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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 27

SUNDAY 26th JULY

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

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

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

MONDAY 27th JULY

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

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

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

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

It seemed best in the circumstances.

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

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

TUESDAY 28th JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 29th JULY

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

Other than that, it was a surreal day…

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

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

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY 30th JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is a simultaneous drama and comedy for all these days

FRIDAY 31st JULY

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

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

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

The text I got from the NHS was bollocks.

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

SATURDAY 1st AUGUST

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

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


Socially-responsible, financially lucky Peter Michael Marino

At Grand Central Genius Bar:

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

“How much?”

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

Just played the lottery and won $10.


I reply:


Apple Store, London, late 2011.

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

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

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

(The answer was over £2,000)

“I’ll have it.”

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

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

Half an hour later, the phone rings.

“Your new MacBook has arrived.”

Newer model. Bigger hard drive. Faster processor.

July 2020… It is still working.

Thankyou Steve Jobs.


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

My numbers do not come up.

Welcome to reality, John.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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Anna Smith’s Vag show; drugs kill more than COVID-19 in British Columbia

In the last blog, my occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith explained she felt awkward at having accidentally appeared in a surprisingly Christian YouTube video titled Strippers, Prostitutes and JESUS.

So, obviously, I asked her what else she had been doing… intentionally.

She replied:


In January this year, I was tottering around in an annual charity fashion show – Herstory in History – at the Vancouver Art Gallery (known popularly as The Vag). There were 13 models on the Vag runway and one grass dancer. Here I am…

(VIDEO by Candy ; MUSIC by The Outbursts)

The Vag is about as high profile a venue as I have done here in Vancouver – and for an important cause, so I had to try really hard not to strip.

Highly spirited Anna Smith with Two-Spirited Little Dancing Bear

Luckily I had to take my bra off before I went on because I had forgotten that the dress was a bit small on me and I couldn’t zip it up and it looked terrible with the bra showing. But I left my underpants on for security in case I fell over… and the undies were a bit baggy so if I did go flying and they showed it could be comical rather than tragic…

It was for a very good cause – to raise money for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center. I often drop by there to get a delicious lunch after work.

The Downtown Eastside is known for being the ‘poorest postal code in Canada’. Researchers from all over the planet come to study the area. 

About half the population of the DTES are of First Nations heritage. The rest could be from anywhere in the world. In Ruggero Romano’s terrific documentary about homeless people, V6A, (available online), one of the characters is a Rastafarian-looking guitarist who concludes his interview with a gentle “Fuck you! I’m from London!“.

Crack cocaine use in a Downtown Eastside alley, Vancouver (Photograph from Wikipedia))

There is a remarkable sense of community in the DTES and, considering the extreme poverty, the level of violence is isolated and not as frequent as you’d expect.

The open use of drug injection is staggering though, with needles and paraphernalia littering the pavements. The sidewalk is lined with people sitting side by side shooting up or passed out. Almost nobody is wearing masks.

Everyone (including me) thought COVID-19 would have already decimated the populace there by now but, for some reason, it hasn’t. The only cases I heard of were of two men, staying at a Salvation Army hostel, who had recently been released from prison.

In fact, many more people have died of drug overdoses than from COVID-19. In June, 175 people in British Columbia died from illicit drug overdose, surpassing the previous high of 171 in May. For four consecutive months now, there have been more than 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths.

COVID-19 has made the drug overdoses increase because more people are ‘using’ alone, mostly young men. The cheap hotels and hostels where most people live no longer allow guests.

‘April’ going through drug withdrawal, on Hastings Street… (Photograph approved for publication on Wikipedia by ‘April’)

The streets are teeming with thousands of homeless people residing in tent cities, in downtown parks and alleyways. Tragically, a high proportion of the homeless and drug addicted are ‘aged out’ youth, formerly in government ‘care’, which ends abruptly at the age of eighteen when they are thrust into one of the world’s most expensive cities and expected to survive on a pittance which doesn’t even cover a quarter of the average rent, let alone food or clothing.

