Tag Archives: drugs

There was a funny smell inside an English prison in the 1980s…

Keith introduces a programme at Anglia TV in his inimitable style…

So, yesterday I was having a chat on the phone with the delightful Keith Martin, a TV announcer whom I encountered during his 27 on-and-off freelance years at Anglia TV.

“…when I went to prison for the only time in my life,” was the end of one sentence. So, obviously, I asked for more details…


HMP Wayland in Norfolk: “It wasn’t a high security prison…”

KEITH: I was working at Anglia at the time. How or why we were invited to go to the prison, I just don’t know. I went with another of the Anglia announcers. This was probably in the late 1980s.

It was quite a modern prison – Wayland. It opened in 1985; Jeffrey Archer was imprisoned there for perjury in 2011. But I was there, as I say, I think in the late 1980s…

It wasn’t a high security prison but, as we went into one section, the door was locked solidly behind us before they opened the next door. It was that kind of prison.

JOHN: Why were you there?

KEITH: Probably some promotional thing for Anglia. I actually never knew. It was arranged last-minute. But, for some reason, we were there to watch the prisoners performing a pantomime.

JOHN: Oh no you weren’t.

KEITH: Oh yes we were. We went into a hall, not a particularly large hall. I can’t remember if the chairs were screwed to the floor… In fact, I think we were probably sitting on big, heavy benches.

JOHN: What was the first thing you noticed when you entered the prison?

KEITH: The smell. When we entered the inner sanctum of the prison, there was a very strong smell.

JOHN: Of what?

KEITH: Drugs.

JOHN: What was the inner sanctum?

KEITH: As we approached the recreational area.

JOHN: Recreational drugs?

KEITH: Indeed so.

JOHN: If there was a strong smell of drugs, the prison officers must have been aware of this too?

KEITH: I had the impression it was one way of pacifying the inmates. They allowed a certain amount of it to go on.

JOHN: Did someone actually tell you that?

KEITH: The way I would prefer to phrase it was that it was implied at the time that this was… tolerated… that this would be allowed to happen.

JOHN: How did the prisoners get the drugs in?

KEITH: Well, I found out one way years later when I went to a second-hand mobile phone shop in Clapham Junction where they gave you money for your old phones. I told the man: “I’ve got one of the original Nokia phones,” and he said: “Oh! They’re very popular… because people use them for other purposes!”

“What?” I asked.

“They stick them up their arsking-for-it,” he told me… And that’s how they were smuggled in to prisons back then. With a contraceptive. They put the Nokia phone inside a contraceptive.

(This would have been around 1999/2000.)

JOHN: It would be embarrassing if the phone rang in transit.

KEITH: I don’t know what the signal strength would have been like.

JOHN: Do you still have a Nokia?

KEITH: Yes, the old one and it still works.

JOHN: Where do you keep it?

KEITH: In a safe place. As a back-up. But, as I’m sure you know, this was why they put certain people on the potty.

JOHN: Why?

KEITH: They used to put them on a potty and then wait until they did ‘an evacuation’.

JOHN: What?? In prison??

KEITH: Didn’t you know that?

JOHN: No. They did that in case a Nokia fell out?

KEITH: Other brands are available but, yes, this was part of the security thing. Maybe they used German toilet bowls.

JOHN: German?

KEITH: When I worked for BFBS in West Germany and West Berlin, there was a ceramic platform at the back of the toilet bowls onto which your evacuation fell so you could inspect it before you flushed and the water gushed it down the hole. Some Germans are obsessed about what’s happened to their poo.

JOHN: Up the Ruhr?

KEITH: Enough, John.


As a sign of how things have changed, a 2017 report in the International Business Times revealed that inmates at Wayland Prison were now being allowed to use laptop computers to order meals from their cells and had been given in-cell telephones to keep in touch with relatives in the evenings. 

All the prison’s cells had telephones and the prison was “also planning the limited introduction of ‘video calling’ to friends and family later in the year.”

“However,” the report continued, “in common with most prisons, HMP Wayland continues to battle a tide of contraband flooding into into the jail… So far, in the first six months of this year, the jail’s seized haul includes over a kilo of drugs, 177 mobile phones and almost 500 litres of alcohol, most of which was illicitly brewed inside the premises.”

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Filed under Drugs, Prison, Television

What life is like overlooking an alleyway near a Batman set in Vancouver, Canada

Today I got an email from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. The houseboat she lived on sank in Vancouver around Christmas/New Year and she was made homeless. Now she has an update:


After a few small adventures, including nearly being expelled from a church shelter, I have now found a small apartment in ‘Railtown’, right beside the Port of Vancouver, where I hear seagulls and huge cranes.

