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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 19 – Comparatively trivial

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 18

(Photograph by Camilo Jimenez via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 28th MAY

Today, the total of UK deaths caused by coronavirus reached 37,837 – up 377 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 29th MAY

My home is, in effect, in a square and, in just the one week I was in hospital (with kidney problems – not with any COVID-19 problems), anarchy has broken out.

The elderly woman (90+) in the house directly opposite me has been taken up to the North of England to an old people’s home near her son. She had been very confused the last few weeks when I met her in the street.

And a man who lives in a house on another side of the square died of a brain tumour in my week away. Apparently he had been ill for a few months but I did not know: a sign of 21st century life. He had been seeing people and things that weren’t there for the last three months. He was buried two days ago. The day I got back from hospital. 

On a lighter note, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu has posted another video of lockdown life with his family in London.

SATURDAY 30th MAY

I talked to Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter on FaceTime. In the middle of a playful conversation, she said: “Any person who never makes a mistake has never tried anything new.”

“That’s very good,” I said. “Did you just make that up or did you read it somewhere?”

“Albert Einstein,” she said.

She will go far. 

SUNDAY 31st MAY

In the nights I have been back home, I keep waking up at least once every hour with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water.

All through the night. Bone dry mouth. Needing to drink water.

And now I have developed constipation, very smelly farts and hay fever.

My life is complete.

The UK COVID-19 death total is now 38,489 – up 113 in the last 24 hours.

An illustration of why social distancing is now UK policy…

MONDAY 1st JUNE

Coughing, sneezing, spluttering hay fever and constipation – This makes it easy to maintain ‘social distancing’ in the street. We are told to maintain social distancing by keeping at least 2 metres apart from other people. I try my best to keep the farts to myself. 

TUESDAY 2nd JUNE

Hay fever tablets have stopped the sneezing and spluttering but not the farts.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they? I am still keeping them to myself.

Total UK coronavirus deaths have now reached 39,369 in total, up 324 in the last 24 hours.

WEDNESDAY 3rd JUNE

I had a petscan at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. This is the scan where they put radioactive stuff in your system and look at it going round inside the body. I have been telling people that, because of financial cutbacks at the NHS, you now have to provide your own pet – and that I rented an iguana for the day. 

So far, no-one has laughed. This is an excellent example of why I am not and never will be a comic. Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller tells me the joke would have worked if it had been a puppy not an iguana.

Travelling to the hospital, the Thameslink and Overground trains were almost entirely empty.

(Photograph by Maria Oswald via UnSplash)

On May 25th – over a week ago – an unarmed 46-year-old black man – George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

He died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was lying face down and handcuffed on the street.

His death has resulted in tightly-packed mass street demonstrations.

Not just in the US but around the world.

I have a British friend who happens to be black – we have known each other over 30 years. I got this message from her in the North of England:


Hi John, I’m sobbing my heart out. About 30  minutes ago I was coughed on deliberately by a young idiot. The pavement was narrow and he clearly didn’t want to walk in the bus layby. I turned my back to him and faced the church wall and felt his warm breath on the back of my neck. I was so shocked I stood there for about five minutes and ran home, jumped in the shower and wiped myself dry with anti bacterial wipes. My clothes are in the washing machine and I’m now paranoid about whether he’s genuinely infected me with COVID-19 or thought it was a great prank to play. I know it could have been worse. He could have spat on me rather than cough. If he’s infected or not… What a cruel thing to do.


THURSDAY 4th JUNE

Total virus deaths in the UK now 39,904 – a 176 increase in the last 24 hours.

Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies

FRIDAY 5th JUNE

Cult Weimaresque British band The Tiger Lillies have released a second – yes, a second – album about the COVID-19 pandemic.  I find it surprising there has not been more musical stuff inspired by the pandemic. Too soon?

SATURDAY 6th JUNE

When in hospital, I mentioned to the doctors that I seem to have a slow heart rate. The average is supposed to be somewhere between 60-100 beats per minute. Mine (as per my Apple Watch) is usually around 51-54 beats per minute; sometimes 47-49. The doctors were not really worried provided it was fairly regular. 

My cousin tells me that she too has a slow heart rate. 

So it must be a family thing.

And a minor thing.

Very trivial.

Comparatively.

UK coronavirus deaths are now over 40,000.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 12 – A Rollercoaster ride in Intensive Care

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 10

(Photograph by Amin Moshrefi via UnSplash)

SUNDAY 3rd MAY

In the last few blogs, I have been posting messages from my friend in Central London whose friend has been seriously ill with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit since April 4th. Her latest update is:


A bit of encouraging news for Sunday lunch. 

My friend’s breathing has thankfully stabilised again so they are trying him off the vent for an hour to breathe with just an oxygen mask. Not for long because his breathing muscles tire quickly, but it means he has regained a bit of ground. 

Kidneys still needing machine. BP needing slightly less help. 

I just had a video call with him. They had raised his head in bed and he looked sleepy but comfortable. When I said his name a few times he briefly opened his eyes. I chatted to him for about 3 minutes about his daughter and the garden and the choir. At the end I said, “We are going to beat this and we are all waiting for you to come home,” and then the nurse told him to smile and his lips moved very slightly!

I felt that he is definitely in there, wanting to communicate. It took so much effort, but he did it.


UK reported deaths in the last 24 hours are up 315 to a total in hospitals, care homes and elsewhere to 28,131.

At 1730 instead of going out, I had a nap and woke up at 1930. So bang goes my daily walk and even changing out of my pyjamas. This will be the first time in lockdown that I have not gone out for a daily exercise.