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Center is an amazing resource for all self-identified women who live or work in that neighbourhood, providing free food, clothing, hygiene services and advocacy.

Another interesting thing I did for a Downtown Eastside women’s organization was ear modelling.

I was an ear model in a YouTube made-for-charity fundraiser at WISH, the drop-in center for street sex workers where I work. 

It didn’t start out as an ear modelling video.

They got some of us in the Supportive Employment Programme to say what it meant to us to work at WISH. 

Since we were all current or former sex workers, we were filmed from behind or from the side to protect our privacy and some women chose to have their voices altered but it looked a little funny, because it looked sort of like those televised interviews with criminals and the part most in focus was our ears.

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 25

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

SUNDAY 12th JULY

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

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

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


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


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

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

MONDAY 13th JULY

(Relevant academic name changed below to prevent blushes)

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

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

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

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

In Brompton Cemetery: “Hello, Mr Wallace

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

“What happened?” I asked.

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

“Did your son ask you about this afterwards?”

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

TUESDAY 14th JULY

…Interviewing me is always a mistake because I witter…

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 15th JULY

Spellcheck: I am invited to take a swan test

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus designer masks have now started appearing…

THURSDAY 16th JULY

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

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

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

FRIDAY 17th JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY 18th JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel certain that human sacrifice cannot be far off.

… CONTINUED HERE

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 24

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

SUNDAY 5th JULY

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

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

And I am aware of my dreams.

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

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

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

MONDAY 6th JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This genuinely reassured me. No bullshit waffle.

“You are,” he added, “a mystery.”

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

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

Beautifully-written, word-perfect vignette of current reality

TUESDAY 7th JULY

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

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

With his permission, here it is:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two roll and square son?”

© copyright Scott Agnew 2020


Keith Martin being very itinerant…

WEDNESDAY 8th JULY

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

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

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

“You are joking,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “That’s true.”

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

THURSDAY 9th JULY

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

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

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

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

“How is the dog?” I asked Andy today.

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

I am reassured, if only temporarily.

A US man unfairly maligned by a UK woman?

FRIDAY 10th JULY

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY 11th JULY.

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

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

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

12.02.2021

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

Duran Duran were an early musical influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

… CONTINUED HERE

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 23

This particular blog is admittedly self-indulgent.

Do I care?

No.

But you have been warned.


SUNDAY 28th JUNE

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

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


“That is a very delicate difficult surgery and…”

So you think it is your parathyroid gland? 

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

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

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

You also have better memory and no aches and pains.  

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

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

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


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

MONDAY 29th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My missing tooth cap

TUESDAY 30th JUNE

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

It never rains but it pours.

WEDNESDAY 1st JULY

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

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

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

The Nokia 3210 (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus ça change, the more SNAFU…

THURSDAY 2nd JULY

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY 3rd JULY

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

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

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

So par for the course.

SATURDAY 4th JULY

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

Andy’s reply was:


Ahhhhh,  I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. 

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

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

This was discovered by invasive biopsy of bone marrow.


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

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s (half) Weekly Diary No 22 – Coughs, teeth, dead surrealists

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 21

SUNDAY 21st JUNE

One of my front upper teeth has gone out of alignment with the others. Hopefully this is a false tooth.

Staying on things oral, I have a lifelong dry, irritating (to others) cough, which is very useful for clearing queues during the current coronavirus outbreak.

One of the many British comedic highlights of the past which I missed was The Fast Show on BBC2 (1994-1997 + 2011-2014). I never saw an entire episode though I saw occasional excerpts.

One thing I apparently missed was a running gag/character called Bob Fleming, who had a dry irritating cough. Someone drew my attention to it today.

