Tag Archives: COVID

Living in Canada near the seldom-seen avenues and alleyways of Vancouver

“I have been busy… Hopefully I will get Covid”

In the last blog here, occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith remembered ‘perverts’ in Canada’s late 20th century strip clubs. She now lives in Vancouver.

Regular readers of this blog will know she used to live on a boat there… but it sank.

She then moved to an apartment by an alleyway.

I asked her where she was living now. This was her reply:


I am still living in same place, but guess I’ve become quickly jaded and no longer so thrilled when I see people torching sofas in the lane or sorting out the contents of freshly stolen luggage or being arrested for accidentally wandering onto a film location… The lane is used frequently for television series and fashion shoots. 

When they film out there, the first thing they do is power-wash the place to get rid of the rubbish, including loads of drug paraphernalia. 

One day, some old Chinese guys suddenly appeared and started painting our building dark grey, to make it look more depressing and ghetto. Then they set up bright lights that illuminate the bedroom…

The alley is probably a separate blog.

But here’s a picture of another nearby alley… it looked like moraine, emerging from a glacier of garbage.

When I stopped to take the photo, a man walked past and uttered a prolonged “Wow-w-w…” as if he had seen Lake Louise.

Also, here is a picture of Hastings looking down the street from Main Street.

I live a couple of blocks away.

The streets are full of people living in tents and under tarps and behind circles of beach umbrellas.

But my photo here is of tarps over the building site next door, seen out of my window.

Are you recovered well from the Covid? Did you have your booster before you had the bout? 

There have been a lot of people getting it at work.

I have had my booster… but feel like it’s just a matter of time before I catch it too… if I haven’t already. 

Work has been really busy… more and more women ‘down on their luck’ and needing our services… with the multiple crises of COVID-19, the Overdose Crisis, and the Extreme Weather Events crisis…. It has been unusually snowy and cold here – which most of Canada is used to, but not Vancouver.

So I have been busy… I likely will be pretty occupied for next few days.

Hopefully I will get Covid and have more time to do some writing, cooking and other normal activities.

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Filed under Canada, Poverty, Uncategorized

The surreal UK Covid-19 self-isolation advice: Franz Kafka meets Catch-22..

(Image by TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay)

On the morning of Christmas Day, I tested positive twice for Covid on a lateral flow test, although I had no symptoms. That same day, I was able to walk in to a PCR test area and get that more definite test. Two days later, that test, too, came back positive. 

I had taken two lateral flow tests (morning and evening) on Christmas Eve which had been negative.

Current UK government guidelines for England said I should isolate for up to ten days from my first positive test. ie until Tuesday 4th January. But, if I took a lateral flow test which was negative on Day 6 and, 24 hours later, on Day 7, the rules said I could stop self-isolating.

On the evening of Christmas Day – the day I first tested positive – I had some internal flu-like shivers overnight; and the next night some lesser internal shivers. And, for the first four or five days of self-isolation, I had a new and persistent hard-edged hacking cough. 

But, by Day 6, I was back to having no real symptoms. 

However, on Days 6 and 7, I still tested positive for Covid.

Positive, too, on Days 8 and 9.

On Day 9 – that’s today – I phoned the government’s 119 Covid advice line because my attention had been drawn to the government’s own online advice, updated on 30th December.

The online advice said (and says):

“You should not take any more LFD tests (ie lateral flow tests) after the 10th day of your isolation period and you may stop self-isolating after this day.”

But presumably only if you test negative?… No. It doesn’t say that.

It continues:

“This is because you are unlikely to be infectious after the 10th day of your self-isolation period and should not take any more LFD tests after this date.

The italics are mine. And there is no time period mentioned.

What is said – and still clearly says – is that you should stop self-isolating after 10 days come what may and, in theory at least, you should never again under any circumstances at any point take any other lateral flow test.

Obviously that cannot be the intended advice – that you should never again take a lateral flow test. 

But the advice is clearly that, whether you test negative or positive on Days 9 and 10, you should stop self-isolating and re-join society.

This sounds mad and, I thought, cannot be the actual advice so, like I said, I phoned the 119 Covid advice line set up by the government.

Their on-the-phone advice was that, as a person triple-jabbed with vaccine, if I test positive on Day 10, I should self-isolate for 10 days although I could un-isolate if I test negative on Days 6 and 7.

“But,” I said, “the government website says I should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10, so I won’t be able to know if I test positive or negative on Day 6 and 7 of the new self-isolation period without taking a lateral flow test which, the advice says, I should not do.”

“That’s right,” I was told. “You should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10.”

“But, if I have to self-isolate after testing positive on Day 10, tomorrow, how can I know on Day 6 or 7 of isolating if I am positive or negative?”

“If you are negative you can stop isolating, otherwise you have to keep isolating until Day 10, at which point you can stop taking the lateral flow tests.”

“But I would not know if I were positive or negative without taking a lateral flow test and the government says, after Day 10, I should not take a lateral flow test.”

“If you do test positive, you have to isolate for another 6 days or until you have done 10 days in isolation and then you can stop isolating and do not have to do the lateral flow tests.”

