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Why not all pubs are closed during the current English COVID-19 lockdown

(Photo by Eugene Ptashnik via UnSplash)

England is in a coronavirus total shutdown at the moment. It started on 5th November and continues until at least 2nd December.

This means all non-essential shops and retail premises are closed. So food shops remain open but all pubs are closed because large numbers of people congregating inside a pub, breathing on each other and getting drunk is clearly a bad idea.

But not all pubs are closed…

The last lockdown has encouraged some commendable creative thinking during this one.

My local pub in Hertfordshire has invested in polystyrene food containers and has reinvented itself as a hot meal takeaway.

A wine bar I know in East London has erected a tent outside and is doing – I think – takeaway hot dogs, burgers etc. At any rate, there’s a lot of sizzling and smoke going on there.

And a pub in trendy NW London has re-invented itself as rentable office space – You can rent a table and work from your local pub round the corner in a socially-distanced setting with WiFi and all the benefits of an office (but without any drinks being served).

Entrepreneurial thinking at its best in extremis.

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 32 – My dreams, con-men and COVID footie

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 31

SUNDAY 23rd AUGUST

I was recently talking (well, emailing) with a well-known comedian. The interchange went:


The Glum family, with Jimmy Edwards second from the left

HIM: In an extraordinary – sorry ‘unprecedented’ – turn of events I have become busy! How you coping? I’ve been quite glum….

ME: Sorry to hear you have been Glum, presumably in the Jimmy Edwards pater familias role. I am a nihilist, so the world this year seems just ticketyboo and SNAFU, surely those last three words deserving of a lovable Noel Gay type London knees-up song.

HIM: Your nihilism has cheered me up and my excessive laziness reduced such that I have sent 3 emails today.


We are, truly, living in the time of coronavirus.

MONDAY 24th AUGUST

I am back to waking up 10 or 12 times every night with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water. Sometimes, this means I wake up in mid-dream.

Political problems in Belarus… I woke up too soon to help

Last night, I woke up and, for some reason, I had been talking in my dream to an Egyptian general who was working for a female Russian President who was having a television programme made about her. Lurking in the background watching all this was a rather aged Melina Mercouri – the Greek actress of the 1950s and 1960s – with staring eyes. I was talking to the Egyptian general about the escalating political problems in Belarus…

…and then I woke up.

Belarus will, unfortunately, have to do without my input.

Jo Burke – now a wiser woman after interviewing me

TUESDAY 25th AUGUST

Last Thursday, I was interviewed in the back garden of a Blackheath pub by performer Jo Burke for her upcoming series of online podcasts. She kindly said there had been ‘a technical problem’ last Thursday, rather than a case of interviewee incoherence.

So we had a second attempt this evening, via Zoom. It should be more physically editable but was no less incoherent. I should perhaps have warned her I am a terrible interviewee and should definitely have researched my own life before we started… I could not really remember the order in which things happened in my life nor how they came to happen.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee had the same problem when he wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Perhaps his problem was even worse. He could not remember in which DECADE things had happened let alone in which year.

Immediately before his book went to press, he remembered he had once been arrested by the Special Branch when he was found on a high window ledge outside prominent Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine’s hotel room. He (Malcolm) was naked apart from a raincoat with nothing in its pockets but a pack of pornographic playing cards. He had mistaken Heseltine’s room for a chum’s.

Until then, Malcolm had forgotten all about this incident. It was just another normal day in his life. We managed to squeeze it into his autobiography at the last moment.

Someone else who was in the hotel at the same time (Yes, it really DID happen) told me the eyes of the Special Branch men who interviewed Malcolm looked stunned and mystified.

WEDNESDAY 26th AUGUST

I must have woken up six or eight times last night. Bone dry

I must have woken up six or eight times last night, my mouth bone dry and needing to drink water.

Also, about halfway through the night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep with hiccups and heartburn, which sounds like the title of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

It was “painful and distracting” – a phrase which sounds like an extract from a review of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

I ended up sucking on a Gaviscon, which sounds like a mumbled lyric from some Bob Dylan song in the 1960s.

The above paragraphs are what I thought when I was having the hiccups, heartburn and Gaviscon. I wrote them down.

For some reason, the heartburn made me overdose on musical similes.

THURSDAY 27th AUGUST

We are living through the end of a historic period. Facebook Friend Matthew Wilkes spotted a newspaper item which said linguist Dr Lauren Fonteyn had Tweeted that teenagers and those in their 20s, who grew up using short messages to communicate, can see the full stop (that’s a ‘period’ to any American reading this) “as a symbol of curt passive-aggression”.

I re-posted this on Facebook and comments included one from Georgina Dick:


It’s not that we’re offended and need to grow up, it’s more of an understanding of the tone you’re trying to put across. There’s a big difference between saying “OK” “OK.” and “OK .”


Promoter Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy suggested:


We need to put a full stop to this!


Period punctuation unsourced.

…and the quoted Dr Lauren Fonteyn aka Lauren Bliksem Tweeted:


Apparently this is based on a Tweet I never sent or something I said to the Telegraph which I haven’t spoken to.


We are now well and truly fully into the 21st Century.

FRIDAY 28th AUGUST

Argh! Got to sleep around 8.00pm last night. Woke multiple times during the night including once with hiccups and heartburn (again). Gaviscon was chewed. Just woke up again – 10.30am – and still want to go to sleep but have to get train at 12.31 for lunch with performer Lynn Ruth Miller so about to get up, sleepy. Argh! Why did Einstein not work a bit harder and invent time travel?

That was written after 14½ hours of sleep.

I went to catch the aforementioned train. There was no barrier to go through as the main area at Elstree station was closed after rain brought down part of the roof. So it was not until I arrived at St Pancras station that I realised I had left my travel pass behind at home. I had to pay £13.50 for a one-day travel card.