I had zero involvement in The Fast Show, but I did (inevitably, though Malcolm Hardee) peripherally have a nodding acquaintance with a couple of the cast members. It would be nice to think one mentioned in passing about this bloke John Fleming who had a perpetual irritating cough. That would be my 15 seconds of inspirational fame.

Alas, I imagine the thought of phlegming/Fleming is a more likely source.

Today I also chatted with TV chap Simon Kennedy for an upcoming blog. Inexplicably, the subject of long-time Chinese statesman Chou En Lai came up… and his famous quote.

Ever-wise, much quoted Chinese statesman

In the early 1970s, talking to Henry Kissinger, he was asked if he thought the French Revolution had had a successful outcome. The French Revolution happened in 1789.

Chou said: “It is too early to say.”

I have always seen this as the epitome of Chinese long-sightedness.

But Simon correctly told me that Chou was actually referring to the 1968 student riots in Paris.

What a pity.

It is far more Chinese to say that 1968 was too early to say what long-term effects an action in 1789 had.

MONDAY 22nd JUNE

China – and, indeed, similar political paradises – are known for their bureaucracy.

So today I arrived at my local hospital at 0845 (with my three appointment letters) for my 0900 Nephrology appointment at Outpatients and, on presenting myself and my three letters at Main Reception, was told the department was closed and all appointments had been moved to another hospital.

I ignored this – as I had had the three letters and had had a phone call confirming the appointment. I phoned the Kidney Man’s answering machine, found Outpatients and sat in Main Outpatients Reception (open from 0830 but with no receptionist).

About 0900, the Kidney Man’s secretary phoned me back to confirm I would be seen and if no-one turned up, to phone her back. I was due to see a Kidney Woman.

I said if no-one turned up by 0920 I would phone back.

The Kidney Woman arrived at 0917, unlike the receptionist.

She (the Kidney Woman) told me that, during my 7-day hospital stay, they had not treated me – just observed. Fair enough.

During that time, my calcium level had gone back to normal without any treatment (except the saline drip for 7 days). My calcium level had been 3.2. I had been told in hospital it should be 2.6.

The Kidney Woman told me: “2.6 would be an absolute maximum.”

Apparently ‘normal’ would be 2.2 to 2.6.

My kidney function last October had been an OK-for-my-age 62 but, on entering hospital, it was down to 19. Over 7 days in the hospital I had been told it had risen to 28 which was concerning but no longer “dangerous” and the Kidney Woman today told me it had been 34 on discharge from hospital.

“Anything over 60 would be OK for a man of your age,” she told me. “Your calcium level would affect your kidney function, but your kidney function could not affect the calcium level.”

Still, there is no hint of why my calcium level/kidney function went haywire nor why I keep waking up 6 or 7 or 8 times a night with a parched, bone-dry mouth and have to drink water. Next week, I will hear the result of today’s blood test.

During the day I am mostly OK though I sometimes have to have a late afternoon nap for a couple of hours; and I go to bed, tired, around 8.00pm or 9.00pm. My normal bedtime used to be around midnight.

Whether this tiredness is a result of my calcium/kidney problems or just being old or having constantly woken up 6 or 7 or 8 times the previous night… Who knows?

TUESDAY 23rd JUNE

The pandemic has resulted in much more dental bureaucracy

The tooth cap that was out-of-alignment on Sunday has now got decidedly wobbly. It is hanging on in there, but threatening to either fall out during the day or (in my fantasies) drop out and get swallowed by me during the night.

Miraculously (because of the coronavirus lockdown) I was able to get a dental appointment next Tuesday. My dentist re-opened last Monday (eight days ago) for emergencies.

I got an appointment after answering a lot of detailed medical questions and, I think, because the dodgy upper tooth is towards the front and visible.

There will be absolutely no drilling of any kind because of the danger from airborne spray from the mouth. So anything that would normally involve drilling will, instead, be temporarily repaired.

Around lunchtime, I was sitting on a bench with someone (the regulation two metres apart) in the Green Belt area near my home when a stray football from a nearby game headed towards us. I got up, kicked the ball back and nearly overbalanced and (did not) fall over.

