Tag Archives: England

How to fail at the Edinburgh Fringe

How NOT to succeed at the Edinburgh Fringe

At around this time each year, a lot of performers preview their upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows in London.

‘Preview’ in this case is a word with many meanings. It can mean the full, finished Edinburgh show; or a jerky show with the performer reading some or all of it off notes; or some thrown-together mishmash of ideas which do not yet gel but which may yet end up as a smooth Edinburgh show in August.

I have been seeing a lot of previews recently and, earlier this week, I saw one which was fully written, rehearsed and well-performed. Unusually, the show was in a packed-to-overflowing venue and went down a storm. The audience LOVED it, as well they might, because it was skilfully crafted to appeal to them.

And, as I watched it, I saw – minute by minute, second by second – an almost 100% Edinburgh Fringe disaster unfolding before me.

The show comprised observational comedy and was tailor-made for a wide audience who could identify through their own experience with all the observations in the show. To make it even more enjoyable, there were a large number of audience participation sections – dividing the audience down the middle; that sort of stuff.

The audience loved it.

We now have a flashback to my erstwhile youth when, on big TV shows like Sunday Night at The London Palladium, major US comedy stars would be flown over to the UK and would smoothly perform their slick, tried-and-tested material… material about living in New York; material about eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day; material about mom’s apple pie.

You can see where I am going with this.

The comedian I saw this week had a very-well-put-together themed show with the linking device narrative of a trip on the Underground, visits to ‘West End’ clubs etc etc. It was not just very very English; it was utterly London-centric and almost certainly could not easily have the London elements removed and replaced with other references.

One bit was: “You know what it’s like at 12 o’clock on a Saturday on the Central Line…”

The act performing this has never, as far as I know, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe before and this is his certainly his first show there.

The first hurdle he has fallen at is Know your audience.

The last time I heard any figures, the Fringe Society reckoned that around 60% of audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe come from EH postcodes. That means that they come from Edinburgh. Not even Glasgow or Fife. Specifically Edinburgh.

Sometimes ‘newbie’ performers assume that, at the Edinburgh Fringe, they are playing to the same audiences they play to in London. They are not. They are often not even playing to English audiences. They are playing to Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australian, American, wherever audiences. And to English audiences.

It is reasonable for the performer to assume they are British audiences because foreigners will make allowance for the fact they have come to see UK comedy.

But it is not reasonable to assume they are audiences from South East England. The show I saw would likely get right up the proverbial noses of audiences in Manchester, Liverpool, Plymouth and Newcastle let alone Edinburgh or Glasgow.

It will come across in Scotland as “yon fuckin’ wee English cunt” showing disrespect for where he is.

I have seen South London audiences turn on comedians who talk too much about life in North London.

Move that to the Scottish/English divide and magnify it 100 times. Especially at the moment.

Of course, that figure of 60% of Fringe audiences coming from EH postcodes can only be from research taken from people buying tickets for pay shows. Who knows the make-up of audiences going to free comedy shows? But it may not be much different.

And the other thing to consider is word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is HUGE at the Edinburgh Fringe. Totally unheard-of acts in obscure venues can suddenly take-off and become the hottest shows in town. Or in both towns (in Edinburgh). And, if any would-be Fringe performer reading this does not know why I wrote “both towns”, then he or she has not researched the city they are playing enough.

Again, the last figures I heard from the Fringe Society were that the average Fringe visitor stays for three days.

But those are visitors to the city and the word-of-mouth between genuine visitors is highly unlikely to be vastly significant. The real word-of-mouth is what happens between the locals (remember that EH postcode) and between the media. A single 5-star review of an obscure show from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman will likely fill a venue for the whole run and ensure the rest of the media pay attention.

When those American comedians used to play sets of American-themed observational comedy on Sunday Night at The London Palladium, UK audiences felt they were being shown contempt. The Scots have never taken kindly to English comedians per se (see endless horror stories of the dangers of playing the Glasgow Empire in its heyday).

My advice to any London comedian playing the Edinburgh Fringe is:

1) Remember Edinburgh is not in England

2) The audiences you are playing to are not entirely and possibly not even predominately from England.

3) The audiences you are playing to are almost certainly not predominately from London.

4) Showing what may be perceived as contempt for your audience is never going to end well.

5) The word ‘England’ is not the same as ‘the UK’ or ‘Britain’ or ‘here’.

6) Edinburgh is north of Watford.

7) If you do not know what a ‘Weegie’ is, you may end up ‘brown bread’ on stage.

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How the English court system works (?)

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The figure of Justice – blindfolded to avoid seeing any untruths – and truths

To save myself from having to write a blog today when all I want to do is sleep – the result of over three weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe – here is a blog about something which happened this week over ten years ago in England.

