon at home with her Bassett hounds yesterday

In this blog last month, critic Kate Copstick mentioned that she was involved in an Edinburgh Fringe show about suicide with Philip Nitschke of Exit and stand-up comic Mel Moon who, Copstick said, “suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.” So obviously, yesterday, I chatted to Mel Moon.

“What’s your disease?” I asked.

“PGF – polyglandular failure, but mine isn’s auto-immune.”

“POLYglandular failure” I said. “Every bleedin’ gland?”

“It’s like a big series of collapses,” explained Mel. “It basically means my endocrine system shut down.”

“And,” I said, “this is curable because Western medicine can cure anything…”

“No,” said Mel, “it’s not curable.”

“But it’s not necessarily terminal?” I asked.

“It kills,” said Mel, “but it’s not terminal because ‘terminal’ means there’s a natural progression to death whereas, with my disease, it would be very sudden. It would just be BASH! – Game over. My life is shortened as a result of the medication I take. That’s just the way it is – part of the risk of taking the injections that mean I’m able to get up and about.”

“And your partner Chris gives you 14 tablets every morning?” I asked.

“Yes, to get me going and then I take over. In the afternoon, I take another 6 tablets and then another 10 at night. And I also have an injection at 6 o’clock every day.”

“In your bottom?” I asked.

“No. The behind injection is the emergency one, which is a bit weird – I’ll be incoherent, dizzy, babbling, unable to make sense, but I’ve got to inject myself in the behind. Whereas the other injection that’s not life-saving is dead easy.”

“And your Edinburgh Fringe show in August is with Philip Nitschke, who is the founder of Exit?”

“Yes.”

“Not to be confused with Dignitas in Switzerland?” I asked.

“You don’t go to die at Exit,” explained Mel. “They advise you on the tools to die at home. Most people don’t want to have to go to Switzerland.”

“If you do a comedy show about this,” I suggested, “it’s going to be a difficult idea to get the balance right .”

“Yes. We do want to preview it a lot,” said Mel, “because, with the content being quite sensitive, we are going to need to tweak it to make sure nobody is overly affected. What we don’t want is to glamorise the subject in any way – and we certainly don’t want people coming to the show who think they are going to receive an education in how to kill themselves. It is not about us projecting our views onto them.

“We want to preview it at some good comedy venues, because that’s the audience we are aiming for: the everyday person who is a bit curious and I guess death is the ultimate thing we’re curious about – we know it’s going to happen.”

“You used to be a musical comedian,” I said. “How long have you not been gigging now because of the illness?”

“I took two years out,” said Mel, “but I’m back working now.”

“And the experience has changed your comedy?”

“Massively. You can’t go though something like this without being changed. I still love nothing more than getting out the keyboard and singing a few filthy songs. I love it and I love getting up there and being funny about things that don’t really matter. But I’m not playing any music in the Edinburgh show; there’s no comedy songs, no comedy poetry.”

“You originally intended this as a sitcom,” I said.

“Yes. A sitcom called Sick Girl, which would look at the hilarity of a complete family unit having to cope with something tragic. Every family at some point has experienced tragedy and that’s where the comedy is. There’s a lot of humour there. In how they deal with it. It’s whether they fall apart.

“The actual fact is your family fall apart before you do. My mum actually said these words: Why is this happening to me? I remember looking at her and thinking: This is not happening to you, it’s happening to me.

“I distinctly remember saying to her when I got diagnosed: Don’t tell anybody. I want to get this through my head first. Cos grief does two things. It can act as a repellant: people just run a mile from it. Or it can magnetise those that really like to bask in grief. I saw my sick friend today. Oh, it’s awful… Oh, it must be so hard for you. Can I have a picture? – Can you bollocks! No, I’m pissing blood in the toilet at the minute.

“I wanted to discuss that: friendships and relationships and how they are severely affected when someone faces something which may take their life – what happens with your partner, your kids, your friends. They all want the best for you, but they can come at it in a completely inappropriate way. Everybody thinks they can cure you. Have you tried nettle tea… I read a book: you don’t want any acid in your diet… Someone said: You know, a lot of people take marijuana for pain. And I thought: I take that much bloody morphine every day I’ll give it a go. But I can’t say it had much effect.”

“You’re prescribed morphine?”

“Yes. I’m on oxycontin – which they call the posh man’s heroin because it’s pure – and oxynorm. Two types of morphine – slow release and fast release.”

“So what is the structure of your show with Philip Nitschke?” I asked.

“It’s called Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death and it’s about a doctor/patient relationship. Most doctors want to heal you, whereas this doctor actually assists you in ways to snuff out your life. It’s like a dual autobiographical account of our stories in chronological order. There is a tiny section about who I was before and then we move into my diagnosis and other reasons people might choose this particular way. Then we move into medications and drugs that help and also ones that… get the desired result.”

“Can you legally say that on stage?”

“Well,” replied Mel, “everyone knows that (she named a drug) is the number one choice for that sort of thing. But you can’t get it. It’s impossible to get it. So we can freely talk about it.”

“How will you present the show?” I asked. “Both of you standing on the stage together?”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke, founder of Exit – aka Dr Death

“I will be at one side of the stage. He’s at the other. The spotlight interchanges between the two of us, with a central point where we can step in and do something together. And we can use a screen behind us to show photographs.”

“And this is in the Comedy section of the Fringe?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, come on. What’s the best friend of tragedy? Comedy. They’ve been together forever. Pathos is a wonderful friend of comedy as well. There is nothing funny about death and, believe me, I would know. We’re not laughing at me or what Philip has done with other people. We are laughing at the general reaction to the things that have happened and also, when you give an autobiographical account of something like this, the comedy is in the detail.

“It might not be funny that someone has to have a life-saving injection in order that they don’t snuff it and leave behind two small children, but it is funny that someone has to draw a cross section in a biro pen on someone’s backside because otherwise they don’t know where to give the injection.”

“You told me the other day,” I said, “that you might have a problem with one section.”

“Yes, there is one section that I’ve tried reading out to my family and, as yet, I’ve not made it through without crying. There are some sections of the show where I’ve deliberately flowered it up a little bit to make it easier for me to deliver.

“It’s about the night I made a decision to end my life. You could put years between me and that moment and it will always be emotional and I have to get up there on stage and somehow not get emotional to allow the audience to.”

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Drugs, Medical, Suicide