They say Frank Kafka died on 3rd June 1924. I am not sure. 

I have always been attracted to surreality but there are limits.

I am going to return to daily life after Day 10 while keeping a healthy, well-masked distance from people and will wantonly keep taking daily lateral flow tests even though I have no symptoms. If I have two consecutive days where the tests have negative results, I will feel less wary… though not of bureaucracy.

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Filed under Bureaucracy, Medical, Surreal

Having Covid now in the US – Day 19

(Photograph by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay)

A couple of days ago, on New Year’s  Eve, Mick Deacon appeared in this blog – He is an Englishman temporarily living in the US.

I am currently self-isolating in the UK because I tested positive for Covid on the morning of Christmas Day. Currently in England the rules are that, if that happens, you have to isolate for up to 10 days, though you can re-emerge if you test negative- 24 hours apart – on two consecutive days from Day 6 onwards.

I am currently on Day 8, still testing positive, though I have no apparent symptoms.

In the US, Mick is currently on Day 19 of being infected.

He has symptoms.

I thought it would be interesting to extract his progression from the various emails he has sent me.

He is over in the US temporarily to see his girlfriend. 

His first e-mail references him returning to the UK at some point… He had his first two vaccine jabs in the UK but his third jab – the booster – in the US.


DECEMBER 13th 2021

I hope I won’t have problems on the way back as I’ve had the booster here. I told my UK GP’s surgery the day after and they said just bring the card in and we will add the details. 

DECEMBER 16th

I got Covid a couple of days ago. I’m going with the notion of I might as well get it over with now and hopefully get more immunity.

It is like being hit by a truck while someone sticks needles into you whilst barely having the energy to stand up. Not an attractive cocktail. 

I have now had the two AstraZeneca jabs and the Pfizer booster but it was just over a week after having the booster when I got Covid. So maybe it had no time to kick in.

I’ve got health insurance but am trying to not see a doctor. Being ill in a foreign country, even with insurance, makes you feel very vulnerable. 

I am isolating and better than I was yesterday thankfully. 

My girlfriend hasn’t got it but it’s weird isn’t it? My handyman in the UK got it the eve he had been working at my place and everyone else apart from me got it, I felt kinda smug and healthy at that point. 

Over here, people on the whole aren’t careful at all. Bloody Americans.

DECEMBER 19th

It’s quite strange… Mornings are the worst – very weak and dizzy but, with the help of painkillers, the day begins to get better. 

The fatigue is horrendous but I’m improving and I can string a sentence together now in the morning which at first I couldn’t. 

I don’t like being ill and abroad, but there’s nothing I can do about that now. 

It is bloody awful.

DECEMBER 23rd

Still testing positive for Covid. Just waiting for the results of today’s test. 

DECEMBER 25th

Merry Xmas 

I kinda looked at it like, by the law of averages, I was going to get it, so thought it was better to get it over with – to look on the bright side! 

DECEMBER 27th

Just got a cough now that doesn’t want to go.

I get tired quite quickly, but improving. 

DECEMBER 29th

I had one good day when I thought it was all done with. Then I started coughing again and I feel shattered again. Not as bad as before though. 

DECEMBER 30th

Weirdly, the last 4 days, I keep getting bouts of nausea and coughing fits and fatigue. 

I don’t think my booster had time to kick in before I got this. I was only on day 7. 

Numbers are raging here, but they are just carrying on with everything. 

JANUARY 1st, 2022

I was really ill yesterday. I keep having attacks of nausea, headache and stomach ache. Feel very weak again today. I was already worn out when I first got this, so it’s slightly my own fault. 

I just fell asleep for 2 hours. Not like me at all. 

JANUARY 2nd

I keep waking up with a bad but peculiar-feeling headache and I keep getting bouts of really bad stomach ache and nausea…

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Filed under COVID, Medical

Nathan Lang: The Covid pandemic, a wolf daughter and three Big Wowies…

Happy family: Nathan, Shelley and Chilli Bobcat Lang (Photograph by Phil Zachariah)

The last time I talked to Nathan Lang for a blog – “Comic Nathan Lang: ‘Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian’” was in December 2019, just before the pandemic hit. It was also shortly after the birth of his first daughter, named Chilli Bobcat.

I asked him why she was named Chilli Bobcat. 

“I was going to call her Strawberry,” he told me, “until a friend said: Remember she’ll go to school one day.

Chilli Bobcat is now 2½. And he has a second daughter, now aged 2 months. She has been named Wolf.

Now read on.


“I thought we were just having a chat….”

JOHN: Why Wolf? Surely that is a boy’s name. What is a female wolf called anyway? Just a wolf, I suppose…

NATHAN: Possibly a bitch, because it’s a type of dog…

JOHN: So you were right: better to call her Wolf. What are you plugging?

NATHAN: I thought we were just having a chat.

JOHN: I thought you were plugging something.

NATHAN: Well, I’m doing a series of three monthly comedy cabaret shows, raising money for Hackney Night Shelter. I’ve done Christmas cabaret fundraisers for them the last three years at the same venue – Grow in Hackney.

