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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’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 9 – Personal stories in a strange new world

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 8

SUNDAY 19th APRIL

Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted another video of family life in lockdown in London:

The latest figures for coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals are 592 deaths in the last 24 hours (down from 888 yesterday)… So now 16,060 in total.

My friend in Central London, who has a close friend with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit updated me on his current situation:

“I spoke to the hospital earlier. Things are not going well since yesterday. They have been reducing sedation over recent days but he was not coming round, so they stopped all sedation last night… but he’s still not waking up. ‘Neurologically unresponsive,’ they said just now. CT scan of brain later. Today will be a tough day. I am full of fear.”

MONDAY 20th APRIL

(Photo by Luke Jones via UnSplash)

A friend who lives near Milan tells me that the Italian government is going to start easing some restrictions and trying to re-start things on May the 4th. I suggested on Facebook that the Italians must be big Star Wars fans… I was told by someone that this did not work when translated into Italian.

In the last 24 hours, there were 449 hospital deaths linked to coronavirus (down from 592 yesterday)… So now 16,509 in total.

Lynn Ruth Miller, an American living in London – who recently contributed a piece to this blog Diary – writes:


I am an 86-year-old woman. I am a performer whose life revolves around travelling throughout the world to do my act. I am in comparatively good health. I live alone. I have no children, no partner, no family. Because I am in a third floor flat, I have no dog or cat. I am in relatively good health with no debilitating pre-existing conditions.

Governments the world over have told their populations that all people over 70 must go into social isolation. That means I must stay home without visitors and talk to no one face to face. If I need exercise I should walk around the garden. But I do not have a garden.

This social isolation is robbing me of my future. Let’s face it. 86 is the beginning of old, old age. Every day my horizons are less distant. The end of my life is nearer. Each moment that I am able to live a purposeful and rewarding life is especially precious to me because those moments diminish every day. They diminish for us all, of course. But the reality is I have less time left to enjoy them than someone who is younger.

Since March 15 when we were advised to stay inside, I have not been face-to-face with a living, breathing human being. I have not held anyone’s hand; I have not hugged a friend or petted a puppy.

I do not want to get sick. I do not want to make anyone else ill. But I do want to smile at someone who smiles back. I want to tell a joke and hear the laughter. I want to feel a human presence. Live-streaming on a computer screen doesn’t do it for me.


TUESDAY 21st APRIL

Wot’s this ear? It’s some wag’s image of van Gogh

Uncertainty continues about whether people in the UK should wear or not wear masks when out. Jokes have appeared online. One source-unknown wag visually pointed out that Vincent van Gogh would have had problems attaching even a simple face mask.

The real world gets even more surreal than that. The price of oil has turned negative for the first time in history. This means that oil producers are paying buyers to take the stuff off their hands because demand has dropped so sharply and suddenly – because lockdowns across the world have kept people in their homes – that the producers’ storage capacity could run out in May.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours rose by 823 (it was 449 yesterday)… So now 17,337 deaths in total…

WEDNESDAY 22nd APRIL

One friend of mine is taking no chances…

The debate on whether to wear face masks or not continues in the press and one friend of mine is taking no chances by wearing full serious face mask and goggles when she goes out. This is 100% true.

Her equipment may seem over-precautious and certainly likely to keep strangers in the street at a socially-acceptable distance. But the virus can enter the body, it is said, through your mouth, nostrils or eyes, so only wearing a flimsy mask covering mouth and nose would leave your eyes open to attack.

Thus her choice of full headgear makes total logical sense.

THURSDAY 23rd APRIL

Correct social distancing is marked on the floor

Most of the large chain food stores now have positions marked-out on the pavement outside and the floor inside to help keep social distancing (2 metres) from each other.

My friend who lives in Central London updated me on her friend who is in Intensive Care in hospital…


It has been a bumpy old week. From being told by a doctor on Sunday that we should prepare for the worst because my friend was not coming round from two weeks of deep sedation and that a CT scan of his head would assess possible brain damage, to being told that the CT was thankfully clear. 

But then he needed several blood transfusions as his haemoglobin kept rapidly dropping. The doctors were looking for an internal bleed somewhere, but could not find one. So that was all very worrying. 

Then yesterday the ICU consultant said my friend was doing as well as can be expected and seems to be following the same course as others who are further along (a week or two) in the COVID-19 disease process. He clarified that As well as can be expected means still critically ill. He also explained (perhaps unnecessarily) that they are literally stopping these patients from dying every hour of every day… A ‘good’ day for a patient means “still alive” and they don’t want to give false hope, even when small forward steps are logged…

However, today when I spoke to an ICU nurse, some small forward steps had been logged. Although still on a ventilator, he is now initiating his own breaths and seems to be holding his own. But, a week after removing all sedation, we are still waiting for him to come round. Last Sunday he was “neurologically unresponsive” which sounded pretty endgame-ish. However today I’m told that his pupils are reactive and that he has a good cough (which, in ventilated patients, is apparently a good thing). Small steps.