It seems a short, slippery slope from this to living in a tent in my bedroom, shitting in the bedside table and eating spiders and occasional unlucky mice.

Meanwhile, Romanian showbiz star Dragos Mostenescu has posted another in his series of videos about being in lockdown in London with his family.

MONDAY 4th MAY

In the last 24 hours an additional rise of 288 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK, making the total 28,743.

Today’s message from my friend in Central London was:


On Friday, the consultant told me he didn’t expect my friend to last the weekend.

This morning, he said that he was surprised to see my sick friend has gained some ground. His breathing has stabilised again and he managed some hours off the ventilator with only the help of a mask. Oxygen requirement about 30%. 

And more positives… After my video call with my friend yesterday, the nurse said today he is more alert! This morning he squeezed her hand on command and also tracked her finger with his eyes. She thinks he even managed a slight nod in answer to a question. 

After all that, he was exhausted and went into a heavy sleep, so I probably won’t get to speak to him today. Apparently he didn’t sleep at all last night, so, rather than give him sedatives, they will try to regulate his rhythms with melatonin. 

The nurse asked me to send photos of friends and loved ones. The staff will print them out and put them round his bed so he’ll have something familiar to look at when he’s awake. I’ll also send a photo of his beloved garden. 

Slowly slowly slowly, with our love and prayers…


(Photo by James Heilman, MD, via Wikipedia)

TUESDAY 5th MAY

My friend in Central London messaged me:


He developed an infection today so that is another new bump on the road. 

In the early evening they phoned me about the fungal infection and said that, if it became invasive, it was very serious because invasive Candida is a big killer in ICUs.


WEDNESDAY 6th MAY

My friend in Central London sent me two messages today:


I didn’t sleep a wink. Then this morning spoke to the consultant.

They are still treating the fungal infection.

He had a body CT scan yesterday. Unsurprisingly, it shows extensive changes in his lungs and abnormal changes in the kidneys – both expected results as the virus affected both. They also found signs of colitis/inflammation in the bowel – again not surprising with the amount of meds he’s on. 

Now the good stuff. Christina who is looking after him, last saw him when she ceased his sedation some weeks ago. Today she was crying tears of happiness to see his progress. The other staff thought she was being too emotional! 

But he squeezed her hand this morning and is slightly nodding and shaking his head to questions. She asked him whether he’s in pain. He shook his head. 

The physios have been in and sat him on the end of the bed for a few minutes, with support. He can lift one hand, but still has no feeling in his feet so they didn’t stand him. He can’t yet keep his head upright without help but he did try. He has accumulated quite a lot of fluid from being immobile, so the physios keep him moving, even when lying down. This was the first time the physios felt he was ready to sit. 

Christina said that he is trying to mouth words and she explained to him not to try to actually speak yet because of his tracheostomy. 

She also said that, now he’s more awake, they are constantly telling him where he is, what time and what day and how long he’s been there, what the weather is like and bits from the news. 

Yesterday I had a short FaceTime with him but he was really sleepy. Christina will try again today but, after his considerable exertions this morning, he may sleep the rest of the day. 

Lastly, this was our final chat with the consultant (not Christina) as we are “past the peak” – ICU admissions have stabilised – so the consultant can now return to non-COVID-19 patients in another ICU. He wished my friend well for a continued recovery although, in his typical fashion, he warned it will be a long road. 

He said he was sorry that, in these terrible times, he could not deliver his reports to us in a more personal way rather than by phone. He added that he was grateful to be able to leave us on a day when my friend looked more stable.

(LATER)

Yay! Had a lovely FaceTime with my friend! For about 5 minutes!! He was awake the whole time. He smiled! I told him about all the messages from his friends, family and workmates. He mouthed a couple of words too. 

The speech therapist will see him to assess whether he is ready to have a speech valve fitted – maybe this week. 

And the sun is shining. A pretty darn good day!


THURSDAY 7th MAY

In the last 24 hours, UK coronavirus deaths rose by 539 to a total of 30,615 

A couple of weeks ago, “somewhere in Southern England”, my friend Lynn shot a video of what happened in her street during the weekly ‘Thursday night clap’ for the NHS.

Tonight, her husband Frank shot a second video reminding us how Brits react in total lockdown… Lynn is glimpsed at the very end (definitely not at the very start)…

FRIDAY 8th MAY

Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Big celebrations had been planned country-wide but of course, with self-isolation and distancing, it was mostly a stay-at-home-and-watch-the-TV day. 

I was in bed most of the day with a swirly head and my deadened brain feeling like it was wrapped in a thick towel inside my skull. When I stood up or walked, my legs ached.

I felt a tiny bit vomity – at the bottom of my throat – but I knew I would not vomit.

I had a slight difficulty breathing in bed.

But it ain’t coronavirus; I think just an effect of inactivity, stuck at home.

South London neo-punk group The Outbursts posted a song online which gives a further insight into the effects of a (now) seven-week lockdown.

 

But, in fact, Outbursts member Ian Breslin tells me it is nothing to do with lockdown. He says:

“It’s dedicated to a chap I was fishing with in the Amazon for a month. He didn’t wash for 9 days, smelt of puke. He confessed that the longest he has gone without washing was 6 weeks. He had fungus on his balls. He rubbed banana skin all over his face in the mornings, as he was worried about cancer from suncream etc. After 3 days, his face was full of blisters…”

Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours, coronavirus deaths in the UK rose by 626 to a total of 31,241.

SATURDAY 9th MAY

In the last 24 hours, coronavirus deaths rose by 346 to a total of 31,587.

I am feeling perfectly fine again today. Of course.

I am reminded of a philosophical example of false logic.

