Category Archives: Medical

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 28 – Phishing, MI6, COVID, comedy, Kunt

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 27

SUNDAY 26th JULY

Ariane Sherine, who is writing an album of songs as Ariane X, has discovered that, since finding a new man in her life and becoming happy, she has been unable (temporarily one hopes) to write songs.

I remember Charles Aznavour being asked in an interview why he always seemed to write sad songs. He said that, when people are happy, they are all happy in much the same way, so happy songs are a bit samey; when people are sad, there are varied, specific reasons why, so ‘sad’ is more inspiring and more interesting.

Let’s go off on a random phishing expedition… (Photograph: Bearmix Studio via UnSplash)

MONDAY 27th JULY

I had a call from BT, my internet provider, telling me that my line has been compromised and that my landline and broadband might be cut off…

Except BT is not my internet provider nor my line provider.

There was an electronic recorded voice explaining the above, which then transferred me to a second electronic recorded voice which said it was putting me through to an ‘adviser’ who said, in a very heavy Indian accent: “Hello. This is BT, your internet provider”.

I replied “No you’re not. So you can fuck off.”

It seemed best in the circumstances.

As someone pointed out, the quality of scammers has deteriorated recently.

The COVID self-administered swab test pack – my fifth test…

TUESDAY 28th JULY

No wonder the self-administered COVID-19 swab tests are inaccurate. I just self-administered my second one. (This time, I was randomly chosen by IpsosMORI for their research.)

You are supposed to stick the swab up both nostrils and into the back of your mouth, touching both tonsils, using a mirror to see the tonsils.

Perhaps I am oddly built but, for the life of me (which could be literally true) I cannot see my tonsils nor pretty much anything at the back of my mouth/top of my throat.

After sticking the swab up both nostrils and turning it around a bit, I dabbed it and turned it vaguely at the back of my throat on each side and hoped for the best.

In the evening, I went to my local cinema to see The Dark Knight. Cinemas are currently screening ‘modern classic’ movies to entice people in after the coronavirus lockdown.

I sat in my normal seat in the very front row. I was the only person in the screening room until, at the very last moment, a tall man came in and sat in the very back row. He had a green Mohican hairstyle, which struck me as a little old-fashioned. I was reminded of James Fenimore Cooper.

WEDNESDAY 29th JULY

Good news for comedy clubs. A friend of a friend who works for a comedy club (and who has luckily been on paid furlough because of the coronavirus) will be back at work this Saturday because a lifting of restrictions means that comedy clubs can open provided they observe social distancing and take other anti-virus precautions.

Other than that, it was a surreal day…

The ‘artist formerly known as The Iceman‘, now occasionally and erratically known as AIM, has been painting aliens. He sent me an image of his latest encounter.

Like many by the artist formerly known as The Iceman, this painting is fairly self-extra-planetary

The “BARGAIM of the WEEK” (sic) on his website is currently a painting of his ice block at the Glastonbury Festival for a very reasonable £5,077…

Richard Moore, known as ‘C’ or ‘M’ but not as Roger Moore.

Richard Moore has been appointed the new head of MI6 – ‘C’ to his chums; ‘M’ to James Bond fans.

It is a sign of our surreal times, that #RogerMoore is now trending on Twitter because people only skim the headlines and get confused between reality and fantasy.

THURSDAY 30th JULY

On Monday I have an appointment to see the doctor who is trying to figure out why my calcium level and kidney function went mad in May and I had to be hospitalised. It is a face-to-face meeting and will include yet another blood test.

As I have come to expect, this morning the NHS sent me a text saying the face-to-face meeting has been changed to a telephone call. I assume this is bollocks.

This afternoon, I had a chat in Covent Garden with performer Samantha Hannah for an upcoming blog. Nearby in the piazza, in front of ‘The Actors’ Church’, a lone puppeteer street performer was trying to attract a crowd. The place used to be thronged. No more – because of COVID-19.

A street pupeteer (extreme right) tries to attract an audience (extreme left) in Covent Garden piazza

Samantha told me two fascinating facts which will not be in the blog…

Apparently up-market apartments are not selling at The Shard in London – not because of the prices but simply because it is (just) south of the River Thames. North has more prestige.

And she read somewhere that people from hilly areas speak with accents that go up and down more than people from flat areas. This is such a weird and unlikely idea that I suspect it may actually be true.

Life is a simultaneous drama and comedy for all these days

FRIDAY 31st JULY

On the early morning Today programme on Radio 4, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that comedy clubs can open tomorrow.

I double-checked with the hospital that my appointment on Monday is, indeed, a face-to-face meeting with my Kidney Man, not via telephone.

And, indeed, it is face-to-face.

The text I got from the NHS was bollocks.

Later, I got a text about my self-administered coronavirus test:


Thank you for completing the COVID-19 swab test. Your swab analysis results indicate that you are COVID-19 negative. Although results are not 100% conclusive, it is important that you and your household continue to observe social distancing guidance. If you or anyone in your household has or develops symptoms you must follow the Stay at Home Guidance even if you have a negative result.


That is my fifth COVID-19 swab test. All negative.

I received a more positive email from Kunt and the Gang:


“It took 18 months… 20-odd rehearsals, 3 days in the studio”

It took 18 months, 2 line-up changes, 20-odd rehearsals, 3 days in the studio and about 2 months of pinging mixes back and forth remotely all through lockdown, but finally, at long last… Kunts Punk In Your Face is out now to download from our Bandcamp page.

As a thank you to everyone who supported my book Kickstarter all those years ago it’s available for free until 17-08-2020.

For everyone else it’s pay what you want – I suggest between a fiver and a tenner, depending on how flush you are, or be a proper kunt and go and pinch it for free!

Or get it on CD with extra bonus track from http://katg.co.uk

It should also be up on the likes of your Spotifys and your iTuneses etc. soon, so go and have a check – if it’s not up right now it won’t be long but those platforms are a bit of a law unto themselves.


At lunchtime, it was suddenly announced that the slow easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions has been put on pause and comedy clubs (and other premises) will NOT be allowed to open tomorrow.

Worse still, for me, cinemas can remain open but audiences will have to wear masks.

It is, at least, good to know that, in such uncertain times, you can rely on the arrival of Kunt albums with puns in the titles.

SATURDAY 1st AUGUST

And, it seems, you can also rely on Apple…

Writer/performer/producer/comedian/all-round good guy Peter Michael Marino, who lives in New York, says:


Socially-responsible, financially lucky Peter Michael Marino

At Grand Central Genius Bar:

“Your 2.5-year old, out-of-warranty MacBook Pro is defective and needs a new keyboard, new battery, and new hard drive.

“How much?”

