Category Archives: Psychology

My weekly diary No 39: self-delusion, Scots pronunciation and Janey Godley

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 38

…BEWARE! OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AHEAD…

The Komsomolskaya (Circle Line) metro station in Moscow (Photograph by A.Savin via Wikipedia)

SUNDAY 11th OCTOBER

I remember returning to Granada TV in Manchester after a trip to Moscow in the mid-1980s and saying the beautiful metro stations were only in the middle of the city.

I had gone out to the ends of a couple of metro lines where the stations were just dull concrete monstrosities and I had gone into supermarkets where there were lots of empty shelves and only one type of anything on sale; maybe only 3 types of biscuits.

Someone I worked with at Granada told me I had been taken in by Western propaganda about the USSR.

They had never been outside the UK.

People hold very strong second and third-hand opinions: even moreso in the new world of social media.

MONDAY 12th OCTOBER

…and the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in people, has amplified and magnified their faults.

Today I mentioned to a friend one stand-up comedian who has crossed that not-so-thin line from being self-obsessed to being an uncaring cunt. It’s school bully mentality. Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility. He doesn’t care if people die provided he gets attention and people look at him.

“Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility” (Image by Jon Tyson, UnSplash)

I paraphrase… slightly… from March this year: “COVID isn’t real. It’s just a panic. The panic will all definitely be over in a couple of weeks. By April 6th. Because I say so… and here’s a photo of me posing in the park. Don’t I look great?”

It’s like a 16-year-old with no conscience. Reality doesn’t exist outside himself. What he says becomes the truth in his mind because he said it.

Or like Donald Trump. You just say what you want and in your own mind it becomes reality. Then, if it doesn’t happen, you say you never said it and that becomes your reality because no-one outside yourself is a real person. They’re like bits of furniture around you, not people.

Self-obsession creating a genuine schoolboy bully mentality. Crossing the line from self-obsessed to uncaring, self-deluded cunt.

Great on a comedy stage. Not so good in reality.

One of the best posts I saw early in the pandemic – I wish I had copied it so I know who wrote it (not anyone I actually personally knew) was to the effect of:

I thought my friend had wasted the last ten years of his life sitting around doing nothing and being a failure. How wrong I was! It turns out he must have been spending all his time at home studying epidemiology and virology to a level which puts to shame all those academics and doctors who have spent decades practising in the practical professional medical field. And now he is sharing his wisdom with us all on Facebook.

He is not alone. I showed the above diary entry to another comedy industry person I know to test the reaction and they thought I was describing them… I was not…

TUESDAY 13th OCTOBER

Findochty, Findockty or Finechty? (Anne Burgess, Wikipedia)

Life is full of surprises. Today I discovered my eternally-un-named-friend – to my considerable surprise – can pronounce the Scottish ‘ch’ sound correctly. Something few English people can do. For example, they mis-pronounce “Loch Ness” as “Lock Ness” and let us not even go anywhere near Auchterarder or Auchtermuchty.

The explanation seems to be that my eternally-un-named-friend, as a child, was partly brought up in Aden with an Arabic-speaking local as her childminder. A similar sound to the Scottish ‘ch’ turns up in Arabic. For example, though the English call the Gulf state Ba-rain, the locals pronounce it Bach-rain with a sound not too far from the Scottish ‘ch’ or the Welsh double-L as in Llandaff or Llanelli…

So, like me, my eternally-un-named-friend can correctly pronounce the Moray/ex-Banffshire town Findochty… even if the locals themselves pronounce it Finechty.

You can seldom second-guess the pronunciation of British place-names.

WEDNESDAY 14th OCTOBER

As if things could not get more bizarre in the current world of coronavirus, a BBC Location Man rang my doorbell mid-afternoon today. He was looking for a location for a forthcoming drama about an ex-SAS man and thought my house looked like somewhere an ex-SAS man would live.

Clearly the ex-SAS man in the drama must be on a downward spiral!

My next-door neighbours have the advantage of a recently-built conservatory at the back. I think I may have scuppered my dramatic chances by telling the Location Man this.

THURSDAY 15th OCTOBER

A comedian of my ken told me today that they are having a bad time in the current world of coronavirus semi-lockdown.

Always look on the bright side of life… Really… No shit…

My words of little wisdom were to suggest that, for a creative person, when things are shit, that’s the time to write it down or to pour it out onto your mobile phone voice recorder for cold creative use later.

Shit requires therapy and is raw material for creativity which is self-therapy. The act of creating can distract and distance you from the shittiness of reality by making it more abstract.

I then looked in a mirror and saw a man with his head up his own arse.

FRIDAY 16th OCTOBER

Janey Godley, Have I Got News For You & Nicola Sturgeon

My Scottish hyphenate chum Janey Godley – the stand-up comic-author-actor-Twitter star-viral YouTube sensation – appeared tonight on both BBC1’s Have I Got News For You AND, in Scotland, on the STV Children’s Appeal in which she performed a comedy sketch with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Janey has just published her latest book Frank Get The Door!

She has another book (possibly two) out next year.

Anyone who has read her jaw-dropping best-selling 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark knows that she came from abject poverty with little chance of succeeding in anything except possibly getting put in prison.

The fact that, in a single evening, she appeared on one of BBC TV’s long-established, widely-watched peaktime entertainment shows AND appeared on ITV in tandem with the political leader of Scotland is a tribute to her talent, dogged determination and increasing public popularity. And she has done it all herself.

It is also a reflection on the mindlessness of London-centric Oxbridge-educated executives and commissioners that she does not have her own TV series.

SATURDAY 17th OCTOBER

Showbiz, though, is full of scarcely-believable OTT life-stories.

Constance Smith – from Hollywood to homeless – a scarcely-believable OTT true life story

I stumbled on Impulse (1954) on Talking Pictures TV this week. The leading lady in this Hollywood movie was Constance Smith, an English actress I had never heard of. So I looked her up and… Wow!

For starters she was Irish, not English.

She was born in 1928, the first of 11 children, won a Hedy Lamarr lookaline beauty contest in Dublin when she was 16, got a contract with producer Darryl F. Zanuck in Hollywood…

… married British actor Bryan Forbes in 1951 and was a presenter at the 1952 Oscars. By the time her contract expired (she was sacked) in 1953, she had undergone an abortion forced on her by the studio and the first of her three marriages was on the ropes. She divorced Bryan Forbes in 1955.

As the years went on and she failed to get the parts she felt were commensurate with her abilities, she began an embittered descent into a life of drugs and alcohol.

She acted in a run of minor films in Italy between 1955 and 1959 and, during her time in Rome, she first attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

Back in Britain, in 1962, she was sentenced to three months in prison for stabbing her then boyfriend, the documentary maker and film historian Paul Rotha.

In 1968, she stabbed Rotha for a second time and was charged with attempted murder. She and Rotha married in 1974. She also tried several times again to kill herself.

Her last few decades were spent, dissipated, in and out of hospitals. When able to get herself together for brief periods, she worked as a cleaner.

She died in June 2003 in Islington, London, aged 75.

Some people win in Life. Some people lose.

Vīta brevis,
ars longa,
occāsiō praeceps,
Experīmentum perīculōsum,
iūdicium difficile.

Life is shit and then you die.

I just looked in the mirror again.

Yup. You guessed right. That man is still there, with his head still up his arse.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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Robert White – The Autistic, web-toed British comedian is up for another prize

 

Tomorrow, a fascinating documentary about Malcolm Hardee Award-winning musical comic Robert White is going to be screened (and is up for an Audience Award) at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles – It’s an online virtual event this year.

I think I am pretty safe in saying that Robert is the only Aspergic, dyslexic, web-toed, cross-lateral, gay, quarter-Welsh, gluten-intolerant professional musical comedian in the world who made the final of Britain’s Got Talent and came runner-up.