The Hackney Night Shelter used to be called the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, but they’ve now gone year-round because of the demand for their services. It’s a critical time for them, because they’ve just moved into two permanent shelter venues, serving all the year round, so they need more money to do it but, for the last almost two years, because of the pandemic…

JOHN: This is one of your Big Wowie shows?

NATHAN: Yes. We were about two start a regular live cabaret – Big Wowie Cabaret – in March 2020 but, of course, lockdown kicked in and we had to cancel that. So we went online with an interactive character show. We did it every month for eight months on Zoom. It had to be on Zoom because it was interactive. It was two hours; loads of fun; and we started to ‘find’ our audience – people who were really into it.

But our last online show was in June and it got – what do you call it? – ‘bombed’?… Sabotaged by a bunch of kids who got the Zoom link and just jumped in, went absolutely mental and, with Zoom, whoever speaks the loudest gets the spotlight. 

They were playing very loud YouTube clips and making rude gestures. Basically interrupting the show so, for the first hour, we couldn’t really start but we out-crazied them and got rid of them. It was still a debacle, though.

But now we are live again.

JOHN: People have to wear masks?

“It’s by the canal, the stage is a floating pontoon…”

NATHAN: No. The venue takes a lot of Covid precautions and there’s a healthy distance between the performers and the audience. The venue – Grow, by the River Lea – has made a stage which is a floating pontoon and the audience sits outside – there are heaters and stuff. So it’s by the canal, the stage is a floating pontoon and, if you don’t like one of the acts, you pull a lever and the stage flips over and the next act steps on. They’re just comedians. If they drown, no matter.

JOHN: (SILENCE)

NATHAN: Alright, I’m joking, but the stage IS a floating pontoon. It maintains a healthy distance and makes the audience feel safe.

JOHN: Why the name Big Wowie?

NATHAN: I always fantasied about the worst chocolate bar in the world. That’s why the logo is a chocolate bar wrapper. And the worst chocolate bar in the world is a thin tube of flavourless wafer with a little bit of chocolate drizzled on the top and it’s just a hollow wafer tube wrapped up in this glamorous chocolate bar wrapping. When you bite into it the whole thing just crumbles and you go: “Oh! Big Wowie!”

“I always fantasied about the worst chocolate bar in the world”

JOHN: This is a good image for the show? Hollow, tasteless and crumbling?

NATHAN: Maybe when I explain it like that it doesn’t sound so good… I think maybe I was trying to be ironic… I think most people would think BIG WOWIE!!!! 

But, to me, it’s…

JOHN: …an empty chocolate bar.

NATHAN: Maybe it’s just a hollow dream… (LAUGHS)

My actual dream for Big Wowie was always to connect the local community and the Hackney community is really special to me because, when I stepped off the boat 15 years ago as an immigrant from Australia…

JOHN: You love Hackney.

NATHAN: Yeah.

Future parents – Nathan and then-pregnant wife Shelley

JOHN: Yet you just moved to Margate in April this year. Why?

NATHAN: I’m a conformist. I follow the trends. When you live in Hackney for 15 years, then have a family, you move to Margate. And we can pick up French radio here.

JOHN: So… the Big Wowie show is raising money for the Hackney Night Shelter.

NATHAN: Three shows… October 12th, November 9th, December 14th. And we have a sponsor – a local business INTUNE that makes CBD drinks.

JOHN: The active ingredient in marijuana?

NATHAN: Yes, but they have distilled the good stuff without the intoxicant. So it’s made from natural ingredients and it’s mood-enhancing, but you don’t get high. You are not macrodosing marijuana when you drink them.

JOHN: So during the 18 months or so of pandemic mayhem, what did you do?

NATHAN: I was doing Big Wowie’s online and I was making comedy videos.

Nathan remembers his Australian heritage…

We went up to Scotland for Christmas 2020 (my wife is Scots) and, about two days later, there was a national lockdown and we couldn’t leave Scotland. Well you couldn’t leave your shire; you couldn’t even leave your town. Fortunately because we had family up there, we had a place to stay and it turned out OK because there was more space and we were right by a forest and Chilli was happy.

JOHN: Your wife is a…

NATHAN: …a psychotherapist. She took a year off.

JOHN: The pandemic must have…

NATHAN: You would think so. Yeah, lockdown was hard. It certainly tightened the screws on my mental health. I started therapy again. My therapist is in Australia – online therapy via Zoom.

JOHN: Presumably you are not allowed to get therapy from your wife…

NATHAN: I get that from her constantly. (LAUGHS) She says very insightful, wonderful things but you’re not allowed to have any clients you know. My wife knows, as a therapist, that I need to talk about her to my therapist. Though, in fairness, I talk to her about my therapist, because she’s fascinated in the process. I struck gold with my therapist and my wife is fascinated to know why she’s so good.

JOHN: In the new year, you have new projects…?