“It’s your lucky day. It’s all free. Don’t ask any questions. Play the lottery, dude.”

Just played the lottery and won $10.


I reply:


Apple Store, London, late 2011.

I took my out-of-warranty MacBook Pro in for repair for the third time – a faulty DVD drive. They had previously repaired it for free, because the drive was a third-party item – not of their making – and they passed the repair charge on to the other company.

“John, you seem to be having a problem with this machine. Would you like a new one for free?”

“How much would it cost if I bought it?”

(The answer was over £2,000)

“I’ll have it.”

“I’m afraid there will be a delay of about a week. We have to get it in from Ireland.”

A week later, I am watching the BBC News Channel. They announce that Steve Jobs has died.

Half an hour later, the phone rings.

“Your new MacBook has arrived.”

Newer model. Bigger hard drive. Faster processor.

July 2020… It is still working.

Thankyou Steve Jobs.


I buy a ticket for tonight’s UK lottery game.

My numbers do not come up.

Welcome to reality, John.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 26 – on Times Radio and pagan fertility rites

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 25

Despite Lockdown slowly lifting, many train carriages into London are still empty due to COVID-19

SUNDAY 12th JULY

In my last Diary blog I mentioned that the government had announced Christian churches can open for private prayer but there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

Yea, Holy Water hath become hand sanitiser (Photo by Peter Stanford)

I expressed some doubt that this was true. But today angel-voiced singer and Henry VIII impersonator Peter Stanford confirmed:


It is quite true about singing in the Church of England. In my church, the lockdown service on Facebook (originally from the vicar’s front room, latterly from the church itself), the service lasts half an hour.
The choir are singing on Zoom but it is not the same. Where the Holy Water was is now a hand sanitiser dispenser.


Also continuing from my last Diary blog, I asked Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, how my canine twin Rigby was progressing. If you are a new reader, it is complicated but involves calcium and kidney damage.

Andy replied with a mute video, saying: “Your twin is virtually skipping. Vast improvement and doing very nicely. He is one happy dog.”

MONDAY 13th JULY

(Relevant academic name changed below to prevent blushes)

Today I met up with someone I have not seen since the coronavirus started months ago. She suggested we meet in Brompton Cemetery in London, next to Chelsea’s football stadium.

Grade I listed Brompton Cemetery, London, is the resting place of Suffragette Emeline Pankhurst.

She told me that it (the cemetery, not Chelsea’s football pitch) is a well-known pick-up spot for gay men and, sure enough, there were occasional lone men sitting around looking at their mobile phones or enjoying the reasonably warm weather.

“How did you find out this is a gay pick-up spot?” I asked.

In Brompton Cemetery: “Hello, Mr Wallace

“When my son was small and was learning to ride a bicycle,” she told me, “we used to come down so he could practise. And, one day, Mr Wallace his art master and another man came out from behind a bush by a gravestone.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“My son said: Hello, Mr Wallace and Mr Wallace said Hello to my son…”

“Did your son ask you about this afterwards?”

“No. My son didn’t think it was strange that Mr Wallace suddenly came out from behind a bush in a graveyard, but I was surprised.”

TUESDAY 14th JULY

…Interviewing me is always a mistake because I witter…

Today, I was asked to contribute to a Times Radio piece on late lamented Douglas Gray of The Alberts. It was a section of Mariella Frostrup’s show in which journalist Nigel Williamson highlights particularly interesting recent Times obituaries.

I had been asked how I wanted to be introduced and I suggested “comedy blogger” but, presumably because that sounds a bit like the ne-er-do-well I am, they introduced me, harking back to an earlier century, as a “TV producer”.

Interviewing me is always a mistake because I witter and burble, not helped if I hear my own voice coming back at me. Mariella Frostrop and Nigel Williamson know how to do it.

WEDNESDAY 15th JULY

Spellcheck: I am invited to take a swan test

It looks like I’ve been randomly chosen to have another self-administered COVID-19 swab test.

I received a letter today from the Department of Health & Social Care, the NHS, Imperial College London and market research company Ipsos-Mori.

It will be interesting to see if, this time, I can avoid almost choking to death when shoving the swabs down the back of my throat.

Interestingly, Spellcheck is quite insistent it should really be a swan test.

That would not be easier, but it might be more interesting.

Coronavirus designer masks have now started appearing…

THURSDAY 16th JULY

Coronavirus face-masks are becoming such an item of occasional clothing that designer masks have now started appearing.

My local shop in the high street has a fine collection.

There are even masks for children, although people under ten years old are not required to wear them at all.

FRIDAY 17th JULY

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to encourage live performances to re-start from 1st August

Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that live performances can re-start from 1st August provided social distancing and other COVID-related precautions are taken.

This will be quite difficult for theatres and I can’t see it really happening with ordinary comedy clubs which largely (perhaps that is not the right word here) take place in small, stuffy rooms above or below pubs. Also, comedy works best if the audience (if you can get one) is packed tightly in.

I hope to be proved wrong, but I can’t see the general comedy ‘circuit’ re-starting until next Spring – if then.

There is also the looming threat of a ‘second wave’ COVID outbreak.

Someone I know reckons she knows a statistical person in Whitehall who is involved in the UK Government’s preparations for worst case scenarios and they are planning fallback positons for a second wave in October lasting to Christmas.

Separately, someone I know who has dealings with Intensive Care nurses in Wales tells me that the NHS there is contracting specialist nurses from September (presumably to anticipate an October resurgence).

With luck, none of this will be necessary though, in his briefing, Boris Johnson mentioned that the Nightingale Hospitals (including the 4,000-bed one at ExCel in London) will be kept available until next March.

SATURDAY 18th JULY

A pagan fertility pole stands ready and waiting for potential human sacrifices in Borehamwood…

In more fantastical news, the tall fertility pole in front of my house has not yet been used for human sacrifices.

But, with each May Day that passes, my hopes increase.

“He and his family dance, naked, on balmy summer nights.”

In addition, as part of (I suspect) the ongoing and rising cult of Wicca witchcraft in suburban Borehamwood, my neighbour has erected a phallic pole behind his house around which he and his family dance, naked, in the balmy summer nights.

There is much wailing and thrashing of arms as the midnight hour approaches.

I feel certain that human sacrifice cannot be far off.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 25 – COVID in Glasgow, Indians in Moscow

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 24

My natural rhythm was Go to sleep quickly, Wake up slowly…

SUNDAY 5th JULY

All the way through my life I have only very very rarely been able to remember any dreams I had at night – maybe once every six or eight months if I got woken in mid-dream. My natural rhythm was to go to sleep quickly and wake up slowly, so I guess I rarely woke up during the dreamy bit.