Lynn Ruth  – an innocent in English plumbing

Lynn Ruth Miller – an American and therefore a novice in the English language – told me she had only just discovered that a ‘tap’ in Britain is a ‘faucet’ in the US.

Coming back from our lunch, it was not until I arrived at Seven Sisters station that I realised had left my thin case and iPad in the ticket hall at Stoke Newington station.

Fortunately, alert Overground staff at Stoke Newington had spotted the case and kept it for me. Including the iPad.

SATURDAY 29th AUGUST

I was standing in the front room of my house with a female friend. We were half-watching a feature film from the 1950s on my television, which was sitting on the floor atop a low wooden frame base.

A man dressed as a spiv (Photograph via Wikipedia, Chafford Hundred, England)

Through my front window, I saw a man who was dressed like a 1940s/1950s ‘spiv’ coming to my front door. I said to my friend: “There’s a spiv coming to the door”.

She looked surprised by my use of the word. She looked out the window but couldn’t see him because he was already at the door.

I went into my front porch and he had just shoved some leaflet through the letter box.

My friend and I went back to watching the movie. She was holding a doll about eight inches high with pink hair. Not an unusual hair colour in dolls. My friend decided she wanted me to hold the top of the doll’s hair down while she coiffured it.

She moved a blue pouffe over to near the wall. This entailed turning the television round so she could still see it, But she was sitting so close to the wall by the front window that I could not get in and hold the doll’s hair.

So I got a red pouffe and put it in the middle of the room, away from the window and wall where it was more accessible – and I had to turn the TV set round again, so we could both see it. I had to lift it up and put it down because it was on its low wooden frame base.

I was about to start holding the doll’s hair down when some more people arrived at the front door. There were three of them and they tried to tell me the turf in my front garden was in a mess and I needed to buy some turf care liquid. They were obviously some sort of con artists.

Turf love – Could be better but I’ve seen worse

I said: “Oh, no no no, I like the more natural, rough look, not a highly-manicured lawn.”

One of the guys started lifting up the turf with his right foot.

Another of them was standing in the middle of my front lawn with six large – maybe six feet high – green pole-shaped things – maybe rolled turf – the girth of a small tree.

I thought I will confuse them by being surreal (something I occasionally try with cold-callers on the telephone).

“I might use some of those,” I said, “but I’m thinking of painting them. Three could be red, white and blue for Britain. Three could be red, white and blue for France. And there might be some way of working the German flag in there somehow… If I paint one black, it would be very effective. It would look very good.”

This succeeded in confusing the man who was holding the earthen post-like things.

Just before this, my friend has come out from the front room and was looking at the three men with a hint of bemusement on her face. By now it was dusk, getting quite dark, so the garden con-men went away, quite confused.

My friend and I went back into the living room.

I looked out the window and there was a man at the bottom of the garden – a supervisor who was obviously allowing salesman to come in and profer their services to people living in our square.

“…I looked at my bedside alarm clock… It was 6.49am…”

I thought this was very strange.

Then I sort-of vaguely woke up and looked at my bedside alarm clock. It was 6.49am.

I turned over and went back to sleep.

I woke up a few more times after that. On the second occasion, half awake, I drawled the details of the dream into my iPhone before I forgot it altogether which, obviously, I would have.

Possibly even more surreal was the video my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth Miller) and husband Frank sent me this evening.

This afternoon, they went to watch the Brighton & Hove Albion vs Chelsea football match. It was the first UK match since the COVID-19 outbreak started that had been played with supporters present rather than being played ‘behind closed doors’. Only home supporters in Brighton.

It is certainly a weird video, ending with what sounds to me like traditional gypsy or Turkish music and then the teams ‘take the knee’ to honour the increasing number of unarmed black men being shot by the police in Donald Trump’s USA. The last one was shot in the back seven times at close range, while bending over to get in a car door.

Strange times indeed.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 31 – Edinburgh cuts, digs, hugs and teeth

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 30

Machete Hetty demonstrates a fascinating narrative in her kitchen with her useful household utensils

SUNDAY 16th AUGUST

In the afternoon, I had tea with Machete Hetty in Leith. She had been going to stage her first Edinburgh Fringe show this year, but was outmanoeuvred by the coronavirus.

“You have never told me how you got your nickname ‘Machete’,” I said.

She told me.

I have told her to forget the show she had intended to stage this year and instead to stage this story at the Edinburgh Fringe next year – if the coronavirus allows.

It is a cracker of a narrative; she is a mesmeric natural storyteller; and, with the correct title, it would have them queueing round the block.

If I may be allowed to review the show before it has even been written, let alone staged, let me say: “Jesus Christ!”

Back in the old routine: Leith Walk dug up again, August 2020

Leith Walk is being dug up yet again for the tram extension. Clearly aiming to get commissioned as a long-running sitcom.

Edinburgh without the Fringe, not surprisingly, feels like Edinburgh off-season with just a few tourists (because of the coronavirus).

Just normal Edinburgh, in other words. There are always some tourists any time of year.

I have been coming to Edinburgh almost every single year since I was (literally) an embryo.

No overly-busy pavements this August; no Fringe show posters. So visually different.

Theatres have not had time to open. Cinemas, as in London, are open but look dead.

Bristo Square with the Teviot building across the emptiness

No Fringe events that I can see. (And I bought an Evening News yesterday – nothing.)

The Potterrow student shop and Dome in Bristo Square are closed (no students). The Teviot (the Gilded Balloon during the Fringe) was open but I didn’t go in. Bristo Square was empty save for a few skateboarders.

George Square was looking rural, green and tranquil.

Lots of people were sitting outside pubs and eateries last night, but they were locals or a dribble of tourists.

Lost Fringe advertising opportunities on the North Bridge…

The rebuilding of what was the St James Centre at the top of Leith Walk is STILL going on – this must have been going on for at least the last 3, maybe 4, years!

