Category Archives: Suicide

Lynn Ruth Miller was in Sweden with screaming students and laughing dogs

Last week, indefatigable 85-year-old American comedienne Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, continued her ongoing de facto world tour with four days performing in Sweden. Here are her impressions…


I love going to Sweden because it has the cleanest air and healthiest lifestyle of any place I have visited yet in my non-stop world travels. The vegetables are organic and the animals have a very happy life until they are butchered – humanely – so they are tastier and less likely to mess up our digestive systems.

Lynn Ruth performing in a land of clean air & healthy lifestyle

The medical system is magnificent. If you have a strange and upsetting symptom (and, at my age, I have them every day) you take a photo of the place that hurts or itches or looks like it is about to fall off and open an app on your phone. You send that photo to a GP who discusses your symptom with you on the phone and then he or she phones in a prescription to a pharmacist near you. All fixed.

Pets are such big business that every pet owner has mega insurance for their animal friends. The animals are so well cared for that they are welcome almost everywhere, especially in the country towns.

The streets are immaculate and safe to walk at any hour of the night or day. But there is a downside: Swedish people take recycling so seriously that they do not have enough trash to use to create heat and energy.

One of the best things about Sweden, though, is their understanding of human psychology.

Everyone knows how tense and nervous students in universities are but only Sweden has done something about it. 

That is why, at 10.00pm, all activity in every university stops country-wide and the young scholars may be heard screaming, shouting and howling.

This is known as the ‘Flogsta scream‘.

OK, Scandinavia is known for its high suicide rate but that reputation is false for Sweden. Their suicide death rate is actually far below the United States and France.  

In 2011, the number was very high, but Finland beat Sweden by far this year.   

Part of the reason that the rate has decreased so dramatically in the past eight years is because the Swedish Tourist Board stepped in and decided that they would reach out to their lonely people. 

They created a free Lonely Line and called it ‘Dial-a-Swede’. 

If you called 46 771 793 336, you were connected to a random Swede anywhere in Sweden to talk about anything you wanted.  

However, now that they have the suicide rate under control, that number is unavailable. If you get depressed in Sweden these days, your only recourse is to call a Finn. 

He will listen because the Finns are always too drunk to hang up.

I arrived at the Arlanda Airport at 4:30 in the afternoon with an 8.00pm show at Kärleksudden, a restaurant overlooking a lovely lake in Norrtälje.  I was greeted by Magdalena Bibik-Westerlund and her beloved dog Zumo, part greyhound, part Labrador, mostly human.  

Not many comedy clubs in the world have this type of view…

It turns out that Zumo has his own medical team because he has a tendency to get rough elbows and dirty teeth. As thanks for caring for Zumo, his vets get free tickets to the comedy shows presented by the Stockholm Comedy Club. That is why the entire veterinarian staff came to the show along with another couple with two miniature whippets. 

The entire show was in Swedish until I got on stage when we switched to English. It was lovely to tell a joke, pause and hear joyous laughter, barks and growls all at once.

One of the other comedians, Naghmeh Khamoosh, is from Iran and does comedy both in Swedish and English. I was struck once more by how ignorant we Americans are who can only speak one language. Everyone I met in Sweden could speak at least three.

The next night, we initiated a brand new yearly event at Café Gamla Hotellet in Skebobruk. The Stockholm Comedy Club hopes to eventually establish an annual comedy festival there, out in the open with a beautiful view of the countryside.

The audience was a mature one, mostly in their sixties and seventies, which meant that I had to adjust the content of my set and the speed of delivery. English is not spoken as fluently by the older set in Sweden.  

This kind of challenge has become standard as I travel the world. People in other countries can understand textbook English easily, but speech filled with idioms and double entendres is often too complex. Also, the majority of this audience had never been to a stand-up comedy show before which meant they were uncertain about how to respond.

Saturday night was Ladies Night at the Bibik-Westerlund house and we four performers ate fresh strawberries and listened to stories of each others’ lives. Women really like to do that. Rosie’s story struck me especially.

She was shuttled from Switzerland to Sweden and back as a child. Her mother was a prostitute. Her father was a pimp. She was sexually abused and turned to drugs, alcohol and tobacco to shield her from her loneliness, her misery and her pain.

As I listened to her, I was amazed at what a positive and warm human being she became. So many people blame their upbringing for their lousy personalities and I was listening to someone whose life had been a nightmare. Yet she was as kind, cheerful and giving as anyone I have ever known. Rosie taught me that no matter what our history we have control over what we can become.