Now – I guess because of the kidney/calcium problems which landed me in hospital a few weeks ago – I wake up at least once an hour during the night; sometimes I wake 11 times, my throat parched dry, having to drink water.

And I am aware of my dreams.

I never realised dreams were so visually detailed and, certainly in my case, have an ongoing narrative. Sometimes I have a detailed scenario which picks up one night where it left off the previous night. I know that because I am aware of it happening during the night and realise it is happening.

What the dream/dreams is/was/are about, on the other hand, I can’t remember when I wake up… because I have a shit memory. I am just – now – aware I have them.

Now the boring bit… You may want to skip on to Tuesday, which is more interesting…

MONDAY 6th JULY

I had a telephone appointment with the Kidney Man from my local hospital at 1240. He eventually rang at 1437.

“Sorry,” he said. “IT problems earlier.”

My calcium level when I went into hospital was 3.2 instead of 2.6 which it had been last October. And 2.6 is the high end of ‘normal’ – Normal is 2.2-2.6. It is now 2.4 (as of 22nd June).

My kidney function, which had been an OK 62 last October and a very-much-not-OK 19 when I went into hospital, was 34 when I left hospital.

It is now (as at 22 June when I had a blood test) 44.

Which doesn’t worry the Kidney Man: “The calcium level can affect the kidney function, but the kidney function can’t affect the calcium level.”

The calcium level is now fine and the kidney function should return to normal. Last time, I was told a kidney function of over 60 was OK for a man of my age. So 19… 34… 44 is going in the right direction.

The blood test on 22nd June, like the Petscan before it, was OK.

The parathyroid glands (which create calcium and are tested via the blood test) are normal.

The Kidney Man does not know why I am waking up 8 or 10 or 11 times a night with a dry mouth. But he is not worrying. When I asked him, he said: “I don’t know”.

This genuinely reassured me. No bullshit waffle.

“You are,” he added, “a mystery.”

If only I were a performer, I could use that as a strapline on a poster.

He is going to arrange a face-to-face with me at the start of August which will include another blood test. Doctors love blood tests.

Beautifully-written, word-perfect vignette of current reality

TUESDAY 7th JULY

The UK is slowly, tentatively, opening-up bit-by-bit after the coronavirus lockdown.

Scottish comedian Scott Agnew is, like all other stand-ups in the UK, unable to perform because no venues are open. This morning, on Facebook, he posted a beautifully-written – I think word-perfect – vignette of current reality – in Glasgow, anyway.

With his permission, here it is:


Popped out to pick up a spot of breakfast at the wee roll shop at the end of my street – first time since March…

Wee roll shop wummin: “Oh a fucking stranger returns I see! Where the fuck have you been?”

Me: “Eh, I’ve been in lockdown like everyone else.”

RSW: “I’ve been here four fucking weeks. No’ fucking hide nor hare aff you?”

Me: “Well when I looked along you never looked open.”

RSW: “Well I wouldnae have looked open if I was shut cause you never move yer fat arse oot the hoose in the mornings anyway unless you’re coming tae me. Was it Tesco ye were getting yer sausages? Aye. So where the fuck have you been? First week I was open I’m thinking I’ll see that big fella – nothing – I’m just thinking he’s an ignorant basturt.

“Second week I’m thinking, this cunt must be deid cause I minded you’d been on that flight back fae Australia – and that was the last I seen ye. There’d be all sorts fae all parts with fuck knows whit oan that flight. And I thought, that’s him had that virus and now he’s deid. Then I thought ye cannae be deid cause yer a comedian – ye’d have heard about that in the papers. Then I thought, well he’s no’ a famous comedian so the papers probably wouldn’t bother their fucking arse about ye.

“So I says to my daughter cause she’s got you oan that internet to check if you were deid. So I says – see if that big fat comedian fella is deid. And here ye wurnae deid.

“Do you know I stood in here wan Friday and had wan customer! Six pounds I took – it cost me more to turn the fucking lights oan.

“So here we are four weeks later and ye turn up noo, turns oot ye ur nothing but an ignorant basturt.

“Two roll and square son?”

© copyright Scott Agnew 2020


Keith Martin being very itinerant…

WEDNESDAY 8th JULY

I mentioned to itinerant TV voice-over artist and one-time choirboy Keith Martin that the post-lockdown openings are (understandably) slightly eccentric.

As I understand it, Christian churches can open for private prayer provided you maintain social distancing but synagogues and mosques cannot open yet because they are more sociable in their celebrations. And, although Christian churches can open, there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“You can’t sing,” Keith told me, “but you can hum the hymns, provided you keep social distancing.”

“You are joking,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “That’s true.”

And, while I haven’t been able to find out definitively, I think he might be right.

THURSDAY 9th JULY

Continuing the musical theme, today I stumbled on a video of the great and much-lamented (certainly by me) 1980s band Indians in Moscow.

I posted this on my Facebook page and the highly-esteemed Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation but a man with wide-ranging knowledge well beyond the aerodynamic properties of farmyard products, pointed out to me that Adele Nozedar – the vocally talented lead singer of Indians in Moscow – was now an author, food writer and forager, whose books include The Hedgerow Handbook, The Garden Forager and her most recent book Foraging with Kids.

She has come a long way since singing about Jack Pelter and His Sex-Change Chicken, a classic track in my vinyl collection.

Readers of previous blogs may recognise Andy Dunlop not just as the esteemed World Egg-Throwing supremo but as the man who has a friend with a dog called Rigby whose calcium problems mirrored my own. I feel my own fate is intertwined with Rigby’s.

“How is the dog?” I asked Andy today.

“He is fine,” Andy replied. “Doing well. Very happy.”

I am reassured, if only temporarily.

A US man unfairly maligned by a UK woman?

FRIDAY 10th JULY

My historic certainties are being undermined week-by-week.

First, there was the fact that Chou En Lai, did NOT say in 1989 that it was too soon to know if the French Revolution of 1789 had been a success. (See a previous blog).

And, today, I discovered that George W Bush did NOT tell Tony Blair that “the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur”.

It seems that Blair’s spin-doctor Alastair Campbell denies it ever happened and suggests that MP Shirley Williams might have put it in a speech as a joke and the idea snowballed.

“This book will probably save your life. Unfortunately,” says Charlie Brooker

SATURDAY 11th JULY.

My multi-talented chum Ariane Sherine chose today to mention she has not one but two projects coming out soon.

Her new book How to Live to 100 is published on 1st October this year…

And – under the name Ariane X – her first solo music album is being released on 12th February 2021. Why that date? Because it’s a palindrome date:

12.02.2021

… unless you are an American and get your dates back-to-front for no sensible reason – For you it is February 12, 2021.