The Autistic Comedian – is extraordinarily successful in giving an insight – warts and all – into what it’s like for a hyper-sensitive performer to grow up, undiagnosed, in the 1980s and 1990s, feel his life spiralling out of control but then learn to deal with the challenges totally on his own.

It gains from the fact that director Joe Bor is also a comedy performer and Robert’s friend – so there is a unique access and insight. 

It reminded me of the 1997 Elton John documentary Tantrums and Tiaras, directed by David Furnish.

Both films manage to be an extraordinary emotional rollercoaster with unique psychological insights.

There are details of the online Awareness Film Festival screening here and there is a trailer on Vimeo:

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Adam Wilder on the importance of togetherness, empathy and compassion

Adam juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh, 2011

So I had a chat last month (I am only just catching up) with Adam Wilder (previously aka Adam Oliver, previously Adam Taffler).

We first met at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 when he was street-performing in the Grassmarket and I asked him if he could juggle spaghetti…


JOHN: So we haven’t seen each other for ages. When last heard of, you were organising sex parties in tall tower blocks in 2017.

ADAM: (LAUGHS) No. Last time we spoke, I was running the Togetherness Festival of Human Connection, which did involve some sexuality, John, because that is a part of human connection – even for a Scottish Presbyterian like you…

JOHN: It’s the work of The Devil.

ADAM: It wasn’t a sex party. It was a Human Connection Festival…and that was really fun and, actually, I’ve been following that thread for the last three years.

The World Spooning Record at the Wilderness Festival, 2019

Last year, since I saw you, we broke a world record at the Wilderness Festival. We had 1,547 people spooning, to promote healthy…

JOHN: …sex.

ADAM: No. (LAUGHS) It was about non-sexual touch, actually. It’s so good for you. When we met today, I tried to hug you and you gave me a Scottish hug.

JOHN: What is a Scottish hug?

ADAM: It’s not really a hug. It’s like: I feel a bit disgusted, but I feel like I should do this.

JOHN: It was hard for me to say No.

ADAM: This is what I’m into now. I’m teaching a course called Embodied Sovereignty. It’s about knowing What do I want? What do I not want? I want to say No. Why is it hard to say No?

JOHN: Why is it hard to say No?

ADAM: Because we don’t want to upset people and have a bad reaction. We have two fundamental needs – The need for authenticity and the need for attachment.

So, spooning… We had these 1,547 people spooning and why is that important, John?

JOHN: Why?

ADAM: It’s so important, John, because it makes us feel relaxed. I feel sorry for people who have had no-one to hug during this COVID thing. It’s enough to send you mental. There is this thing now called Nordic Cuddling: you can hire someone to come round and cuddle you. 

JOHN: Why Nordic? 

ADAM: (LAUGHS) It makes you think of clean, blond people.

JOHN: I rather like dirty brunette people.

ADAM: I have a friend who was a cage fighter and he is really into all this intimacy work. He told me: “Adam, you know, I now realise why I was doing all the cage fighting was because I really wanted to hug and squeeze people, but I never knew how to ask for it.”

JOHN: I’ve always thought rugby players are sexually highly suspicious.

ADAM: I used to play rugby. I loved it. I loved getting the ball and people trying to take you down. It was somewhere you could actually express the anger and the passion. Normally, you’re not allowed to. It’s like Liza Minelli in Cabaret. You have to go under a bridge and scream when the trains come over.

JOHN: Well, what use is sitting alone in a room?

ADAM: I was a very angry kid.

JOHN: Why?

ADAM: Because of life. My mum was doing all this spiritual stuff and my dad was REALLY mainstream. A professor.

JOHN: Of what?

ADAM: Finance. Oh my god. It was such a weird kind of oil and wine situation. I had zero boundaries with my mum. ZERO. And then my dad would get really pissed-off because I just had no boundaries. They divorced.

JOHN: They were happy with each other?”

ADAM: No. They divorced. They divorced. Of course they did. I was about… John, you’re not my therapist! We are not going there. But, suffice to say, I was an angry kid. How do YOU feel when someone’s being angry near you?

JOHN: Erm… I don’t think I ever really had trouble with bullies at school.

ADAM: Might not be bullies. Might be parental stuff.

I’m big into the Embodiment Movement at the moment and I’m speaking at the Embodiment Conference in October, which is going to be the biggest online conference ever – over 130,000 people have signed up for free. Over 1,000 speakers, including me.

JOHN: Define ‘embodiment’?

ADAM: It’s essentially about noting sensations and feelings in your body and becoming more aware of them. It’s a big deal in Business now. It never used to be, but now it is. In Leadership and Training and all that stuff. If you notice a bit more about what’s going on, you can respond differently in the world.

There was a brilliant psychologist last century called Carl Rogers. He developed the Person-Centred Approach.

With normal psycho-analysis, you’d say: “Ah yes, this is your problem and this is how you will fix it!”

Adam had person-centred coffee with me…

The Person-Centred Approach is: “I’m your buddy and I’m just here to support you and listen to you and, actually, the best person to work it out is you. I’m just going to be here and help you.”

I like to create an environment where people feel they can explore this kind of stuff.

JOHN: Have you seen the movie Joker?

ADAM: Oh! I loved that SO much, John! Oh my God! It’s a warning about what happens when we’re not comfortable with our anger. And I also found it a very moving and beautiful story about someone coming into themselves and their life… taking power in his own life, though in a destructive, dark way.

I think I actually burst out laughing in that scene where he stabs the guy in the head with the scissors. I think I squealed with delight.

JOHN: Why?

ADAM: I just felt really happy that he was (LAUGHS) asserting himself, instead of just being a victim… although I don’t advocate that kind of destructive behaviour.

JOHN: You don’t seem to be an angry person as an adult.

ADAM: I love expressing a bit of anger.

JOHN: Ever have a primal scream like Liza Minelli?

ADAM: No. No. But I like to do a bit of shaking. That’s fun. Give a good shake. Shake your body from the top to the bottom for a good 10 minutes.

JOHN: What? Like Tom Cruise in Cocktail?

ADAM: No. It starts from the hips and knees and works up. Lets loose. Dancing. I love dancing.

JOHN: I never liked dancing. Couldn’t cope with strobe lights. The whole of the 1960s and 1970s were wasted on me.

ADAM: Nowadays it’s all about Hampstead Heath and wearing headphones.

JOHN: So what have you lined up?

ADAM: I’ve been trying to reconcile the various parts of my personality – this sort of wild happy-go-lucky comedian and this really grounded Yeah, I’m into Human Connection guy and I’ve finally got it… I am a Human Connection Coach and comedian. That’s what I’m putting myself out as now. I’ve done a bit of work with Google and Coca Cola and Accenture and some local governments…

JOHN: Doing what?

ADAM: Doing stuff around how to create a culture of togetherness where different people like hanging out with each other; giving people the skills to set boundaries and say No and get on better.

JOHN: This might not work in Glasgow, where they head-butt people to say hello…

ADAM: My friend is a sex therapist up in Glasgow…

JOHN: This doesn’t surprise me.

ADAM: …and he gets very few people coming to him, but they’re really sweet, apparently. Imagine you were in a culture where you can’t talk about something but it’s really important to you and someone tells you: “Oh! This is really normal.” It’s liberating. He does some cuddle parties up there.

JOHN: Celtic cuddle parties?

ADAM: That’s about… JOHN!!!! I haven’t even told you about the House of Togetherness!!!

The House of Togetherness in Covent Garden, in April 2019

JOHN: Tell me.

ADAM: Last year in January (2019) I saw this old yoga studio in Covent Garden which was available for six months and I thought: Fuck it! I’ll take it! and create The House of Togetherness!