I am constantly lightheaded during the day and waking up hourly at night.

Who knows why?

In the afternoon, I was told of the death of Douglas Gray last Thursday. He and brother Tony were The Alberts, a surreal comedy duo which linked The Goons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I met the brothers years ago – in the 1980s, I think, at their home (I think they lived in the same rambling house but I could be wrong) in Norfolk. They were interestingly and gently eccentric and one – I think it was Douglas – appeared to be dressed for playing cricket for no apparent reason.

They should have been British cultural treasures but, alas, mega-fame escaped them, like so many worthy performers. I seem to remember that they used to pretend to work on a national newspaper in London, before Margaret Thatcher destroyed the ‘closed shop’ policies of the trades unions.

They told me, I think, that they would drive down from Norfolk to London each Friday, sign on as print workers (they had union cards), then drive straight back to Norfolk. They got paid well for working at the weekends although they were not even in London, let alone working on the production of the newspaper.

They were surrealists on and off stage.

Today was the last day of the daily government Briefings/updates about the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown restrictions will be partially, but not by any means totally, lifted on the 4th of July – our ‘Trim-dependence Day’ as one BBC News reporter put it, because hairdressers will be allowed to open with safety restrictions.

The total of reported UK coronavirus deaths is now 42,927… up 171 in the previous 24 hours

WEDNESDAY 24th JUNE

I have received the three pages of forms I have to fill in before seeing my dentist next Tuesday.

The accompanying letter details what will happen.

The tooth will out…

– I should rinse my mouth with mouthwash before leaving home, to kill off any bacteria in my mouth.

– I should not arrive early, because the surgery’s street door will be locked and I will only be allowed in when the previous patient has left.

– On entry, my temperature will be taken with an infra-red thermometer.

– I will have to wash my hands with anti-bacterial gel before seeing the dentist.

– The dentist and nurse will be wearing protective clothing: presumably face masks and/or plastic face visors.

As if to celebrate my filling-in of the dental forms…

…my tooth fell out.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s Weekly Diary 21 – Bureaucracy, the NHS, a cough, a death, a long walk

… SORT-OF CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 20 …

I have been posting a diary supposedly about life in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic – focussing on the everyday amid the historic.

But it took a sidetrack when, instead of COVID-19, I developed some unknown kidney infection or damage or/and calcium imbalance and/or… well… something. No-one has yet found out what is wrong.

So this strand of the blog will now become a more general diary until I get bored with it or it meanders even more pointlessly than normal like a dildo lost in a jellyfish.


A typical 1888 cough syrup (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

SUNDAY 14th JUNE

I had a bad, hacking cough: probably nothing to do with coronavirus.

I took a Tyrozet tablet.

Stephen O’Donnell in Glasgow reminded me of the type of cough linctus they had in 1888 with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia “skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”.

Presumably, if that didn’t cure your cough, at least you would be unaware you had one.

Forget the telephone consultation – It’s a face-to-face meet…

MONDAY 15th JUNE

As is now normal, overnight I woke up about six or eight times – basically, at least once every hour – with my throat parched dry, desperate to drink water.

When I left hospital just over a fortnight ago, the Kidney Man told me he would treat me as an outpatient. Then, a week later, I got a letter saying it would be a face-to-face consultation at the local hospital.

Forget the face-to-face consultation – It’s on the phone…

Then, another week later, I got a text saying that, because of the COVID-19 virus, they were changing the face-to-face appointment to a telephone consultation. I joked to a couple of people that, as the NHS is a vast bureaucracy and all vast bureaucracies are a mess, they were bound to phone me up today and ask why I was not at the hospital.

Today, after over an hour waiting for the call, I phoned to check that all was OK.

The appointments people told me: “He’s not actually ringing absolutely everybody. Some patients he’s looking up on the system and, unless he feels he absolutely has to speak to them, what he’s doing is dictating a clinic letter which will go to your GP and you will get a copy as well… It’s a little bit of a grey area.”