Duran Duran were an early musical influence

Ariane describes the new album as “pop/electric/dance” with influences “including Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, St Etienne, Massive Attack and loads more.”

There are five early, rough instrumental demo tracks on her new ArianeX website. “Vocals, harmonies, guitar, hooks and fills to be added…”

The songs, she says, “are all about my violent childhood, mental illness, suicidal ideation, but also happiness that my life is so beautiful now…”

An extract from the lyrics show they ain’t gonna be no normal trite Moon-in-June songs:

I believe in Russell’s teapot, I believe in Occam’s Razor
And I believe that vaccines are humanity’s saviour
I always look to science to provide me with my answers
And I don’t believe that prayers can ever cure any cancers

As far as I know, there will be no horns on Ariane’s upcoming album…

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 24 – A broken shoulder and anal cell-phones

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 23

This particular blog is admittedly self-indulgent.

Do I care?

No.

But you have been warned.


SUNDAY 28th JUNE

In my previous Diary blog Andy Dunlop, esteemed President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, suggested, rather persuasively, that my ongoing problem with raised calcium levels in my body was paralleled by the troubles of a dog called Rigby and that the cause might be my parathyroid glands.

Today, American comedian and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller contacted me:


“That is a very delicate difficult surgery and…”

So you think it is your parathyroid gland? 

That is a very delicate difficult surgery and can leave you with injured vocal cords.

Be very wary of parathyroid surgery John,. They were going to take mine out years ago and then decided it was too risky.  

Here are the advantages: improved bone health, reduced risk of kidney stones and improved quality of life. 

You also have better memory and no aches and pains.  

However the surgery is very dangerous because you run the risk of injuring your thyroid gland and your vocal cords. Those little glands are very hard to find.

I have really terrible osteoporosis and I was all excited to have this done but the guy who everyone thought was the only one I dare trust to do this thing simply didn’t think I was a good enough candidate for the surgery.

I assumed he either hated women or Jews or the elderly. Possibly all three. So here I am sagging, shrinking and unable to touch my toes; not to mention my lousy tummy and disgusting personality.


My left shoulder as was in 1991 – pulverised in two places

MONDAY 29th JUNE

I wonder if maybe my parathyroid glands were affected by my occasional ongoing shoulder problem.

In 1991, when I was standing on a pavement, I was hit by an articulated lorry. My shoulder bone was pulverised (medical talk for ‘powdered’) in two places. I also had a skull injury – as I fell, I hit the back of my head on the sharp edge of a low brick wall – and, it later turned out, the bottom of my spine was also damaged by the jerk as my head stopped when it hit the wall and the rest of my body continued downwards.

In 1991, I was taken to the same local hospital I was taken to for my calcium/kidney function problem a few weeks ago.

Because I had broken bones, I was looked after in a Bone ward but, because they were worried there might be brain damage (from the skull injury – my brain would have hit the inside of the skull) I was bureaucratically under the care of the Brain people, who had their own ward(s).

The nurses in the Bone ward were very attentive but, when the Bone consultant did his rounds, he always ignored my bed because I was not his patient. Once, I heard him explain this to the student doctors who followed him round absorbing all he said: “We don’t deal with Mr Fleming. because he’s not our patient.”

The Brain consultant never visited me, I guess because I was not in his ward.

But, after about a week of observation, I was released. Late one afternoon, a very tired and clearly very overworked junior doctor from the Brain lot came down to my ward and told me I could go home.

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks a lot like the inside of the human brain but is not

I was released but, really, for about nine months after, my mind would occasionally sort-of de-focus and I would be unable to string thoughts together – I presume from some form of concussion. And I could not read for a while.

If I tried to read a newspaper, it was as if my brain would lose focus halfway through the first or second paragraph.  I still cannot read printed books, though I can write them on a computer screen.

After about a year, my shoulder still tended to feel like it was having a sharp knife stuck in it for maybe 90% of my waking hours. To protect my shoulder at night, I had to learn to sleep on my back with my left arm stretched out at right angles to my torso. This stopped me turning over.

But it also eventually meant that, instead of my shoulder bone mending back to its original state, the two broken, sharply-pointed ends overlapped each other. So my left shoulder is a tiny bit shorter and weaker than my right shoulder.

The pain in my left shoulder was eventually sorted by a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine) and only gives me problems now if I lean too heavily for too long on the not-healed-correctly left side.

Occasionally, still, I also get some muscle pain in my right shoulder and at the back of my neck because (I presume) the muscles are not quite right. Maybe these muscle problems affected the parathyroid glands in my neck? Maybe not.

Anyway, apparently I should have had physiotherapy and outpatient care when I left the hospital in 1991, but this never happened, presumably because of the bureaucratic complication that no hospital department was 100% in charge of me. My brain was too much like confused wobbly jelly to really think straight until much later.

This might also partly explain why, though I admire nurses and other frontline NHS staff, I have a high disregard for NHS bureaucracy… Did I mention I have a high disregard of all large, faceless bureaucracies?

My missing tooth cap

TUESDAY 30th JUNE

Today I went to my heavily-masked and plastic-visored dentist to get one of my capped teeth, which had fallen out, re-inserted. It was not simple and may not be long-lasting as the (dead) root into which the cap is inserted via a spike, is apparently fractured or fracturing.

It never rains but it pours.

WEDNESDAY 1st JULY

Social distancing is still in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. This has some bizarre effects as in the Ladies toilet at an IKEA store in London.

I did not, for obvious reasons, see the Ladies toilet first-hand myself, but a friend took a photo.

It is reasonable to tape off alternate sinks to maintain social distancing. But this does not explain why IKEA has closed alternate (and entirely separated) cubicles, as can be seen in the mirror at the top of this photo.

The Nokia 3210 (1999)

Today, still on the subject of human bottoms, someone else told me that there is a good second-hand trade in old 1999 Nokia 3210 mobile telephones.

In the early days of mobile phones, this particular phone was very popular with the inmates of UK prisons.

Mobile phones, of course, were not allowed in UK prisons, so they had to be smuggled in.

I am reliably informed that the Nokia was popular in prisons because it was small (certainly compared to modern phones) and had rounded edges. This meant it could be shoved up inside the body where the sun don’t shine by a prison visitor and then removed, given to and used by the lucky prisoner who had ‘ordered’ it.

The Nokia 3310, released in 2000. A snug fit in an XL condom.

To preserve cleanliness, the Nokia was usually put inside a condom (XL size) before insertion.

After it was removed, I remain uncertain whether the XL condom was thrown away or used.

But the Nokia 3210s were much used and – even though drones are now often the preferred method of getting things into prisons – the popularity of the Nokia 3210 and its 2000 successor the Nokia 3310 remain (I am told) very high.