“I haven’t really got time for much in my life right now…”

NATHAN: I haven’t really got time for much in my life right now. I’m running Big Wowie every month, I’ve got two children and I’m the primary carer… My wife’s going to go back to full-time work.

It’s very fulfilling being a present father, because my own father was an absent father and then he left us when I was four.

JOHN: Are you going up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

NATHAN: No. Because my child’s birthday is August 5th. Basically my second daughter has ruined my live comedy career. 

JOHN: Well, she IS called Wolf, so I guess it’s best not to annoy her too much.

NATHAN: I tried to have her cut out early so it wouldn’t interrupt my future Edinburgh Fringe plans, but… Well, if the Fringe starts after August 5th one year, I might go up.

JOHN: A lesson to all performers there. They should control their base urges nine months before August.

NATHAN: Also I’ve got to have something to say in a Fringe show which is not “Being a father…”.

JOHN: You are tied-down.

NATHAN: I’m a happy house husband.

JOHN: And that’s great. You’ll get psychological insight into the human condition and can write novels about it.

NATHAN: Mmmmm…

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Filed under Cabaret, Charity, Comedy

My difficulty in self-isolating before a minor hospital operation during Covid

(Photograph: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash)

I am probably going to have a minor operation at a local hospital next Friday.

I say ‘probably’ because, when I was phoned-up at around 8.30pm last Thursday night (three days ago), I was told the operation could not be 100% confirmed until Tuesday (two days from now).

I say the ‘probable’ operation is at a ‘local’ hospital though, to get there, I have to travel on two trains.

Anyway, because I am probably having this minor operation on Friday, on Tuesday afternoon I have to go to the same hospital and have a Covid test – just for safety. The result will be known two days later.

After having the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will need to self-isolate for the rest of that day and for the whole of Wednesday/Thursday before turning up for the operation on Friday morning.

This is, of course, to avoid my being infected by anyone between having the presumably negative Covid test and the operation.

Which is fine…

Except, of course, that, after the Covid test on Tuesday afternoon, I will be taking two trains to get back home.

And, on Friday morning, I have to turn up at the hospital by 08.00, which will involve me travelling on two fairly-crowded early-rush-hour trains to get there.

So I will be potentially exposing myself to infection.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Medical

This year’s Edinburgh Fringe in the very personal opinion of ex-Sir Gideon Vein

The Edinburgh Fringe – or what passes for the Fringe in this let’s-hope-it’s-almost-over-Covid-pandemic netherworld – finishes this coming weekend. It started on 6th August.

The former Sir Gideon Vein with a very personal look…

I have not been up there but, when I chatted to performer Tony Green aka Sir Gideon Vein for a blog posted a fortnight ago, I mentioned that he might like to give his view of what it is like this year. He lives in Edinburgh for a lot of the year.

I have just received his highly-personal account…

I say ‘highly-personal’… That is exactly what I asked him for but, in other words, if you are an act who is mentioned, don’t send the hit-men to shoot ME…


The Duke of Wellington had developed a pointed head

A couple of weeks ago, ‘The Duke of Wellington’ had a cone placed upon his head. It seemed to herald the beginning of The Fringe (albeit a severely pared-down version). Although Queen Victoria’s statue at the top end of Leith Walk where the down and outs invariably assemble is frequently treated to a cone.

Anyway, as I mentioned to you, there has been practically no-one flyering up here – only the occasional one around the St Giles area giving out flyers for their own shows. 

I went to see Walshy’s (formerly a homeless geezer whose face tells the story) show (A Number of Stand-Ups) in Niddry Street.

It turned out to be in the back annexe of a basement. No distancing and about sixty people (a capacity audience) crammed into one small oblong room about 20ft by 9ft with some wearing masks, some not. 

There was no way I felt I could go in especially with a partner (not actually with me) who is totally vulnerable as regards this bloody virus. 

So I walked along to The Canons’ Gait in the Canongate to see PBH’s Show (I’ve known him for years)… It turned out to be his night off. The compere was a woman called Kate Smurthwaite who opened with a stream of extraneous expletives.

I see the objective here but personally don’t feel it is necessary. 

Kate Smurthswaite’s own one-woman show

Not that she actually said this but it could just as well have been something like:  “Right, so Jack and Jill went up the fucking hill to fetch a fucking pail of water…” 

I certainly have no objection to so-called ‘bad language’ – far from it – just the way it is used… e.g. When Malcolm Hardee used the ‘Fuck’ it was necessary AND funny in a lighthearted way – but this is a different arena. 

Then there was a bit about about her ‘bush’ and pubic hair removal, then onto asking the audience intrusive questions (par for the course these days it would seem) e.g. “And what do you do for a living…?” 

I was not asked – a pity perhaps. 

Although the Oxbridge-educated Kate, who was formerly an investment banker in London and Japan, is a deeply politically-motivated comic as well as an activist and teacher, she didn’t touch on politics in her opener. Perhaps she was saving the political stuff for her midnight chat show. 

I later saw her on the internet clashing with Laurence Fox – this was a TV link-up. 

So the Chat Show would indeed have the potential for an explosive midnight hour and it is, by the way, the only midnight show at the Fringe.  