After finding the place, I went for a walk around the area at night and I was surprised to learn that I had been transported to Gotham because, as I walked up a bridge over the railway line and looked down, the first thing I saw was a big sign reading:

GOTHAM CITY SHIPYARD

Below the towering cranes, people were standing about casting long shadows. 

Clouds of fog obscured some of the port buildings and then three cars side-by-side, one of then a Mustang, revved-up their engines and then took off, drove at high speed and then circled back to precisely where they had started. They waited there, with their lights on. Then a much larger black car followed the same route, but totally silently.  

They were filming a Batman series or movie.

I have not quite moved in to my new apartment yet: it requires a bit of cleaning and – horrors – FURNITURE !

That was one of the things I loved about living on my boat: whenever I passed by a furniture shop I had no covetous thoughts whatsoever…

However, there were a few OK pieces of furniture left behind at my new apartment and my new neighbour – a kind, curmudgeonly sort of guy – has loaned me a couple of fine wooden armchairs. He said that I would be doing him a favour by keeping the chairs for now and that he generally likes to keep to himself. 

I told him: “That’s perfect. That’s just how I am too!”

Although it’s just a few blocks down from notorious Hastings Street, the apartment is remarkably quiet. It is set back from the street, at the intersection of two alleyways.

There is no end of people using substances out there, usually crouched beside dumpsters or slumped in a doorway.

One sunny morning I saw an increasing number of young men sprawled out, with their knapsacks and foil and pipes, lolling peacefully enjoying their meth, as if at a bucolic picnic. Suddenly a large courier van turned into the alley and stopped. The men were oblivious and made no attempt to get up and I imagined the frustrated driver, probably wondering what to do next.

The apartment below has recently been renovated and all its contents dumped in front of the building – old shower curtains, rotting regular curtains, a queen size mattress and even a toilet, perched precariously near the front door.

One time I saw a man standing up on the queen size mattress, bouncing up and down enthusiastically like a small child. 

I don’t have all day to look out the window but, when I checked twenty minutes later, he was still bouncing. Then a black SUV pulled up and he ran to the passenger side. Then they both left. Drugs ?

One day the mattress just disappeared.

Later, two jolly-looking derelict men, wearing good but battered hats, both using canes, came tottering past.

One cried out with surprise: “Look, John! Your bed is gone! “

A few days later, some ragged-looking people moved the toilet off the front stoop and covered it with a soiled curtain. Some of the other rubbish had been organised somewhat. A pillow was placed neatly on a pallet and so on. 

I thought: “Good. At least we don’t have to look at the toilet.” 

Another day, a friend who was in the apartment taking-in the ever-changing cast of characters reported: “There’s a man in a kilt now”.  

I imagined some scrawny punk guy covered in tattoos but, when I looked, it was a beefy older man in full blue and white tartan regalia right down to his socks, marching along as if on his way to an event. 

Then the toilet had its blanket removed and two chubby drunks – a man and a woman – were hauling it away.

But it turned out they had just left it in the alleyway, behind the building.

The rubbish pile keeps shifting with orange needle caps, random socks and discarded clothing appearing and disappearing.

A tall wonky cedar tree and a Queen Elizabeth rose and a depleted strand of bamboo somehow rise up from the garbage pile. I read that the rose enjoys mulch, but it didn’t say anything about whether it likes shower curtains or socks.

Songbirds perch on the bamboo and flit in and out of the cedar tree.

In the daytime, crows stand at intervals atop the blue fence, waiting for an older Chinese lady who empties out a huge bag of peanuts for them every day. They noisily grab a peanut and fly back up on the fence or into the space inside it, which has big signs above it saying: FILM CREW AND SPECIAL EVENTS and NO DUMPING. 

Once in a while, the vacant space fills up with film crew cars, but I don’t think there have been any special events of late.

There is a constant din of dockside cranes loading and unloading container ships, mixed with the cries of seagulls, but there is little car traffic near the place and no crowds of people, as there are just a few blocks away at Main and Hastings.

I walked through there last week and it is as chaotic and raucous as ever, like a demented fairground, people selling anything and everything. There are a lot of dogs too and poo on the ground, clouds of dust and more and more people jammed together smoking methamphetamine or shooting up. 

In the middle of all this, they are also sitting on the pavement furiously crayoning in colouring books, which is supposed to be therapeutic, but to me it looks sad.

People are dressed either in rags or the latest streetwear fashion, in stuff I haven’t even seen in magazines – or in their pyjamas or in rags. There are an increasing number of fashionably dressed First Nations people, wearing clothing printed with their traditional or modern Coast Salish designs. I lusted after an innovative white jacket from Bella Coola that I saw a good looking young man wearing. He was walking very quickly though, so I couldn’t ask who made it.