Someone I know was starting two weeks of Jury Service in a court somewhere in England. He told me:

Day One

None of us got picked today…. There was a lot of waiting around then they sent us all home… I ended up chatting with a right demographic mix, including… a 40-year-old grammar schoolboy self-made Tory-voting string-em-up merchant web designer; a local councillor very lefty with bleeding heart and social conscience (great arguments between those two!); an oldie female retired teacher; a young (22) ‘lad’ carpenter of some type; a young single mum from a council estate (“I dunno nuffink about politix”) and me…. And that was just the smokers!

The fault of the system is this… Most self-employed people don’t want to be there (big loss of earnings – it’s costing me a grand!!!). Most middle class with good jobs don’t want to be there. (They were all the ones moaning they had tried to get out of it )… So you are left with the unemployed, retired and immigrants whose first language definitely ain’t English…. But hey …That’s democracy! or is it?

Day Two

I got picked today…. Going into the court room was awe-inspiring… I had to remind myself this wasn’t telly…. Half my jury could barely read the affirmation. Then it was my turn, so I gave my best performance… and everyone after me then gave it a bit of welly too!

It is a nasty little case – GBH/drugs… Quite complicated too. We were sent home early – 3.30pm – as the two barristers needed to do a bit of thrashing things out. It is by no means cut and dried. My brain hurt at the end of the day.

Day Three

I went to see the trial myself.

A 20 year-old Bengali is accused of cutting the throat of another 20 year-old Bengali, exposing his windpipe. He is accused not of attempted murder but of GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm). His defence is that he was at home all evening. On the evening of the offence, the police came and broke down his door to find him on the phone (he was calling the police because someone was breaking down his door). There was blood on the stairs, the floor, his bedspread and his hand. He said he had cut his finger at college that afternoon.

Forensic DNA tests showed it was, indeed, all his blood and that none of his blood was at the murder scene, nor was any of the victim’s blood on the accused’s clothes. The victim said the accused man was a drug dealer and that he (the victim) hated drugs and drug dealers. Unfortunately for him, the defence knew he had been addicted to crack and heroin, was on methadone and had been convicted of manslaughter.

The prosecution produced two diaries found at the accused’s address which they claimed showed the accused was a drug dealer. Unfortunately, the defence pointed out one of the diaries was not in his handwriting and was partially in Bengali, a language he can neither read or write. The other diary, they contested, was the diary of a drug taker not a dealer – and the accused admitted he took drugs.

While the jury was out, the prosecutor told a detective there to give evidence: “If this guy gets off, it will seriously prejudice the whole case” and “The evidence fitted in better in the other trial”. The accused is related to a criminal Bengali family.

The jury comprised six blacks, one Asian Moslem and five whites. Three of the blacks, strangely, were Nigerians. My friend on the jury told me that one of the black women had arrived 20 minutes late that morning saying, quite unconcerned: “Oh, you could have started without me”.

Day Four

I went to the court again.

The judge gave a rambling colloquial summing up which non-native English speakers would have found unclear. After about two hours (around 4.30pm) the jury gave their verdict – partly because it was a Friday afternoon and, if they had not decided, then they would have had to continue on Monday and some of them were ‘second weekers’ – you are called to Jury Service for two weeks. If the final case runs over the two weeks, then you have to stay until it is concluded.

My friend told me that, when they went into the jury room, there were an initial six for Guilty, five were undecided and one wanted Not Guilty. My friend was the jury foreman. He went round the jury asking initially whether they thought the accused man was guilty. One woman asked: “Which one?” She had not been clear who had been on trial and thought perhaps he was the victim.

I am not going to say whether the jury found the accused man Guilty or Not Guilty.

You can toss your own coin.

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Scots comedian Del Strain talks about treason and independence for Scotland

(This was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Del Strain not mincing his words in London last week

Comic Del Strain sits on a pile of newspapers

With less than a year to go before the referendum on Scottish independence and with support in Scotland running at a reported 25%, I though it would be interesting to ask London-based Scots stand-up comedian Del Strain for his opinion.

“We all need to decide,” Del told me, “and the Prime Minister Mr Cameron is making it so easy for the Scottish people to decide where they wanna go. “

“I think they’ll vote No,” I said. “Devo Max sounds a good alternative.”

“That’s not how Scotland works,” Del told me. “You’ve got 40% of people who love Ireland. You’ve got 40% who love England. And then you’ve got the 20% like me who despise both sides and think it’s everything that’s held us back a thousand years. That’s the way it is.

“It has been said on the grapevine that a lot of the southern (English) comedy acts have been finding it hard when they’ve gone up to play in Scotland this last two years because of this (British) government and the way it affects society in general. People have not taken to southerners.”