Fair enough.

About half an hour later, the Kidney Man phoned up because he had been expecting me to go in for a face-to-face consultation and wondered why I hadn’t turned up.

Fair enough.

He told me that the Petscan I had about two weeks ago showed nothing abnormal and they still didn’t know what was wrong with my kidneys. So a blood test would be arranged and I definitely had to come in for that, even if I got a letter or text saying I should not.

After that, I went out (perfectly legally) to South London to see my Eternally Un-Named Friend. It was the first day when face masks HAD to be worn on public transport in England. So I wore a face mask on the mostly empty trains.

We walked along the River Thames from Greenwich to the O2 Millennium Dome – a long walk on what (I had forgotten to check) was a Very High Pollen day. I felt hot and sweaty and slightly light-headed and, for my feet, the walk became a plod.

Nothing to do with the pollen or the company. Something to do with the kidneys, I think.

View of Canary Wharf from near The O2 Dome (Photograph by My Eternally UnNamed Friend)

The south (well, really east) bank of the Thames between Greenwich and the Dome has become mostly a post-industrial wasteland which is being flattened or is already flattened for high-rise flats, with some already built. My Eternally UnNamed Friend found some sort of Wordsworthian Romanticism in the open spaces and vistas. I thought it just looked more like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

At 11.15pm, back home in Borehamwood, as I was about to go to bed, sniffles, sneezes and an itchy right eye started to kick in. Over the last few years, I have tended to get hay fever fairly late at night and almost always after dark. What is that all about? What on earth are the flowers doing at 2315 at night?

Well, the news took me a bit by surprise…

TUESDAY 16th JUNE

The man whom I called ‘George’ in my hospital diaries died yesterday. I know this because my friend Lynn spotted his obituary in various newspapers today and – very impressively – guessed it was the person whose identity I had (I thought) disguised in my posts.

I then (perfectly legally) went to East London by train to see writer Ariane Sherine and her daughter in their back garden (well, back decking).

On the way there and back, I wore a face mask in the mostly empty train carriages. There were some other passengers. But we all seemed a bit half-hearted about it as we were all seated so far apart.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 41,969… Up 233 in the last 24 hours.

Me in my lost hat – Maybe not a great loss…

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

I went to Tesco’s in Borehamwood in the afternoon to buy a hat to protect my bald head from the sun. I lost my previous hat two days ago, somewhere by the post-apocalyptic River Thames.

I was hot and sweaty (despite having had a bath at lunchtime) and light-headed.

Ariane Sherine texted me:

“I’ve made a few jokes about you in my new book. I thought I should run them by you to check you’re OK with them.”

I replied: “I will be OK with them. You can say anything you like about me. I fancy being described as a dishevelled, shuffling, shambling mess. I would quite like to be described as a Dickensian character rotting slowly in my wrinkly skin as the dust gathers in my ears. I always think it is better to be laughed at rather than be laughed with… It is much more memorable. People forget jokes but remember OTT characters… Perhaps you could say something like: He was having a mid-life crisis at least 30 years too late, with fantasies of Baby Spice in a bikini rolling around in tiramisu.

Alas, the book is a serious – though populist – non-fiction work and the reply I got was:

“We are at the proofreading stage, so I can’t add anything, but thank you for being such a good sport.”

My heart sank. I quite fancy being a badly-dressed Dickensian character. But I have never aspired to be a sport.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,153… Up 184 in the last 24 hours.

The ever-admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse

THURSDAY 18th JUNE

Last night, in bed, I had about an hour of feverish hot temperatured forehead and a hacking cough.

I think I may be turning into a paranoid hypochondriac. Or is that tautology? Who cares?