And the nearby North Bridge is being repaired. Apparently it fell down around 100 years and killed five people. I only repeat what I have been told. It has temporary wooden and plastic walls on both sides of the bridge ideal for Fringe posters (probably intentionally intended by the Council to get money in).

Because of COVID-19, I can hide missing teeth

MONDAY 17th AUGUST

I got home at 0130 after the flight from Edinburgh into London Gatwick. Very tired.

In the morning, I got a dental appointment – a cap had come off a dead tooth in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Rather than re-cap it, the dentist cut off the top and kept my plate (which I first got when I was about 16) until Wednesday. So I am now toothless at the front on the top.

It could be worse.

But, because of the coronavirus, I can justifiably wear a mask whenever I am out.

TUESDAY 18th AUGUST

In my local paper, the Borehamwood Times, columnist Paul Welsh wrote:


I was sad to read the death of 1960s pop star Wayne Fontana, who I saw in concert several times and who in later life was a character. I especially liked his 1967 hit Pamela Pamela.


Pamela Pamela was a hit in the Sixties. There is an online video of him performing it in 1985.

The phrase “who in later life was a character” drew my attention. I wanted to know more.

Apparently, according to Wikipedia, in 2005, he fought off bankruptcy but was arrested after police were called by bailiffs who went to his home in Glossop, Derbyshire. He poured petrol onto the bonnet of a bailiff’s car and set it alight with the bailiff still inside.

Wayne Fontana as Lady Justice (Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire)

He was remanded in custody on 25 May 2007. He later appeared at Derby Crown Court dressed as Lady Justice, complete with a sword, scales, crown, cape and dark glasses, and claiming “justice is blind”. He dismissed his lawyers.

On 10 November 2007, he was sentenced to 11 months for setting fire to the car but was released because he had already served the equivalent of the term, having been held under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Now THERE is a man I would have liked to meet.

Also the judge.

11 months sounds rather a light sentence for setting fire to a car with a person inside it… English justice at its most random.

Wayne Fontana’s group was called The Mindbenders.

Oh! The joy of having a full set of gnashers!

WEDNESDAY 19th AUGUST

I got my plate back from the dentist with the extra tooth on it. It fitted perfectly but was slightly uncomfortable. Well, my gums were not used to it.

I got a 49p McFlurry (ice cream) at the local McDonald’s. This is part of Chancellor ‘Dishy Rishi’ Sunak’s half price meals scheme Monday-Friday, to re-stimulate the UK economy after the economic shock of the coronavirus.

At Euston station, there was a loudspeaker announcement:

“Will Inspector Sands please go to the Control Room.”

I was sitting by an exit and looked around. None of the station staff seemed to be panicking. Nor running fast. I am still alive.

“Will Inspector Sands please go to the Control Room” means that there is a major incident in the building. They want to alert staff, but they don’t want to panic members of the public.

It comes, originally, from theatres, where sand was used to put out fires. It meant the building was on fire. But now it is used more generally in public buildings. Nowadays it is perhaps more likely to be a terrorist attack than a fire.

The announcement went round on a tape loop for about 2 minutes – a long time – then stopped. The only other time I have heard it was on a platform at Stratford station for maybe 20 seconds where, at the end, without explanation, it was followed by: “The test is now over”.

Adam Wilder, entrepreneurial big hitter and hugger

THURSDAY 20th AUGUST

At lunchtime, I chatted to Adam Wilder (formerly Adam Taffler) for a future blog.

He greeted me with a large hug.

A big hug.

A big, big hug.

Honestly! Theatrical types versus coronavirus distancing!

What on earth is one to do?

But NHS bureaucracy is even worse.

Bits of a terribly confusing time-travelling letter from the NHS

I got a letter today (20th August) from the Kidney Man sent to my GP with a cc to me.

It was a bit confusing at first until I realised it was written on 7th July, allegedly signed (no signature) and verified by the Kidney Man on 12th August and printed-out & sent to me on 17th August.

It referred to my medical symptoms and mentioned future treatment which is now in the past. I have received at least three  letters written after this one but sent before this one.

There is nothing like keeping up-to-date and this was etc etc etc…

The NHS is staffed by well-meaning, hard-working people, but all bureaucracies are incompetent and the larger the bureaucracy the larger the incompetence.

What would Archimedes have made of all this?

FRIDAY 21st AUGUST

It is a good thing Greece is known for its mathematical geniuses.

A local Greek restaurant is offering 15% off all food and drink Monday-Wednesday.

‘Dishy’ Rishi’s deal is 50% off food (but not alcoholic drink or spirits) Monday-Wednesday during August.

It would take Archimedes, Euclid and Pythagoras to figure out which offer is better value, taking alcoholic imbibement into account. As I don’t drink alcohol or spirits, the 15% deal would be worse than ‘Dishy’ Rishi’s deal.

A visual equivalent of trying to edit my words

SATURDAY 22nd AUGUST

On Thursday, I had a chat with performer Jo Burke for her upcoming series of online podcasts. I should perhaps have warned her that, although I am quite good interviewing people, I am appalling as an interviewee. I witter and wander off the subject. It sounds not too bad if you are talking to me but, combined with a speech pattern that elides words leaving no gaps, it is a nightmare – sometimes an impossibility – to edit. She discovered this today.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 27 – Face masks, new talent and The Iceman

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 26

SUNDAY 19th JULY

Writer/performer Ariane Sherine‘s hugely-talented 9-year-old daughter sent me a song which she had composed about eggs.

MONDAY 20th JULY

Apropos nothing, I was reminded today that, when I worked at Thames Television in London, one of the executives had the job title Head of Further Education and Religion, abbreviated on memos etc – rather appropriately – as Head of FEAR.

TUESDAY 21st JULY

As anyone who wisely reads every posting of this blog knows, I was recently in hospital because my calcium level was very high and my kidney function was very low. The doctors still do not know why.

Back in June, I mentioned in a blog that, 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. I wondered if the high calcium level in my body could be due to this drinking from the tap which had developed a (possibly calcium) deposit on it.