“There is heavy snow on the tracks, so the train arrived late at the station.”

“The train arrived late at the station, therefore there must have been heavy snow on the tracks.”

(Photograph by Casey Tucker via UnSplash)

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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

… CONTINUED, REALLY, FROM DIARY No 5

EASTER SUNDAY 12th APRIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EASTER MONDAY 13th APRIL

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


I got another message from my friend in Central London:

“I just spoke to the Senior Critical Care Nurse.

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

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

“He is not absorbing feed well at the moment. 

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

“So we are not without hope. 

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

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

It was like finding the Ark of the Covenant…

TUESDAY 14th APRIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 5 – Social media psychos and Boris Johnson

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 4 …

SUNDAY 5th APRIL 

The latest official UK figures are that there were 621 hospital deaths of people with coronavirus in the last 24 hours; that brings the total to 4,974. As always, the death figure does not include deaths “in the community” or in care homes; it is only deaths in hospital. 

On BBC Breakfast this morning, someone was saying it is almost impossible to be sad if you are dancing to an upbeat tune because all the audio, visual and physical information the brain has to deal with lessens its ability to feel sadness. What a pity I am not one of Life’s passionate dancers.

However, on a cheery note, Romanian TV superstar Dragos Mostenescu has posted the second in his online series of life in lockdown with his family in his London home. 

This year’s Olympics, Euro 2020 football championships and Wimbledon tennis tournament have already been postponed because of coronavirus. But I received news today of another tragic major sporting cancellation.

Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation tells me that plans for this year’s official World Egg Throwing Championships have now been abandoned. They have been held annually since 2006. He also came back on my mention in last week’s Diary about bored people sticking fish up their bottoms.

“Not just fish or via that entrance,” he reports. “Colleagues of mine were called to assist at the local A&E when a young man arrived with a ring spanner stuck on his todger. It seems he couldn’t get it out of the spanner and this led to a rather nasty swelling and great pain. The cure was the largest set of ‘parrot jaws’ you could imagine. These are the things used to cut off car roofs. 

“Having shown the selected removal tool to the almost-fainting lad, they then slathered his ‘tool’ with large amounts of a heat-absorbing gel and resorted to the actual plan of angle grinding the offending tool off his own tool. There were sparks! Because of the nature and quality of the ring spanner, the process required three separate cuts and very very steady hands.”

I developed fairly bad toothache in the evening and took two of my stash of 30 paracetamol tablets.

Later in the evening, the Queen made a TV broadcast about the coronavirus outbreak – only the 5th ‘one-off’ of her reign.

About at hour later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

One comedy performer’s reaction was: “Hopefully he dies.”

I blocked them.

MONDAY 6th APRIL

I now have medium toothache… This goes back to several weeks ago and I may have to have a tooth extracted… if my dentist is working.

The tooth was discussed with him several weeks ago. I am hoping the ache goes away, though I suspect it won’t – it is an infection in the root that antibiotics did not stop when I took them for a week.

But, obviously, my medium toothache is a minor thing compared to what else is happening.

On Twitter, one paramedic Tweeted:

“Yesterday my patient died. The doctors had to choose between three patients who would get the Intensive Care Unit bed. They only had one ventilator left. My patient missed out because of her age. She would have normally had a good chance of survival. This is the reality everywhere. #stayhome”

In the evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken into the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, his condition having worsened over the course of the afternoon.

I also got a message from my friend who lives in Central London. One of her friends was taken into hospital last week. It was mentioned in last week’s Diary blog. She updated me:

“I spoke to the very nice Intensive Care nurse who was looking after him today. No change. Still on support for both lungs and heart. No improvement in ability to self-oxygenate. I’ve spoken to most of his family today. It’s tough.”

TUESDAY 7th APRIL

My toothache has gone away.

On the TV show Good Morning Britain, presenter Piers Morgan said: “It’s worth bearing in mind when we talk about immigrants in this country, these are the immigrants currently saving people’s lives. Coming here and actually enriching our country and doing an amazing job.“ 

With luck, one outcome of this coronavirus outbreak might be to improve race relations, as so many of the NHS staff seen on screen are non-white.

But will we become a more caring society? No. The psychos will still roam social media.

One professional writer Tweeted about how shocked she was at the online vitriol she received when she mentioned she likes Keir Starmer, the newly-elected leader of the Labour Party.

Elsewhere, a comic performer Tweeted: 

“That’s me on a Twitterbreak. In these awful times, we must be kind & compassionate, something which I’m sorry to say I’ve definitely failed at times on here.”

Social media is like a school playground where the psychos and insecure get together in small gangs to bully others and persuade themselves they are not alone and powerless but that they are, in fact, powerful and normal because they are not alone. A playground where your voice, thoughts and opinions are paid attention to by ‘everyone’ – even though ‘everyone’ is a tiny number of people amid (in the case of the UK) 67 million people. You can tell yourself any freakish opinion you hold is mainstream because the vast majority of your very small, self-selected gang believe what you believe.

Meanwhile, in the real world, my friend in Central London texted me again about her friend in hospital:

“No change. Life support. Not rosy.”

WEDNESDAY 8th APRIL

In the morning, my friend in Central London told me:

“Hospital just phoned. They’re losing him.”

The total reported UK coronavirus deaths now stands at 7,097 – up 938 since yesterday.