(L-R) Lynn Ruth, Jon Olsson and Naghmeh Khamoosh

Sunday night we all were invited to Naghmeh Khamoosh’s home for a feast. Naghmeh and her husband Morteza and their twin daughters were originally from Iran. The Iranian community is very respected in Sweden.  They are mostly professional people and are known for their beauty their graciousness and their excellent food. Naghmeh is a stand-up comedian which, to me, is amazing since she has also brought up her twin daughters and helps run a private heart clinic with her husband who is a heart surgeon. Dinner was magnificent and Zumo the dog was a perfect gentleman. He only ate the food we dropped on the floor. Everyone said he was THE perfect guest.

I have been invited back to Stockholm to give a dog-friendly New Year’s Eve show. It is obvious to me that Swedish dogs, unlike the rest of the world’s less-sophisticated canine population, enjoy good theatre and like to have a good laugh when they welcome in another year.

We humans want the same thing but we need alcohol to make it happen.  

All Zumo needs is a belly rub.

I am hoping I get a belly rub as well.

There is a hot 78-year-old Swede who has offered.


There is footage on YouTube of the ‘Flogsta scream’…

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Suicide, Sweden

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 26: To feel that tranquility amidst the Fringe adrenaline

Today, I did my annual trip up Blackford Hill, to the south of Edinburgh. The photos below are all from today. The one above was taken in 2010.

The reason I try to go up Blackford Hill every Fringe was explained by me in a book which the website Such Small Portions published in 2013. It was titled Secret Edinburgh, sub-titled A Comedians’ Guide To The City. It had contributions from over 160 comedians and/or people listed in the Comedy section of that year’s Edinburgh Fringe Programme.

Which is why I was asked to contribute, although I was not and am not a performer.

One section of Secret Edinburgh was titled Out of Town and contributors basically wrote about their favourite places which are not in the centre of the city.

Below is my contribution in 2013, interspersed with photos taken today.

_____________________________________________________

When I was newly 18, I tried to commit suicide with pills. This was a bad idea, because I had always been shit at Chemistry in school.

I was persuaded to go into a mental home in Essex, because I had tried to kill myself. I did. But I only stayed two days and one night because they kept asking me questions when I just wanted to be left alone.

I went back to my distraught parents’ home, but it was no better there. Not their fault. So I ran away from home.

I hitched to Edinburgh which was and still is my favourite city. Ever since I was an embryo, I had gone there once a year with my parents to spend a few days with my father’s aunt, who lived in Morningside.

When I ran away to Edinburgh, I slept one night in a multi-storey car park at the foot of the castle rock. I spent another sleeping in the stairwell of a block of council flats. It was very cold.

In Morningside, I saw my great aunt on the other side of the street. I did not talk to her.

Later, I walked up the Blackford Hill at twilight to see the view: the city spread out before me, the castle rising up in the distance on the left; Arthur’s Seat rising in the distance on the right. The waters of the Forth were twinkling in the background with Fife beyond them; the lights of the twilight city were starting to twinkle in the foreground.

It was totally peaceful and now, every time I go to Edinburgh for the Fringe, at least once I walk up the Blackford Hill to feel that tranquility amidst the Fringe adrenaline.

1 Comment

Filed under Psychology, Suicide

The continuing fascination with suicide

suicideblogI have written this blog since May 2010 and I have a rough idea how the hits on it work.

On the day I post a blog, it gets big hits.

Slightly less hits the next day.

By the third day, the hits have pretty much stopped.

After that, pretty much – nothing.

Only rare, sporadic hits.

So I find it interesting that, almost every day, one particular blog I wrote pretty much two years ago – on 15th January 2015 – is still getting daily hits.

Not big hits in any way. Small numbers. But steady hits.

The blog was headlined:

THE PRACTICALITIES OF PUTTING YOUR HEAD IN A GAS OVEN: MY 2nd SUICIDE ATTEMPT

These are the figures for hits over the last fortnight. They seem fairly steady. The fact there are any at all for a two-year-old blog is extraordinary. The fact that they are regular and fairly steady is interesting.

Sunday 20th – 38
Monday 21st – 23
Tuesday 22nd – 22
Wednesday 23rd – 12
Thursday 24th – 15
Friday 25th – 26
Saturday 26th – 29
Sunday 27th – 38
Monday 28th – 46
Tuesday 29th – 28
Wednesday 30th – 34
Thursday 1st – 68
Friday 2nd – 59
Yesterday – 39

I have no idea what this means sociologically, but it must mean something.

The blog is HERE.