This may or may not partly explain why, in 2017, a new version of the Nokia 3310 was released to an appreciative world.

Plus ça change, the more SNAFU…

THURSDAY 2nd JULY

I have a telephone consultation with the NHS Kidney Man (or Woman) on Monday. The fact that it is a telephone appointment – not a face-to-face one – was confirmed in a letter and by phone last week.

This morning, I received a text message telling me that my face-to-face consultation next Monday has been changed to a telephone consultation.

No, you did not mis-read that. Did I mention I have a high disregard of all large, faceless bureaucracies?

A glass of water by my bedside for when I wake up parched…

FRIDAY 3rd JULY

I continue to wake up at least once an hour throughout the night every night with my mouth bone dry, almost as if bits of my mouth want to stick to other bits they are so parched dry. I need to drink water – I have a bottle and a glass by my bedside.

I think it has to do with my kidney function being abnormally low or my calcium level being too high or both – but what do I know?

I counted the number of times I woke up during the night last night – ten times.

So par for the course.

SATURDAY 4th JULY

Today I asked Andy Dunlop, esteemed President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, if there was any further news of Rigby the Dog and his parathyroid glands.

Andy’s reply was:


Ahhhhh,  I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. 

He’s now home. Arrived last night. Tests dispel initial and obvious parathyroid thoughts but reveal a very rare type of blood cancer.

Treatment will either be put on hold and he will live a long and happy life or not.

This was discovered by invasive biopsy of bone marrow.


Rigby the Dog will live a long and happy life or not… like all of us…

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s (second half) Weekly Diary No 23 – I am maybe sick as a dog

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 22

THURSDAY 25th JUNE

I got a letter this morning from Bristol confirming I have a face-to-face appointment with the NHS Kidney Man or Kidney Woman at my local North London hospital on Monday 6th July – about my ongoing high calcium level/low kidney function problems.

This afternoon, I got an email from Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation who, like all sensible egg-throwers, follows my blog. 

His email read:


President Andy Dunlop weighs the alternatives…

I have been following your tale of woe. 

I noted your last visit to the Kidney Woman.

A friend of mine has a dog called Rigby. It is not well.

A vet’s visit confirmed too much calcium and he (Rigby) is off to a specialist vet to check the cause. Suspicion is placed upon a gland in the neck and a benign tumour.   

Sod all to do with kidneys.


Andy drew my attention to the parathyroid glands, four small glands which regulate the calcium in humans’ – and dogs’ – bodies and how those glands control calcium levels. 

They are located in the neck behind the thyroid where they continuously monitor and regulate blood calcium levels.

When one of the parathyroid glands goes bad, it makes too much hormone, the excess hormone goes to the bones and takes calcium out of the bones and puts it into your blood. It’s the high calcium in the blood that makes you feel bad.

The reason I was taken into hospital for a week was that an abnormally high calcium level resulted in a serious drop in my kidney function from 62 to 19.

Andy tells me that Mr Google is my friend.

I am a little wary of Mr Google’s opinions, but…

Apparently, everybody with a bad parathyroid gland is more likely to develop bad osteoporosis (which my mother got) unless the bad gland is removed.

The parathyroid glands (in yellow)

Not removing a parathyroid tumour and leaving the calcium high for a number of years will increase the chance of developing other cancers in your body (breast, colon, kidney, and prostate).

Symptoms of high calcium levels in the blood include excessive thirst and frequent peeing; lethargy and excessive fatigue; and depression. Yes to all of those.

Mr Google says there is only one way to treat parathyroid problems – surgery.

FRIDAY 26th JUNE

Yesterday morning, I got a letter from Bristol confirming I have an NHS face-to-face appointment in North London on Monday 6th July.

This morning I got a letter from North London confirming my NHS appointment is not face-to-face but via telephone.

I expect a third NHS letter any day soon…

I also received another email from Andy Dunlop:


Rigby the Dog leaves the vet’s happier than when he arrived

Rigby the Dog left the vet’s this afternoon. My friend reports that intravenous fluids and some drugs perked him up no end. Unlike you, Rigby has all his own teeth.

Rigby is seeing a specialist later. I will keep you posted on your canine twin’s progress.

Your doctors were treating the symptoms and not the cause.


Andy drew my attention to Hypercalcemia a condition in which the calcium level in your blood is above normal. It is usually a result of overactive parathyroid glands. Other causes of hypercalcemia include cancer, certain other medical disorders, some medications and taking too much of calcium and vitamin D supplements.

I am a little wary of Mr Google. but I identify with the last sentence in Andy’s email.

Your doctors were treating the symptoms and not the cause.

I am always wary of Western medicine.

Chinese medicine tries to cure the cause of a problem. Western medicine tries to treat the symptoms of a problem – very often by masking the symptoms with drugs. It seems like the problem has been cured but the fact is simply that the symptoms have been hidden.

If I could afford it (which I can’t) I would constantly get advice from a Chinese perspective in parallel with any Western medical advice. And I would tend to trust Chinese treatments more.

Chinese medical appointments also seem to be more reliable than NHS ones.

SATURDAY 27th JUNE

I slept until about 2.00pm this afternoon and went to bed about 9.00pm. 

Neither my body nor my brain seemed to think this was unreasonable.

The thoughts and feelings of what remains of my soul… That is a different matter.

… CONTINUED HERE

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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 3.2. 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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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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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 20 – The reality of a drive-through test centre

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 19

SUNDAY 7th JUNE

When I brush my teeth, I have always cleared my mouth by drinking water straight from the tap – and, in the recent hot weather, was drinking a lot of water from the tap. Also, I have been waking up a lot during the night recently, my mouth totally bone-dry – and I was getting up, going to the loo and drinking water straight from the sink’s tap.

I woke up in the middle of last night wondering if the high calcium level in my body could be due to this drinking from the tap. I might have mentioned before that science – and, in particular, chemistry – is a big blind spot I have. The build-up on the end of the tap I always thought was probably built-up spittle and general gunge but, of course, it is really probably calcium from the very very hard water which London has.

Or is it?

Or something.

What do I know? Not chemistry.

But, from now on, I will drink bottled water bought from supermarkets, rather than water straight from the tap. Something I thought I would never do. I mean, I thought, why BUY water when it is on tap for free?

Paranoia? Who knows?

Not me. And certainly not at 3.00am in the morning.

Plus ça change elsewhere. We are still in lockdown. Households are not allowed to mingle with other households and, outside, we have to keep at least 2 metres away from other people unless we live with them in a single household.

“…the risk of catching the virus or not having a computer…”

MONDAY 8th JUNE

I had a tiny problem with the trackpad of my 9-year-old MacBook Pro laptop, so I took it to the excellent MacSmiths repair shop in Cambridge Heath/Hackney.