Meanwhile, admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse (I blogged about her in 2018) posted on her Facebook page:


Well that’s a first… I’m on the prayer line this morning and the first caller was a man who said he was in social isolation and lonely. He turned out to be calling from his bath… and was making somewhat too-enthusiastic noises during the prayers. He did say, “Thank you,” and that he was feeling a lot better now afterwards. Obviously, I have to report him to the boss… but I think I should have charged him a very large amount of money… and fortunately, I’m just trying not to giggle.


This seemed bizarre and unique to me but apparently not. Comments on Maggy’s post included:


– I had a fair few of them while on my Samaritans hotline 😉
– I used to work for a crisis helpline similar to the Samaritans and we had many a call along those lines…
– I used to be a Samaritans listener… we had similar calls…
– Sounds like the time I was a Samaritan on duty on Christmas Day. The tale was different – at the end he learnt it was seen through and it was good he had opened his ‘Christmas Present’ quickly!!


The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,288… Up 135 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 19th JUNE

Original edition. Lots of good advice.

In 2012, Ian Fox published his excellent book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show which was edited by fellow comedy performer Ashley Frieze.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos in comedy and entertainment generally and the Edinburgh Fringe effectively cancelled this year, the dynamic duo have published a follow-up:

How to Write, Perform and Produce a Cancelled Edinburgh Fringe Show: A complete guide on how to not write, perform and produce a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A new book for the new COVID-19 era.

The book is a must-read. Handy tips include:

  • When and how to cancel things

  • How not to travel to Edinburgh

  • Writing a show that is cancelled

  • How not to get a review for a show that isn’t happening

And it’s all in aid of a good cause… The authors have suggested, for every copy purchased, a donation to the Trussell Trust which supports a nationwide network of food banks.

The book was free until yesterday and may be free from tomorrow in one form or another.

Ashley Frieze says: “The ongoing pricing seems to be some random mystery concocted by Amazon.”

Ian Fox: “Truthfully, we didn’t realise you couldn’t just do free Kindles anymore.”

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,461… Up 173 in the last 24 hours.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in triplicate…

SATURDAY 20th JUNE

As of today, I now have three letters – all confirming my Monday face-to-face appointment at the hospital.

It is to have another blood test, so it is unlikely it will get changed to a telephone call.

But never say never…

Never underestimate bureaucracy…

An article in The Guardian yesterday suggested that, at the height of the current coronavirus pandemic, deaths in the UK may have been 64% higher than reported because, part of the way through the current run of the pandemic, the government changed or, at least, the bureaucracy was able to re-define the type of deaths included in the statistics.

But the worst news of the week is that today I discovered – who knew? – that Tyrozets have been discontinued following a challenge from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) over whether the use of an antibiotic in throat lozenges is “clinically relevant”.

Who cares? They worked.

Does anybody know where I can get hold of some 1888 cough syrup “with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”?

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller’s tips on preparing to ease out of the lockdown

The UK’s coronavirus restrictions are beginning to lift today. As an 86-year-old American, Lynn Ruth Miller has been trapped in enforced self-isolation in a London apartment since the start of the restrictions. Like most Americans, she has a quaint way of spelling and turn of phrase…


Living indoors can be addictive… So what now… ?

My psychiatrist has confirmed to me that living indoors can be addictive.

The government is easing the lockdown. Now, we can all go outside and shout at each other if we stay six feet apart. What joy!

It was easy to lock us down, but letting us out is far more complicated. You must not rush to freedom all at once. You might trip.

And running outside and hugging everyone in the street without proper planning can destroy your psyche.  

Iron bars do not a prison make but COVID-19 did.

We all need a carefully-considered procedure if we are to abandon the security of our homes, where no-one sees us and we are free to indulge our more primitive impulses, like sleeping until three in the afternoon and forgetting to wear pajamas.  

You cannot do that in the outside world. Other people judge.

Be wise.  

Go slowly.  

Prepare.

Begin your emancipation by wearing clothes.  

Start out with any kind of covering – a pillowcase, a diaphanous scarf.  Gradually, day by day, co-ordinate your outfits so they look planned. 