A few nights ago I saw somebody on the corner who specialized in selling aluminum walking canes, which lay on the sidewalk, radiating out in a circle…They are a hot item, with so many people needing them around here. I wondered where they were stolen from. Or maybe they came from a care home.

A diabetic friend from the marina ended up in a care home in New Westminster and his daughter went to great trouble to get him a nice wheelchair, so he could explore his surroundings. He explored them so well that he discovered the room where they stored all the wheelchairs of people who had died.

So, the next time she went there, he was roaring around in a motorized chair and busy with a racket he had set up in the gazebo, buying cigarettes from street people in exchange for apple juice bottles he collected from the other inhabitants of the place.

There is a huge courthouse and jail that takes up an entire block of Main Street. I’ve noticed nice vehicles parked right in front – an expensive all matt black Japanese motorcycle one day, a bright red 1969 Thunderbird car the next. I can’t figure out who they belong to. Successful criminals? Or lawyers? Or maybe just people with nice cars who think outside the courthouse is the only safe place to park.

Meanwhile, back at my apartment, glancing out the window again, I was startled to see a large young Chinese man with a box-shaped camera on a tripod, pointing right at the back of the building. I wondered what he could be taking a photo of. All that was there was a grey stucco wall, two windows covered with rusty grates and some vague, not very interesting graffiti. 

He must have been an art student I figured, or maybe a hobby photographer from one of the trendy warehouse/condos closer to the waterfront. When I left the building, I saw that the toilet was still sitting out back. 

So THAT was what he was photographing! 

One more thing… 

Just as my friend and I were exciting the building yesterday, a couple of middle class guys were taking a shortcut through the alley. One of them pointed at the building (and at us) and said loudly: “I can’t believe people actually LIVE in that building!”

It is really quite nice inside though. 

Especially the view of the alley.

Anna says: “Here is a photo of what used to be a  snowball or maybe it was a snowman. Snow it goes.”

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Filed under Canada, Drugs, Poverty, Vancouver

Taking cocaine in the 1980s and early 1990s…

The only recreational drugs I was interested in when I was in my late teens were LSD and heroin… LSD because of its alleged creative expansion of the mind… and heroin for the opposite reason why most people take drugs – the downside not the upside.

I remember when the government’s first anti-heroin drug ads were screened on TV – all that despair, despondency and crouching-down-in-the-corner imagery – a friend of mine said to me that the people who designed the anti-heroin campaign didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as the people who might be attracted to take heroin. They thought the images would be vey unattractive, but she found them almost a turn-on. 

Ironically, she had, in fact, taken heroin once and the up-whoosh she found completely overwhelming to such an extent that she was frightened by her own attraction to it; but she was also attracted in a self-destructive way to the downside afterwards.

When I myself would have taken acid or smack, they were not really available in the then limited circles I moved in.

By the time they were accessible, I had seen and read about the dangers – Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd had gone completely doolally on LSD and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had allegedly initially got psychologically hooked on acid then went doolally after someone spiked his drink.

When I was around twenty, a female friend of mine married a heroin addict.

In I guess the mid-1980s, I remember for some reason sitting in on someone else’s overnight video edit in Soho. The guy I knew directing the edit was being obsessive about every single exact cut and two in particular, getting them moved back and forth by individual frames (there are 25 frames per second on UK videotape).

The edit took about four hours, with those particular two cuts taking about two hours in the middle of it… and with him making regular trips to the toilet, usually emerging rubbing his nose.

Not recommended by me (Photo free from Wikipedia)

At the end of the edit, when he was again in the toilet, the editor told me that the two edits were, at the end of the session, exactly where they had been at the very start.

Around the same time, I also had a job interview with a female company boss who – unsurprisingly but absolutely genuinely – was from South America. She sat behind her large desk and I sat facing her.

Halfway through the interview, she took out some cocaine and asked me if I wanted to join her. I said No; but she herself indulged and for the rest of the interview was occasionally face down on the desk, snorting the stuff while asking me questions or allegedly listening to my answers. Totally true.

I did not get the job which was not really much of a surprise as it was not really much of an interview, with her distracted for most of it.

On another occasion, I was working as an associate producer in an open plan office, sitting opposite a production secretary. When the company boss came into the office in the morning or afternoon, she would guess if he had or had not been snorting coke that morning by the speed he walked across the office floor to his desk.

On yet another occasion, I was at the National Film Theatre where a top TV executive was giving a major presentation to the assembled throng. As it was a very right-on event, to the right of the stage a lady was doing sign language for the deaf although I don’t think there was any reason to suppose there were any deaf people present.

The executive, by repute, was no stranger to coke and was speaking so fast that the sign language lady could not keep up with him and had to stop him occasionally to catch up.