Today, my friend and executrix Lynn caught up with reading that blog and commented:


Tap water is far safer and cheaper and better for you than any bottled water – but the only drinking water in the house is the kitchen sink tap.

A discarded sock with duck motif – I may soak it in vinegar and/or lemon juice…

If you are really not trusting even the tap water then boil it, let it cool and bottle it – that is assuming your kettle is scale free?!

Scale is what is clinging to the tap in your photograph and that can be removed with a limescale cleaner – although a cloth/old sock soaked in vinegar or lemon juice and wound around the tap overnight works just as well.

The kitchen tap is a direct feed to outside and is as pure as it can be, whereas all the other taps are fed through the house system and often from a tank in the attic full of…

Well, perhaps we won’t think about that.


WEDNESDAY 22nd JULY

The UK comedy circuit is currently, temporarily dead because of the coronavirus pandemic – live venues are closed.

The BBC has now announced it is on “a mission to kickstart live stand-up again” with “a new stand-up series designed to support grassroots comedy talent”.

The unique and original President Obonjo…

Given that, last year, BBC Studios attempted to rip-off President Obonjo’s long-running unique circuit comedy act with a claim that no-one in BBC Studios had ever heard of said unique act that had been successfully playing the circuit for ten years and had got 4-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe…

…and, given that a BBC Studios producer told comedy critic Kate Copstick that they “don’t have much to do with live comedy” and that live circuit comedians are “not nearly as important as they think they are”…

…it will be interesting to see how this change of thinking works in practice.

The line-up for these six half-hour shows has not yet been announced. It will be interesting to see if the BBC peoples it with genuinely talented new-to-TV live circuit comics or the same old rosta of familiar TV comics they already have drinks and expenses-paid meals with.

Is that bullshit I smell in the air?

More refreshingly, I got an email from The Iceman, the very amiable and surprisingly sane man I first met when he auditioned for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross – ooh! – a century ago..

Since then, The Iceman has long-taken to creating fine art and re-styled himself as ‘The Artist formerly known as the IceMan’ (AIM).

Today’s email read:


The Iceman (AIM) has self-launched into Space. The Duck is the same duck previously referenced by myself/yourself in previous Blogs [from a hotel in Southampton!].

Both The Iceman and Duck survive in space through connection to the Ice-Block and previous intense mind training exercises on Earth.


THURSDAY 23rd JULY

Jonathan Ross – a man who actually cares about new talent

Following on from the BBC’s alleged search for alleged new comedy talent, ITV have now announced an upcoming series with Jonathan Ross which will “showcase the very best new talents performing in a recreation of the vibe and atmosphere of a small comedy venue, all filmed within COVID guidelines.”

There is actually some chance of finding genuine new talent here, as it’s the energetic and enthusiastic Jonathan as opposed to the lazy, uninterested BBC…‬

“This new series,” the publicity says, “will see him get behind fresh new comedians on the cusp of their big break, offering them a stage upon which to make people laugh.”

Meanwhile, The Iceman emailed me his paintings of comedians Stewart Lee and Mike Myers, both fans of his.

Stewart Lee (centre) interviewing The Iceman (bottom right) on Resonance FM radio

Mike Myers (left), a fan of The Iceman, having his mind expanded by The Iceman’s performance

FRIDAY 24th JULY

From today, everyone going into a shop or supermarket will have to wear a face mask in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. There is the distant threat of a £100 fine for anyone not wearing a mask.

The London Evening Standard reported a man had walked naked down Oxford Street wearing nothing but a mask (covering his genitals).

Meanwhile, The Iceman sent me multiple photos of multiple happy buyers of his art.

A delighted buyer (right) of one of The Iceman’s ice-citing paintings is congratulated by the artist.

“The happiest buyer,” The Iceman told me, “is Tobias with a poster of 42 of my ice blocks. It has increased hugely in value since his purchase date.”

Tobias, left, yet another delighted member of the public who invested in a valuable Iceman artwork.

SATURDAY 25th JULY

Unrelated to this barrage of self-publicity from The Iceman, I coincidentally went into my local Iceland supermarket this afternoon.

100% of the customers were wearing face masks.

0% of the five staff were wearing masks – one at the checkout, two wandering around filling shelves and two having a close-up conversation beside the checkout man.

Apparently shop staff are not required under the government regulations to wear masks. I can’t help but feel the government has not thought it through and this rather undercuts the purpose of wearing masks in shops.

Seeing that the staff don’t actually need to wear masks for any public safety reason will discourage people from wearing masks in shops.

When smoking was banned in pubs, I didn’t think that would work but it did because the pub risked getting fined, not the punters. ‬

Later in the day, I received another email from The Iceman:


Here’s today’s painting.

It is a diagram in space explaining the significance of The Iceman’s ice block. It is self-explanatory.

The Neowice comet is aiming for the Block.

He also sent a self-portrait photo (below) of the artist “as he prepares his canvas by balancing it on his head prior to painting to ensure the concept is properly absorbed in advance.”


… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 14 – hopeless eyes in the Tuol Sleng photos

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 13

WEDNESDAY 13th MAY

Performer and academic Giacinto Palmieri found this online:

When I woke up or maybe when I was half-awake/semi-conscious overnight – it’s difficult to tell the difference at the moment – I had a slight but definite sore throat and sickly feeling at the bottom of my throat. The slight soreness moved down into my chest. And then into my stomach – but that was maybe connected to constipation. Perhaps too much information there. It lasted maybe an hour or 90 minutes.

I did not take paracetamol. I have always been overly-affected by a line in the movie Rosemary’s Baby when Rosemary – pregnant with the Devil’s child – is told by a friend: “Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary.”

If my body is telling my brain there is a problem somewhere, I want to know exactly where and exactly how strong that pain is, though it is unlikely I will ever be impregnated by Satan.