The first comic on was a very young Norwegian bloke called Thor. He was alright, I suppose, and not unlikeable but nothing there really for someone like me  – also asking the audience personal questions and explaining the problems he’d encountered regarding his ethnicity. 

His English was actually better than many English people’s. Early days for him though. 

It started to look a bit packed and there were no precautions or any distancing so I left early which may have been a pity. 

Critic Kate Copstick went there last week and gave the night she went a 5-star review and later I believe Kate Smurthwaite’s own show was also highly commended. 

A couple of days ago I saw a bloke – ‘Edinburgh Fringe Favourite’ Robert Inston – doing a one-man show about Jack the Ripper – a subject I know a fair bit about. 

He attempted to portray five characters all of whom were closely associated with the Whitechapel Murders. This was in the large basement (so it was possible to sit far back) called Maggie’s Chamber at The Three Sisters in the Cowgate. 

I appreciated his effort but, as he said, he is used to performing as women. 

The trouble was (for me) ALL of the characters were portrayed in an overtly camp manner (fair enough with Queen Victoria) and his depiction of Walter Sickert (about whom crime writer Patricia Cornwell has a definite bee in her bonnet) as a nasty homosexual bitch hardly tied up with what is actually known about the man who was allegedly born with a malformed penis but who was married a couple of times (to women).

‘Leather Apron’ (John Pizer) was depicted as a fey gay (or that was the impression given).

An opportunity missed I thought. 

Some people put as little as a penny in the collection bucket. The audience nevertheless were very well behaved throughout. My partner fell asleep (a large area and we were able to sit at the back). 

Few posters at the Fringe in 2021

It sort of reminded me of a production of Dorian Gray (merit-wise) that I saw up here a few years ago. Oscar Wilde would have taken out a lawsuit – to call it lacking in subtlety would be a gross understatement. 

The board with the posters at the end of the Cowgate is virtually the same board ALL over town. I haven’t seen Daniel Sloss or Craig Hill and somehow can’t imagine I ever will. The former I know got good reviews up here a few years ago.

In Hill Square (Hill Place), off Nicholson Street, there is a marquee with a raised platform. The venue is called The Space. On stage there were about six or seven young English girls by the sound of them singing pop songs a cappella, often with interpolation. It was Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive I heard. No disrespect to them, but hardly my bag. They had a reasonable audience.

It is a pity I couldn’t have said something nice about a show. The Free Fringe is hit and miss as expected. And this year there was not exactly a great deal to choose from…

The a cappella girls got a reasonable audience in Hill Square…

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Filed under Comedy, Critics, Edinburgh

Anarchy in the UK’s National Health Service during the Covid 19 pandemic…

(Photograph: Jr Korpa via UnSplash)

Occasionally I start a blog with a variation on: 

What’s the point in  having a blog if you can’t be self-obsessed?

This is one of those blogs. But we don’t get to that bit until towards the end.

At the time of writing, England is almost out of Covid Lockdown. 

On June 21st, all restrictions may (or may not) be lifted. The chaos caused has been, of course, even worse in large bureaucracies like the NHS.

This morning I got an email from someone I know. 

“If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,” it said, “below is a cut ‘n’ paste of an email from my son about his wife, Sue.”

I have changed the names to protect their privacy. The email he attached read:


Dear Dad,

Hope you are doing OK.

All OK here – except that Sue had an interesting unexpected phone call last week. The number was not recognised, but she answered because it was a local number. 

The person introduced himself as her consultant and said it was urgent that he speak to Sue Simpson. 

Sue said she was speaking, then the consultant asked her why she had not attended any of her appointments over the last 18 months, at which point Sue pointed out that they had cancelled her three booked appointments and she had not received any more. 

Last January Sue had some scans – CT scan, X-ray, cat scan and bone density scan because the year before she broke three vertebrae in the accident, as you know.

She never got the results due to cancellations as a certain pandemic hit. 

We wondered why the results were not passed on to her GP but the consultant said they were too important to give to the GP and had to be dealt with by themselves… But they were obviously not important enough to keep the three appointments!!!!.

 Anyway, the consultant asked if Sue was sitting down, so Sue said she could cope standing up. The doc then said that Sue should start three new medications immediately as she has been diagnosed with osteoporosis and he was sorry but this diagnosis was made after his scans nearly 18 months ago. 

It means she has missed out on 18 months of meds and it could cause permanent damage to her spine and other bones. Basically, he said that if she has a severe jolt to her body there’s a possibility of her spine being crushed and possible loss of feeling. 

We have to take it one step at a time. But it does explain why she’s lost so much weight and her bones and muscles really play her up. 

Waiting 18 months for results has meant that she’s lost 18 months of medication and her health has got worse.


That was the email which was forwarded to me. 

If you remember, there was a reference to “If you think you are having a rough time with the NHS,…”

The rest of this blog is really an aide-memoire to myself.

Feel free to abandon ship.