There was some light laughter from the audience, though whether it was laughing with the sign lady or at the executive was unclear.

Difficult to be certain as there was a chance that maybe half the audience was also out of their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aye and there’s the rub. 

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

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

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

My shoulder was broken in 1991 – pulverised in two places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also buggered my shoulder. Mea culpa.

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

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

Not me (Photograph by Dylan Sauerwein via Unsplash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

111 is a general NHS advice number.


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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to this week…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The unsinkable Anna Smith gets a COVID vaccine jab in Vancouver…

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, is currently homeless because her 33ft boat sank. (See my last blog) but yesterday she had The Jab…


COVID vaccination arrangements at the Carnegie Center

I got immunized for Covid-19 yesterday morning, at the Carnegie Center in Vancouver.

My friend and I lined up for two hours in the cold, watching fights break out, fire trucks passing by and an unending parade of physically and mentally ill people on crutches, canes or pushing each other in wheelchairs. A police car went speeding past going twice the speed limit, weaving between lanes, without its lights on.

And there was the ever-present purveying of every drug known to man… and cheese. 

Behind us in the line were two patient First Nations teenagers wearing sports jerseys. They explained: “We’re getting the vaccine so we don’t give it to our parents…”

Anna Smith with warm COVID nurse Felicia…

Ahead of us in the line were a couple, very thin and ill-looking, wearing dark hoodies. Huddled together in the cold, their figures merged together, it was almost impossible to distinguish them from each other.

They seemed like an outline of one tall, thin person.

After ascertaining my identity, which was her job, the very warm and personable Nurse Felicia from Liverpool was interested to hear that I contribute to a British blog. She asked me how to find it and scribbled down So it Goes

After the vaccination, we went upstairs to the City of Vancouver run cafeteria and picked up delicious meals: a beef dip  – thin sliced beef on toast topped with cheese and gravy, served with a side salad of iceberg lettuce and radish sprouts and crispy empanadas with spinach and feta cheese dressing. It cost the equivalent of three UK pounds. We are very fortunate in Vancouver to have three of these city-run eateries downtown, as well as several places serving good food for free. Sort of odd, though… all these well-nourished people, but still we’re so lacking in affordable housing.

Five unexplained dwarves having a bit of a rest in Vancouver

When I left, heading towards a bus, I encountered some resting dwarves outside Pacific Central Station, on Main Street.

Mad Mike’s Mushroom tent is gone for the winter, but I discovered a cafe selling psychedelics and other things – which, of course, I don’t recommend – in the Strathcona neighbourhood.

My arm became a little sore later in the day, yesterday, and today I got a little rash on the opposite arm, but might just be a spider bite.
 
That’s one thing I miss from the boat. It was like a spider sanctuary. I had different species in different parts of the boat. There were some fat yellowish-white little spiders that I would only see in the summertime. They would startle when they saw me and jump up in the air and land facing the opposite way. Like dancers.
 
I will miss the little waterbugs too. They used to entertain me on hot summer days with how they walked on the river’s surface, in the cool shadow under my boat.I wrote a little blues verse about them, which I still like:
 
All you little water bugs
Underneath my boat
You have such great big families…
And I am all alone
 

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Christmas in Cambodia with former comic and addict Chris Dangerfield

The always-controversial businessman and former comedian Chris Dangerfield has not cropped up in this blog for a while.

He now lives in Cambodia. Things have turned out OK for him.

When the weather is suitable, he wears $2,000 suits and $600 shoes. We spoke via Skype.

As always, blogs involving Chris are not for the faint-hearted reader.


JOHN: Here we are in the middle of a world-wide economic calamity. Are you still running your lock-picking business?

CHRIS: Yeah. Internet businesses are doing very well.

JOHN: When did you move to Cambodia?

CHRIS: Three or four years ago this March, I think. But I really don’t know. I’ve lost count.

JOHN: Why did you move to Cambodia?

CHRIS: I used to come out here to get clean. To Thailand. To get off the heroin. I used to come out here, cold turkey and stay clean while I was here but, every time I went back to London, I wouldn’t last long. I started associating my life in England with drug use and a sort of melancholy. It’s cold and grey and England’s changing in dramatic ways that I don’t support in any way.

JOHN: So why did you not move to Thailand?

CHRIS: That was the initial plan. But the visa there is not so simple. With me owning a business in Britain. You’re right. Patong, Thailand, is in many ways my spiritual home… but the phrase I’ve used before is I didn’t want to marry my mistress. Wherever you live is your life and I want Patong to be a holiday for me. I didn’t want to live there.

JOHN: It always struck me as a tad odd you went to Thailand and lived in a brothel to get off heroin.