2 Comments

Filed under Blogs, Suicide

Death of comedy critic Kate Copstick

Earlier this evening, I was chatting with comedy critic Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. This is what she said:


Kate Copstick in London earlier this evening

Copstick in London earlier this evening

All the way through my teens and 20s, maybe into my 30s, I knew I wanted to be pretty much in charge of when I die. And I still do. When I die, I reckon it will be when I decide I’m going to die. So I had this plan.

I always thought the icky stuff is being found a bloated, ghastly mess after the deed.

So my plan was that I would build, or have built for me, a bomb – small but powerful.

They’re probably available now. I could probably get Chris Dangerfield to get me something on the Dark Web.

I would take a train to Rannoch Moor in Perthshire in Scotland. It is very, very, very remote and there’s miles and miles of bleak… Well, it’s just a great place to die.

So I would go to Rannoch Moor and it would be winter. I would die in winter. It’s all part of the plan.

When I was a teenager, I always had this big jar of pills – painkillers and Valium and Librium and all that sort of stuff. It was my safety thing. Every time I got crazy – which I did quite a lot – I would look at the jar and think: Nothing ever needs to get too bad. Because, if it gets too bad, I take these pills. It made me feel very In Control.

So, I would have my big jar of pills and I would buy a litre of vodka.

I would get the train to Rannoch and I would get a taxi out as far as a taxi could take me and say: “Bye! It’s alright, I’m meeting somebody here” – unlikely as that would be – and then I would make my way to some place high but not too obvious.

The Black Mount seen from Ranch Moor in winter (Photo by Pip Rolls)

The Black Mount seen from Rannoch Moor in winter (Photograph by Pip Rolls)

Then I would take off any jacket I was wearing, would take the pills and wash them down – just slowly, slowly, so I didn’t throw up – with the vodka and I would lie on top of the bomb, which would be attached by wires not to a timing device but to a rectal thermometer.

I would insert the rectal thermometer and then what would happen would be that, obviously, the pills and the vodka would take effect and I would die and that would be helped by the exposure because it’s bloody freezing on Rannoch Moor in winter.

I would die of hypothermia, drug overdose, whatever.

When my core body temperature sank low enough for the rectal thermometer to register the fact I was dead, that would trigger the bomb and my body would be blown to smithereens and the little bits that landed here, there and everywhere could be eaten by birds, rats, whatever is around there… and there would be nothing left. I would just literally disappear from the face of the earth.

That is still how I would like to go.

I want it to be a little bit like Logan’s Run, where you just walk in and disappear. None of this icky nonsense with bodies and funerals and people pretending that they liked you.

I’ll go when I feel it’s time.

In control.

3 Comments

Filed under Death, Suicide

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

Mel Moon with her Bassett hounds

Comic Mel Moon at home with her Bassett hounds yesterday

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

“What’s your disease?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

“No,” said Mel, “it’s not curable.”

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

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

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

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

“In your bottom?” I asked.

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the experience has changed your comedy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re prescribed morphine?”

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

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

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

“Can you legally say that on stage?”

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

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

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke, founder of Exit – aka Dr Death

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

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

“Yes.”

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Death, Drugs, Medical, Suicide

The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

Me... when I was aged eighteen

Me… when I was aged eighteen

The second time I tried to commit suicide was by gassing myself. I was 19.

I had tried overdosing on tablets about eight months before, but that had proved a bad idea as I was shit at Chemistry at school and I just ended up having my stomach pumped – not pleasant – and being briefly in a mental home until I discharged myself.

It was all over a girl, of course. Well, two girls. Nothing serious. Just silly teenage angst.

If you want to gas yourself, you need a gas appliance. The traditional appliance is a cooker and all you have to do is switch it on and put your head in.

Except it is not as simple as that.

If you put your head in a gas oven you have, of necessity, to open the oven door of the cooker. This means a lot of the gas which enters the oven will escape. Presumably most of the gas. And, once in the room, unless you have very good double glazing, some of the gas will escape through little cracks round the window frames, doorframe, even the keyhole.

Now, dear reader, you probably think this must be all bollocks. Because gas does not flow into the oven, does it? The oven is just heated up. The gas fumes only exist if you light the hobs on top of the cooker and you then extinguish the flame. But this was in olden days when gas really did go into the oven.

When you are obsessed enough to want to kill yourself, your brain is befuddled.

And sometimes the befuddlement lasts.

And I know my memory is shit, so I had to phone up my friend Lynn – who has a gas cooker – to ask if even my memory of trying to kill myself was befuddled. She reassured me that putting my head in a gas oven when I was 19 was, indeed, a practical thing to do. She did not give her opinion on whether is was a good idea.