The total deaths related to coronavirus in UK hospitals now stands at 18,738 – a rise of 616 deaths in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 24th APRIL

Last night, BBC TV’s Big Night In show, lasting all evening, combining the charity know-how of Comic Relief and Children in Need and featuring a mega-star-studded array of names including Prince William, the presumed future British King, raised £27 million for charity.

Bizarrely, Captain Tom raised more than £28 million by walking round his daughter’s back yard. We live in strange times.

Also last night, “somewhere in Southern England”, my friend Lynn shot a video which shows that cabin fever has hit the local Brits in total lockdown…

In a press briefing yesterday, President Trump suggested that sunlight or ultraviolet light could be put inside the body – or disinfectant injected into the body – to treat coronavirus. After a backlash, particularly from bleach manufacturers who issued statements telling people not to drink their product, the man with his finger on the nuclear button claimed he was being sarcastic and/or joking, despite the video clearly showing he was being serious.

My friend in Central London spoke to the ICU consultant again today.


The consultant is cautiously positive about my friend’s progress on the ventilator. He is initiating breaths for himself, and the ventilator helps to fully inflate his lungs. His ventilation requirement is now less than 50%, which is still life support but a lot less than it was even a week ago. This whole process is called ‘weaning’ from the ventilator and is done by minuscule reductions.  

He also briefly opened his eyes this morning before drifting off again. The consultant expects it will still take some time for him to come round properly because his lack of kidney function means the sedation is still hanging around, even a week after they stopped it. Some COVID-19 patients are taking weeks to wake up, he said. 

I asked about the previously mentioned tracheotomy, but they’ve decided not to rush the decision. He said the option with the best outcome would be extubation (removing the breathing tube completely and stopping ventilation) when they are more confident that he can breathe on his own. However, a tracheotomy for continued longer-term ventilation might still be necessary although not ideal, as patients who go this route have a worse prognosis. The consultant said they will see how the weekend goes and review on Monday.  

As always, it was stressed that my friend is still critically ill, needing life support, and that there is no guarantee of a good outcome. But the consultant added that his team does think my friend has a chance of recovery, otherwise they wouldn’t still be fighting for him…

So I see this as a glimmer.

Another friend I know – an anaesthetist at a local hospital – agreed that this all sounded encouraging. However he cautioned that, even if he does make it out of hospital, my friend’s lungs and/or kidneys might be permanently damaged. A high proportion of long-term ICU patients have psychological and psychiatric problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression (not to mention the much-documented ‘ICU delirium’). There is also a high risk of cognitive impairment. And the road to recovering some level of normal life will be measured in years, not months, with an army of physio and rehab support. He will need 24/7 care for months and obviously somebody living-in when he returns home. So there is a glimmer. But. at the same time… fuck!


UK hospital deaths related to coronavirus went up by 684 in the last 24 hours, making total deaths 19,506. Deaths in the US, where President Trump, despite figures to the contrary, says they are over the peak, have gone over 50,000. Globally, deaths are around 195,000.

Meanwhile, Captain Tom got to No 1 in the hit parade with his rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

SATURDAY 25th APRIL

The Guardian reports today on Mark Grenon: “The leader of the most prominent group in the US peddling potentially lethal industrial bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump at the White House this week… Grenon styles himself as ‘archbishop’ of Genesis II – a Florida-based outfit that claims to be a church but which in fact is the largest producer and distributor of chlorine dioxide bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ in the US. He brands the chemical as MMS, miracle mineral solution’, and claims fraudulently that it can cure 99% of all illnesses including cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDs as well as autism.”

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours was 813, making a total of 20,319; we are only the fifth country to go over 20,000.

Meanwhile, in Britain, rounding off the week, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu’s latest video shows he has found it is easy to get distracted when homeschooling his children in locked-down London…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Donald Trump’s message to the world on climate change… and my bad back

My spine got damaged in 1991. I got hit by a large articulated truck. It has never mended properly. My spine, not the large articulated truck. I think the truck survived unscathed.

Occasionally, though thankfully rarely, if I twist or bend slightly oddly, my bones go out of alignment at the bottom of my spine (I think that’s what happens) and I have to sleep on the floor for three nights which, somehow, sorts the problem out.

It is Saturday morning now. The bones went out of alignment on Monday morning and I am still moving slowly around inside my house with the aid of two walking sticks and a stick which picks things up off the floor or low-lying surfaces. Every now and then it feels like an anarchic invisible presence stabs a long sharp sword into my back at the bottom of the spine..