Chris chose Cambodia instead of Thailand

CHRIS: It was very difficult to get heroin in that part of Thailand. Really. Compared to ice and weed and all the other stuff. So I didn’t have a hook-up for heroin in Patong. Also, I had an affair with a Thai madam who, when I met her, was a street-walking prostitute but, as our relationship developed over the years, she ended up running two of her own massage shops.

JOHN: Your business acumen helped her?

CHRIS: Not at all. She’s an incredible woman. But part of going out to Thailand to get clean was knowing that she would be there and she loved me and she would help me. I knew she would. I had never met a woman like her before. All the women in my life had been psychotic and awful… Well… I had a part to play in that. The common denominator was me…

…though also they WERE all mental.

Anyway, about five or six years ago, after about five weeks of the acute period phase of withdrawal, I just started writing this novel for the lack of anything better to do because I didn’t have the strength to go out. I was shuffling about like a zombie.

So I just started writing down what I’d gone through during that very intense withdrawal. I didn’t have any methadone or Subutex or anything. A couple of Xanax here and there, but…

Anyway, after that I kept doing bits and bobs and bits and bobs of writing and I was talking to Will Self about the novel and, when I finally got it near finished last year – about 110,000-120,000 words – I asked Will: “Look, what do I need? A copy editor? A proof reader?” 

He introduced me to a friend of his called Nick Papadimitriou, who wrote a very successful novel called Scarp.

And me and him got on like a house on fire. We were chatting about it for the year leading up to a couple of months ago and I gave him the manuscript and there’s a lot of work needs doing on it but I’m kinda hopeful it will be out in around March 2021. It just keeps taking longer because Nick wants it to be as good as it can be and, because I want people to read it, he wins… I’m very, very proud of it. 

The working title was Thai Style Cold Turkey, but I think maybe it’s going to be called Pharmakon Patong.

JOHN: It’s a bad time to be publishing books, isn’t it?

CHRIS: I think there’s not been a better time to be a writer.

“There’s not been a better time to be a writer.”

Amazon Direct Publishing is the way to go at the moment. It’s unlikely you’re gonna sell hundreds and thousands of novels and get rich. It does happen, but not often. When you self-publish through Amazon, your novel is available 48 hours after uploading it and it’s available as a paperback or a Kindle. And you get 70% of the cover price – not 7½% which you get with traditional publishing. 

So you publish the novel, do as much marketing as you can, do podcasts, build up a social media presence which I’ve kinda got – I’ve got 20,000 YouTube followers, 6,000 Twitter followers and ten years of stand-up gave me a little bit of a reputation out there – and you might sell 50 copies a month… which isn’t gonna make you rich…

But, on YouTube, I have told 400+ hours of stories. At the moment, I do two streams daily on my YouTube channel.

So, after this novel, I’m going to transcribe all those and I’ve probably got about five books of short stories. So I can put all them out there. And they might all sell 50 a month.

So I might be selling 300 copies of different books a month.

300 x £7 is not bad coming in monthly.

Then I do another novel. And another novel. And, if you can get two novels or two books of shorts out a year and create a little bit of interest in you then, in five years, it wouldn’t be unreasonable, to be earning a few grand a month from writing.

JOHN: Where did you get this business brain? Your parents?

CHRIS: (LAUGHS) No. Unless you include a failed Amway period by my old man. He was buying loads of really stupid cleaning products and pyramid selling them.

“… because it turned out quite nice…”

JOHN: But you ARE quite entrepreneurial.

CHRIS: It was noticed very early at school sports day – I used to go down the old cash & carry and sell sherbet dib-dabs and make a few quid. My grandad once gave me a sheep’s skull. Not covered in meat. Just bone. But I set a little stall up in my front garden and people could touch it for 2 pence. I mean, like, I’m Thatcher’s Child. I was like 10 years old in 1982.

JOHN: So you have this upcoming book to promote…What’s the elevator pitch?

CHRIS: At the start, a man is at Heathrow Airport. He’s decided to get clean and go to Thailand. And the end of the novel he is on an aeroplane going back to England. So it’s seven odd weeks. True story. There’s very little creativity there. It’s just what happened.

JOHN: So the moral is you should never leave your own home country?

CHRIS: No, the moral is you SHOULD because it turned out quite nice. BUT there’s two stories running simultaneously. There’s one in Thailand – which is written in the first person present. There’s also one about my childhood, which is written in the first person past. And they kind of interlink.

One of the problems I’ve had with the editor is he keeps talking about the architectonic of the story.

JOHN: Architectonic?

CHRIS: Architectonic.

JOHN: May the Lord protect us.