I reported my very slight symptoms one day earlier this week to the COVID-19 Sympton Tracer app run by King’s College London, Guy’s & St Thames’ Hospitals and others. They are sending me a home test kit. With a car I could have gone to a test centre. I was surprised they are sending me a test because my possible symptoms are very mild. Maybe they responded because, although I am not in a vital group 0r over 70, I am knocking-on a bit and count as a tad old.

I slept almost all of the day.

I went out to buy food at Aldis – a total of 16 minutes.

I was OK but, carrying two heavy bags back, I was slightly wobbly on my feet.

In the last 24 hours, coronavirus-related deaths in the UK have risen by 627, bringing the total to 32,692.

THURSDAY 14th MAY

Very tired. I just wanted to sleep in bed all day and had a totally dry mouth when there.

Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu, on the other hand, was just going mad with boredom, his musical children and active animals in self-isolation…

In the evening, I had a FaceTime chat with the singular Kunt and the Gang. Always a cleansing of the mind.

FRIDAY 15th MAY

I slept most of the day and had a totally bone dry mouth when in bed. Needed to drink and wee a lot. A strange and possibly not pleasant to envisage combination.

I got a call mid-afternoon when I was stone cold fast asleep. There then followed a 14-minute monologue with me occasionally mumbling a “Yes” and a “Mmm…” of encouragement.

The next time I woke up, several hours later, for totally inexplicable reasons, I was thinking vividly about Bergen Belsen, The Killing Fields and  Rutger Hauer’s final death speech in Bladerunner.

When I was about 10 or 11, I saw on television the film taken of the liberation of Belsen which, I hope, is the worst thing I will ever see in my life.

As the camera moved along a path there was, on the right, a large pile of skeletons… Just the bones… And then one of the skeletons slowly got up and staggered to its feet; a skeleton with almost nothing between its bones, somehow still alive. The camera kept moving and the shuffling, staggering skeleton went out of view as the camera progressed to other horrors.

The killing fields at Choeung Ek – not as horrific as the hopeless eyes in the photographs at S21’s Tuol Sleng

When I went to The Killing Fields years later, outside Phnom Penh, in 1989, they were not as horrific. What was horrific in Phnom Penh itself was going to the S21 Interrogation Centre at Tuol Sleng. Before the Khmer Rouge arrived in 1975, the building had been the Girls’ High School.

The entrance room had a map of Kampuchea made of human skulls. But what was really horrifying was that (I think) three walls of one room were totally covered from ceiling to floor with B&W passport-type headshots of people who had been interrogated… and they all had that same empty look in their blankly-staring eyes. They all knew they would soon be taken on trucks to the killing fields outside Phnom Penh and there they would be slaughtered, one-by-one, with hits on the back of the skull by farming implements – a spade, a fork, whatever.

After thinking of Belsen and Rutger Hauer’s final death speech and the faces at Tuol Sleng and a bit of crying, I went back to sleep.

I woke up to read a Tweet posted by Ariane Sherine. She had given her 9-year-old daughter a fairly complicated maths question. Ariane wrote:

After a moment of confusion, she’s done it and done it correctly, though while concurrently yelling ‘I HATE MATHS!’ 🤣

I commented: I’m with the kid! 

It had just struck me that maths is a dull chore to Ariane’s daughter (and to me) because the correct result is always correct and always pre-exists. It is a chore finding the route to a pre-existent end… With writing or drawing (both of which the daughter is very, very good at), her newly-9-year-old creative imagination creates a unique end result. She is creating her own unique result.

Then I had an iMessage with my friend in Central London whose friend is in an Intensive Care Unit with serious coronavirus:


SHE: I haven’t tasted anything for 7 weeks. Yes still. No taste.

ME: I am forcing myself to get up. I have to wash clothes, bedclothes, bathe myself, shave… but all I really want to do is sleep,

The COVID-19 Symptom Study app

Do you report daily to the COVID-19 app?

The COVID-19 app bloke from Kings College was on BBC News earlier saying they had figured out 14 symptoms (not just the government’s) 3 and that included the taste/smell from their 3million+ app users

SHE: I doubt I still have active virus, John. I lost my smell and had 2 weeks of fever mid-March. My friend tested positive on April 3 when he went into hospital. But is now negative. So I would be too. I’m still shit scared of getting it again though – There’s no guarantee one can’t.

The test they are sending you for whether you have the virus doesn’t identify antibodies. Antibodies are not made fully until 28 days after infection. Roche has developed an antibody test which has been in the news the last few days and will be rolled out in the UK. But it is not the same as the test you will be sent to ascertain whether you have the active virus.

ME: When I donated blood the other week, they specifically said they tested for antibodies but not the virus itself. The blood I donated has been used but no feedback on antibodies.


In the last 24 hours, an extra 384 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK. Total now 33,998 death.

SATURDAY 16th MAY

Exhausted… dry mouth

UK deaths up 468 in last 24 hours; now 34,466.

I went to sleep around 1930 last night and woke up round 2130. When I stood up, my sense of balance was all-over-the-place.

I lay down for about 20 minutes. When I stood up again, I was fine.

No idea why. It was like watching myself in an abstract way, from a distance.

Apparently, the average heart rate is between 60-100 bpm but, according to my Apple Watch, I am normally (in resting mode) around the 51/53/53 region.

Today I am around 47 bpm. 

No idea why.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 13 – I feel dizzy and there is a comedy death

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 12

(Photograph by Engin Akyurt via UnSplash)

SUNDAY 10th MAY

A message from my friend in Central London, whose friend has been in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit with severe coronavirus since 4th April:


He is now awake and nodding/shaking his head to questions. He’s comfortable. 

Doctors this morning decided that taking him off the ventilator for long periods tires him out too much – I was wondering about this too  – because, when he’s had some hours off it, it seems the next day he’s so exhausted he just sleeps. So they’ve set a regime of twice a day (morning and afternoon) for shorter periods, with just supplemental oxygen mask. His oxygen requirement a the moment is down to 35%. 