Anyway, I know my 19-year-old thinking process went that you have to cover the cracks and potential cracks with towels and dishcloths. And you need quite a lot of those. If you are in a kitchen on a corner, as I was, it has two exterior walls and sets of windows.

Then there is the not-inconsiderable matter of how you put your head in the gas oven.

Gas ovens are not primarily designed for suicide attempts. So the height of the oven is wrong.

Very often, under the gas oven, there is a storage space for trays and suchlike. This may be as much as eight inches high. This means you cannot just lie on the floor and put your head in the gas oven.

It means you have to kneel on all-fours. But the top of the storage area under the oven (which creates the ‘floor’ of the gas oven), compared to the distance between your on-all-fours knees and your torso when bent over, when taking into consideration the height of the ‘ceiling’ of the oven, means that you cannot just easily kneel down with your head in the oven. It means you have to kneel with your head bent slightly but not remotely wholly down.

And then there is this factor of kneeling with your head slightly down in an oven in a room with towels and clothes round window frames and door (how do you attach a towel to the vertical edges of windows and doors?) and the fact a lot of the gas is escaping out of the cooker into the room.

How long does it take for the escaping gas to fill the room and/or the gas remaining inside the open oven to combine with it to have an effect?

Eventually, after about half an hour or so, my memory is that the incongruity of the whole thing overwhelmed my suicidal self-absorption and I gave up.

A few years later, I read the great Dorothy Parker’s poem Resumé:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

The young Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). Died aged 73.

I don’t regret my first attempt at suicide. The one with the pills. Pity it did not work. Pity I had no natural aptitude for nor interest in Chemistry at school. But, of course, in the un-self-obsessed light of day, you morally can’t kill yourself anyway – because it would affect other people. Even if only slightly and only a few. But it would. Bit of a bum fact of life, that. You have to laugh.

Norman Wisdom, a future hero of the Albanian people, tries three ways to kill himself 10 mins 27 secs into his comedy film The Bulldog Breed:

10 Comments

Filed under Suicide

Why I am interested in comedians

Today’s issue of Metro

Today’s issue of the daily Metro newspaper

Today’s Metro newspaper contains a feature on The Giants of Comedy to which I was asked to contribute a piece on “the weirder acts to look out for”. Metro describes me as an “alternative comedy champion”.

In this blog, I try to tell short stories with a rounded ending about interesting people doing interesting (mostly creative) things. Very often they are comedians. Very rarely do I write about myself although regular readers might be able to make up a patchwork impressionistic picture of my life.

You might wonder why am I interested in weird comedy acts.

Or you might not.

I have mentioned in past, dimly remembered blogs that I tried to commit suicide when I was newly 18 and that I was briefly in a mental hospital.

So why do I enjoy watching comedy?

Throughout my life, most of my income came from the promotion departments of TV companies. I was employed to write words and edit trailers which would persuade people to watch TV programmes – trying to manipulate their perception so that the ratings would be higher.

I am interested in the use of words and the manipulation of perception. So I am interested in how sentences and performances can be structured to make audiences laugh and the different reasons why people laugh – or, indeed, cry – timing, surprise, unexpected twists, incongruity, recognition, whatever.

Occasionally but rarely, in random spurts, I have kept diaries.

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

Dave Lee Travis (Photograph by Brian Milnes)

This morning, because of the Dave Lee Travis court verdict yesterday, I looked up my diary for around the suicide attempt/mental home time. The reason – possibly pompous – was connected to two quotes which came to my mind:

1) “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” (L.P.Hartley)

2) “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (Lots of French people)

These are some edited extracts from my diary. The first is when I was in hospital after my failed suicide attempt. I tried to kill myself with tablets on a Friday.

“My parents visited me every day in hospital. On the Sunday, they brought me fruit. And, to cut it, one highly-polished, silver-shining, sharply serrated-edged knife. And, after they had gone, I looked at that knife and looked and looked and picked it up and looked. I ran my finger along the serrated edge and looked and ran the edge along my wrist and looked. And felt the point against my finger and against my wrist. And I only just managed to give it to a nurse.

“Which is why, when I got out of hospital, I panicked and my insides were like kitchen crockery in a house above a tube-train tunnel. And it was very difficult to keep a straight face. I could not think straight and my mental reactions were so slow. That horrified me. It was like being in Death Valley with the noonday sun three times closer than it should be.”

At that time, if you tried to commit suicide – especially aged 18 – I think there was a tendency to suggest you might want to go into a mental home.

And I did want to rest, to be away from people, because I was so nervy and because I was afraid of what I might do if I did not go in.