CHRIS: Yes, I’ve had to Google it regularly, too… But here’s the point… Much like my stand-up, I tend to start telling my story, then remind myself of something else, then go into that story then, while I’m telling that story, I’ll go into something else… so it’s kind of like fractular. 

JOHN: Fractular?

CHRIS: Fractular. Now, that’s OK so long as, at some point, you come back to the first story and second story and round it all up. That’s fine.

But what he’s been saying is sometimes it’s just confusing. He says he knows there’s an element of it reflecting what I’m going through in the novel, which is kind of cool… If the form of the novel reflects the content, then you’re on to something. But he says sometimes it just gets in the way of the storytelling. So that needs looking at.

JOHN: So back to the elevator pitch. What’s the novel about?

CHRIS: I set out to write a novel about addiction and withdrawal but I think it’s a story about love.

JOHN: Love of whom or what?

CHRIS: Just love as an idea and what happens when there’s not a lot about.

JOHN: You’ve got to love something. It’s a verb that needs an object.

CHRIS: Right. So when you don’t have a lot of love in your life, you end up doing what goes on in this novel.

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Canadian eccentricities, one nurse’s fear of sewing machines and J.K.Rowling…

Premier John Horgan wants B.C. to “Live long and prosper”

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent who, in a former incarnation, used to dress up as a nurse on stage, then disrobe, sent me an email last Friday about the fact that, when John Horgan, British Columbia’s 36th Premier was sworn into office the previous day, he had raised his hand to recite the oaths of allegiance, office and confidentiality, then his fingers separated to give the Vulcan salute used by Mr Spock on Star Trek.

Now Anna has updated me:


While the Premier of B.C. was flashing his Vulcan hand signal, I was in a police station on Main Street, Vancouver, wearing my hand-sewn Cthulhu mask for another fashion show to benefit the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

…It’s all happening at the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre in Vancouver…

This is the same women’s center that Meghan Markle visited earlier this year. I believe I was in the shower there at the time… but they didn’t tour her through the shower area.

I tend to shower in various places. I once had a shower at Vancouver City Hall.

I never showered on stage though… at least, I don’t think so. 

At the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre show (L-R) Erna, Sarah and Nurse Annie

That was a fad in the seventies. I might have done it once, but if I did, I have blocked it from my memory. More likely, I danced on a stage where I was told to shower and refused to do so. That is one good thing about dressing as a nurse.  People are less likely to tell you what to do. There’s always a suspicion in the back of their minds that you might be a real nurse.

I am always in awe of what I call ‘real nurses’. 

Last time I was at St. Paul’s, I told a male nurse that I had been a pretend nurse, and been stripping as Nurse Annie, he said that I WAS a real nurse too, adding kindly: “There’s more than one way to be a nurse!”

We had to sew our own masks for the fashion show. We were placed in a large room in the police station, with distanced trestle tables which had a sewing machine at each one. A feeling of dread came over me. I hate sewing machines and have difficulty following patterns. A volunteer fashion student tried to explain how to follow the pattern exactly. 

But I didn’t WANT a normal mask and it turned out that I had been given the WORST sewing machine. The thread kept breaking over and over. All the other ladies had nice new machines and soon they had dainty masks, which they decorated with sequins and buttons. 

I had the idea of making a more costume-y mask, with long, long ribbons that tied in a bow at the back. But, by the end of the workshop, all I had were mixed-up strips of fabric and meters of green thread tangling into massive knots, bobbins flying, cloth pieces on the floor. I looked like Lucille Ball at the end of an episode. 

Anna, post-shower, in Emma Goldman T-shirt …Anarchist Emma hated sewing machines…

I felt like I was back in high school, like my head was going to explode and I walked out after the class fuming… I had wanted to model, not use a stupid sewing machine! 

On the street, I ran into a Quebecoise stripper friend of mine and told her my woes. Surely, as a dancer, she would understand how awful sewing was? She listened a bit, before interrupting: “You do know I’m a seamstress, don’t you?”

Her entire family had been tailors for generations!

She said she could easily sew the mask for me. 

I actually hand-sewed the face part. I can sew by hand, no problem. But the long ribbons would have taken forever…

In a couple of days she had them done: meters of cloth  sewn into long neat ribbons, with nice diagonal tips, like laces.

The show went OK. It was live-streamed and raised money with the tickets and an auction. But I missed having a live audience. And we were confused because we could barely hear our music… though it was heard by the viewers.

I danced to JJ Cale’s song Call Me The Breeze, because his music is so relaxing…

Of course, people asked if I was really a nurse…

Afterwards, I met two more real nurses. One was at a clinic, where I had a COVID-19 test. 

COVID is now spreading rapidly through the Downtown East Side, after a slow start there.