I am seeing a new osteopath later this morning. I discovered on Wednesday that the excellent osteopath I have gone to since maybe 1992 died two years ago. So it goes. It gave me quite an unexpected shock. You don’t expect healthy medical people to die before you. Certainly not osteopaths. I mean, he was a strong man.

But back to me… and my back.

I also have a cough. Not the normal and – I’m told – very annoying dry cough which I have had since my early twenties and which I inherited from my father who had it throughout his known life. This is a dry, hacking cough given to me a couple of weeks ago by an eight-year-old who, in all other respects, is entirely amiable.

So, every now and then, I suddenly get slight coughing fits which result in what feels like 10-15 rapid atomic explosions at the bottom of my spine with the pain then zooming out in all directions.

What I am trying to say is that, although I have been sleeping a lot, I have been occasionally waking up unexpectedly. And I had a dream. It is 5.00am in the morning as I write this. I woke up unexpectedly, in the middle of a dream.

Yesterday, there were worldwide protests about climate change.

I had a dream about President Trump. Never a good thing. It woke me up. He was speaking about climate change. His speech went something like this. Truly. Would I lie to you?


The whole Global Warming thing is #FakeNews – Did you see that footage of the big winds in the Caribbean recently? Big winds. Cold. Wet. Big winds. Not hot weather! What are those guys in the Bahamas even thinking about? Build your houses of brick! Have they never read The Three Little Pigs? Dumb.

Global Warming is #FakeNews started by #BadHilary to hide her crimes and made worse by #BadObama’s policies. But I saw a Fox TV program on rising ocean levels last night. Those Fox guys are great. Great. And rising sea levels is real. It’s all real. Really real. And dangerous.

Rising sea levels will affect important US infrastructures – oil installations, golf courses and historic national sites like Mar-a-Lago in Florida

But it’s easy to fix, right? I figured out how this morning over breakfast. I have time for breakfast, right? Right. And no-one else has thought of this.

My people told me about a Wikipedia news report on this Greek guy called Archie Meads. Hundreds of years ago. People have forgotten him. But I rediscovered him. He was a stable genius. It takes one to know one, right? 

And Archie Meads had this idea. If you take something out of water, the water fills the space where you’ve taken out the object. Right? Obvious. But people have forgotten that. I figured it out again.

So the fastest, quickest, simplest way – it’s quick and simple, right? – is to kill all the whales in the oceans. Take them out and  that will create all these big, big gaps. And the water will rush in to fill the gaps. It’s pure science. And the ocean levels will get lower.

I have asked the guys at the Pentagon to work out a plan to do this as quickly as possible.

Kill the whales and keep America great. And safe. And dry.

It’s simple.

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Did a Chinaman, an American and a Russian cause all this Brexit chaos?

Am I being totally paranoid about what is happening in UK and US politics?

The Walt Disney company famously used to give copies of Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s 5th century BC military treatise The Art of War to its executives as a guide on how to survive and triumph in the corporate environment. As a result, the book became almost essential reading in Hollywood.

One of the central points made in The Art of War – which, admittedly, I have not read for a good few years – is that the object of war is not to destroy your enemy.

It is to either take control of your enemy’s assets or to undermine your enemy internally to such an extent that they are no longer able to threaten or compete with you.

I do wonder if Russia’s Vladimir Putin has read The Art of War.

In the US, we have a country divided by the election of Donald Trump, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public election, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

In the U.K, we have a country divided by the Brexit vote, where large sections of the population vehemently disagree with the result of that public vote, with trust in political leaders diminished and democracy undermined.

I feel a bout of paranoia drifting over me, tinged with some political admiration. Divide and conquer?

Perhaps I should not even mention the Scottish Referendum result and reactions to it within Scotland. Russia’s Sputnik News Agency, strangely based in Edinburgh, already has the slogan: Telling The Untold.

Am I being totally paranoid?

May you live in interesting times” is, of course, not an encouraging, aspirational quote but a Chinese curse.

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One Brit’s eye view of living in the US on the day of the Mid-Term Elections

I know a man called Mick Deacon. Well, I don’t. That is not his real name. But he does come from East Anglia in the UK. At the moment, he is living in the working class heartland of Donald Trump’s America. On the day when the Democrats won back control of the House of Representatives, this what he told me in an email…


The decent people I know here are really afraid at what is going to happen to their country.

Trump is stirring up racism in such a huge way.

It is not just what he says that is so shocking. 

He is stirring up a subconscious OK for Racism trend here. 

The crime rate in this city, away from the tourist areas, is quite shocking. And the mental health problems are huge. Two days ago, I was on a bus which was a bit like a Beirut scenario. There was a woman going crazy at a man.

Coupled with easy access to guns, this is not a good mix. 

It is so easy to buy guns here it is ridiculous. There was a gun fair on last weekend. As casual as a church tea party.