“But that’s ever since Braveheart,” I suggested. “I think the combination of Margaret Thatcher being Prime Minister until 1990 and then the release of Braveheart in 1995 followed oddly by the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland in 1996… That all stoked Scottish nationalism and anti-English sentiment.”

“It’s not necessarily anti-English,” argued Del. “I saw a thing a couple of months ago which said the Geordies and people in Northumberland and even North Yorkshire said: If Scotland gets independence, can you draw the border with England further down, please?

“It’s that southern English guy in a Hugo Boss suit telling people it’s not a something-for-nothing society, even though the only time that southern man’s ever broke sweat in his life wasn’t with a shovel: it was wearing a gimp mask.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Coke-snorting, hooker-shagging (NAME OF A POLITICIAN CENSORED IN CASE I GET SUED),” said Del.

“I remember,” I said, “that, in 2008, ITV did an opinion poll in Berwick-upon-Tweed in England and a clear majority of people said they wanted to be in Scotland. And my Indian-born optician from Carlisle told me people in Carlisle want to be in Scotland.”

“Well,” said Del, “a Geordie is more like a Scotsman than someone from Surrey. Even people from Yorkshire or Liverpool don’t class themselves as being English. If you’re from Liverpool, you class yourself as being Scouse.”

“There’s a historical thing about the North being Danish, isn’t there?” I agreed. “The Anglo Saxons were only in the southern part of what is now England.”

“Celts and Picts are what Scotsmen came from,” said Del, “and then a wee mix of Scandinavian later on.”

“So, you reckon Scotland is going to vote for independence?” I asked.

“Through the looking glass,” said Del, “the sums don’t add up. All the problems we’ve got: dependencies and alcoholism, the ageing population of the baby boomers… I don’t see where the money is there to do it and fly solo. If it was 30 years ago, Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But to hand us over to the European Union now and become what Ireland was? Another puppet? That’s treason in my book. To do that just to get a ‘Scottish’ thing in the front of a passport is treason.

“But I hear that possibly there’s more oil that we haven’t declared to the English state and that’s why we’re doing it. So, if that did happen, maybe England and Scotland would even to go to war again. Who knows what could happen? Who knows?”

“You’re saying that with some excitement,” I said.

“I would get evicted, I suppose,” laughed Del. “I’d have to move back over the border!”

“But,” I said, “if Scotland got independence, England would never, ever have a Labour government – because of the voting patterns.”

“But I think the three party system’s dead,” said Del. “I think what people should do is… The Solidarność movement brought Communism down in Poland.”

“You’re not mellowing with age,” I suggested.

“Not really,” said Del. “The way it’s unravelling is phenomenal.”

“What’s unravelling?”

“The whole world. Comedy. Life. The way it is in America. The currencies.”

“How’s comedy unravelling?”

“That little revival we were hoping we would get because, during the last Conservative government, comedy went mental with alternative comedy and it was actually good for it because people need a laugh… It hasn’t worked like that this time. The economics, the way I see it, is that people are going out and spending pounds on comedians in big theatres as opposed to going out to clubs… Clubs are closing all round the country and the trend is slightly worrying. You don’t need a degree from the London School of Economics to work out that, if there are less gigs and more comedians, something;s got to give. It’s not even new acts. Twenty years veterans are worried.”

“So what’s your future in comedy?” I asked.

“I don’t know. For me it was part I get a buzz off doing it, part I didn’t want to break the law any more, part positive affirmation of my son who’s just about to be 16. It was all a package of everything. I don’t know what the next five or ten years hold. I could end up living in the mountains in Ibiza in that beautiful little village they’ve got where they grow their own pot and grow their own food. I could end up driving around all over the country in a Winnebago. Or a could grow a Mohican. I really do not know.”

“In the meantime, you’re doing a mini-tour of Scotland in November,” I prompted.

“Yeah,” said Del. “Shotts, Dundee, Aberdeen twice, Liverpool.”

“Alright,” I corrected myself. “A mini-tour of Scotland and part of Ireland.”

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How one Englishman ended up doing stand-up comedy shows in Slovenia

Gavin Mackenzie finds laughing easy in Slovenia (Photo by Anja Mahne)

Gavin Mackenzie – uphill in Slovenia (Photo by Anja Mahne)

In Britain, club owners say that the demand for comedy seems to be falling off.

It is not the same in Slovenia.

I have been talking to Gavin Mackenzie.

He was born in Cambridgeshire, went to university in Bournemouth, then moved to Exeter. He obviously has itchy feet.

“It was in Exeter that I first started seriously thinking I should try comedy,” he told me this week. “Even as a kid it had been among my ‘Things I want to do when I grow up’. But I did not get around to it until after I moved to Stoke-on-Trent, where I got a girlfriend who told me about a club she knew in Manchester.