Meanwhile, in the unreal world of social media psychos, the writer on a popular cartoon locked her Twitter account following a backlash after she Tweeted about Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation: “The cunt deserves every blunt needle he’ll get”

The Labour Party announced it was “suspending from the party” a local Labour mayor, who had written of Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation with coronavirus that he “completely deserves this”.  Her name was also taken off the website of the firm of solicitors she works for…

However, no action was taken against a man who had Tweeted: “You have to have a heart of stone not to smile just a little bit” in response to the news that Boris had been taken to an Intensive Care Unit. The man Tweeting is a barrister and Senior Counsel to a World Bank initiative and on leave from being a Professor of Law and Legal Theory at a London University, where he teaches jurisprudence plus political and legal philosophy.

THURSDAY 9th APRIL

UK coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours 881. 

‘Social distancing’ means we are supposed to only leave home for essentials and to keep 2 metres away from other people when out.

Today the BBC reported that, last weekend, Greater Manchester police had to break up 660 parties – including 166 street parties and 494 house parties, some with DJs, fireworks and bouncy castles. There were 122 different groups gathering to play sports, 173 gatherings in parks and 112 incidents of anti-social behaviour and public disorder.

The BBC also reported that, last Saturday, police in Morecambe arrested two men who had gone into a Sainsbury’s food store and were licking their hands, then wiping them on vegetables, on meat and on refrigerator handles

This evening, it was reported that Boris Johnson had left the Intensive Care Unit but remained in hospital.

My friend in Central London texted: “No news today. Thankfully. Early night. Not sleeping much.”

GOOD FRIDAY 10th APRIL

The UK coronavirus death toll in the last 24 hours rose by 980 to 8,958.

For the third day in a row, I went out on my daily exercise forgetting to put on my latex gloves – I bought 100 three days ago via the internet.

In Germany, the Oberammergau Passion Play which is performed once every ten years and was due to be performed again on 16th May this year has been postponed for two years because of the danger from coronavirus. The villagers of Oberammergau started performing the play in 1634 so that God would protect them from the plague. This postponement follows the holy, healing waters of Lourdes being closed because of the danger to life from the virus. I am thinking of returning to the Old Gods, finding a virgin policeman and building a Wicker Man.

Back in London, Dragos Mostenescu and his family, in lockdown, have now opened a Game Park in their back garden.

My friend in Central London messaged me:

“I just spoke to the senior Intensive Care Unit nurse. Overnight they again tried to decrease his sedation and ventilation by a small amount but he couldn’t tolerate that so they had to increase it again. This morning he was ‘quite unstable’ so they again increased both to maximum level.

“He is now receiving as much oxygen as possible with the ventilator and is deeply sedated so is not aware of any discomfort. The nurse said that he has ‘acute renal failure’ – his kidneys did not start working after they stopped filtration last night so they re-started that today. She added that his blood pressure is fine today, without help.”

EASTER SATURDAY 11th APRIL

The UK coronavirus hospital death toll in the last 24 hours rose by 917 to 9,875.

On Twitter, a consultant working in Intensive Care Units wrote:

“If you end up in an Intensive Care Unit, it’s a life-changing experience. It carries a huge cost even if you do get better.

“As our patients wake up, they are so weak they can’t sit unaided, many can’t lift their arms off the bed due to profound weakness. They need to be taught to walk again, breathe again and they have problems with speech and swallowing. Some have post-traumatic stress, body image and cognitive problems.

“They get better in time but it may take a year and needs an army of Physiotherapy, speech and language, psychology and nursing staff to facilitate this. The few weeks on a ventilator are a small footnote in the whole process.”

Not very good news for Boris Johnson, even though he was reportedly not on a ventilator… nor good news for us.

There is an interview with the doctor on YouTube…

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 1 – Panic buying, leeches and facemasks

SATURDAY 14th MARCH

I thought stockpiling toilet rolls was bizarre enough… But now my local Lidl supermarket has had an outbreak of what appears to be panic buying of bread and eggs… I can only assume this is caused by people who were unable to join in the earlier mass panic buying of toilet rolls trying to bring on constipation by over-eating bread and eggs, thus negating the short-term requirement for the toilet rolls they do not have.

SUNDAY 15th MARCH

Someone has shared a story about a Hindu cow urine drinking party – “Dozens of Hindu activists in India hosted a cow urine-drinking party. Some members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party have claimed that cow urine and dung can prevent and cure COVID-19”.

This is a new twist on an old story.

Moraji Desai, the Indian Prime Minister 1977-1979 used to drink his own urine. He said ‘urine therapy’ was the perfect medical solution for the millions of Indians who could not afford medical treatment. He also attributed his longevity to drinking his own urine – which he called “the water of life”.

I remember English actress Sarah Miles, who was on The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV chat show when I was a researcher, likewise drank her own urine, though thankfully or sadly (depending on your viewpoint) not on the show. She seemed a lovely, gentle, very vulnerable person. From memory, I think she used to drink a pint of urine every morning.

MONDAY 16th MARCH

What is it with the lack of eggs in Lidl? Is there panic buying of eggs or have the hens gone into self-isolation?

Is a plague of frogs next? (Photo by Gary Tresize via UnSplash)

The coronavirus is killing off the oldest people… in other words, the first-born… On past documented evidence, I suspect self-isolation may trigger an outbreak of boils, then there will be a plague of frogs and then the locusts will arrive…

In the US, President Trump urges Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people… Is it merely coincidence that this is less than the number required to form a jury…?

TUESDAY 17th MARCH

I have had a dry, irritating-to-others, cough throughout my life. My father had a similar cough throughout his life and he died at 82 (not from the cough). The benefit of this now is that, if I clear my throat in a supermarket aisle, people part before me like the Red Sea before the Israelites. 