I have never seen such noticeable mental health conditions as I’ve seen here. 

The people with mental health problems on the bus from hell I travel out to the sticks on are usually poor and female although I do see quite a few older white males in the same way. I feel afraid when trapped on a bus with them. Daily.

It’s the outward spontaneous loudness of their attacks that shocks me as an British person. You would very rarely see sudden outbursts like these in UK. I really have learned a lot about my culture: how tough we are, the whole stiff upper lip part of us.

With the poverty here, added to lack of help and easy access to guns, it is no surprise that people just get randomly shot for barely doing anything.

Apparently in this city, there are a lot of young, uneducated people with a family history of no moral values and that results in a high level of shootings – even in tourist areas. Recently, a gang of 8-17 year olds beat up a receptionist in what is thought to have been a gay hate crime started by an 8 year old. The guy ended up with a fractured orbital bone – that’s the bone of the eye socket – and loss of front teeth.

I knew it might be a challenge living here, but I was almost defeated last night. 

I did not sleep until 2.30am as my lovely new pal here was up until then coaching me what to do to keep myself safe in the house. It is a far cry from the market square in Norwich on a Saturday night – the nearest I got toviolence at home.

My new pal’s first bit of advice was to get some mace spray. In my lovely little British bubble world, I thought it was for cooking. No. It is to spray in someone’s face when they attack me!

These bus trips daily from the neighbourhood are a challenge. The guy I am renting my room off is a retired policeman and he tries to educate me/terrify me in how to – in his rather intimidating words – KEEP SAFE. 

His advice is: “Don’t speak to anyone… Be constantly vigilant… Don’t let anyone get to close to you… When you are in the house, don’t ever answer door without looking through window first to see who it is… If you don’t know them, say firmly WHAT DO YOU WANT? very hard… Any noise at night, call 911… Wherever you are, just be vigilant!” 

I am not really sure what that does to the brain – being on alert constantly.

The stark contrast to how the tourist and mid city is to my new suburban palace is immeasurable. It is like being on a Quentin Tarantino episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

I like to experience life to the full but this, however, is over even my bar!

At least I am currently still alive – despite the fact a car hit another car yesterday and I have no idea how they actually ended up where they did.

One ended up squashed alongside a parked vehicle in a side street and the other one ended up going down the pavement and getting embedded in someone’s stone staircase outside their house. 

I was in a cafe and the guy who was sat on the patio in front of the cafe suddenly ran for cover and there were two really large bangs. I thought they were gunshots.

Apparently the government make so much money from the sale of guns it will never stop. 

It is a bit like smoking in the UK but that is a much slower death.

Here, BANG! No warning. No panic. Dead.

In the UK, I am led to believe someone with a gun would wave it about for quite a period of time, instil fear in everyone for at least ten minutes, then not always do anything.

And here, in my experience, black people are way friendlier than white. I am not saying that I have not met some very nice white people, but they are usually younger than me or a lot older.

People around my age – early middle age – seem to have masses of anxiety and talk really loud about their needs and how tough a life they have if they can’t quite afford zillion dollar alterations to their house or haven’t got expensive clothes, meals etc.

Americans are aspirational.

Maybe they have to be to survive.

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The black cat in my dream this morning

I have mentioned in blogs before that, unfortunately, I do not remember my dreams. Perhaps once every nine months or so, if I am woken up while having the dream itself.

John Ward with an Onion Wanging trophy

This morning was such an occasion.

During the week, mad inventor John Ward told me that he was going to be on a Saturday morning BBC Radio 4 cookery show called Kitchen Cabinet, talking about the annual competitive event he runs in which cabbages are hurled along a field by newly-built Roman siege engine catapults. The BBC show had been recorded in Lincolnshire at Burghley House, built by Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer, William Cecil, in in the 16th century.

All that is true.

In my dream this morning, I was somehow involved in the live radio transmission of a comedy variety show.

There was a man inside a tent on the right of the room where the show was taking place. He was attaching bells to his costume but he was not going to be ready in time for the broadcast. So I had to push him on stage, as he was, only half-dressed for his radio performance.

Drinkers shouldn’t mess with sleeping black cats in dreams

The man’s act seemed to mostly involve drinking or not drinking some coffee but, because he was unprepared, he went over to a black cat which was curled up sleeping on a soft leather stool by the stage.

Unceremoniously woken up, the cat bit its teeth into the performer’s right shoulder, so the man pulled the cat up by its tail and bit into the tail with his own teeth.

After this, there were quite a few long silences on the recording, but I kept reassuring people: “Oh! It’s OK, we can edit it out. We can edit it out.”

When I woke up, briefly, I thought…

This may not be a surreal dream…

This may be a flash forward…

…to something real that is…

actually going to happen…

in the future.