So I created a venue in London where people could come together for things like Blindfolded Adventure TimeSpooning Hour… something called Sex ClubSpeak Your Truth… People could come together and have these experiences of how to connect better with ourselves and each other.

We had some very Glaswegian journalists come in for Spooning.

JOHN: Glaswegian journalists?

ADAM: People who don’t find it normal to touch other people.

JOHN: Did you call it House Of Togetherness because the initials are quite good – HOT?

ADAM: No. House of Togetherness because it made sense. I’m doing togetherness…

JOHN: … and it’s in a house. I see…

ADAM: We started in January and had to finish in October because the building was being redeveloped. It was really really good fun, man. I totally burnt myself out as well. It was nuts. I was wasted by the end.

I’ve been rebuilding myself over the last nine months and now I’m developing into the School of Connection: the School of Togetherness, basically. I want to help people learn the skills I think are really important in culture right now. Things like listening with empathy and compassion; speaking your truth; being able to say No; being able to ask for what you want; the relationship between pleasure and direction.

I have two courses running online right now. One is on non-violent communication. It’s about how behind every conflict are un-met needs and, if we can talk about those, then we can resolve things.

As a comedian and human connection coach, I feel like it’s all coming together now.

The mass spooning event organised by Adam Wilder at the Wilderness Festival last year…

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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 17 – Red socks, casual racism and a death?

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 16

At this point in the saga below, I am in hospital with kidney function/calcium level problems.

(Nothing to do with COVID-19.)


When I had to wear a coronavirus mask …

SATURDAY 23rd May

The hospital staff have to wear several layers of clothing. About 50% wear face masks and sometimes, when dealing with patients, gloves. Almost no-one wears a plastic face visor. As far as I can see, this is not anything to do with lack of personal protective equipment. As far as I can see, it is choice. None of the staff seems to be nervous inside the ward.

At one point, one nurse was sitting spoon-feeding the old man in the bed opposite me. Another was doing the same to the patient in the bed next to me. Neither nurse had gloves on.

When I had a scan two days ago, I had to wear a face mask when I was taken to the scanning room (quite a way away), had the scan and came back to the ward. 

It was hot, stifling and horrendous to wear – and I only had to wear it for maybe 25 minutes. The nursing staff are on 12-hour shifts – mostly, it seems, 0800-2000 and 2000-0800, with a few breaks. They are wildly over-hot most of the day. (Admittedly temperatures are high in the UK at the moment.) Occasionally I hear them talk to each other about the discomfort. 

Apparently the earlier face masks they had to wear were worse – more tight-fitting and suffocating. 

There are two effects of having to wear masks for long periods.

1) The nurses are physically uncomfortable wearing them and very hot most of the time, especially over the last few days.

2) They want ventilation and open windows most of the time while the patients, just wearing pyjamas, feel a totally different temperature. 

At the start of the evening last night, I got the two slit windows above my bed closed. Been open since Wednesday night. Draughty.

One of the Filipino nurses is actually a trainee nurse in the first year of a two-year course. The deal is the hospital pays the fees for his course and he works for them. So yesterday, for two hours in the afternoon, he went off to another area of the hospital and, with others who work in the hospital, did academic stuff.

My friend Lynn texts me: “Saturday night in our local hospital here was a revelation. We had a Lord and a knifing one weekend. A real Lord whose wife sat by him knitting throughout and they said not one word to each other. The knifing victim had his extended family in to have a good laugh over the happy event.”

I discover the hospital has free red socks. The joys of the NHS!

Because I did not expect to be taken into hospital, I have been wearing the same pair of socks since last Wednesday. So potentially smelly. I discover the hospital has free red socks. The joys of the NHS!

A new guy was brought into bed space opposite me. I shall call him George (not his real name).

The nurse spoke to him gently and caringly; he muttered his replies, barely audibly.

Nurse – “You want your phone?”

George – “This is the reason.”

Nurse – (Gently) “What?”

George – “I don’t even know how to work the bloody thing. The phone.”

Nurse – “You told me before to put it here, so that you can reach it.”

George – “Oh, that’s rubbish. Absolute rubbish.”

Nurse – “This (the table) moves about… See? Now you can reach it.”

George – “I can’t reach them all. I can’t lean forward, as you know.”

Nurse – “I can put you forward, but you said your back was…”

George – “I can’t reach forward.”

Nurse – “Here, you can sit up. You are not in pain now?”

George – I am in pain in my knees.”

After given his meds and some routine tests, as the nurse left the room, he asked weakly: “OK? Was it OK?” Then, a few minutes later, “Was there a problem? What was the problem?”

The nurse didn’t hear him because she had gone. He is registered blind, though I think he has some slight sight.

Occasionally, throughout the day, George – with no nurse in the ward to hear him – mutters: “What was the problem?”

Later, sitting in a chair by his bed, George was talking with another Filipino nurse. (I had my iPhone so this dialogue is correct):

George – “Why do you still want me here?”

Nurse – “I think they are still sorting out something for you at home.”

George – “I’m an old man. The government are doing all this. I don’t believe it.”

Nurse – “I think the home care is not ready yet. That is why you are still here.”

George – “I am old. I wanna go home.”

Nurse – “They are still sorting out the care before you go home.”

George – “Just let me go home. We’ll sort it out on the way. But it ain’t gonna be like that, because it doesn’t suit you, does it?… I’m an 86-year-old man. Why on earth do you want to keep me here? Why?”

Nurse – “It’s not me. I don’t do about all these things.”

George – “So you don’t agree with it. Why are you letting it happen?”

Nurse – “It’s the doctors deciding what’s best for you.”

George – “From what country?”

Nurse – “The discharge team is sorting something for you at home.”

George – “Why? Why? I don’t believe that. Why? Can I move? My arse aches.”

Nurse – “I’ll get you back into bed.”

George – “We’re getting nowhere. You’ve said so many things and you’ve contradicted yourself. Why I don’t know.”

Nursing is a nightmare. The nurses in the ward are calm, caring and have to understand the psychology of difficult and sometimes doolally patients.

As for me – it’s Saturday now – I have had the saline drip permanently in my left arm since Wednesday around teatime.

Daily, I get injected in my right hand (a blood sugar test, I think); blood samples (two small tubes, I think) are taken from my right arm; an injection in my stomach; and sundry other injections. Blood pressure taken two, maybe three times a day. And a daily chat with a doctor. Still no sign of the doctors discovering what caused my kidney function falling or my calcium level rising. So tests, tests, tests.

Nighttime in the ward, with a couple of chilly open windows

SUNDAY 24th May 

Around 0200 in the morning, it was pretty chilly, I managed to find two new bedsheets and pillowcases half-hidden away on the other arm of my bedside chair.

I vaguely remember out the side of my eye seeing a nurse put them there yesterday, I presumed they were for the next bed. I now realise they were for me. I added them to my single sheet. 

0348 – Drip had run out. Pretty chilly. Bad headache along the base of my skull at the back. 

0402 – Light headache on right temple

0414 – Light headache at front, between eyes.

0419 – Light headache in middle of forehead

It went away.

I have a ‘call button’ for the nurses but they would just have given me paracetamol or similar and I wouldn’t have known how it developed. Not serious pain.

Around the same time (unconnected) and not near me, two nurses came into the ward with jackets on and closed a window at the end of the ward which had been open all day.

Around 0514, I was shaken awake for blood pressure to be taken.

The guy tried wrapping the band around my arm about three times and tried taking the blood pressure four times. Didn’t work.

At pretty much the same point, we both saw a blue lead and an electric plug hanging at the back of his portable unit.

He plugged the machine into a wall socket.

It worked.

Neither of us reacted as if anything unusual had happened.

I suspect, like the very efficient Filipino nurse, he is probably a student.