The second nurse was a surprise… I walked into what I thought was a storefront cannabis shop (it used to be), looking for some rolling papers for a neighbour.

I was very surprised to learn that I was in Vancouver’s first psychedelic mushroom shop. Now people don’t have to go down to ‘Mad Mike’s Mushroom Tent’ in front of Pacific Central Station all the time. 

Well, in fact, I don’t  think Mad Mike’s is open in the winter time.

The new mushroom shop on Granville Street is called Zoomers, and there is a registered nurse named Rachelle on staff there. Clients have to have a brief consultation in Rachelle’s office, fill out a form and promise not to drive whilst on mushrooms.

Micro-dosing is recommended…

That was yesterday. This morning, at the very busy intersection of Granville and Georgia, I saw some odd sights:

A middle aged man with a flushed face wearing a Santa hat and also wearing two signs. One sign said:

“I (heart) J.K. Rowling.”

…In eccentric Vancouver, close to the giant statue of Satan…

I take it he was the same man who paid for a billboard saying the same thing in East Vancouver (close to where the giant statue of Satan was erected). The City of Vancouver had the billboard message removed for being an expression of transphobia.  

The other sign the man was wearing said something ridiculous like “Children have the right to experience PUBERTY”.

Another unhinged-seeming man nearby had an ominous sign on his bicycle warning those who do not love Jesus that they are DOOMED for eternity. He was staggering about and holding a stretched-out white coat hanger, for no apparent reason.

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

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

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

She replied:


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

(VIDEO by Candy ; MUSIC by The Outbursts)

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

Highly spirited Anna Smith with Two-Spirited Little Dancing Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… SORT-OF CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 20 …

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

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

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


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

SUNDAY 14th JUNE

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

I took a Tyrozet tablet.

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

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

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

MONDAY 15th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair enough.

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

Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, the news took me a bit by surprise…

TUESDAY 16th JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

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

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

Ariane Sherine texted me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ever-admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse

THURSDAY 18th JUNE

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

FRIDAY 19th JUNE

Original edition. Lots of good advice.

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

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

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

A new book for the new COVID-19 era.

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

  • When and how to cancel things

  • How not to travel to Edinburgh

  • Writing a show that is cancelled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY 20th JUNE

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

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

But never say never…

Never underestimate bureaucracy…

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

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

Who cares? They worked.

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

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 3 – What it feels like to have the virus…

We are advised to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds (Photo by Nathan Dumlao via UnSplash)

SUNDAY 29th MARCH

I woke at around 0530 this morning. I live with my grandfather. He had been out late last night and upstairs, from my bed, I could hear him opening the front door downstairs, then coming up the creaking wooden stairs. Then I woke up. There was a strong wind outside making creepy noises. My grandfather died in the 1970s.

Most supermarkets now have an hour at the beginning or end of the day set aside for older people and/or people in vulnerable categories and/or NHS staff. I was in the local Iceland store this afternoon and got talking to a man at a safe distance across a frozen food cabinet. He told me he lives in Pimlico and, last week, someone was mugged in Pimlico and their NHS pass was stolen. Apparently true. Just the NHS pass.

MONDAY 30th MARCH

Yesterday afternoon, I had a FaceTime chat with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter. It lasted 1 hour 19 minutes and she is the most sensible person I have talked to since the coronavirus crisis started. Facebook and Twitter are awash with self-pity and paranoia.

The number of known UK deaths from COVID-19 was announced today as 1,408.

Things perked up later when the extraordinarily talented Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted the first in a series of videos about his family and being self-isolated by the coronavirus crisis.

TUESDAY 31st MARCH

In the current coronavirus crisis, we are told only to contact our GP (local doctor) in a real emergency.

Most things in life depend on your viewpoint. Take this online posting from an Online COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group in an expensive area of London:


Hello, my wife and I have been asked by our GP to self-isolate as we are showing symptoms of a viral infection. Our problem is we do not know any neighbours being newish to the zone who can shop for us and we require dog food. Our dog has IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – so she can only eat pasta and veg (broccoli, cauliflower & sprouts). If anybody can help with this plea we would welcome your contact. Many thanks.


The reaction of the person who told me was: “Honestly! People!  So well connected they’ve actually seen their GP! Human beings can’t get pasta to eat let alone dogs! Middle Class entitled First World problems! Give the dog some bloody dog food, not vegan muck and it’ll soon feel better…”

A website satire not too far from reality

That reaction seems pretty reasonable to me. But, seen from the point of view of the isolated couple in a new neighbourhood, caring about their dog, their plea is not unreasonable either.

The NewsThump satire site reported a fictional outbreak of people sticking things up their bottoms from boredom.