I have been not 100% since I was hospitalised for a week last May with a high calcium level and dangerously low kidney function. I am still an outpatient with The Kidney Man at my local hospital. They only realised I had dangerous calcium/kidney problems by taking blood tests; all other tests showed no problem.

I am booked-in to see him again, in-the-flesh, on 14th June which is reassuring because I have not had a blood test since 19th October last year.

I was also supposed to have a telephone appointment with ‘the Respiratory Team’ at my local hospital last month – on 11th May. The appointment had been made by my Calcium Man way back on 30th November last year so, on 10th May, the day before the appointment, I thought it wise to check if it really was going to be in the flesh or by phone. In fact, the Calcium Man had asked for a Respiratory Team appointment on 27th November and it had taken to 2nd January to actually confirm an 11th May appointment in writing.

When I phoned, I was told the appointment had been cancelled altogether back on 21st February because there would be no doctor available on 11th May. I had never been notified of this cancellation. But I was told would not have to make another appointment as it was now “in the system”.

Obviously, the next day, I checked with the secretary to my Calcium Man’s secretary, who said she would sort it out.

So, on 20th May, I got two letters, both dated 18th May.

One told me my 11th May appointment had been cancelled and I had a new appointment on 14th September. The other told me my 14th September appointment had been cancelled and replaced by a 9th August appointment. Both letters, as I said, were dated 18th May. Both arrived in the same post.

Now we reach the even-more self-obsessed bit.

I have had vertigo since January. Its seriousness comes and goes. When it is not serious, I just feel light-headed and not 100% in control of my balance. 

Yesterday morning, just after midnight, for about an hour, without any warning, I had very very very bad vertigo… then with added bad diarrhoea, then with added vomiting.

After that, I managed to sleep for four hours, which was quite an achievement as, since coming out of hospital last May, I have not had a single full night’s sleep – I wake up at least once ever hour, very dehydrated.

Yesterday, when I did wake up – at around 0530, I was a bit better though, if I stood up, I was still dizzy and wobbly.

Mid-morning, a text arrived from the Kidney Team at my local hospital. My appointment with the Kidney Man on 14th June has been changed – “due to COVID19” – from a face-to-face meeting to a telephone call. “We will phone you in due course” it said.

This was – erm… – somewhat disappointing as it means no blood tests.

The Kidney Man had said when I talked to him by phone on 15th February that I would be contacted about a further blood test by one of two local hospitals, but I never was. That’s large bureaucracies for you.

Anyway, yesterday I was told my next ‘meeting’ with the Kidney Man would be by phone… so no blood test there.

That was yesterday morning.

Then, just after midday, the SEVERE vertigo came back, including my bedroom walls whizzing round, it appeared, both from right to left AND from left to right. Who knew this was possible? That only lasted for about half an hour and the rest of the day was just a bit wobbly inside my head.

This morning I feel a bit light-headed.

To be continued, I feel…

Though who knows when?

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Mad inventor has knee replacement surgery in the age of Covid… or not

Mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward had a hip replacement in 1998, a knee replacement in 2002 and his other hip was replaced in 2007.

Guess what. 

He now needs his second knee replaced.

John appears to be re-constructing himself but remains unreconstructed.

“When my first hip was replaced,” he told me, “I encountered a Chinese doctor in the early assessment stages and it seems somebody at my local clinic, who ‘knew’ me, had put a note on my folder that I had appeared on ITV’s Game For a Laugh a few years before and so, when the doctor spotted this, he suddenly shouted out: ‘Haaaa! – You breen on Game for a Raft!!!!!!!!’…

“This was the nautical version, I am given to believe.”

John was supposed to have his new knee replacement two Tuesdays ago (12th May). But it never happened.

This is what he told me in emails:


TUESDAY 11th May – 1316 hrs

I went for me tests last week, had a chat with the nurse and the physio at Grantham Hospital and had ‘final’ swab tests this past Sunday morning (9th May) at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital and then, if the tests are all OK, the operation is tomorrow (12th May), reporting for duty at 7.00am.

From what I can gather, the op will be in the afternoon or thereabouts, possibly late morning as it’s a sort of ‘conveyor belt’ routine by the sounds of it. ‘In theory’, I should be back in the ward late afternoon to early evening.

From conversations with the nurse and the physio, I will stay in hospital for a couple of days ‘in theory’ then, unless ‘anything’ happens (infections etc). I should be out possibly Friday or Saturday – with Sunday at the latest – but we shall see!


TUESDAY 11th May – later that same day – 1814 hrs

The op is not going to happen tomorrow, as I have just had a call from the hospital to say the surgeon has been called to deal with a ‘high trauma’ case. I got the impression it’s a road traffic accident.

So now the op is going to happen – all being well – this coming Sunday, 16th May.

…unless, of course, another nut-job gets into a traffic accident…

Yours, a slightly pissed-off patient.


SUNDAY 16th May 

Panic over, as I am back home 😦 

I was in the ward, just getting ready to go on the trolley down to the operating theatre, when they noticed a small cut/wound on my leg – This reads as ‘an infection’ in their book so they cancelled the op…

I will go back (hopefully…) in the next 3-4 weeks for the op as the cut/wound will be healed up by then.