Facebook has gone mad. I posted a jokey post from the New Yorker about wrestling without an audience being like avant-garde theatre. This apparently breaches Facebook’s community standards and, as such, it has been removed and flagged as fraud… The explanation, apparently is that this is a result of the coronavirus because Facebook is starting to rely on machines, not humans, to check posts.

Not even a single grain of sugar was left in Lidl

WEDNESDAY 18th MARCH

Mystifyingly, there has now been panic buying in the Lidl sugar section in Borehamwood. The Lidl middle aisle still has plenty of grass seed, children’s socks and post-war Russian rocket launchers, but there is not a grain of sugar anywhere…

Sugar??? Why???

McDonald’s at Highbury Corner in London is serving only take-aways, no eat-in meals; and my local Costa, from tomorrow, is not accepting their plastic loyalty cards – only via the app – because staff are not allowed to touch strangers’ plastic cards.

Last night, I saw what may have been one of the last comedy shows in London – performed flawlessly by the staggeringly-multi-talented Dragos Mostenescu. I would not normally quote from shows directly, but he started with… “I used to cover the sound of my farts by coughing, but now I am covering the sound of my coughs with farts…”

“Not the arse!” (Photo by Erik Mclean via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 19th MARCH

I have just come back from the local shopping centre where a little old lady was tottering along. As she passed, she glared at me and said unnecessarily loudly in a voice straight out of the EastEnders TV soap: “It’s the face that matters, not the arse! Why are they buying toilet rolls?” 

I had not bought and was not going to buy toilet rolls, but I had to admit she had a point…

It turns out that, nowadays, Lincolnshire is the new Wild West even though it is in East England – Mad inventor John Ward told me that thieves had broken into Gosberton Baptist Church, Spalding, and succeeded in stealing toilet rolls.

FRIDAY 20th MARCH

Normally a very rare sight (Photograph by Alex Nevin-Tylee)

In good news, Thameslink are running regular trains. This is odd as they were not doing that before the coronavirus outbreak…

A friend explains the strange lack of sugar on the shelves in Lidl and elsewhere. She says there is also a shortage of flour. Presumably people, she says, are doing home baking. There is not, of course, an ACTUAL shortage of sugar and flour… people are just buying it faster than the supermarkets can re-stock and re-fill the shelves.

An arts journalist (not a news journalist) emailed me: “Well, I still think that it is all being blown out of all proportion, I DO NOT trust anyone in power anywhere to do stuff that is not VERY BAD while we are all locked in our houses quivering. This IS political. Make no mistake. It is political.”

SATURDAY 21st MARCH

Someone told me I am old fashioned… but I think all avenues should be explored in this crisis.

Leeches have long been used (Photo by GlebK via Wikipedia)

I already have paracetamol tablets but, for safety, I looked for leeches in Lidl today. Nothing. Panic buying has emptied random shelves. No bread, eggs or leeches. The world has gone mad. I have had to go online where, it transpires, medical leeches are available.

The John Lewis department stores are temporarily closing from Monday. We are entering a new Dark Ages. John Lewis closing? This is like the fall of Constantinople…

SUNDAY 22nd MARCH

My English friend Sandy, who lives in Milan with her husband, has had some admirable lateral coronavirus thinking…

“My job today,” she says, “is to try and make some face-masks using filter material meant for vacuum cleaners (same principle and we have a box of them). Ready for next time we have to go out.”

Unfortunately, a Facebook Friend then told me: “Some vacuum cleaners’ filters contain fibreglass… something you do not want in your lungs, especially now.”

I had tiny, almost imperceptible headaches in the afternoon. I was not sure if I might be imagining them. In the evening, I had a very slightly hard-edged cough but it was, again, difficult to know if this was real or only a slight variation on my normal lifelong dry cough…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Dragos, “the David Jason of Romania”, on comedy styles and the revolution…

Dragoş Moştenescu first appeared in this blog back in 2017 and in 2018,

When I try to explain who Dragos is, I tend to say he is the Romanian equivalent of UK TV star David Jason with a touch of Elton John. In other words, he is indescribable – in a good sense! We are talking an international level of top entertainer here.

On Sunday (15th December) he is performing his full-length stage show All Aboard for Christmas! in London, so we met up at the Soho Theatre Bar for a chat. Towards the end, we got interrupted by another performer…


JOHN: You’ve already performed All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London and at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So now you are going to stage it…

DRAGOS: …every three or four months. My next aim – which turns out to be not that easy – is to find an agent – I don’t expect to be ‘big overnight’! – Someone to provide work at least constantly. Perhaps not daily but maybe weekly. What I do is very suitable for let’s say private parties – playing the piano; my Elton John thing. ..

JOHN: Corporate gigs you would be ideal for.

DRAGOS: Exactly. I am realistic.

JOHN: What would be a good step for you?

DRAGOS: A three minute song on a morning TV show. Three minute songs on radio shows. Three minutes here and there.

JOHN: You are more of an hour-long solo show performer but you can also do 5 and 10 minute spots…

DRAGOS: Yes. If you have 5 minutes of material, it is very difficult to extend it to 10 or 20 minutes; but, when you have 60 minutes, it is easier to extract 5, 10 and 20 minute routines. But they are different styles.

JOHN: (I NAME ANOTHER PERFORMER) does great one-hour shows and, in fact, I’ve seen (THE OTHER PERFORMER) do brilliant two-hour solo shows, but they are never going to be on BBC TV on Live at the Apollo, because The Apollo wants gag-gag-gag, punchline-punchline-punchline.

Five-minute acts tend to be full of quick gag punchlines.