This new regime could mean that finding time for a video call from me is difficult because there’s more to sort out with him during course of the day. So I sent our love and hugs and they will pass it on. The nurse said they tell him whenever I call, which I didn’t realise, so that’s lovely to know. 

Further encouraging news is that he’s still off the kidney machine, and managing, even without diuretic medication. They’re keeping a close eye, but even if he has to go back on the machine for a bit, it’s surely a sign that his kidneys are starting to function?


MONDAY 11th MAY

My friend Lynn’s husband Frank points out to me that, last night, the Prime Minister said in his  TV address that, if possible, we should travel to places of exercise not by public transport, but “use the car”.

Not A car but THE car.

Where is this car kept? And do we need to fill in a form to get access to it? Or will Rishi, the Chancellor of the Exchequer – in a further display of generosity – buy us all a car to stimulate the economy?

Frank rightly thinks we should be told.

Frank and Lynn are taking ro risks, even at home…

…Frank and Lynn in coronavirus face masks, possibly auditioning for a future series of Narcos


My friend in Central London updated me on her friend:


I have just had my daily chat with the ICU nurse, Angela, who is looking after him. Luckily the ICU is becoming quieter as we are past the peak. 

At the end of the call, she said: “We’re telling families please don’t listen to Boris Johnson. Please stay at home and tell all your friends to stay home… R below One doesn’t mean no new cases! We on the front line don’t want to go back to where we were a month ago. Our patients are here for between 2 weeks and 3 months to date – Those that make it. We can’t risk a second spike. Please don’t listen to Boris.”


Poor old Boris! I think he was saying all that in his most recent TV speech. I thought he did OK. He’s damned if he loosens lockdown too fast. He’s damned if he loosens lockdown too slow.

He was basically saying what she says. I understand his speech meant that even when we have a useable vaccine (which could be July next year) with an R of 0.01, there will still be infections and some deaths. 

Russia, the BBC reported, now has the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the world, overtaking the UK and Italy.  (I understood the US was up there) If  Russia is admitting this, the statistics must be way way higher.

A couple of weeks ago there was a report of 9-mile queues of ambulances waiting to get into hospitals in (I think it was) St Petersburg. There was footage from a camera in a car of a seemingly endless queue of static  ambulances on the other side of the road.

Of course, deaths per population is the important statistic. The UK government is only regularly releasing total numbers, not deaths as a percentage relation to head of population.  

On one day, they did. On the first graph for total deaths, the US was way way ahead of the quoted European countries (who have lower populations).  On the next per head of population graph, the US was middling but, way WAY ahead of everyone else was Belgium! As deaths per head of population, they were spectacularly ahead.

There really are lies, damned lies and statistics.

The government has now decided to “advise” but not tell us to wear facemasks if in shops where social distance cannot be ensured.

My Eternally un-Named Friend came round unexpectedly to my home circa 1730 to deliver a facemask to me. I had suggested she posted it. Very kind indeed. I had not been out for a couple of days – too sleepy and so on.

We had a walk around Borehamwood six feet apart. During the walk, she pointed out I was leaning forward slightly, staggering forward. She was right. I had not noticed I was leaning forward while walking. In fact, I was leaning forward, almost toppling over sometimes in the street. feeling slightly swirly-headed/lightheaded/dizzy. 

I have been sitting a lot on my sink-in-the-seat sofa. which is never good. My spine – injured when I got hit by a truck in 1991 while I was standing on a pavement – has never fully recovered.

My Eternally un-Named Friend thinks (and might be right) that I am also not eating properly, because I am trying to diet. She had to steady me with her hand three times

After she left and I was back home, sitting down on the sofa, I was OK.

I will probably sleep on the floor tonight. Nothing worrisome, just a glitch.

TUESDAY 12th MAY

I have only just got up, just before noon. I suspect I will be erasing emails for hours. I didn’t erase any yesterday; only read ones from real people I know; didn’t trash any from the acres of email lists I am on.

Shortly after going to bed (the floor) last night, I was very snotty – loads of globs of snot which I had to blow out of my nose. And bits of phlegm in my mouth.

A couple of hours later, I woke up with a sharp pain in my lower throat and had to take a Tyrozet to sooth it. Pain went down into my chest, then stomach; presumably making its way down a tube.

My throat was OK this morning, though. Slightly snotty and coughy still. And a tiny bit uncertain on my feet. My balance not 100% right.

At around 1000, performer Martin Soan woke me up with the news that Dave ‘Bagpiper’ Brooks had died, aged 72. I collected some info on him, then was so tired I had to go back to sleep.

Mid afternoon, around 1515 – I woke up to write a blog about Dave Brooks’ death. I had a sharp pinprick headache in my right temple. If I touched it, the pinprick pain was worse. And it also sometimes went round the back of my neck. It lasted about 2 hours.

… CONTINUED HERE

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You can see Custard on the BFI website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 7 – The human effect on friends and family

… CONTINUED, REALLY, FROM DIARY No 5

EASTER SUNDAY 12th APRIL

The UK figures for deaths related to coronavirus are now over 10,000 – in fact, 10,612.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from hospital today, after being in an Intensive Care Unit.

My Central London friend, mentioned in previous blogs, who has a friend in an Intensive Care Unit with the virus, told me that, last night:

“A consultant phoned me after ICU rounds. He said my friend’s oxygen requirement remains high but was stable on maximum ventilation – but he is now needing 24/7 dialysis. His blood has shown a bacterial infection somewhere although they don’t know where, so they are treating that with broad spectrum antibiotics and it is improving. He has no fever. The swab from last week has confirmed he has COVID-19.

“The consultant said that they (and we) were hoping by now for a small sign of improvement because, after a week, most patients who make it out the other side are showing some reduction in ventilator dependence. They will keep giving him all the support they can, in the hope his body can take over some of the breathing. But the more and longer support they give – and the more organs involved – the more his survival is compromised. 