To get there, I had to take three trains each way – a Thameslink train, an Underground train and an Overground train. On each of the six trains I used, I was the only person in my carriage.

At MacSmiths, I asked if business had been badly affected by the lockdown because people had been too nervous to risk travelling to the shop.

“Not really been affected at all,” was the reply (I paraphrase). “If it’s a choice between the risk of catching the virus or not having a computer, the fear of not having a computer seems to be worse for people.”

Green close (good). Hay fever (bad).

TUESDAY 9th JUNE

My Eternally UnNamed Friend came up to see me in Borehamwood and, keeping 2 metres apart, we walked across Green Belt land close to my house.

This is allowed – You can now visit someone you know provided you don’t go inside their house and provided you keep 2 metres apart outside.

But, inevitably, this unleashed hay fever on me.

Coughs, sneezes and sniffles guaranteed to make nervous people keep socially distant from me,

Although the official UK total of coronavirus-related deaths is now over 40,000, reports say the real death rate is probably over 60,000 if you compare the increase in deaths this year with the number of deaths in the same period last year.

WEDNESDAY 10th JUNE

Yesterday’s hay fever symptoms seem to have been wider-spread than just in Borehamwood. Today I got this message from someone I know in one of the other nations in the UK. (Note to Americans reading this: the UK comprises four nations.)


One of the UK’s drive-through coronavirus test centres…

I wasn’t feeling great yesterday. A sore throat and running nose. Probably just a cold or hay fever but, for safety, this morning I went to one of the drive-through coronavirus testing centres manned by the Army.

I went to the centre because I thought I might end-up doing the swab test wrong if I got a kit to self-administer at home.

It turns out that, at the drive-through testing centres, you have to self-administer the test in your own car…

The Army blokes give you instructions by phone as they stand by your closed window. Then you open your window and they lob in the swab test kit from 2 metres away.

You sit in your car and test yourself by sticking the swab up your nostrils and into the back of your mouth. If you make a mistake, you use the hazard lights on your car to attract their attenton. If you feel unwell, you honk your horn.

I made a mistake with the swab. So I had another conversation by phone with the man despite the fact I could actually hear him talking to me on the phone standing right by my closed window.

The whole thing was surreal.

When you’re finished, they leave a big yellow bin by your window and then leg it away fast it so you can lob the test in the bin.

All rather comical and strange.


The total deaths are now 41,128 – up by 245 in the last 24 hours.

THURSDAY 11th JUNE

I got another email from my friend about her drive-through test:


I think I fucked-up the test after all that. I got this one-size-suits-all email:

The instructions for a self-administered swab test to be taken in your own car…

NHS COVID-19 NOTIFICATION

Your coronavirus test result is unclear. You’ll need to apply for another test.

If you have not had symptoms of coronavirus, you don’t need to self-isolate. If you have symptoms, self-isolate for 7 days from when symptoms started.

You may return to work on day 8 if you’ve not had a high temperature for 48 hours and feel well. Talk to your employer first.

If someone you live with has tested positive, continue to self-isolate. Follow the guidance in the text message they received.

If this result is for a care home resident or someone who is shielding, they may need to be tested again. Follow the specific guidelines.

If this result is for a child or staff member at school/nursery, tell the school or nursery.

Contact 111 if you need medical help. In an emergency dial 999.


FRIDAY 12th JUNE

Cabin fever has kicked-in.

It is five months since I had a haircut. I am not foolish enough to attempt a self-haircut, but I shaved off my 5-week beard and tried to refresh my self-image.

SATURDAY 13th JUNE

My friend had another swab test – this one NOT self-administered. It was negative.

Elsewhere, today was the day on which normally, annually, Trooping The Colour takes place on Horseguards Parade in London. Because of the coronavirus ban on large crowds and social distancing, a smaller-scale event was held inside Windsor Castle.

Leicester Comedy Festival judge Louisette Stodel was listening to the Radio 4 Lunchtime News and says it reported:

The BBC covered the Welsh Guards in their “bare skins”…

“The Welsh Guards have performed a socially distanced tribute to the Queen in their bare skins.”

Obviously, the script read “bearskins” not “bare skins” but on radio this vital nicety was missing.

It is, however, an odd way to phrase a report. So I mused to Louisette that perhaps there had been a bet in the BBC Newsroom to see if they could get away with that phrasing as a laugh.

I thought I was joking but maybe there was, indeed, a bet because Louisette told me that, in the 5.00pm news bulletin, the BBC solemnly reported that, to celebrate the Queen’s Official Birthday:

“The Welsh Guards in their bare skins performed a special tribute designed for social distancing.”

I do seem to remember there was once a bet in a newsroom where someone reckoned he could include the names of all seven of Snow White’s dwarfs in a serious bulletin without anyone noticing. Which he succeeded in doing.

My memory tells me this truly happened. But maybe it was in a fictional film. Or maybe I just imagined it.

The line between reality, imagined-reality and straight-up fantasy is beginning to blur.

Already no-one knows what day it is.

Every day seems like a Sunday because all days are the same, most shops are shut and the streets are only sparsely dotted with people.

Eventually, as I understand it, our Sun will expand and explode, taking everything with it.

We and everything which exists and which ever existed on Earth will be stardust.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose to an extent.

But Tempus fugit trumps all.

The bits and pieces past and present of the United Kingdom (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 19 – Comparatively trivial

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 18

(Photograph by Camilo Jimenez via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 28th MAY

Today, the total of UK deaths caused by coronavirus reached 37,837 – up 377 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 29th MAY

My home is, in effect, in a square and, in just the one week I was in hospital (with kidney problems – not with any COVID-19 problems), anarchy has broken out.

The elderly woman (90+) in the house directly opposite me has been taken up to the North of England to an old people’s home near her son. She had been very confused the last few weeks when I met her in the street.

And a man who lives in a house on another side of the square died of a brain tumour in my week away. Apparently he had been ill for a few months but I did not know: a sign of 21st century life. He had been seeing people and things that weren’t there for the last three months. He was buried two days ago. The day I got back from hospital. 

On a lighter note, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu has posted another video of lockdown life with his family in London.

SATURDAY 30th MAY

I talked to Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter on FaceTime. In the middle of a playful conversation, she said: “Any person who never makes a mistake has never tried anything new.”

“That’s very good,” I said. “Did you just make that up or did you read it somewhere?”

“Albert Einstein,” she said.

She will go far. 

SUNDAY 31st MAY

In the nights I have been back home, I keep waking up at least once every hour with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water.

All through the night. Bone dry mouth. Needing to drink water.