When I went in, a doctor ‘interviewed’ me and suggested I could talk to his students when he gave a lecture later in the week. But I just wanted to be alone.

They gave me ‘happy pills’ and sleeping pills that first night and I went from deep depression to a sky-high high before I went to sleep. But I did not want to be high.

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

Claybury Mental Asylum in Essex (Photo: English Heritage)

In the mental hospital, I wrote this:

“The Mad Hatter pops in: a James Joyce with a blue Embassy cigarette coupon stuck in his greased hair. The lights go on at a quarter to four and then go off again. No-one has entered the room. The mad room.

My Little Lady by The Tremeloes plays at quarter volume on the wartime radio. When I came in last night, it was violins and classical music on the radio, like a TV play about old people dying, dead in seaside boarding houses in the off-season.

“My right side throbs. It is Visiting Hour. Or something. People talk in whispers. It is late afternoon and the afternoon has gone to greyness.

“This morning, an enormous pigeon threw itself against the windowpane of the door, saw where it was and fled away. Before I arrived here, the clear-skinned 23-year-old boy threw the red vinyl table through the window and was caught by a nurse. The friendly, backward boy gets violent occasionally. He throws teacups and saucers, matchboxes and plastic orange juice bottles.

“When he talks to me, he keeps wanting me to be the active, adventurous type. He keeps saying how active he was and how he liked exploring, finding ruins and exploring remote bogs. He and his family – his three sisters and one brother – were nomads around Europe in the last, hard decade.

“He tells me his mother is such an incredible mixture. His girlfriend Evie is from Chelmsford. He tells me he met her in Occupational Therapy. But now she has gone to OT in Exeter. She used to visit him.

“He sings the song Me My Friend as Be My Friend. With gusto. He says he misses Evie. He tells other people I am his friend and keeps telling me to tell him if he talks too much. He sits there in his wheelchair with his eyes of water. Sparkling. Nothing else. Just water.”

There is a clip on YouTube of Family singing Me My Friend.

“The male nurse in the ward tells me he has a strong right hand. He says he ‘does it’ twice a day or twice a week. Depending on how he feels. He asks have I ever let anyone else do it. He goes on and on. He tells all the patients this and talks about going to out-buildings with them.”

I discharged myself from the mental home after a day but nothing that happened there seemed strange.

Several years later, I went back to Claybury Asylum to interview a doctor for a piece I was writing. As I sat waiting in the corridor, the only way you could tell patients from staff as they passed by was the speed at which they walked: the patients walked slower, because they were sedated and had no purpose.

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Today’s Metro reports DJ DLT faces prison

Yesterday, DJ Dave Lee Travis was found guilty of groping the breasts of a woman – then a TV researcher, now a ‘TV personality’ – for around 15 seconds in 1995. On TV last night, a Sunday Times reporter (who never brought charges and was not involved in the court case) said he groped her too. It seemed a very 1960s or 1970s thing to do. But it happened in 1995.

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

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

So why do I like comedy?

Because I am laughing at life, not with life.

I like dark humour. I am fascinated that ‘unacceptable’ and non-funny subjects like rape, murder, death, drug addiction and madness and all the rest can be made to be funny. And I like surrealism : the twisting/manipulation of reality into meaninglessness. For example, in this morning’s Metro, I mentioned that The Human Loire says he is the only French river playing the UK comedy circuit and that his act includes enunciating passages in Middle English from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while pouring milk onto Corn Flakes inside his trousers. It also includes using a hammer to nail grapes onto a large cut-out of Justin Bieber’s face while gargling Sophocles’ Ode To Man using Listerene antiseptic mouthwash.

When he does this, the surrealism makes me laugh.

When other people TRY to be surreal by doing equally meaningless things, I do not laugh.

Why?

I do not know but I would like to know.

So I watch comedy.

At the recent Edinburgh Fringe, there was one show where I laughed out loud (a rare thing) throughout. It was Johnny Sorrow performing as part of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society. A couple sitting to my left sat mostly stone-faced throughout.

When Johnny imitated the sadly mostly-forgotten comedy act Bernie Clifton prancing around in an ostrich costume I laughed out loud. When he said Don’t talk to me!… Don’t talk to me! I laughed out loud.

Why?

I do not know. I just found it overwhelmingly funny.

The other factor in being interested in comedy, of course, is that people who perform it well – who have true originality and who are not just copying what they have seen on TV as part of a business plan – are mostly, in some way, damaged.

Damaged people are interesting people.

But then, when you get to know them, most people are damaged.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Suicide