COVER THOSE LEGS. The way you present yourself sends a message to others.

Up until now, we haven’t HAD any others to send messages to but, very slowly, we are adding them into our lives and, as we do that, we need to hide our bits.

It is the way it is done in a normal world.

Remember?

Ladies! You are going to have to wear your brassieres again. Some of you men should as well. You cannot let those strawberry creams wobble when you are out and about.

Gentlemen! Zip up! Your John Thomas isn’t cute to strangers. Sorry.

And remember your shoes!

People drop unsavory things on the pavement.  

So do dogs.

And take note… People will hear the unexpected sounds your body makes.  

Control your sphincter. Back-end blowouts are not done in mixed company. Unless, of course, you have your dog with you. The trick here is to let it rip; frown at the dog; shake your head. This will not work with a Chihuahua – People are not THAT stupid.

Although we now can sit in a park if we stay 6 feet apart, it is important that your first move out of your home be no farther than your front porch.  The air will have a different smell; there might be a breeze; a bird could shit all over you. Be very careful. Gradually, go down the steps into the front yard; and, in a week or ten days, venture out to the pavement. You can do it. REMEMBER TO WEAR SHOES.

But here is where the real danger lies. You have not seen an automobile for over a month and those things can hurt if you bump into one that is moving.  

In America, it is illegal to run over a pedestrian but here, in Britain, it is every man for himself. Wear helmets. Invest in a suit of armor. Amazon has them for less than a hundred quid.

Acclimating your children to the world outside will be a challenge but, with patience and an open mind, you can do it. Explain to them that those moving objects on the pavement are people and touching them is not done. All that noise coming out of their mouths is called conversation. The rest of the racket in the great outdoors is traffic noise. That screeching does not mean someone is hurt; it indicates an angry driver who has not done proper maintenance on his vehicle.

This is a good time to explain the importance of proper personal maintenance to your child. Never miss an opportunity to teach civilized behavior to your offspring. It does not come naturally. Neither does effective anger management.

Nowadays, we are allowed to create a social bubble. At this point in time, it means you can visit one person, go into his or her home and use his or her toilet. This kind of socialization will soon expand to ten people (but not always ten toilets). 

It is wise to have a good supply of TENA, ladies. Be sure to wear one when you go to the park. All public toilets are closed. Do not ignore your personal needs. The visible result of doing so offends others. And do not fool yourself. It is always visible

If you live alone and have no family to create a bubble, just go out on the street singing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles and you will get plenty of offers.

Once you and your family have mastered emerging into the outside, you need to re-learn your dining habits. No more eating with your fingers or licking the plate clean. YOU MUST USE CUTLERY.

It is fine to grab a quick gin and tonic BEFORE you leave the house, but people will frown if you are seen tippling before sundown.  

Sadly, the pubs do not offer a carry-out service but you can get away with a lot if you bring your Smirnoff with you in a Costa Cup.

Remember, easing out of this lockdown demands proper preparation. But it is nothing to fear.

The only danger to letting your family go out your front door is convincing them to return.

As my grandmother used to say once they gave her false teeth: “How can you keep them in the kitchen after they’ve seen Paree?”

….or something like that.

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 19

SUNDAY 7th JUNE

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

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

Or is it?

Or something.

What do I know? Not chemistry.

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

Paranoia? Who knows?

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

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

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

MONDAY 8th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY 9th JUNE

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

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

But, inevitably, this unleashed hay fever on me.

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

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

WEDNESDAY 10th JUNE

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole thing was surreal.

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

All rather comical and strange.


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

THURSDAY 11th JUNE

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


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

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

NHS COVID-19 NOTIFICATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FRIDAY 12th JUNE

Cabin fever has kicked-in.

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

SATURDAY 13th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Already no-one knows what day it is.

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

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

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

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

But Tempus fugit trumps all.

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

… CONTINUED HERE

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