DRAGOS: Exactly. It is very difficult to catch the audience within five minutes and keep them. You need to use one-liners and I respect that and salute it. But, when you are doing a 60-minute show, you cannot have the audience punched every minute. You have to bring people into the story… A beginning, a punchline or two or three and sections and an end and maybe you draw a conclusion from the story. The pace has to be different.

The trend is for stand-ups which I am not… entirely.

What I want now is not even money. I want people to be aware I can bring an hour of ‘light’ entertainment and people will go home more content, more relaxed and re-charged like a battery for work the next day.

JOHN: You must have had to learn what sense of humour British audiences want. 

DRAGOS: When I came here, I didn’t use any of my Romanian routines. When I first started in Britain, one routine I had was about people lacking money and being in a shopping mall where money was flying around but it didn’t work with the audiences. People were laughing reluctantly. They didn’t relate. 

Someone told me: “Everybody in the world needs more money but it is not an issue for us. We are not that poor. Not comedy audiences. They can put food on their tables. They can travel around the country or even the world. So people do not personally relate to being poor in comedy routines.”

But the rent in London is not low and audiences can personally identify with that. So I have a song about it and, at the end, I have sometimes had standing ovations. Especially if there are a lot of young people in the audience. They identify – Shared house, high rent, poor living conditions.

Dragoş created, wrote, produced and starred in Romania’s first television sitcom after the Revolution – La Bloc

JOHN: What is the sense of humour in Romania?

DRAGOS:
We still tend to laugh about what British people used to laugh about 20 or 30 years ago – the disabled, drunken people, less-minded guys…

JOHN: Punching down.

DRAGOS: Exactly.

JOHN: And now, in Britain, we punch up not down.

DRAGOS: Yes. But, on the internet, I have seen shows from 20 or 30 years ago and it was the same here in Britain. People laughed at different things then.

JOHN: Did Romanian TV charge after Ceausescu was overthrown?

DRAGOS: Under Ceausescu, there were only three hours of television per night.

JOHN: And that was mostly about what Ceausescu had done that day.

DRAGOS: Yes. And occasional Romanian movies. And, once a week we had an international – specifically American – film. That is why Romanians speak English with an American accent. The only foreign languages we heard were French, a bit of Russian and a lot of American.

JOHN: And television after Ceausescu…?

DRAGOS:
He fled with his helicopter and his entourage on 22nd December 1989 and landed at a cabin in the mountains. But he was captured and he and his wife were shot on Christmas Day.

JOHN: And, after that, television changed…?

DRAGOS: The revolution caught them unprepared. They had no regulations about what you could show on TV. They transmitted an uncensored Romanian film with nudity at 8 o’clock at night and…

(…AT THIS POINT, PERFORMER NARIN OZ ARRIVED IN THE SOHO THEATRE BAR…)

JOHN: (TO NARIN) Do you know Dragos? You should go and see his show at the Hen & Chickens on Sunday.

NARIN: I can’t. I’m filming in a horror movie. I play Death. I’m the villain.

JOHN: That’s typecasting. It’s the evil eyes. Dragos is the David Jason of Romania. Ask him something.

Narin Oz unexpectedly arrived during my chat with Dragos at the Soho Theatre Bar in London

NARIN: What’s your background?

DRAGOS: I graduated in engineering from the University of Timișoara, where the Romanian revolution started. in 1989.

JOHN: You were there?

DRAGOS: Yes. I was there in the beginning. Things expanded dramatically. Within four days, there was blood on the streets. We didn’t have weapons. We had the mentality at that time to go out bare-handed and, as they say, bare-chested. But I wasn’t that crazy. When things changed and became quite serious, I ran. I ran and I was kind of a prisoner in the students’ area.

Nothing was working. Not the public transportation, not the trains, not nothing. I was blocked up to about the 24th December. The spark was on 18th December and rolled over and smashed all the country, but it ended up in Bucharest within two or three days on 21st of December and, on 22nd, Ceausescu fled, then was killed on 25th. They call us religious people, but we killed our leader on Christmas Day: come on!

NARIN: So your show is about Romania…

DRAGOS: No. Not at all. I just put all that in brackets – what I just said.

NARIN: Those are very big brackets. Is it a tragedy or a comedy?

JOHN: It’s not a comedy show as such. It has comedy but with lots of music. It’s like an old-time variety show but solo.

DRAGOS: Though I think, when you walk away, you have some ideas and a conclusion maybe?

NARIN: Are you singing?

DRAGOS: Yes. Singing and playing the piano and comedy.

JOHN: Songs you have written yourself.

DRAGOS: Ten songs written especially for the show.

JOHN: And a bit of Elton John.

“A serious piece of music… an impersonation of Elton John.”

DRAGOS: Yes. That is a more serious piece of music. I do an impersonation of Elton John. (HE SHOWS A VIDEO ON HIS PHONE)

NARIN: You’re a bit of a legend.

JOHN: He is. Twenty years daily on television. Multiple series. And he wrote and produced and starred in this sitcom which…

DRAGOS: That was the first sitcom ever in Romania because, before 1989 and the overthrow of Ceausescu, we didn’t have such entertainment there. Then, after ten years of importing Seinfeld and Married With Children, we started our own sitcom on Pro TV – a private one, like ITV here. It lasted for ten years and 524 episodes.

JOHN: Produced and written by you…

DRAGOS: Well, there was a whole team of writers…

JOHN: But mainly you…

DRAGOS: Yes, because I created the idea; so I was like the head writer; I would re-touch and revise a little bit and I also acted in it.

NARIN: So, why did you come here? You were known there. You had everything.

DRAGOS: Yes, but I felt I needed somewhere to go and something to do NEXT. When you become very comfortable within your situation, that can lead to lack of inspirational creativity.