This might not be a total fantasy. Many years ago, a friend with a friend who worked in the A&E Department of a hospital told me Saturday nights had a high incidence of this type of thing including people misunderstanding the physical nature of fish… 

Fish can only go one way…

You can stick a (small) fish head-first up your bottom but – remember they have scales – you cannot pull it out… Result… a visit to the local hospital’s A&E Department… And people think coronavirus is bad…

WEDNESDAY 1st APRIL

Back to reality today. A Junior Doctor in the NHS Tweeted: “Last night I certified far more deaths than I can ever remember doing in a single shift. The little things hit you: a book with a bookmark in, a watch still ticking, an unread text message from family. Pandemic medicine is hard.”

The number of daily coronavirus deaths in the UK in the last 24 hours has increased by 563.to 2,352.

A friend who lives in central London, who was ill for a week or more and is just-about getting over it emailed me:


I have definitely had it, John. Without a doubt. All the symptoms – fever for the first week, complete loss of taste/smell, dry cough, aching all over. The GP more or less confirmed it on the phone. The fever comes back sporadically. But the worst thing is not having a working nose.

I’m sure I got it on March 8th when I went to an event with my two girlfriends who also got ill at the same time as me. One is now in hospital.

There is no guarantee that one can’t get it again but the hope is that, like with other viral illnesses, I will have immunity. If there were an antibody test, I would take it.

No masking the truth… (Photograph by Ashkan Forouzani via UnSplash)

The medical people are definitely mentioning the effect on taste and smell, certainly in the things I read and my and my friend’s GPs both said that’s the clincher. It is quite different from losing your sense of smell with a cold. It is just total. If you gave me two slices of bread, one spread with Marmite and the other with Nutella, I could not taste the difference.

Smell is a useful sense – I am only now realising how much I rely on it. I can’t smell whether food has gone off, whether something is burning in the oven, whether a tee-shirt needs washing. With food I never used to throw things out on the Best By or Use By date – if it smelled OK, I would eat it. Now, not so confident.

I am fine now except nose and the odd night fever. I think once over it, one is over it. It takes a couple of weeks. If you get lung complications like my friend (and another friend who is so weak he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days) it’s fucking horrible, but I didn’t thankfully.

My cousin only has loss of smell but the two people who work for him also got it (at the same trade fair) – both young. One got a light dose like me; the other (53 years old and a fit runner) floored by it.

One can see that if one is old or infirm, this would see you off. Some friends who are Junior Doctors are very frightened of it as they’ve seen so many people with it.

Martin Soan practises his planned ascent of Mount Everest

THURSDAY 2nd APRIL

I am desolate.

Comic Martin Soan had planned an ascent of Mount Everest tomorrow. Now he has called it off. Only a week after he called off a concert at the Albert Hall.

Possibly just as well, because a recent article in The Smithsonian Magazine reported that there are over 2,000 bodies on Mount Everest – so many that they are now used as landmarks for climbers.

These are the facts you pick up when you are isolated in your home and only allowed out very occasionally.

“I am quite happy it’s low, but have no idea why”

FRIDAY 3rd APRIL

There are 3,605 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the UK now: 684 in the last 24 hours.

The normal resting heart rate for adults over the age of 10 years, including older adults, is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). Highly trained athletes may have a resting heart rate below 60 bpm, sometimes reaching 40 bpm.

My resting heart rate (according to my Apple Watch) is in the low 50s – around 53/53/54. I am no athlete.

I am quite happy it is low but have no idea why.

SATURDAY 4th APRIL

On Wednesday, my friend in Central London had mentioned another friend who was so weak “he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days”. He was admitted to hospital last night, diagnosed with COVID-19 related double viral pneumonia.

Another friend who lives in rural tranquillity in Sussex tells me she has heard tales (by telephone) in the village about joggers hassling walkers, spitting and coughing near people etc etc.

I had to tell her that Borehamwood, where I live – administratively in Hertfordshire but really on the edge of London – has always seemed to me to be surprisingly not anti-social.

Borehamwood – “It is really culturally an Essex town”

It is awash with secondary schools and Yoofs and it is really culturally an Essex town, but there is almost no graffiti. I think the aspiring anarchists must go somewhere else to be anti-social… Not something they can do at the moment, so I dunno where they are. There is no particular sign of Yoofs on the streets.

All I can imagine is that they are staying at home snorting cocaine or shooting-up heroin – both allegedly normally available in town – but this lockdown must surely have screwed the coke, crack and smack distribution system and it sure as hell must have put burglars out of work – everyone is always at home now…

These are grim times for the crime biz…

But the good news is my friend who had lost her sense of taste and smell reports back: “I had smoked salmon for lunch today. And it tasted fishy!!!!!!

… CONTINUED HERE

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