On reflection, though…

it seems unlikely.

On the other hand, cabbage hurling, onion wanging and Donald Trump as US President at one time seemed equally unlikely events and they actually came to pass.

Life is but a dream and reality sometimes a nightmare.

 

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The art of political war compared to a comedy club and Disney studio politics

I usually keep away from overt politics in this blog so, no doubt, I will regret posting this one…

Jonathan Pie’s initial comic success came courtesy of RT

A comedian I know was recently asked about the possibility of appearing in the UK-produced comedy series which Russian TV station RT  is apparently planning to screen next year. He said he would not appear on RT, which is financed by the Russian government. I think he was wrong. All publicity is good publicity and, if he is allowed control over his own material, I see no real problem.

But why RT, the former Russia Today – a current affairs channel akin to the BBC News channel – should be thinking of screening a comedy show is interesting.

I was also told that RT is especially interested in screening Right Wing satirists who find it tough to get on UK TV.

Why would RT be interested in Right Wing not Left Wing comedians?

Well, presumably for the same reason that, allegedly, the Russian state set up hundreds of Facebook accounts promoting Right Wing rallies supporting Donald Trump during the US Presidential elections.

The Daily Beast’s view of who was behind Right Wing posts

They supported the more Right Wing candidate against the (comparative to Trump) more liberal, anti-Right Hillary Clinton.

I was in TV promotions and marketing for 25-ish years and have always been interested in techniques of persuasion and how to sway beliefs and perceptions.

As well as in marketing, that is actually what Art does too: you try to take the audience – whether viewers, listeners or fiction readers – along with you.

Which is also relevant to the art of war in the 21st century.

Sun Tzu says in his influential book The Art of War that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” because the object of war should be not to destroy your enemy’s assets and power structure but to take them over intact.

In the modern world, you no longer need to physically take over your rival’s cities, economy and means of production. You do not need to actually take over your enemy’s assets and decision-making processes. What you want is the power to influence your opponent’s economic and political directions and decisions.

Undermining their strength and influence is equivalent to increasing your own.

Lest we forget, the reason Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (written in the 5th century BC) came back to prominence in the mid-1990s was that Disney company president Mike Ovitz recommended it or (in some versions of the story) allegedly gave copies to all his Hollywood executives as a training manual for navigating the corporate world. It was said that the only two books you needed to read to succeed in corporate politics were Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu’s view in the 5th century BC

Two of Sun Tzu’s oft-quoted and closely-linked insights include:

“You have to believe in yourself”
and
“The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

In the modern world, corporations are – it could be argued – equivalent to non-geographically specific states.

You do not need to fully take over a company to influence its direction. A large shareholding will give you a voice – or being able to influence the main shareholders may suffice.

In the modern world, it is pointless – it always has been – to primarily seek to influence the thoughts and beliefs of those who agree with your own views. They already agree with and believe what you believe. To change things, you need to influence the thoughts and beliefs of those who support/bolster your opponents.

There is no point only targeting the fans of your product, although you do have to remind them your product exists.

The important thing is the target (Photo: Christian Gidlöf)

Your aim is to sell a ‘belief’ in your product to people who are not yet convinced or who are actually actively resistant and opposed to your product. Or – and this is the point – you can undermine their existing beliefs in the product they currently buy, which will increase the comparative impact of your own product.

If that product is a political system, then you do not even have to convince your opponents that your beliefs are right. By undermining their confidence in their own political system, you can strengthen your own comparative position.

If you were to bizarrely and possibly unwisely transfer this to the situation of a stand-up comedy show featuring only two comics then, if you undermine the audience’s belief and confidence in one comic, you increase their (comparative) belief in the other comic. The MC can do this in his/her introduction of the other comic to the audience. Or one comic can undermine the other’s self-belief and thus performance.

In the case of the US, let us just imagine for a moment that the Russians wanted to install Donald Trump because they believed he would be more receptive to their overtures, reduce or remove economic sanctions related to Ukraine etc etc…

Well, they must be very disappointed because he has proved to be a rogue player.

It is a bit like the Kray Twins springing ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell from Dartmoor Prison in the 1960s and then finding that he actually was uncontrollably mad.

US cartoonist Ben Garrison’s view of the Washington ‘Swamp’

But – swings and roundabouts – Trump’s appeal is to Right Wing voters in the US and his constant harping-on about how the Washington Establishment and the ‘Fake News’ media are corrupt must relentlessly and effectively chip-chip-chip away at his loyal Right Wing voters’ belief in their own system.

That is something that no Left Wing politician could ever do.

If you undermine a building, it will collapse.

As for my comedian chum, I think he was wrong to refuse to appear on RT.

If they give him an unfettered, uncensored voice which he cannot get onto UK TV then, in terms of Art, that is a ‘win’ situation for him.