He went on to take blood pressure from the guy opposite.

The old guy asked: “Is it OK now? Was it OK? There was something wrong last night…”

“No, no problem,” the nurse said.

0715 – I woke with heavy headache at base of skull at the back, but it went away quickly. 

The hospital menu: less British Railways, more Park Lane

The food here is AMAZINGLY good. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Big selection. VERY tasty. Great food! I expected British Railways buffet here, standard circa 1955. In fact, it is like Dorchester Hotel standard 2020.

I saw myself in a full-length mirror in the loo last night, after showering myself. I looked like a bloated stomachy creature.

I mentioned it to a friendly nurse (they are all friendly) who told me: “It will be the water from the drip bags.”

Another day today of little pricks and wetness – needles and drip bags. 

All the nurses now have little individual tattoos on their arms – a gift from one nurse’s 5-year-old who has a book of ‘em. They last about 3 days. The tattoos, not the nurses.

Heaven preserve us! A nurse has turned on a radio for the ward and left the room.

Even worse, it is playing Danny Boy in a particularly saccharine version. The next step will be community singing. If they start playing Country music, I am going to demand a transfer to the Euthanasia Ward.

My friend Lynn texted me: “My nightmare would be hip-hop. They are giving you saline so you will be bloated and you will not be able to move around until the line dancing starts.” 

Oh good grief! Now it’s some ghastly 1950s girl group going full blast with trombones backing them! 

Now The Shirelles! I have no objection to The Shirelles in their place. This is not it.

The three other blokes in the ward are (for them) mercifully fairly deaf. Well, to be honest, one of them is permanently curtained-off and I rarely see him.

Talk about rest and recovery! I think the North Koreans have invaded and are torturing us. I have realised it’s not the radio but a tape on a 5-10min loop. The North Koreans are demonstrating why Western Civilisation has to be destroyed via its own worst 1950s US musical culture. Give me earplugs, a bread knife and a bucket for the blood.

The music is no more.

One nurse is saying to another that, outside the hospital, some nurses have been approached asking if they want to get a clap – meaning that, if they pay, they would be given a clap in appreciation for their work.

True.

The nurse was saying: “What planet are they on? Do they not know what’s going on around them?”

I talked to a doctor. I misunderstood the numbers for my kidney function and its drop.

In fact, 90 is normal kidney function for a young man. My kidney function in October was 62, which is OK for my age.

My kidney function was 19 on Wednesday 20th and now, thanks to all their dripping, has gone up to 27.

My calcium level on Wednesday was (I think) 3.3 and is now down to 2.7.

They’re going to keep me in until I get back up to a reasonable kidney rate (how long is a piece of string?) with the drips… then they can send me home and do other care from there. Or it might be a proper calcium level they need to get me to. I really was rubbish at chemistry in school.

They still don’t know the source of my kidney/calcium problems.

It feels nastily like I may be here another week Although it is almost worth it for the food.

The normal view of the fourth bed in the ward…

I am in a 4-bed section of the ward and, since I arrived, one of the four, as I mentioned, has been curtained-off. Rarely seen.

They just curtained-off – it is now the middle of the night – the other three sections – this has never happened before – and there was a coming-and-going of I think two men and a trolley bed or beds was/were being pushed around. One was taken out.

Then our three beds were un-curtained and the fourth bit was now uncurtained with a newly-made bed. 

But no patient in it.

People have been wheeled in and out before but without the curtaining.

I presume the man in that bed is a goner.

Brown bread. Dead.

… CONTINUED HERE  …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 5 – Social media psychos and Boris Johnson

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 4 …

SUNDAY 5th APRIL 

The latest official UK figures are that there were 621 hospital deaths of people with coronavirus in the last 24 hours; that brings the total to 4,974. As always, the death figure does not include deaths “in the community” or in care homes; it is only deaths in hospital. 

On BBC Breakfast this morning, someone was saying it is almost impossible to be sad if you are dancing to an upbeat tune because all the audio, visual and physical information the brain has to deal with lessens its ability to feel sadness. What a pity I am not one of Life’s passionate dancers.

However, on a cheery note, Romanian TV superstar Dragos Mostenescu has posted the second in his online series of life in lockdown with his family in his London home. 

This year’s Olympics, Euro 2020 football championships and Wimbledon tennis tournament have already been postponed because of coronavirus. But I received news today of another tragic major sporting cancellation.

Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation tells me that plans for this year’s official World Egg Throwing Championships have now been abandoned. They have been held annually since 2006. He also came back on my mention in last week’s Diary about bored people sticking fish up their bottoms.

“Not just fish or via that entrance,” he reports. “Colleagues of mine were called to assist at the local A&E when a young man arrived with a ring spanner stuck on his todger. It seems he couldn’t get it out of the spanner and this led to a rather nasty swelling and great pain. The cure was the largest set of ‘parrot jaws’ you could imagine. These are the things used to cut off car roofs. 

“Having shown the selected removal tool to the almost-fainting lad, they then slathered his ‘tool’ with large amounts of a heat-absorbing gel and resorted to the actual plan of angle grinding the offending tool off his own tool. There were sparks! Because of the nature and quality of the ring spanner, the process required three separate cuts and very very steady hands.”

I developed fairly bad toothache in the evening and took two of my stash of 30 paracetamol tablets.

Later in the evening, the Queen made a TV broadcast about the coronavirus outbreak – only the 5th ‘one-off’ of her reign.

About at hour later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

One comedy performer’s reaction was: “Hopefully he dies.”

I blocked them.

MONDAY 6th APRIL

I now have medium toothache… This goes back to several weeks ago and I may have to have a tooth extracted… if my dentist is working.

The tooth was discussed with him several weeks ago. I am hoping the ache goes away, though I suspect it won’t – it is an infection in the root that antibiotics did not stop when I took them for a week.

But, obviously, my medium toothache is a minor thing compared to what else is happening.

On Twitter, one paramedic Tweeted:

“Yesterday my patient died. The doctors had to choose between three patients who would get the Intensive Care Unit bed. They only had one ventilator left. My patient missed out because of her age. She would have normally had a good chance of survival. This is the reality everywhere. #stayhome”

In the evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken into the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, his condition having worsened over the course of the afternoon.

I also got a message from my friend who lives in Central London. One of her friends was taken into hospital last week. It was mentioned in last week’s Diary blog. She updated me:

“I spoke to the very nice Intensive Care nurse who was looking after him today. No change. Still on support for both lungs and heart. No improvement in ability to self-oxygenate. I’ve spoken to most of his family today. It’s tough.”

TUESDAY 7th APRIL

My toothache has gone away.

On the TV show Good Morning Britain, presenter Piers Morgan said: “It’s worth bearing in mind when we talk about immigrants in this country, these are the immigrants currently saving people’s lives. Coming here and actually enriching our country and doing an amazing job.“ 

With luck, one outcome of this coronavirus outbreak might be to improve race relations, as so many of the NHS staff seen on screen are non-white.

But will we become a more caring society? No. The psychos will still roam social media.

One professional writer Tweeted about how shocked she was at the online vitriol she received when she mentioned she likes Keir Starmer, the newly-elected leader of the Labour Party.

Elsewhere, a comic performer Tweeted: 

“That’s me on a Twitterbreak. In these awful times, we must be kind & compassionate, something which I’m sorry to say I’ve definitely failed at times on here.”

Social media is like a school playground where the psychos and insecure get together in small gangs to bully others and persuade themselves they are not alone and powerless but that they are, in fact, powerful and normal because they are not alone. A playground where your voice, thoughts and opinions are paid attention to by ‘everyone’ – even though ‘everyone’ is a tiny number of people amid (in the case of the UK) 67 million people. You can tell yourself any freakish opinion you hold is mainstream because the vast majority of your very small, self-selected gang believe what you believe.