I have built up this new stage show and now I am struggling to get it going because I am in-between worlds.

Romanians in Britain would come to see me but, when they find out the show is in English… Not many have perfect English, especially the guys who just come here to work, to get some money to build something back in Romania. In London, there are doctors, lawyers and others who have been here about ten years and speak good English, but…

NARIN: Why don’t you do a Romanian language show?

DRAGOS: I have. But it’s not what I came here for. When I address things in English, I have to have a British audience. And the non-Romanian, English-speaking audience do not know me at the moment. I’m not complaining.  This is the normal way to do it. To build a new audience. 

NARIN: You could do, say, a 4-day run with two shows in Romanian and two in English.

DRAGOS: I could, but doing the same show in English and in Romanian doesn’t work. The topics are slightly different. With the Romanian shows I have to be very specific with Romanian references and culture. Every other month, we have a 2-hour Romanian show with various acts.

But I want to move on, move up.

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Romanian musical comic Dragos aka Titus and a theory of universal comedy

I blogged about Dragoş Moştenescu almost exactly a year ago – around four weeks after he arrived in the UK from Romania.

In Romania, he was a TV star, appearing in his own hit TV sitcom La Bloc for seven years and more than 700 episodes.

This coming weekend, he will be starring in his almost two-hour show All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.


JOHN: You have been in the UK for almost a year now…

DRAGOS: Yes. I came to London because – first – the language. And second because – no matter what your field of work – if your performance is good, then they will accept you here. Britain – especially London – is already a mix of cultures. I like it. I have decided to move here for good, with my wife and kids, maybe next year – my son and twin daughters – non-identical. One is blonde; one is brown-haired.

JOHN: The Leicester Square Theatre event on Saturday is a one-man show?

DRAGOS: Not quite. The Romanian comedian Radu Isac is opening for me… and Luca Cupani from Italy, who won the So You Think You’re Funny contest a couple of years ago.

JOHN: Why do you bill yourself as Titus and not Dragos?

DRAGOS: Titus is my middle name and I think, when British people see a poster, Titus is easier to pronounce and keep in mind and Dragos is more East European so I think is not so appropriate whether or not Brexit happens.

JOHN: I can’t think of any big-name Romanian musical comedians in Britain. So I guess that’s your Unique Selling Proposition.

TITUS: I would try to put being Romanian to one side. I doubt that being Romanian is a selling point.

JOHN: Well, it makes you stand out from the opposition.

TITUS: I am not really trying to compete with very well-known and very talented stand-up comedians in the UK. I do not do stand-up comedy. What I do is more of a one-man show where music is involved and live piano and non-verbal moments. Like a pantomime, more-or-less. Musical comedy and non-verbal.

JOHN: So your act can appeal to anyone…

Titus/Elton as you won’t be seeing him on Saturday – possibly

TITUS: Yes, this is why I keep everything on the stage to general topics – family, kids, money, iPhones or technical things which have taken over our lives lately. I speak about Count Dracula, who is an international icon.

JOHN: And you do some songs as Elton John, who is known internationally.

TITUS: I won’t be doing Elton John on Saturday. Well, maybe as an encore. But I am trying to show people how I can combine music and comedy more generally. If I am only known for doing Elton John, I will never make a name for myself properly. Elvis Presley impersonators only get known as Elvis Presley impersonators; people do not even remember the name of the performer.

JOHN: Your Leicester Square Theatre show is an attempt to get seen by influential people.

TITUS: Yes. My next step has to be to try to get an agent, which would ease things for me. You cannot thrive by yourself.

JOHN: I heard about one agent who said they would not represent a 26-year-old performer because she was too old. Agents tend to want young, inexperienced people so they can mould them and take credit for their success.

TITUS: Being older than 26 has its downsides and upsides. My 20 years of television and performance experience means I don’t need to build up my performance or act in the same way a 26 year-old has to.

JOHN: Do you own La Bloc, the Romanian TV sitcom?

TITUS: Yes. I was not only the producer and an actor in it, but I created it. I created it from a blank page to what it became. It ran daily Monday-Thursday for roughly seven months a year over seven years – over 700 episodes.

JOHN: That’s a lot of sevens and a lot of plot lines.

TITUS: Yes. I developed a team of about ten writers.

JOHN: Not seven?

TITUS: No.

JOHN: How does British comedy differ from Romanian comedy?

TITUS: What we do not have in the Balkans so intensely or so consistently is one-liners. Here in the UK there are a lot of one-liner comedians: punchline after punchline after punchline. Short jokes one after the other.

JOHN: At the Edinburgh Fringe, the successful shows in the last ten years or more have tended to be story-based. The comics have to fill an hour and that is very difficult with just gags, unless you are Jimmy Carr or Milton Jones or Tim Vine. 

TITUS: Yes. I went up to Edinburgh this year to see shows and there were several shows like this. They were doing a type of storytelling where you do not necessarily have to laugh every two or three minutes. They build you up a little bit, then there is a good section of laughs and they end with an idea.

JOHN: And they love a bit of autobiographical tragedy in comedy shows at the Fringe. There is the ‘dead dad’ moment…

TITUS: Dead dad moment?

JOHN: The audience tends to lose concentration after about 40 minutes, so you suddenly throw in some unexpected tragedy like your father died of cancer – it has to be true – and the audience is grabbed by the throat and pay attention again. Their emotions fall off a cliff and then you build them up again to an uplifting, happy ending.

Titus: “Comedy equals Truth plus Pain”

TITUS: Yes. Comedy equals Truth plus Pain.

JOHN: Truth plus Time?