I must admit it’s not much of a cut/wound but, with this bloody coronavirus, they are not taking ANY chances.

Going back to bed now as I have been up since half four this morning and it’s been a bit stressful, moreso the waiting for a lift back.

They did get a  taxi for me, so full marks there.


MONDAY 17th May

The small wound/cut happened when I was out shopping… Some dozy arsehole banged me leg with a shopping trolley outside Sainsbury’s.

Had my op gone to plan last Wednesday (12th May), I would not have suffered this ‘injury’ although who will play me when they do the film I can’t even think about at this moment in time.

Yesterday, the surgeon was sympathetic. He explained he would not operate as the risk was too high, more so with the virus adding into it all. He seemed more upset then me to be honest.

He said I was not the first or the last and this does happen quite often. 

This didn’t really fill me with joy.

He asked if I had suffered other, similar events. I told him no, not that I could recall. But my biggest failure – or regret – was  not ‘coming out’ as a lesbian years ago as I missed out on having my own series on Channel 4 and my own range of cosmetics.

Judging by his response I think I have a new fan.


I asked John if he was a good patient.

“Interestingly,” he told me, “I seem to be on ‘first name’ terms with all the surgeons/consultants I have encountered so far, while fellow patients address them as Mister.”

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A pain in the neck: Why I really don’t trust the UK’s National Health Service

Bad: cut head. Good: if you have freckles, no need for hair…

I got my Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccination yesterday. Apparently over 12 million people have now been given the jab.

No side effects so far except that, about half an hour after getting the jab, I fell over backwards in my back garden.

I was unable to control the fall, landed flat on my back on the concrete path and hit the back right side of my skull against the sharp edge of my back doorstep.

Now I have a very sensitive-to-the-touch large domed bump on my head and a V or Y-shaped cut. Surprisingly no blood.

Nothing to do with the vaccine, of course – I just accidentally clicked my heel against the slightly raised concrete path by the grass and fell backwards. But it’s a kinda clickbait way to start a blog.

The execution of the vaccination itself was stunningly efficient. A steady flow of people entering the venue, being rapidly processed and exiting. I can only assume the organisation of it was set up by the Army not the NHS and not politicians.

I think anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I do not get on well with mindless bureaucracy.

All large bureaucracies are inherently mindless, inefficient and incompetent, no matter how well-meaning the staff may be.

Aye and there’s the rub. 

Settle back with a nice cup of something hot. This is a lengthy, self-indulgent blog.

Early last week, I contacted my local doctor because I have a persistent pain at the right side of my neck, across my shoulder and in a straight line down the outside of my right upper arm. The pain has been there since late November. It is now early February and has been a bit worse the last month or so.

I think it is a muscular pain and the problem is really in my neck. I could be wrong. 

My shoulder was broken in 1991 – pulverised in two places

In 1991, while standing on a pavement, I was hit by a large truck. It pulverised (technical talk for “powdered”) my collar bone in two places. The back left side of my head was cut open when it hit the edge of a low brick wall as I fell.

It also turned out later that my spine had been damaged at the bottom. The same effect as a slipped disc, though I don’t think it’s medically called that. And it hasn’t mended.

After the knock-down, I was in my local hospital for a week.

I was in the bone section ward of the hospital because of the shoulder injury; but I was bureaucratically under the care of the brain section people because of my head wound. These were/are two different departments/wards on two different floors of the hospital. 

It meant that, in the hospital, although the nursing staff in the bone ward cared for me and looked out for any after effects on my shoulder and brain, the consultant supervising the bone ward ignored me.

“He is not our responsibility,” said the doctor, passing by.

One day, I heard him say, as he approached my bed with a bevy of (I presume) eager and attentive trainee doctors: “This is Mr Fleming. He is one of Mr XXXX’s patients, so he is not our responsibility.” And, as normal, he passed by my bed without stopping or talking to me. 

Mr XXXX, who was on a different floor of the hospital, never visited me.

Eventually, late one Friday afternoon, an exhausted and I presume very over-worked junior doctor who worked for Mr XXXX came down, had a brief chat with me and told the nurses in the bone ward I could be sent home. Presumably they had advised Mr XXXX that I had no long-term head problems. (Which was not the case, as it turned out.)

After I was sent home, there was no physiotherapy, no after care of any kind. Much later I discovered there should have been but – hey! – it’s a big organisation. Shit happens. Some things don’t.

For about the next nine months I had waves of inability to think properly, I presume caused by concussion. I am still unable to read books because of concentration problems. Oddly, I can write books on a computer but I cannot read printed books.

I also buggered my shoulder. Mea culpa.

Because of the fractured bone(s) in my shoulder, I could only walk very carefully and slowly. I discovered walking is quite a violent shock to the torso. Who knew? Every step was a jolt and a knife stab into flesh because my bone had broken diagonally, creating two very sharp pointed ends. And I had to sleep on my back at night. Throughout my life I had previously slept on my side.