Meanwhile, in the real world, my friend in Central London texted me again about her friend in hospital:

“No change. Life support. Not rosy.”

WEDNESDAY 8th APRIL

In the morning, my friend in Central London told me:

“Hospital just phoned. They’re losing him.”

The total reported UK coronavirus deaths now stands at 7,097 – up 938 since yesterday.

Meanwhile, in the unreal world of social media psychos, the writer on a popular cartoon locked her Twitter account following a backlash after she Tweeted about Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation: “The cunt deserves every blunt needle he’ll get”

The Labour Party announced it was “suspending from the party” a local Labour mayor, who had written of Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation with coronavirus that he “completely deserves this”.  Her name was also taken off the website of the firm of solicitors she works for…

However, no action was taken against a man who had Tweeted: “You have to have a heart of stone not to smile just a little bit” in response to the news that Boris had been taken to an Intensive Care Unit. The man Tweeting is a barrister and Senior Counsel to a World Bank initiative and on leave from being a Professor of Law and Legal Theory at a London University, where he teaches jurisprudence plus political and legal philosophy.

THURSDAY 9th APRIL

UK coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours 881. 

‘Social distancing’ means we are supposed to only leave home for essentials and to keep 2 metres away from other people when out.

Today the BBC reported that, last weekend, Greater Manchester police had to break up 660 parties – including 166 street parties and 494 house parties, some with DJs, fireworks and bouncy castles. There were 122 different groups gathering to play sports, 173 gatherings in parks and 112 incidents of anti-social behaviour and public disorder.

The BBC also reported that, last Saturday, police in Morecambe arrested two men who had gone into a Sainsbury’s food store and were licking their hands, then wiping them on vegetables, on meat and on refrigerator handles

This evening, it was reported that Boris Johnson had left the Intensive Care Unit but remained in hospital.

My friend in Central London texted: “No news today. Thankfully. Early night. Not sleeping much.”

GOOD FRIDAY 10th APRIL

The UK coronavirus death toll in the last 24 hours rose by 980 to 8,958.

For the third day in a row, I went out on my daily exercise forgetting to put on my latex gloves – I bought 100 three days ago via the internet.

In Germany, the Oberammergau Passion Play which is performed once every ten years and was due to be performed again on 16th May this year has been postponed for two years because of the danger from coronavirus. The villagers of Oberammergau started performing the play in 1634 so that God would protect them from the plague. This postponement follows the holy, healing waters of Lourdes being closed because of the danger to life from the virus. I am thinking of returning to the Old Gods, finding a virgin policeman and building a Wicker Man.

Back in London, Dragos Mostenescu and his family, in lockdown, have now opened a Game Park in their back garden.

My friend in Central London messaged me:

“I just spoke to the senior Intensive Care Unit nurse. Overnight they again tried to decrease his sedation and ventilation by a small amount but he couldn’t tolerate that so they had to increase it again. This morning he was ‘quite unstable’ so they again increased both to maximum level.

“He is now receiving as much oxygen as possible with the ventilator and is deeply sedated so is not aware of any discomfort. The nurse said that he has ‘acute renal failure’ – his kidneys did not start working after they stopped filtration last night so they re-started that today. She added that his blood pressure is fine today, without help.”

EASTER SATURDAY 11th APRIL

The UK coronavirus hospital death toll in the last 24 hours rose by 917 to 9,875.

On Twitter, a consultant working in Intensive Care Units wrote:

“If you end up in an Intensive Care Unit, it’s a life-changing experience. It carries a huge cost even if you do get better.

“As our patients wake up, they are so weak they can’t sit unaided, many can’t lift their arms off the bed due to profound weakness. They need to be taught to walk again, breathe again and they have problems with speech and swallowing. Some have post-traumatic stress, body image and cognitive problems.

“They get better in time but it may take a year and needs an army of Physiotherapy, speech and language, psychology and nursing staff to facilitate this. The few weeks on a ventilator are a small footnote in the whole process.”

Not very good news for Boris Johnson, even though he was reportedly not on a ventilator… nor good news for us.

There is an interview with the doctor on YouTube…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Angelo Marcos on why comics are like lawyers and jokes are like whodunnits

Angelo Marcos is a stand-up comedian and actor. He has written two short story collections and two novels. His fifth book, the crime thriller Victim Mentality, is out now.


JOHN: So what’s it about?

ANGELO: Well, I’ve written other psychological thrillers and they were quite dark, so this one was meant to be a lighter book, but (LAUGHS) it didn’t turn out that way. 

JOHN: Part of it is written in the First Person and part of it in the Third Person. 

ANGELO: Yes. The First Person is from the point-of-view of a stand-up comedian. 

JOHN: Everyone says a first novel tends to be autobiographical but, with you, the fifth book is autobiographical?

ANGELO: This is the most personal book I’ve written.

JOHN: You did Law and Psychology at university.

Angelo Marcos (Photo copyright Remy Hunter)

ANGELO: Yes, I studied Law and while I did that, I was also performing stand-up and doing acting, but then I found I didn’t have any money. So then I worked a bit – various things – a bank, offices, a supermarket. I worked for a market research company which was basically just other actors, with everyone sitting around trying to do as little work as possible, waiting for their agent to phone.

Then I re-trained – basically a Post-Graduate three-year Psychology course in one-and-a-half years. And I was writing during that time as well.

JOHN: So originally you wanted to be a lawyer, which is a very level-headed thing to aspire to… but you also had this mad stand-up comedy gene?

ANGELO: I went to university because everyone was going and I thought – Well – Law – OK. But, from the beginning, I was also doing stand-up. I was at the University of London, so it was easy enough to find gigs. I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the degree that thought: OK, I DEFINITELY not only do not want to be a lawyer and I don’t want to work in Law. Let’s just get famous instead!

JOHN: Why didn’t you want to be in Law?

ANGELO: I found the analytical side of it fascinating, but I liked the kind-of absurd analytical side of it. I liked the fact you could pretty-much make words mean whatever you wanted them to mean.

I love stories. In criminal law, the cases were fascinating. So I elected to do subjects like Moral Philosophy, Law & Terrorism and other things kind-of affiliated with law, but not the core subject. I dunno. I just found Law itself a bit dry. It’s a really good degree to have. It’s a really good set of skills to have. But I prefer using them in other ways.

Lawyers and comics have much in common

JOHN: Barristers and comedians have in common the fact they both stand up and tell lies to create an effect on an audience.

ANGELO: That’s very true. Although lawyers get paid more, until you get to Michael McIntyre. But there IS that element of performance. 

When you are heckled as a stand-up, there are no holds barred. You HAVE to win. And I guess it’s similar in a court situation. If you are a barrister and someone questions one of your points or if you have a witness who is particularly hostile, I imagine the switch that goes on in the brain is the same: I have to win now!… In the same way that, as a stand-up, you don’t want to lose credibility, you don’t want to ‘lose’ the audience.

JOHN: And you have to persuade the audience that your story is credible and real, even if it might be a lie.

ANGELO: That’s true. You are saying: This is a scenario you need to buy into. This is what happened that night. Whether it’s true or not is a different thing. You have to sell that to the jury or the audience… I’m not saying that all lawyers do this. I’m not saying that no lawyers are interested in truth.

JOHN: I am. They are interested in winning and getting paid though, of course, they get paid whether they win or lose.

ANGELO: What I am saying is that, in my experience, it is entirely possible to be a successful lawyer and not be interested in truth.

JOHN: Being a lawyer in court and being a stand-up comedian are both about telling a story, which is what being a writer is also about…

ANGELO: Yeah. Absolutely. I do a lot of different things – stand-up, acting, writing – and I think the link is they all involve stories.