“The consultant was quite blunt and it was hard to hear and it is awful to write. I am beyond sad and distressed. Sort of numb, then tears, then numb. Yet I am getting a lot of support all round and a huge amount of loving messages for my friend. 

“I am so busy fielding questions and talking to his family and friends and answering so many texts coming through with good wishes. He has so much more living to do, such a zest for life; he is so generous and charitable, so fit and healthy and active at 59, always climbing up those hills near where he lives (his home is not in London). No pre-existing medical issues except for a bit of gout. He has helped so very many people with so many things – I had no idea, but I am receiving a wealth of heartwarming messages. 

“This is a nightmare for so many families, I cannot comprehend the enormity.” 

EASTER MONDAY 13th APRIL

British comedy performer Tim Brooke-Taylor died of coronavirus yesterday. Someone asked me if I had ever met him and, for the life of me, I could not remember. But, then, my friend Lynn told me she had had a dream last night in which she had been in the Green Room at London Weekend Television and disgraced film director Roman Polanski was sitting in a chair not talking to anyone. It was only when she woke up that she remembered she actually HAD encountered Roman Polanski in the Green Room at LWT years ago and he was sitting in a chair not talking to anyone. She had forgotten she had ever encountered him. He was, she said, extremely small.

I had a flash of a dream myself last night about having a dream about having a dream (it was one of those dreams!) about something I was told last century by an Italian archaeologist who was a sleeper agent for the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Strange but true. I have mentioned it before – years ago – in this blog. He told me:


One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman, the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearful eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. Afterwards, he becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

“Of course!” says the great Khan. “Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!”

“So (he) takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army…”

So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, travels to the other city. When he arrives, he sees the same dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

“I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so far away, I was worried that you would not make it here in time for your appointment.”

And the standard-bearer realises that Death is with him.


I got another message from my friend in Central London:

“I just spoke to the Senior Critical Care Nurse.

“My friend had a less good night, needing meds to support blood pressure. Today more stable although still needing dialysis. I asked whether it is possible for his kidneys to recover from acute renal failure and she said Yes. 

“The plan this afternoon is to try decreasing oxygen by a minuscule step to see if he can tolerate less ventilation. This is something they do every few days to see if there’s any improvement in lung function. 

“He is not absorbing feed well at the moment. 

“Overall, the nurse told me, they cannot predict the outcome, as he continues to be critically ill and has not yet turned a corner. However, she added that they continue to support him because, at this point, there is still a possibility of improvement.

“So we are not without hope. 

“It sort of depends who one talks to at the hospital. Some doctors are very blunt. The other day one said to me: ‘He’s not dead, so that’s a positive.’ Whereas the nursing staff are more compassionate but they may just be more skilled at delivering the info in a more palatable way… Who knows?” 

The UK figures for hospitals today are 717 dead in last 24 hours. Total 11,329

It was like finding the Ark of the Covenant…

TUESDAY 14th APRIL

The highlight of today was going into the local Iceland store and finding three plastic bottles of antibacterial handwash. I have not seen anything like these for maybe three weeks. I only bought one bottle, of course, as I am not a panic-buyer.

There were some face masks on sale in a small local shop last week – one-use only masks – at £5 each.

Online, I got some PVC gloves (£10 for 100, including postage) six days ago, kept forgetting to put them on the first three days and have worn them the last three days. 

But I can’t stop random scratching and touching bits of my cranial anatomy. Which, I suspect, makes wearing the gloves rather pointless. 

Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu has put online another episode of his series about being in the London lockdown with his family:

Meanwhile, YouGov today reported that “With some public health experts warning that the government could face ‘an unforgiving reckoning’ for its early handling of the coronavirus crisis, we asked Britons how confident they are in the scientific advice that is being given to them by its health advisers.

“71% are either fairly (57%) or very (14%) confident in the advice being given.

“Only 21% are not very (16%) or not at all (4%) confident.”

Today’s government figures are that the number of coronavirus hospital deaths jumped by 778 in the last 24 hours to a total of 12,107.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Protected: No. The extraordinarily public on-stage brilliance of Lynn Ruth Miller

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Kunt: Why did the internet’s filthiest British singing sensation chuck it all in?

On 31st October this year, now retired Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning tunesmith Kunt and The Gang released some of his most entertaining and potentially offensive songs translated into French in an album Bite ô Ma Bite: Les Plus Grandes Teubs de Kunt and The Gang.

We agreed to have a blog chat about this.

That was over a month ago.

We eventually met up this week.

It is now late November and we had both forgotten why we were meeting up.


JOHN: Why are we meeting up? I have totally forgotten.

KUNT: I dunno. On the train in from Essex I was thinking: Why am I meeting John? I couldn’t remember.

JOHN: What are those tattoos on your fists? LOVE and HATE?

KUNT: No. SOUP DU JOUR. I wanted something that wouldn’t date.

JOHN: When did you get them done?

KUNT: The week after I’d finished doing Kunt and The Gang.

JOHN: Remind me when you retired from the show business?

KUNT: I packed it in in November 2016. I started in 2003, then gave my job up with the Council in 2008, then did it full-time till 2016. So I packed it in three years ago, but you can’t make a comeback within five, because…

JOHN: That means you’ll be back in two years time?

KUNT: No, though maybe in two years time my dwindling pot of cash will have fully dwindled.

JOHN: Why did you retire?

KUNT: Seemed like the right thing to do. I’d done everything I wanted to do. You keep painting the same picture over and over again; eventually, it drives you mental.

I did ten years or so of touring and, in that time, I was still playing some of the same venues, but for bigger crowds. It could only go so far, but that’s not why I packed it up. I was under no illusions – it was called Kunt and The Gang – it was never going to get on TV or radio; it was never going to get in the papers.

JOHN: It was a niche market.