The fact that the financiers of RT may see comedy on existing British society as a way of undermining belief in the current system and appealing to the always-malleable 18-35 year old age group while appearing to be the voice of individual freedom of expression is a side issue.

Morality was never a necessity in Art.

And, of course, abroad, many took individually-seen videos of fake reporter Jonathan Pie as those of a real reporter whose off-camera personal views had been caught between recordings, thus showing the duplicity of Western reporting.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 10: Why I don’t like character comedy + Donald Trump

Simon Jay in character after today’s show

“It has come a long way since you saw it in that basement room in London,” Simon Jay told me this afternoon.

I first met Simon when he staged Mr Twonkey’s play Jennifer’s Robot Arm at the Bread & Roses venue in Clapham in April 2015. But he was talking about his Donald Trump comedy show in 2016, which has now transformed into Trumpageddon and is playing to full houses at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh.

It cannot be easy to perform as Donald Trump – part real person, part Timothy Burton living fantasy character – in a scripted show with so much back story Simon has to know and the nightmare of up-dating as the real-life Trump bandwagon careers off in wild new directions every day. The show is, of course, scripted and some of the audience interaction can be prepared, but not all. And yesterday, the previous day’s North Korean lunacy had been incorporated into the narrative.

I tend not to like character comedy but with a caveat.

Simon Jay being made into the leader of the free world

The closer the act is to what might be a real person, the less I like it.

I spent much of my TV life finding bizarre acts and eccentric people. If I see a character act pretending to be an eccentric who could be real, I think: Why am I watching this theatre school performance of someone who is not being themselves pretending to be an interesting person when I could actually be watching the real interesting person?

The less ‘real’ and the more ‘cartoony’ the character is, the more likely I am to appreciate the act.

Charlie Chuck, for example, was/is believable to the point that people would/do ask me: Is he really like that? (No, of course he is not.) But ‘Charlie Chuck’ was/is an OTT cartoon-style character.

The interesting thing about Donald Trump and Trumpageddon is that it is an impression of a totally real person but the real Trump is pretty-much a cartoon character.

Perhaps all this is why stand-up comedy attracts me.

I am interested in people. Real people. Ideally eccentric people.

Sally Beaton – fluently funny, fascinating and real

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award contender Cally Beaton is a not eccentric, but she is assuredly real. Her show Cally Beaton’s Super Cally Fragile Lipstick is about her autistic son (who agreed to be mentioned on stage after negotiations over a meal at Nando’s), bisexuality and things menopausal. Sounds like a tough comedy show to sell, but Cally is fluently funny, fascinating and manages to pitch herself to Edinburgh Fringe AND Radio 4 audiences. She comes across as a real person chatting to the audience. Which is what the best modern stand-up is.

On stage, modern stand-up comics tend to perform as (slightly heightened versions of) themselves.

Actors pretend to be characters totally different from themselves.

I prefer comics.

A character comedian with caveats and cravat

Which makes Milo McCabe’s show interesting, because he is performing as a character: the slightly anachronistic Terry-Thomas-ish, dressing gown and cravat-wearing Talented Mr Hawke. It sort-of could-be a real, very well-observed person from a slightly early era, but it is also (successfully) a cartoon character.

In reality, the character would be rather sleazy and unlikable. In Milo’s audience-pleasing, fleshed-out character act, he is rather loveable. The audience totally believes in the character. But Milo also cleverly – by reading letters to Mr Hawke from other people – briefly slips in two or three totally different voices which remind the audience (and demonstrate to any agents/promoters present) that they are watching a skilled comic actor who would be equally interesting in other situations.

Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry

As mentioned in previous blogs, Milo McCabe’s father Mike McCabe is performing at the Fringe as the late comic Frank Carson. That is another genre entirely and my brain is too sleep-deprived and befuddled to go into it.

One reason I tend to see no point in watching comic actors who are performing as fictional characters who are too close to ‘real’ people who could actually exist is that the lives of real people are always wildly more OTT than anything anyone could possibly think up.

Hello Scott Agnew.

Scott Agnew puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’

His show is titled Spunk on My Lady’s Face which is an extreme under-selling of the outrageousness of some of his stories. Scott always puts the aargh! into ‘explicit’.

Tonight he was playing to an audience of what seemed to me to be mostly straight couples and I initially thought: Oh dear, this could go ether way! But they were guffawing-away pretty much all the way through Scott’s wild, true gay stories.

It was a bit like running through the highlights of the Emperor Nero’s excesses during the most decadent days of the Roman Empire. If you think you have heard outrageously excessive stories, you ain’t heard nothing till you have sat through 55 minutes of Scott Agnew.

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Adam is not organising a sex orgy…

Adam: healthy eating but alas no planned sex orgy

“So,” I said to Adam Taffler aka Adam Wilder aka etc etc, “you’re arranging some kind of sex orgy on top of some skyscraper near Canary Wharf?”