JOHN: And an interest in structure where the story has to build up to an interesting climax…

ANGELO: I think with the build-up to the punchline of a joke… the mechanism of that is the same when you are writing the twist in a novel crime thriller or a short story. In all three, you are giving the audience or the reader only the information you want them to have. Enough to follow you, but not enough to work out what the twist or what the joke is going o be.

Whether it’s a surprise punchline or the revelation that: “It was the babysitter all along!” – it’s a similar mechanism. I loved The Usual Suspects because it’s so clever and it totally tricked me.

JOHN: Like an optical illusion.

ANGELO: When I was doing Psychology, one of the lecturers explained the mechanism behind optical illusions and he was saying no matter how much you know about how they work, as a human being, every time you look at these pictures you will see the illusion first.

That’s where I got the premise for Victim Mentality: that it doesn’t matter how much you know, we are all wired in a certain way and that makes us all victims. You can try and look at the picture and not see the illusion, but you always WILL see the illusion.

“…the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book”

I suppose a lot of the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book. That sense of going to a gig that’s just not set up for comedy. There are a lot of hostile environments that you walk into at the open mic level, which is where the comedian in my book is.

He has been doing it for a while, struggling, and he’s also trying to get into acting. At the start of the story, his agent books an interview with him and an incarcerated criminal so he can get into character for the role. When they meet, it becomes obvious there’s quite a lot of similarities between them.

The premise of the book is that we are all victims of our own minds. The guy in jail is saying: “You are looking at me as if I am some kind of special case. You are trying to understand why I would do the things I do. But, essentially, we are all wired in certain ways; we all have certain life experiences that cause us to act the way we do.”

There is tragedy in the comedian’s past and in the criminal’s past.

I don’t go so far as to question Free Will, but it’s a case of Are you doing this because you are wired to do it or because it’s fun or whatever? Are you a victim of your own brain just like everyone else?

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Lynn Ruth Miller finds life tough in San Francisco and meets Trump supporters

Lynn Ruth’s view

The last couple of blogs have been by the uniquely multi-talented comic, writer and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, ruminating on her recent visit back to San Francisco, where she lived for nearly 30 years. Here she rounds off…


I met with Mike Morgin who is my US tax consultant. His stage name is Mike Moto and he was an active part of the American comedy scene.

His heritage is part of his set. He is part Japanese, part Yugoslavian so he always opens with: “I am a Japoslav”.  

The last time I heard him, we were in a tiny theater that holds 20 people and someone in that minute group shouted: “I am, too!” You cannot make these things up.

Six years ago, Mike suffered a severe stroke and the interesting thing about this story is that for six years he has struggled with his rehabilitation and within two years he was managing to go back on stage. His balance is precarious and he walks with a cane. Although his speech is improving, he still is difficult to understand. However, he is determined to master these challenges. He is doing more shows every year. His progress is slow, but he proves the cliché “once a comedian always a comedian”. His set is still solid and, as of just this year, he has been doing longer sets not just for comedy audiences but for people recovering from a stroke.

Since comedy is not the most lucrative profession for those of us that TV has not discovered (yet), Mike is a tax consultant during the day and he has been doing my taxes for about 8 years.

On the Friday, I was booked for Samson Koletar’s room in Oakland.  Samson is from Mumbai and came to Silicon Valley because he got a high-paying job in IT. He moved into a beautiful apartment near San Francisco’s Mission District. He said that, in Mumbai, his parents, his sister and he all lived in a one bedroom flat and the isolation of living alone in his fancy new American home was almost more than he could bear.

Samson started Comedy Oakland several years ago and its growth was very slow; but he persisted.   

The city of San Francisco was the center for sophisticated entertainment. Stand up demands intelligent listening to be enjoyed. Oakland, on the other hand, has a fluctuating population and the income and cultural levels are extremely varied. 

It has some of the most gorgeous and expensive places to live near scenic Lake Merritt. It is also one of the places famous for its drive-by shootings and immense consumption of drugs.

Lynn Ruth Miller alone on stage in Oakland

Sam continued to bring in good comedy to this area because it had no comedy at all and he knew eventually the shows would be accepted and be well attended. He succeeded. This time, Sam scheduled two shows back to back and the place was sold out.

Once again, I am faced with the question of what keeps us at it. Comedy is a thankless, stressful career, at best. At worst, it is the stuff of suicide. It is very stressful to get up on a stage and bare your heart to a bunch of strangers.  

I lived alone with no family and very few friends. Comedy was my lifeline and I hung on to it for dear life. I fed on the laughs no matter how sparse they were when I began.

I went for dinner with my friend, Judy Lawrence. I met her at the Park Movie Theatre when she was the manager there almost 40 years ago. We became fast friends and I saw her through some very difficult times. 

Her favorite nephew got brain cancer and died and Judy was torn apart. She went from one dead-end job to another and, between the ups and downs of her very challenging life, we would meet now and again. At one point when I was in my house in Pacifica, she had dyed her hair a bright green and pierced herself like a pin-cushion with rings everywhere – her tongue, her nose, her eyebrows, her ears. I asked her: “Why do you mutilate yourself like this?”.  

She said: ”Why did you have anorexia?” 

And the penny dropped.

I realized then that the only thing we can control is our bodies and, when life goes off the charts, we turn to our anatomy and force it to do our bidding.  

I starved and stuffed my body because it kept me from facing my many failures and inadequacies. Judy pierced hers trying to come to terms with the unfairness and cruelty of disease and loss.

Owning a house in San Francisco is beyond most of us and to my happy surprise, Judy now has her own little house in a beautiful and safe neighborhood of the city. She has a partner now and her mother lives with her as well and – surprise of all surprises – Judy works for Apple.

Apple in Silicon Valley (Photo: Carles Rabada via UnSplash)

She is now part of that top income level created by the Silicon Valley Greats that people say is destroying the city and erasing the middle class.

These very high-income professionals can pay outrageous prices for what they want and, in America, money is the only power that counts. 

Judy has a brand new car; she dresses in up-to-the-minute fashion. The rings are gone. Her hair is a conventional color. But, underneath, she is the same fun-loving and adventuresome Judy that I bonded with at the Park Theatre.  

Our circumstances change, but those basic impulses: compassion, kindness and adventure… we hang on to them. The difference is that, as we age and as our circumstances change, the way we express those tendencies becomes different, less impulsive and, perhaps, a bit more staid.

That night I had a sleep-over with my long-time friends Alan Schneider and Deidre Laiken. When I met them, they lived in San Francisco’s North Beach. They were originally from New York State and came west as so many of us did because we believed California was a magic place. And indeed it was – over ten years ago – when the two of them became part of that culture: jazz on Sunday afternoons, wild street entertainment every day and idyllic weather, never too hot or too cold.

Gradually, the ambience changed and Deidre tells the story of walking out her front door and being accosted by angry, demanding homeless people who blocked the streets with their sleeping bags and tents. The two decided to do what so many former Californians have done: move away from the city that had originally captured their hearts.  

They chose Folsom, an expanding community nearer to Sacramento than San Francisco. They found a condominium development with every amenity: a gym, a swimming pool, lovely walkways filled with foliage that encouraged birds to nest and a well-equipped clubhouse all at a cost far less than their two-bedroom flat in San Francisco. The weather is more extreme; the culture is just not there; but it is safe to walk outside at any time of the day or night.

To my surprise, both of them are ardent Trump supporters.  Alan explained that, although he has no respect for our president as a person, he believes in the things he has accomplished. Unemployment is down; the economy is up; he says minorities are prospering (?); and Donald Trump is making America greater every day.(???) 