To avoid turning over, I slept with my left arm stretched out at right angles to my torso. This meant I mostly did not turn over but also had the side-effect (not realised at the time) that my shoulder bone, fractured in two places, mended with the bits of bone overlapping rather than re-attaching as before.

Not me (Photograph by Dylan Sauerwein via Unsplash)

This, in turn, I think, had the result that my left shoulder is slightly shorter horizontally than it should be and muscles around the back of my neck are a bit bunched-up.

So, occasionally, the back of my neck gets very tense and bunched.

In November last year, this was happening again and the right side of my neck started having an occasional vertical pain. As this developed, it also went along the top of my right shoulder and, for some reason, in a straight line down the outside of the upper half of my right arm.

Currently I get a pain on the right side of my neck and in that line down the outside of my right arm. I can’t really lift my arm more than halfway up my torso without a shooting pain.

All this, I think, is muscular and related to my buggered back-of-the-neck – not anything to do with bones or trapped nerves.

So I phoned my local doctor earlier this week. We are, of course, still in mid-COVID pandemic, so seeing anyone is pretty much of a no-no. The first person I talked to put me through to a second person. She told me: “There are no appointments left today. You have to phone back at 8 in the morning to book an appointment.” I was not asked why I wanted to talk to a doctor.

The next morning, I set my alarm for 0756 and phoned back at 0800. 

This was the same number I had successfully phoned the previous day.

The answerphone said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”

111 is a general NHS advice number.


As an aside… In May, I was advised after a negative COVID test to contact my doctor because I had odd non-COVID symptoms.

When I phoned the GP surgery and told them my symptoms, their initial reaction was: “It is not our responsibility. Phone 111.”

When I phoned 111, they told me to phone back the local GP surgery and tell them that 111 said I HAD to talk to my doctor and he had to talk to me within three hours. I did. He phoned back just over three hours later and got an ambulance to take me to A&E because he believed I had had a stroke (although I had no symptoms of having had one). 

When A&E tested me, they took me into hospital immediately. I had dangerous kidney function/calcium levels. Someone later told me I was probably within spitting distance of being on kidney dialysis machine.

Anyway, back to this week…


I phoned back the surgery’s number again after a few minutes gap. Same message. “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.” 

I went online and checked the surgery’s number. It was the correct number. I phoned back again.

“This line is no longer in use,” a different message said.

I phoned back again. The answerphone again said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”

I phoned back again. Same number. This time, I got a receptionist who put me through to another receptionist who asked what, in general, was wrong with me and said a doctor would phone me back “sometime today”.

Later that morning, the doctor phoned me from a very echoey room. He was either in his kitchen or a very small room with hard walls. It sounded like a toilet but I felt that was unlikely.

He listened to the symptoms I had had since November. I told him I had tried rubbing on Deep Heat, Tiger Balm (suggested by Boots chemist) and Chinese Wan Hua Oil, all to no effect.

He suggested I take paracetamol or some other simple over-the-counter pain killer.

This is why I largely distrust Western Medicine. The object is to relieve the pain and hide the symptoms… not to cure the cause which will continue, masked by the drugs.

“Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary…”

I have, perhaps, been unduly influenced in my thinking by a line in Rosemary’s Baby… “Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary.”

I somehow, perhaps foolishly, doubt that I am pregnant with the Devil’s baby, but pain is my body telling my brain that there is a problem in some part of my body, its seriousness reflected in the level of pain transmitted.

I would rather know there is a problem and try to solve it rather than not know and let it develop unknown by me.

I have a feeling that a good neck massage might help me, but – hey! – we are in a COVID pandemic where no-one wants to get to close to anyone else.

The doctor did say he would text me two NHS online exercises for neck pain and shoulder pain. And get a physiotherapist to contact me.

Whether this physiotherapist actually will contact me or not is in the lap of the Gods, but I had a look at the two pages of NHS advice as sent by the doctor.

The one for Neck Pain says: “See a GP if pain or stiffness does not go away after a few weeks”.

The advice for Shoulder Pain says: “See a GP if the pain is getting worse or does not improve after 2 weeks”.

As I mentioned to my GP, I have had pain since November.

I can’t imagine this NHS treatment happening in a pandemic…

Ah well, I should look on the bright side. I am seeing my Chinese doctor in two weeks.

The good thing about Chinese medical philosophy is that they try to cure the problem not mask the symptoms. 

Western Medicine and the NHS is a pain in the neck.

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Lockdown London looks like a scene in a 1950s post-Apocalyptic SciFi movie

The UK is in lockdown because of the COVID pandemic but, yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend and I (in our bubble) had to go into Central London. Here are some photos of the current West End, mid-afternoon, on a Friday…

Oxford Street, London – 5th February 2021

Oxford Street, London – 5th February 2021

Berwick Street, Soho, London – 5th February 2021

Bond Street, London (Fenwick’s store on left) – 5th February 2021 (Photo by MEUNF)

Piccadilly, London (Fortnum & Mason’s store on right) – 5th February 2021 (Photo by MEUNF)

 

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Filed under London, Photographs