And now I have developed constipation, very smelly farts and hay fever.

My life is complete.

The UK COVID-19 death total is now 38,489 – up 113 in the last 24 hours.

An illustration of why social distancing is now UK policy…

MONDAY 1st JUNE

Coughing, sneezing, spluttering hay fever and constipation – This makes it easy to maintain ‘social distancing’ in the street. We are told to maintain social distancing by keeping at least 2 metres apart from other people. I try my best to keep the farts to myself. 

TUESDAY 2nd JUNE

Hay fever tablets have stopped the sneezing and spluttering but not the farts.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they? I am still keeping them to myself.

Total UK coronavirus deaths have now reached 39,369 in total, up 324 in the last 24 hours.

WEDNESDAY 3rd JUNE

I had a petscan at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. This is the scan where they put radioactive stuff in your system and look at it going round inside the body. I have been telling people that, because of financial cutbacks at the NHS, you now have to provide your own pet – and that I rented an iguana for the day. 

So far, no-one has laughed. This is an excellent example of why I am not and never will be a comic. Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller tells me the joke would have worked if it had been a puppy not an iguana.

Travelling to the hospital, the Thameslink and Overground trains were almost entirely empty.

(Photograph by Maria Oswald via UnSplash)

On May 25th – over a week ago – an unarmed 46-year-old black man – George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

He died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was lying face down and handcuffed on the street.

His death has resulted in tightly-packed mass street demonstrations.

Not just in the US but around the world.

I have a British friend who happens to be black – we have known each other over 30 years. I got this message from her in the North of England:


Hi John, I’m sobbing my heart out. About 30  minutes ago I was coughed on deliberately by a young idiot. The pavement was narrow and he clearly didn’t want to walk in the bus layby. I turned my back to him and faced the church wall and felt his warm breath on the back of my neck. I was so shocked I stood there for about five minutes and ran home, jumped in the shower and wiped myself dry with anti bacterial wipes. My clothes are in the washing machine and I’m now paranoid about whether he’s genuinely infected me with COVID-19 or thought it was a great prank to play. I know it could have been worse. He could have spat on me rather than cough. If he’s infected or not… What a cruel thing to do.


THURSDAY 4th JUNE

Total virus deaths in the UK now 39,904 – a 176 increase in the last 24 hours.

Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies

FRIDAY 5th JUNE

Cult Weimaresque British band The Tiger Lillies have released a second – yes, a second – album about the COVID-19 pandemic.  I find it surprising there has not been more musical stuff inspired by the pandemic. Too soon?

SATURDAY 6th JUNE

When in hospital, I mentioned to the doctors that I seem to have a slow heart rate. The average is supposed to be somewhere between 60-100 beats per minute. Mine (as per my Apple Watch) is usually around 51-54 beats per minute; sometimes 47-49. The doctors were not really worried provided it was fairly regular. 

My cousin tells me that she too has a slow heart rate. 

So it must be a family thing.

And a minor thing.

Very trivial.

Comparatively.

UK coronavirus deaths are now over 40,000.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 18 – Stalin, ‘Mr Bedlam’ and I leave hospital

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 17

My release seemed to be almost within reach…

MONDAY 25th May

The mattress, pillows and bedclothes of the man who apparently died last night were taken away in big plastic bags, replaced by new ones. 

Another patient, whom I shall call The Welshman replaced the dead man. He is only here for one night – going to be released tomorrow.

I am in a 4-bed ward or rather bay. In fact, I think maybe the larger ward itself has four ‘bays’ each with 4 beds. But all I am aware of is my own section – my own ward.

I now share the 4-bed ward with the almost blind man opposite (George – not his real name) and the guy next to me (Basil – again, not his real name).

Basil was here when I first arrived. He spends most of his days silently with his chin slightly down and his eyelids hooded, so you can’t tell if he is awake or asleep. He is fairly deaf.

The nurses work in 12-hour shifts 0800-2000 and 2000-0800. At the changeover point, the old shift leader tells the new shift what they need to know about the patients in the ward.

I overheard the morning briefing today. The shift leader told them that Basil was almost in dementia (he mutters in his sleep overnight and plays out entire nighttime scenarios in conversation).

She told the new shift that George was a ‘Do not revive’ patient.

And she said I was ‘random diabetes’… I do not have diabetes and they know I don’t have diabetes but – because they have no idea what has caused my kidney/calcium problem – they randomly test me on occasion as if I do have diabetes to see if that might give them some result which might give them a clue.

The first blood sample of the day was taken – eventually – by a man who clearly didn’t quite know how to do it. Presumably one of the medical students brought in to beef up staff numbers during the coronavirus crisis.

Just before lunch, a doctor came in to tell the staff a visitor had walked into a nearby ward (not this one) with no protection on to visit her dad. No visitors are allowed anywhere except close family members in the end-of-life wards.

I asked British performer Matt Roper in New York: “I hope President Trump is paying you something – or do you count as a Mexican alien?”

He replied: “No Trump money. Living off money allocated to pay taxes next year. (We can see where this is going…)”

George – in the bed opposite me – is isolated by his near-blindness and fairly bad hearing. He told a West African nurse that he was the former General Secretary of a major British trade union, which he named. And, indeed, I checked on Wikipedia and he had been.

This, of course, meant nothing to the young West African nurse. He mentioned an honour he was given by the Queen and told her that “The press know who I am.”

I imagine the nurse just thought he was fantasising. There is a lot of it around.

Later, George asked another nurse if he could use her mobile phone (it is actually the ward’s mobile) to call his son. He had his own two mobile phones brought to the hospital by his son yesterday. But he doesn’t know how to use either of them. 

This is not something you want to share a ward with (Photo by Peter Coxhead via Wikipedia)

There is a hornet in the ward. I thought this was a fly-like creature but, when one of the nurses thwacked it, it turned out to be like some giant creature from a Hollywood special effects movie.

George – former General Secretary of a major trade union but now a bit doolally – asked a young black nurse (who was saying this morning how she missed Africa) if she knew David Lammy. 

She said No. Perfectly reasonably. He is a black UK Labour MP.

George said: “He came and spoke for me…”

So I presume this very caring young nurse also now thinks he is fantasising about how his possibly imaginary mate Dave came in to visit him yesterday… even though no visitors are allowed.

Later in the day, George – remember he is a bit deaf – started listening without headphones to an audio book he has about history after WW2. This was bad enough – there is a limit to how much I want to hear about the intricacies of Stalinist squabbles in the 1940s and 1950s Soviet Union – but also the reader of the audiobook kept mispronouncing ‘nuclear’ as ‘nucular’. For some reason, after a time, exploding a ‘nucular’ device seemed a fair option to me.