“Donald Trump is making America greater every day (???)” (Image via Pixabay)

“The world is changing,” Alan went on to say. “Families are totally different; we live with our cell phones; we do not eat together; and young people cannot have the same dreams we had. Few of them will be able to buy a home; more of them will have to go to University if they want to earn a living; yet fewer of them can afford tuition; we meet people online instead of face to face. Children are living with their parents longer; they are more concerned about things we never even considered like abusing the environment and the artificial additives we put into food.”

I saw that change he was speaking of when I went out for dinner with another friend, Alan Kahn. This Alan is a teacher and a magician, involved now with a woman ten years his senior, who wants him to move to Oregon, a typical escape haven for people disenchanted with the Bay Area.  

Alan has had custody of his two children since his divorce many years ago. Both are in their twenties and are living at home. They are incensed that their father is charging them rent to live in his home now that they are older.  

He believes he is justified because he says they do nothing to help with the upkeep of the house and are earning enough to pay him for the cost of the utilities and huge taxes that every Californian has to pay. His daughter was so insulted that her father would charge her to live in what she feels is her home, that she has moved out and is paying twice as much rent for the privilege.

Alan is not happy with his job and would like to tour the country in a van performing at magic festivals, but his new partner is not too enthusiastic about that. And he says he cannot even consider such a move until both his son and daughter become self-supporting. Neither of the children have a partner and both of them not only have menial jobs that barely pay enough for food, but also do not have enough education to break into more lucrative professions.

It certainly is a new world. I left home as soon as I graduated from university to take a job my education had prepared me for. After my first divorce, I returned home and it never occurred to me that my parents would charge me to live there. My plan for my future was to marry and have children. The idea that I would not do such a thing – or that I would have to go to work to support myself after I married – would have horrified me.

Today, millennials do not leave home until they have to, marriage is in a steep decline and recreational sex is taken for granted.

Who knew?

… CONTINUED IN LOS ANGELES HERE

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I mistook someone else for me in comic Janet Bettesworth’s pre-novel ‘doodles’

She studied Fine Art & Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

Everyone inevitably makes instant judgments on people’s characters at first sight: solely on their looks. But we seldom see ourselves as others see us.

Comedian, art connoisseur and Grouchy Club regular Janet Bettesworth recently announced: “I’m going to write a novel by doodling the characters first.” She studied Fine Art and Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

She is currently posting drawings – she calls them ‘doodles’ – on her Facebook page and asks three questions for Facebook Friends to answer about each unknown person sketched. For example:

  • What is his name?
  • The love of his life?
  • His taste in furniture?

I recognised the 25th sketch was of fellow Grouchy Club regular Peter Stanford. Janet’s questions were:

Peter Stanford – airlifted to safety after a farming incident?

  • What’s his name?
  • His most recent airborne experience?
  • Way of organising a picnic?

Answers included:

  • His name is Nils, he was airlifted to safety after a farming incident. Picnics for him are rye bread & herring & fermented ale.
  • He used to get gigs as a Brian Blessed looky-like until he accidentally boarded an EasyJet to Finland, where he found a lot more work playing Santa to tourists, and now he drinks mulled wine all year round.

And, from Peter Stanford himself:

  • Definitely one of the gods in your novel. Cranach looks down at the mortals giving the Deserving pieces of good luck and mugs of tea. He is rarely airborne as he can transport himself between the godly and earthly realms instantaneously. His worshippers organise ‘Picnics’ (feasts held indoors in the colder months and only outside in high summer) for the poor and homeless – and anyone else – in his honour as part of their devotions, instead of building temples. When he was appearing on earth, he drank mugs of tea, which he shared with other people. “Don’t build any temples”, he told them. “Just organise picnics and tea.” The cult is always in danger of dying out.

A few days later, Peter pointed out to me that No 30 in Janet’s series looked a lot like me, though with different-shaped spectacles. I had a look and thought: Well, bugger me, that does look like it’s me!

The three questions Janet asked of her Facebook Friends were:

Is this me? – or Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge?

  • What is his name?
  • His opinion of Boris Johnson?
  • His chances of winning the Lottery?

The answers seemed to reflect more on the personality of the commentator rather than on me and tended to reflect British people’s somewhat unhealthy continuing obsession with Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

  • Glenn Thoresby. What he really thinks of Boris Johnson is unprintable here; enough to say he believes that the British people have been lied to mercilessly by this entitled upper-class toff who doesn’t give a monkey’s: a feckless, narcissistic, utterly irresponsible public school product, a marionette of Dominic-whom-nobody-voted-for-Cummings. Glenn’s chances of winning the Lottery are nil as he doesn’t buy the tickets. He believes they are an exploitative tax on the poor who, (like Brexit voters) think they have a chance to turn their fates around on a million to one statistical odds. This doesn’t stop him from buying raffle tickets occasionally, though, especially when the prize is a good bottle of plonk and/or the beneficiaries’ cause is a good one.
  • This is a cracking picture. I think his name is Peter Egg and he’s a foodie: a London restaurant critic who is zealous about plant-based foods to the extent that the smell of animal products cooking now makes him gag. Restaurants where he dines now have to put him in a separate room and block the doorframe with towels and wet loo paper to stop the offending molecules reaching his nose. He thinks Boris is an execrable pig or walking pork roast. He has no chance of winning the Lottery as he never enters. It only penetrates his consciousness when he goes to the theatre and sees its logo at the bottom of programmes for plays it has funded.

Janet Bettesworth – Edinburgh Fringe, 2012

  • Dimitri Dennis Zabaroski. He won’t win. He doesn’t do Lottery. Hates the foreign man who won up the road… they should fuck off back home. (Both parents immigrated to Luton in the ’50s.) He works at car plant locally and knows a lot of foreign people abuse the system. Likes Prince Andrew and his confidence. Likes Borris and wants to have a flag pole outside his house with Farage and Union flag. Council refused planning application. All foreign.
  • This is Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge, known to his closest friends as 3Pee. He is a second cousin, once removed to Boris. He is immensely proud and fond of his childhood pal, with whom he roasted chestnuts and netted little jars of frogspawn when the families got together for camping trips. They frequently got their shorts mixed up, being almost identical in size and shape. They still swap Christmas jumpers, particularly the ones gifted by Rachel as she seems to find the ones with the rudest slogans… Piggott has enjoyed a varied career, which includes a brief spell as a fluffer in a Hollywood porn production company (he was sacked for making badly edited and shaky copies on his secret camera which discreetly attached to his paisley patterned cravat). He also worked as a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong, normally stationed outside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon but few tourists engaged his services due to his extremely eccentric hats and comedy Chinese moustaches… He eventually made his fortune writing haiku messages predicting the purchasers’ marriage prospects onto extremely dark and gloomy canvases which sell for many dollars all over the USA. In his own way, therefore, he has already won the lottery so has no need to buy tickets on the weekly National Lottery, which he disdains with a passion – matched only by that of his antipathy to the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission.

I contacted Janet, because I thought it would make an interesting blog to run her drawing of me with strangers’ character assessments of what this unknown person might be like.

But there was a snag…

She told me it was NOT a sketch of me at all: in fact, it was a sketch of her husband! She said he found the comments amusing – He does despise Boris Johnson, but he does do the Lottery.

Now Janet HAS included a sketch of me. Sadly with less interesting comments/suggestions. 

Does this Jewish man appreciate a good, well-shaped calf?

Her questions were:

  • What is his name?
  • His over-riding passion in life?
  • Way of dealing with problems? 