There was a pause with two big sighs. “No,” he said. “It’s a festival of human connection and intimacy and togetherness.”

And, indeed, the two-day event in London is called: TOGETHERNESS: AN INTIMATE FESTIVAL OF HUMAN CONNECTION.

We met at a Pret a Manger in Soho.

“I want,” Adam told me, “to make intimacy and human connection more central to our culture; I want to make it more accessible. Studies show our happiness comes from the quality of our relationships and not our bank balance. But our society isn’t very good at teaching us how to have good relationships.

“So the festival is about doing that. It has a whole load of workshops – everything from Listening Partnerships all the way through to Digital Dating Detox and Expanding Your Sexuality… all with some of the best teachers in the world.

“I’m really excited about it and, because I don’t think this stuff is visible enough in our culture, I want to do it somewhere that it’s symbolically really visible. So I’m doing it on 20th and 21st May on top of a skyscraper in Canary Wharf.”

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“It’s inside, on the top floor. … I’m glad you are eating some fruit there and blueberries and pomegranates. Pomegranate seeds are very good for you.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “Am I going to start farting or something?”

“Maybe,” said Adam. “Just maybe.”

Adam is the entrepreneur of the alternative

“The other day,” I told him, “my friend Mary from Manchester told me the budgie seed Trill used to have cannabis seeds in it.”

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Adam told me. “It’s very healthy.”

“I had this vision,” I said, “of spaced-out budgies.”

“You can’t get high on cannabis seeds,” he explained. “Believe me, I tried when I was younger.”

“Will there be lots of meat-eating at your festival?” I asked. “Or will it be right-on vegetarianism? Pigs are supposed to be very intelligent but their downfall is they taste so good. Slaughtering happy bouncy lambs IS slightly bizarre.”

“Well,” Adam replied, “I think it’s bizarre the way we do it in our culture and the mass farming side of it. My festival is going to be completely plant-based. All the food is going to be plant-based. That’s a way of saying ‘vegan’  which doesn’t sound so oppressive.

“I think intellect holds us back from having experiences which are really good for us. In my training as a Fool, I learned to trick people into doing things that stretches their comfort zone just a little bit and then you can stretch it more and more and more until, before they know it, they’re in a field with their nipples painted gold.”

“Any nudity at your festival?” I asked hopefully.

“No,” said Adam. “Fully clothed. Two days. Saturday and Sunday. I’ve got some of the best teachers from around the world. And there will be a Saturday night Cacao Dance Party, drug and alcohol free.”

“Cacao?” I asked.

“Some kids are using it as a stimulant but, basically, it’s a euphoric old strain of cocoa bean and, when you make it into a drink, it’s a mild stimulant. It is very gentle.”

“Why are you crowdfunding the festival?” I asked.

“I wanted to try it as a marketing exercise. Tickets have been selling really well but, basically, I want to put all my energy into the curation and execution of the festival instead of putting so much into the marketing like I have in the past and I’m hoping this will make it a bit easier. If we get the crowdfunding, it means we can do amazing stuff like get really good quality fixtures and fittings in there.

The Togetherness Festival – over 35 sessions over 2 days

“Tickets are £99 but, at the moment, through the crowdfunding, you can get a weekend pass for £79 – with access to over 35 sessions over two days with some of the best teachers in the world.”

“What happens,” I asked, “if you don’t reach the £10,000 crowdfunding target?”

“It’s all going ahead, it will just be a bit harder.”

”You’re an entrepreneur at heart,” I suggested.

“I don’t know about that, man,” Adam replied. “What I loved about the (music and open air) festival scene was the freedom. Helping people to get more emotionally naked.”

“You said ‘the festival scene’ as if you have given it up.”

“I don’t really like performing very much any more, John.”

“You prefer the organisational side?”

“I don’t even enjoy organising that much. I’d rather just be running sessions: teaching. I am moving forward as a practitioner and as a teacher. Whatever works to help people surrender to the moment. I’m training more as a practitioner in this field.”

“What field?”

“Human connection. Sexuality. What I find interesting is that sexuality is just the gateway to knowing ourselves better.”

“Are your Shhh Dating events still carrying on?”

I first met Adam at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe when I asked him to juggle spaghetti

“Yes, but I’ve sold my other businesses. I sold my hot tub business and I’m just about to sell my shares in the Burns Night company as well. I felt, last year, I was doing too many things. I want to focus. I’m now really into the intimacy and connection work. I like working with people. When I was doing performance, it was all about working with people too.”

“No sex orgy, then,” I said.

“No!” Adam laughed. “The most sexy this festival gets is a session by Froukje van der Velde, who is going to teach ladies – and gents – how to tickle a yoni.”