After the lecture on Stalinist ‘nucular’ policy abated, a kidney consultant came in to see me. He said they may release me tomorrow. Only ‘may’. 

It depends on the kidney and calcium numbers.

They think the calcium level is affecting my kidneys and they have, really, I think, been trying to treat and monitor my calcium level not my kidney function. Who knew?

My kidney function is up from 27 yesterday to 28 today.

If the calcium is OK, then my kidneys should be nearer to OK, as I understand it.

But, as yet, they as yet have no idea why the calcium number is/was off.

Kidney Man said the kidney function numbers I have been asking about – eg 62 last October down to 19 last Wednesday – are always slightly unreliable. He went into a very complicated multi-faceted explanation of the two more trustworthy numbers they really follow, neither of which I can get my head round. Did I mention chemistry is a mystery to me?

Once my kidneys are at an OK (not necessarily perfect) level, they will continue testing stuff, but I will not need drip feeding or measuring urine or the poor nurses investigating and reporting on the texture and colour of my ‘stools’ etc etc so I can go home.

After they release me (whenever that might be) he will treat me as an outpatient from his clinic either here or in another hospital, probably by phone. I presume because of the continuing coronavirus outbreak. On the NHS. They will do a PetScan after I am released.

After he left, I started the first of three more 6-hour drips.

TUESDAY 26th May

In the early morning, around dawn:

Nurse – “Are you in pain?”

George – “Where?”

Nurse – “Anywhere.”

George – “No.”

The ward ran out of its recyclable cardboard urine bottles…

The ward has run out of cardboard (ie recyclable) urine bottles. I get through about four each night, with the drip putting litres of liquid into me.

The nurse thought the supply problem might be because yesterday was a Bank Holiday. Luckily I had hidden one big cardboard urine bottle under the bed for just such an eventuality… Another, far-sighted, nurse gave it to me a few days ago as a precaution.

At one point, George and Basil, in beds diagonally opposite each other, both somewhat deaf, were being examined by nurses and having conversations with them. Because both are a bit deaf, both nurses were having to shout a bit.

George (registered blind) thought the voice of Basil’s nurse was his nurse so he was answering to the wrong nurse and Basil thought that George was talking to him, so we entered a complex cross-conversation situation as if a Two Ronnies comedy sketch were scripted by Harold Pinter.

Afterwards, George returned to listening to his audiobook on Stalinism – back up at full whack again.

At 1600, a new 8-hour drip started. Before the new bag was attached, I went to the toilet. I have been mildly constipated for a couple of days – well, I have not, to use the technical term, ‘had a bowel movement’. I can urinate at any time using the cardboard urine bottles (if available). But, if I want to go at any other time, I have to get disconnected from the electricity socket in the wall to which the saline drip thing is attached..

At least, I thought I wanted to go and ‘have a bowel movement’. And I did manage, with all my internal strength, to push the most gigantic ‘stool’ out of myself. One that felt worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. 

But, when I looked down into the pan, nothing, nada, zilch, absolutely nowt. 

It must have been just air.

So a nurse gave me tablets – two to be taken daily – sodium something. Everything seems to be sodium something.

Another roaming nurse offered me a free shave which I declined. You get the full Park Lane hotel treatment here, especially the truly wonderful food.

Astonishingly good: you get the full Park Lane treatment…

Astonishingly good.

If it were not for the constant blood-letting – including getting a needle in my stomach (well the fatty bit) every evening, I could happily stay here… as indeed may turn out to be the case.

The Welshman was rather disappointed not to be released today.

WEDNESDAY 27th May

My blood sugar level is 5. I have no idea what that means.

My kidney function which was 62 in October last year and was 19 last Wednesday is now 32. But, of course, that is the inexact number which the doctors don’t really use.

I talked to the lady who does the wonderful meals here. They are sent in from an outside company and then, she said, she did something to their healthiness. She may have been joking; not sure. But she supplies food for 24 people daily – that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The nurses, of course, do long-12 hour shifts. 

I was thinking: If you allow 8 hours for sleep and 1 hour for travel from home to work to home (likely to be a big underestimate in London) that leaves only 3 hours of personal life each day they work. 

After lunch – all within half an hour – Basil was taken off to be looked after at home. The Welshman was released, to be looked after at home. And George was taken to a local rehab centre/community hospital.

The ambulance men who took them out wore face masks and gloves. One of them told me that, when they deal with COVID patients, the only extra stuff they wear is an apron. He said, in April, this ward and the surrounding (non-COVID) wards were “choc a bloc with patients, like Piccadilly Circus”. 

Almost immediately after the other three left, a new patient was brought in. He was like someone from 19th century Bedlam. He would suddenly shout out, half-try to get up out of his bed, look sideways, startled, then look up and examine the ceiling as if there was something important up there – much like the acid girl when I first came into the hospital. Or the mental hospital in Essex when I was 18. Except they drugged everyone into silence then.

This is what Mr Bedlam sounded like:

Who would be a nurse?

Soon afterwards, without much warning, I was discharged (to become an outpatient) because my calcium level was OK and my kidney function was no longer in the “danger” area.

Because no-one was coming to collect me and I was an “independent” patient (which I think means I didn’t need a carer once home) they were not allowed to give me any hospital transport home: I had to make my own way home. This was not the nurses’ decision; it was a bureaucratic Discharge thing. Rules.

This meant either getting a bus back home or getting a mini-cab. 

“We would prefer it if you didn’t get a bus,” I was told.

When the Discharge person had left, I asked the nurse if she had the number for a minicab. She didn’t, but said Main Reception would and would arrange for a cab to come for me. She took me to the lifts. I was a bit light-headed. I had been basically lying on a bed for seven days with a saline drip in my arm for all seven days.

There was coincidentally a tired-looking doctor in the lift. She asked him to show me where Main Reception was. He said they would be able to phone for a cab.

He showed me where Main Reception was. They said they couldn’t phone a cab for me but, round the corner, there was a wall phone with a direct line to a cab company. I asked if they took credit cards (I only had a single £10 note in my pocket). She said she didn’t think so, but I could stop off at a cash machine on the way.

I gave up and walked out and up a slight hill to the main road and waited at a bus stop.

In the lower floor, the front area by the driver was taped-off so you couldn’t infect him. There were seven passengers, all sitting separately but no way near being 2 metres apart from each other (not possible). 

I was a bit light-headed and got near home on the bus route, then walked back home safely and drank a lot of water… The doctors still don’t know what is causing the kidney problem…

I switched on the TV. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on TV, looking like shit, bags under his eyes. Like he was auditioning for the part of Mr Covid in a Christmas panto.

… at home again …

… CONTINUED HERE

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