The responses include:

  • Manny Silverman. Loves small investments. Still dining out on making £35,000 on ‘Britcoin’ a couple of years ago. Cigars and coffee are how he copes with life’s complexities. Don’t mention the time he passed on Apple shares, though.
  • Godfrey was a prostate specialist and his hands could reach parts that others… but now volunteers at his local city farm delivering calves – His approach to life? He always gets stuck in and is happy to get his hands dirty
  • This is Howard Silver. He’s a nice East End Jewish boy now living in Southgate. He’s a life-long socialist and lives in a rented housing association flat that he got through Rachel, one of his cousins who works there. He doesn’t own anything, aside from the clothes on his back and a few sticks of furniture, all the books on Communism he’s read were borrowed never bought. He’s lifelong Labour, red through and through but was recently upset by the growing anti-Semitism in the party so he voted green for the first time ever in protest. He’s what Yiddish speakers would term a poor old nebbish.
  • His name is Frank Gibbins. He thinks that the world has become strange, impersonal and unnecessarily complicated… He seeks solace in the simplicity of nature and its instinctive laws, eg. the way that the ducklings follow the mother duck, the unquestioned authority of the silverback gorilla in setting the direction of his troop and keeping it in order… He likes to sit in the park for hours, observing the behaviour of humans as they centre themselves in selfies against the backdrop of the beautiful autumnal leaves or wander around oblivious to the creatures of the forest…Sometimes he’ll draw them in his book and imagine their thoughts.
  • Constantine Gras – because he looks the spit of a friend of mine called Constantine Gras. Well, what he’d look like in about 30 years. He’s tall – maybe 6’2. He’s an artist/filmmaker.
  • Who are these people? (Photograph: Jez Timms via UnSplash)

    Clive Earnshaw. Son of a bookkeeper and an apiarist, he has inherited a calm demeanour in all kinds of crisis situations, which served him well in his job as an emergency medical technician. His overriding passions in life are his sibling’s children, for whom he would do anything. His search for meaning led him to a retreat in the North African desert and he converted to the Sufic branch of Islam. His way of dealing with problems (apart from whirling) is to quote soothing aphorisms such as: This too will pass. He is deeply peaceful.

The trite lesson to be learned from all this?

People see totally different characters and backgrounds in exactly the same faces. Initial assumptions about people can – and very often are – wrong.

Peter Stanford’s view my sketch was:

  • This is Derek Milchman, a friend of No 30: that one which looks like him. They sometimes swap glasses and pretend to be each other. If this is a humorous book, with hilarious results; if a grim book, this leads to a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.

Janet replied: “I am not entirely in agreement. For students of phrenology and physiognomy, it may be observed that No. 30 has a receding jawline, whereas No. 39 has a protruding one. I do like the idea of a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.”

Comedy critic Kate Copstick, recognised me: “This is John Fleming!!!” And Peter Stanford asked Janet: “So what role are you going to give him in the novel?”

A “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait

She replied: “If you’re referring to the author of the Malcolm Hardee biography, the hands are too big and seem to be coated with some kind of white substance.”

Janet also told me that she had included a “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait – No 31 in the bunch.

And below are three more of her drawings.

Janet tells me: “I do two types of doodles – one where I’m basing it on a real person, and the other where I do random scribbles with my eyes closed, then a face gradually emerges out of the chaos, like seeing faces in the fire – that way is by far my favourite…”

One final comment and query from one of Janet’s Facebook Friends sums it all up, though: “I keep wondering why you’re writing a novel when you’re so ‘geniusly’ good at drawing – Or are you even better at writing?”

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Comic Njambi McGrath’s autobiography

I had a chat with comedy performer Njambi McGrath at the Museum of Comedy in London. Her autobiographical memoir Through the Leopard’s Gaze is published today in print and as an audio book. The blurb reads:

“Beaten to pulp and left for dead, 13 year old Njambi found the courage to escape, fearing her assailant would return to finish her. She walked all night risking wild animals, robbers and murderers in the Kenyan countryside, before being picked up by two shabbily dressed men. She spent her life burying memories of that fateful day and night…”


JOHN: So you’ve written your autobiography and it’s all about your appalling family life back in Kenya.

NJAMBI: Basically, it’s a journey back into my life, triggered by the death of my father in 2014. A few things had happened before that. My brother was getting married just before, which threw things into chaos.

JOHN: In Kenya.

NJAMBI: Yes. My father and I had been estranged for a very long time. The last time I had seen him was when he beat me and left me to die… Fast forward… My brother was getting married and my father was invited and I went into complete meltdown. All I could think about was everything that happened to me when I was 13 years old.

“…and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box…”

So I wanted to talk to my father about it before the wedding, because I felt like I was going to explode – and that meeting was disastrous because he brought his entire family and I wasn’t able to speak to him.

Then, after the wedding – It had brought up all the trauma in me – I rang him and we organised a meeting. But he didn’t turn up to that meeting because he died.

I completely lost my mind. So I decided to write a book. It started off as a journey to tell the world what a horrible man my father was and then it ended up opening a whole Pandora’s Box: all the evils of the world.

So it is a journey back into my childhood and into my parents’ childhood, to try and discover why they were so messed up. And it seems like History plays a major role.

JOHN: Blame the British?

NJAMBI: I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. That is an important point, because my parents grew up at a horrible, horrible time: they grew up during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s. 

They were children then. So you can imagine my father, as a young boy, seeing women brutalised every single day of their lives… You would grow up thinking that was normal. They had grown up at a horrible time. But I didn’t know that.

When people are traumatised by a major event, once they are free from it, they tend to want to forget about it. They don’t pass it on to their children but maybe not realising they have been traumatised and can’t face up to it and, if it’s not addressed, their children will be traumatised. It’s called Generational Trauma.

JOHN: Your book is called Through the Leopard’s Gaze. Why that title?

NJAMBI: Because, when I was a child, we lived in a beautiful area called The White Highlands. When the British arrived, they took it for themselves. They kicked out my tribe – the Kikuyu farmers – and took the land for themselves. They put the Kikuyu people in ‘reservations’.

JOHN: When did you come to Britain?

NJAMBI: When I was just coming up to 19.

JOHN: I only spent the first 8 years of my life in Scotland; the rest mostly in London. But I feel Scottish not English. You spent the first 18 years of your life in Kenya…

NJAMBI: We are so confused! My husband is English. My two daughters are British. I have two sisters and two brothers. We all came over, but my brothers moved back to Kenya.

JOHN: And your mother is…

NJAMBI: She died just over a month ago – in December – on Friday the 13th. 

JOHN: Your book will also be your Edinburgh Fringe show in August?

“At least you’re not black black”

NJAMBI: The show will be called Black Black because, the night before I got married, my husband’s mother said: “When I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black.”

My mother was very black; my grandmother was very black. So it is a show where I am paying homage to the blackest people I know. It is a comparison between me and my life now and my grandmother. She lived through the Nazi era. She and I were put into institutions. I went to boarding school in Kenya; my grandmother was put in a British ‘concentration’ camp in Kenya. We were both controlled by the British.

JOHN: This is going to be billed as Comedy in Edinburgh?

NJAMBI: (LAUGHING) Yes. You can talk about something serious, but find the funny in it. In a comedy show, I would like to make people think as well as laugh. 

JOHN: Politics as well?

NJAMBI: Like I said, I cannot do a show about my life without mentioning the British. It has led some people to say I’m racist. But how can I be racist if everything is affected by everything that the British did to us? My education. I speak English. Everything. The land that we lived in. The coffee that was introduced by the British. I cannot not talk about the British.

JOHN: Anything else on the horizon?

NJAMBI: I wrote a sitcom – I have a writing partner. We finished writing it just before the Edinburgh Fringe last year. It’s with a production house. Someone once said to me: “Write about what you know.” Well, I’m an immigrant and there are issues surrounding immigration… And we are currently writing a feature film – well, you gotta try! In it, I am a black African woman with an Austrian lesbian and a Jamaican woman.

JOHN: You are busy…

NJAMBI: And I’m writing my first novel. I’m past halfway. And, out of this one, I think I could write a children’s book – using an element of it.

JOHN: Very busy!

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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Psychology, Racism, Writing