“I’ve read the Kama Sutra,” I said. “A yoni is a vagina. You can’t fool me with posh words,”

“It’s a Sanskrit word,” said Adam. “Everything is fully-clothed. Froukje takes clay and shows people how to make a model of a yoni and, by the time they’ve made it, it goes a little bit hard and she shows people how they can stroke it.

“We are not taught this stuff at school, John. The sex education in school is terrible. I have a friend who teaches deaf children 11-17 and, in one class, she told them: You can ask me anything you want. And this boy asked: Why do women like it when men come on their faces? Nowadays, children learn sex through porn. It’s terrible.

“This festival is partly about sexuality; it’s partly about relationships. What I’m interested in is the quality of relationships, the quality of contact. That was what I was interested in in performing as well.”

“You want to be a guru,” I suggested.

“Not a guru,” Adam laughed. “Just someone who wants to share what he knows with other people. I went to India to see the hugging lady.”

“The hugging lady?” I asked.

Amma. She comes to the UK every year and hugs loads of people.”

“I’m Scottish,” I pointed out. “We don’t do hugging.”

“You should come to Alexandra Palace and have a hug,” Adam told me. “She is pretty remarkable. For the first three nights in India, I was down by the sea  every night, shouting into the sea: What the fuck is going on here? Why is everybody worshipping this lady? This is bullshit!”

“In India?” I asked.

Amma, the hugging saint of Kerala, was a young Cinderella

“In Kerala, in south India. After three days, a friend of mine told me: No. Go and sit as close to her as you can. I did and my experience changed. I started experiencing this… ‘Grace’ is the only thing I can call it. She is maybe 60-something.

“Her skin was darker than all her siblings. Her parents turned her into the Cinderella of the family and beat her and scolded her but locals kept coming to hear her sing and now she travels round the world and raises all this money. She’s really incredible. This sense of grace. It’s nice to sit next to a master who gives you a taste of something that expands your map of the world. That’s what I find interesting. Stretching maps.”

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The late singer Leonard Cohen and the philanthropist Donald Trump and some strange things happening at the marina.

 

In the early hours of this morning, a missive arrived from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She lives on a boat in Vancouver.


Strange things are happening at the marina.

An old man on the dock, whom I’ve never met before, just greeted me with a cheerful “You’re back,” even though I have been nowhere for a month.

A friend of my extended family is an exotically dressed elderly socialite from Brazil named Benita. I feel imaginarily glamorous when I run into her. She thinks we are related. She tells me that I remind her of her aunt, the model Georgia Quental.

“She had red hair,” she tells me. “She was a free spirit like you…”

I don’t know Benita well but she is very fond of me and often wants to go out for tea. Sometimes I run into her as I am leaving the library. The last time I saw her, she greeted me, full of enthusiasm: “Anna, my darling! How was Brazil?”

I have never been to Brazil.

Benita grew up in Rio but attended an exclusive girls school on the eastern seaboard of the United States. She won an award for her artwork there. She says that one of her ancestors was a famous Scottish poet. She borrows his books from the library. I forget his name.

Sometimes she asks me: “Anna, don’t you miss South America?” as if I had left there recently

I have not been there since I was five. I missed it a lot as a child and well into adulthood. I still drink mate.

The last time I saw Benita, she told me she had just been in Greece.

“Ahhh, my darling,” she said. “You must go there. It is absolutely beautiful. I was on an island.”

“Did you go with your daughters?” I asked.

Two of her daughters live in Manhattan. They are very beautiful blondes and have worked as models. One designs jewelry and one is divorced from the heir to Budweiser. I am never sure which is which…

“Of course my dear,” Benita replied. “We were the guests of the designer, my daughter’s friend. What a gorgeous place he has, but you have to take a boat to get there. We were constantly on boats. It was beautiful. We went to Leonard Cohen’s house. He had a house on the same island. His grandchildren are living there now.”

Benita wants me to visit Rio with her. I tell her I can’t go yet, because my health is still a bit delicate. Which it is.

“You need,” she told me, “to take Palo Santo (a herb) and Ayahuasca ( a powerful hallucinogenic).”

We don’t have to go to Brazil to get Ayahuasca. There are people in North Vancouver doing it in their basements.

Two years ago I ran into Benita after I had been at a small protest against Donald Trump. There were only twelve protesters. The others were all Mexican. It was after Trump had made his comment about Mexicans being rapists.

I thought Benita would be glad I had been standing up for Latin Americans, so I told her: “I protested against Donald Trump.”

She looked a bit confused. “Why?” she asked. “What did he do?”

I told her about his comments.

“That’s strange,” she said, looking puzzled. “He is always very nice to my daughters. He always pays for their ski trips to Vermont when they go with his daughter.”

Strange things are happening.

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