TITUS: Truth plus Pain. What is Pain? It’s Truth and, if you can extract comedy from this, that is genuine, pristine comedy.

JOHN: I suppose the classic cliché comedy gag is someone slipping on a banana skin although, in the real world, that is not funny; it’s tragedy. So you are laughing at someone else’s troubles, from relief they are not yours.

TITUS: Exactly. In Henri Bergson’s book Laughter, he breaks the mechanism down to the basics and he explains how and why people laugh. He states there that punishment or accidents apply on human subjects and…

JOHN: I guess one reason why people laugh is the unexpected. A release of tension. Even if it is tragic, like slipping on a banana skin, they will laugh because it is unexpected. People laugh at one-liners for the same reason: because the punchline is unexpected.

TITUS: Yes, the book How To Be Funny Even If You’re Not is interesting. It mentions the Rule of Three.  

JOHN: And it does always tend to be better with three. Two or four don’t work. It’s all in the…

TITUS: …timing. 

JOHN: That is universal. But if, in Romania, there was no tradition of punchline-punchline-punchline comedy, what was.… In Italy, they had Commedia dell’arte… What was the tradition in Romania or the Balkans in general? Storytelling?

TITUS: More-or-less, yes. Monologues. Not necessarily told from your own perspective, which British and American stand-up routines are. In our monologues, you can talk about something that happened to another guy or it can be pure imagination and fiction.

JOHN: We had that sort of tradition in the Victorian and Edwardian music halls and in the 1930s – Stanley Holloway and others. There are storytelling nights cropping up in London now – Spark, Natural Born Storytellers and others. Have you seen any of those?

TITUS: No. But this is what I do in my show. A sort of storytelling. I come up with a kind of a theme, make a statement, a premise, build it up a little bit, then turn to music.

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Not often you stumble on a Romanian stand-up with a humdinger musical act

Dragoş in London’s Soho earlier today

Earlier in the week, I saw a Romanian act at Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Becky Fury’s always-interesting Democratik Republik of Kabaret gig in London.

She recommended I come and see him.

The aforementioned Romanian performs as ‘Titus’ because he thinks his real name – Dragoş Moştenescu – is a tad too complicated for us. He might have a point. I dunno. ‘Dragos’ is OK.

Anyway…

It is not often you stumble on a fairly-fluent English-speaking Romanian stand-up with a humdinger of a musical act. And one gigging most nights. So, obviously, I asked: “How long have you been in the UK?”

“Four weeks,” he replied. “I intend to develop a little bit my career here. It is difficult but, although I am not very young, I think I can do it, because I think I can rely on my combination between music and comedy. I must not be one of the millions of comedians who does only comedy. This mixture between comedy and music could be more interesting than the average.”

“Indeed,” I said. “Is there much of a comedy scene in Romania?”

Dragoş Moştenescu played Costel Jurca in TV’s La Bloc

“For the moment, not much. But I did one of the most important sitcoms in Romania – La Bloc. That means a block of flats. It ran over seven years with 500 episodes. I wrote and acted in it.”

“For the whole seven years?” I asked.

“Yes. I have been in comedy for twenty years. I had Issue of The Day first. It started in 1997. It was a 7-10 minute sketch of the day. We broadcast daily. Then I was in the sitcom for seven years. And now, since it ended, it is re-run over and over again because it still works so well.”

“Do you get residual payments for the re-runs?” I asked.

“Yes, but very, very low. In Romania, there are many hands involved when it comes to money.”

In fact, oddly, Dragoş rather under-sells himself. He is credited on-screen as co-creator of La Bloc. There was a movie of the series. He also created, wrote and performed in sitcom Nimeni nu-i perfect (Nobody’s Perfect); created, wrote and performed in the comedy drama Taxes, Pictures and Donuts and directed/performed in the stage play Portret La Minut (Minute Portrait). He even created and, for two years, starred as a superhero character in TV and print ads for the Profi food chain (400 shops in Romania).

And, in 2015, he was involved in an award-winning 3-episode documentary called 13 Shades of Romanian

“So now here you are in Britain,” I said. “You seem to have hit the ground running – gigs every night.”

“I had a contact with BBC last year.,” he told me. They said they were looking for new talent to put on a stage show with the music of Gary Barlow and Take That – Let It Shine – and I was called for casting and I think the performance was pretty good but they said my age was not very suitable because they were looking for someone aged 25, maximum 30.

“I asked Why didn’t you say so from the beginning? and they said Don’t worry. Although you haven’t been selected for the moment, maybe… And that gave me a little boost.

“So I came here to the UK again in March this year. I got my National Insurance number, so I can be proper with documents and everything.”

Dragoş is extraordinarily well-researched on the UK comedy scene – and focussed.

He showed me an Elton John tribute he performed seven years ago (most things linked to Dragoş involve seven-year spans).

“Is it on YouTube?” I asked.

“Yes. I have my own YouTube channel,” he said.

He is Big in Romania but has the guts to re-start in the UK. Working every night though currently mostly on free gigs.

Dragoş: Big in Romania; re-starting here

“I will keep on going to these open mic gigs,” he told me, “because I meet people, I see how my material works here and I can change things.”

When I saw him at the Democratik Republik of Kabaret, he was doing the Beatles’ Let It Be in a dizzying variety of different styles… and a song about Dracula.

“And I have non-verbal songs,” he told me. “I have Three Minutes of Classic Music. I begin to play classic music – Beethoven – but there is a mosquito bothering me and it’s a kind of pantomime, about me trying to get rid of the mosquito with some actions on the piano.”

There are several episodes of La Bloc on YouTube.

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