Kunt looked up a goat in the City of London

KUNT: Yes, but what surprised me in my time doing it was the crossover appeal it had. Not like Shaggy or The Spice Girls, but a fairly diverse group of people came to see my shows. People in Heavy Metal T-shirts that you wouldn’t see at any other gig than a Metal gig. There would be metalheads, punks, old people, teenagers. You couldn’t second guess who was going to like it – in Edinburgh especially. The old couple in the front row you think Oh God! They’re gonna hate it! end up laughing like drains and the young couple next to them end up having an argument with one of them storming out.

JOHN: Well, if you give ‘em quality, it will cross all divides. And your stuff IS quality. You know what my view is: if you wrote mainstream, clean lyrics, you’d make a fortune. The tunes are wonderful and you are a very good lyricist.

KUNT: I never have any mainstream clean ideas, though. And, if you try and force it, it just doesn’t work. If you start to water it down, it just doesn’t work.

JOHN: I still think you could be big mainstream success…

KUNT: But you have to know people to get the ins and that’s always been my problem. I remember my Wikipedia entry saying: This is an orphaned article… which meant it had no links to anything else. Everyone networks on social media. But I was a social network orphan, really, because I didn’t collaborate or reach out to other people. I just did me own thing. That’s the way I like doing it, but also I stopped sending out promo copies of the CDs and didn’t send out press releases or promote things. It just went along by word-of-mouth.

JOHN: Are you still getting the same number of online hits as before?

KUNT: It’s ticking over. I truly never really look at the stats. It’s more interesting doing stuff than looking at stats, but I notice the Jimmy Savile and The Sexy Kids video has gone over half a million, which surprised me. The trouble with doing topical things is they normally tend to have a very short shelf-life… but not Jimmy Savile. 

JOHN: So what are you doing at the moment for work?

KUNT: Painting and decorating and tiling.

JOHN: Is that satisfying?

KUNT: D’you know what? It is. But it’s not that financially rewarding and it makes you realise that mincing around on stage singing electro-cock songs is probably the best career option even if the songs you’ve sung 2,000 times become a bit soul-destroying. It seems like not a bad idea when you’re up at 7 o’clock in the morning on the North Circular road.

JOHN: Did you say Electro-Cock?

KUNT: Yes.

JOHN: Just checking… So are you frustrated? Though painting and decorating is creative. You create something.

KUNT: Well, it’s the most creative mundane thing you can do. Before I was Kunt, I had a job at Calor Gas. You did a different job every quarter of the day. You’d be loading bottles on and off, then you’d be on the production line. The most tedious job was sitting there watching the bottles go underwater to see if any bubbles came out.

You’d been out at a gig the night before, you’d had three hours sleep and you were watching these bottles go round and round. The most interesting thing that could happen was if a spider was on one of the bottles and it would go under the water, then pop up to the top, scrabbling for life.

Them mundane times are the times you have more ideas, because your brain goes into like a state of trance. I always got lots of ideas when I was doing really mundane things. I used to drive a mini-bus for the County Council and I remember pulling over in a lay-by and writing Wanking Over a Pornographic Polaroid of an Ex-Girlfriend Who Died from start to finish.

JOHN: What happens when you’re painting and decorating? Do you still get ideas for songs while doing that?

KUNT: Recently… Greta Thunberg’s Fanny…

JOHN: Don’t you miss performing? I’m not a performer, but you must have got a kick out of performing.

KUNT: Yeah. But it wasn’t my favourite thing. My favourite thing is the creative process: sitting there at a computer writing a song. I would do that every day if I could and some days I do.

JOHN: You must have a backlog of new songs on your computer.

KUNT: Yeah. 

JOHN: The tunes are great. If you removed the lyrics, you could sell the tunes mainstream.

KUNT: Yeah, I’ve got 125 catchy, early-80s-sounding instrumentals from songs I’ve done but, if you get commissioned to do the theme tune for a kids’ TV show, sooner-or-later someone finds out it was previously a song about raping a paper boy!

JOHN: Is it enough just to create new songs or do they need to be let loose into the world for total satisfaction?

KUNT: You have to let them loose into the world because otherwise you just keep fiddling with them. They’re like your children. You let them out into the world cos otherwise you would just keep fiddling with them at home.

JOHN: Was that prepared?

KUNT: No.

JOHN: I’m impressed. Excellent structure.

KUNT: I do a lot of off-the-cuff stuff.

The children’s book, credited as “by Mr Gels and Kay Mann”

JOHN: You are a tragic loss to showbiz. How much stuff have you produced since you ‘retired’ in 2016? You wrote a children’s book, of all things… Bumface Poohands.

KUNT: And I wrote that book about my time…

JOHN: i, Kunt.

KUNT: Yes.

JOHN: You should have tried to get sponsorship from Apple.

KUNT: I don’t think they’re that keen on people appropriating their brand, not generally. I had an album in 2014 called Jap’s iTunes (ie Jap’s Eye Tunes) and I had to change the name of it on iTunes – I mean, putting it up on iTunes then taking it down then changing the title and putting it back up would just not have been worth all the aggro.

JOHN: Any new albums on the horizon?

KUNT: I’ve just released a French album.

JOHN: Called?

Kunt came clean in his autobiography

KUNT: Bite ô Ma Bite: Les Plus Grandes Teubs de Kunt and The Gang.

JOHN: Which means?

KUNT: Cock. Oh My Cock: The Great Big Cocks of Kunt and The Gang.

JOHN: So it’s a Best of… album?

KUNT: Yeah. I had a very keen fan who translated a load of my songs into French for me. 

JOHN: A genuine translation?

KUNT: Yeah, down to the reference points and everything. I looked all his references up on Wikipedia. In one of the songs, I mention the English murderer Ian Huntley and he translated that into the name of a real French caretaker wrong un.

JOHN: When was the album released?

KUNT: Last month.

JOHN: We should have arranged to meet up to talk about that.

KUNT: Yeah. Pity we didn’t.

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