“She persuaded me to have a go. The club was The Frog & Bucket where I did my first two gigs at the Beat The Frog ‘gong’ show. It is a great club, but I can see in retrospect that the ‘gong’ format is not ideal for a first-timer. I did not do stand-up again for another 5-6 years.

“By that time, I was living in Bournemouth. One of the reasons I got back into comedy was that our mutual friend Bob Slayer had started performing and his frequent Facebook notifications about shows got me thinking: I should have another pop at that. I saw a poster advertising an open mic night, got in touch with the promoter and had another pop. That was in April 2010.

“Most of my gigs were in Bournemouth, but I did others in Southampton, Bristol, Exeter, London etc… and an eight-night show with three other Bournemouth comics at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011.

Gavin performed comedy for two years and “was starting to get bored and put off by many aspects of the industry/community/culture of comedy in the UK. But,” he says, “that’s not why I moved to Slovenia… I just had a hunch that it might be a good place to continue doing stand-up.

“I’ve only done three gigs in the seven months I’ve been here, but they’ve all been good. The first two were new material/open mic type deals and the third was a paid (50 Euros) half hour spot on a double-bill alongside a Slovene comic who’d been out of the game for a while.

“Nobody involved in the paid gig had seen me perform – not live, not even in a video. They gave me the gig because some friends of mine – who had also never seen me perform – persuaded them to. Nobody had heard of me or the other comic, but the show was packed. Over 100 people, I think.

“People were standing along the sides of the room because all the seats were full. It was a small, fairly remote town, were there wasn’t much else going and it was only 3 Euros to get in. But the main reason it was full was that people love stand-up here. People keep telling me the same thing here – people here NEED stand-up. They need a laugh because times are hard.

“There are genuine economic, social and political problems here, but I think there’s more to it than that. This is a young country and I get the feeling it’s going through a kind of difficult adolescence. The infancy in which there was hope and some promise of Slovenia becoming a ‘little Switzerland’ is in the past – though I think the potential for that still exists.

Slovenia could still be a 'little Switzerland'

Slovenia could have been and could still be a ‘little Switzerland’

“Now people are grumpy and resentful of the harsher reality that has emerged. Slovenes often complain about how much Slovenes complain about everything – They’re rather like the British in that respect.

“I would say the difference is that they lack our British stiff upper lip, perhaps, because of that sort of national immaturity. The American comic Doug Stanhope says that the UK is the best place to do comedy because the British need comedy as we’re such miserable bastards. I think the same theory could apply here.

“My gigs here have gone very well and I’m told there will be more shows for much more money on the way. Probably not enough to go full-time pro, but hopefully semi-pro alongside my fledgling English teaching career.

“I could probably have got to this point in the UK eventually, but it would have taken a lot more grinding that I don’t think I would have much enjoyed. And it’s not about the money anyway. I like to tell stories and develop ideas in my performances and I was getting really frustrated in the UK with 5-10 minute slots that I just could not fit my best material into.

“I perform in English over here. Slovenes find it very funny when I speak Slovene, but that’s mainly because I can’t speak it. It’s a real novelty for them to hear their own language spoken by foreigners, especially when I say stupid things like You fucking gay dwarf and Pee in my glass. But I haven’t done anything like that on stage. Not yet.

“The audiences are almost entirely locals who are fluent in English, as almost all young Slovenes (and many older ones) are. I don’t have to adapt very much at all, though one of my friends brought her mum and had to explain to her what ‘wanking’ meant. I know there was a group of Spaniards and at least one American at the second gig I did but, other than that, I’m pretty sure it’s been Slovenes all the way.

“So far, I’ve been the only English-speaking act on the bill each time, but one of the promoters I’ve gigged with also does English language shows where he brings over a British, Irish, American, Canadian, Australian or whatever comic as a headliner and has Slovenes performing in English as openers. He’s got me shortlisted to be an opener on one of these nights at some point.”

So that is it.

There is hope for comedy in Slovenia.

And perhaps hope for Slovenia in comedy.

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The British NHS – pain is still pain & death is death despite good intentions

My personal experience of the blind bureaucracy of Britain’s National Health Service – which I blogged about yesterday – continued after yesterday’s blog.

I blogged about how I encountered well-meaning bumbling when I had to have my eyes checked at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital in Hertfordshire.

My friend's painful horizontal wisdom tooth (left)

My friend’s painful horizontal wisdom tooth is seen on the left

Later yesterday, though, a friend of mine encountered continuing blind bumbling at the Dental department of Guy’s Hospital in London.

She has had painful problems with a wisdom tooth for, I guess a couple of years. A couple of weeks ago, she was told by a very amiable doctor at Guy’s that the tooth could be taken out but, as it was close to a nerve, they would first have to take a cone beam mandible CT scan to see exactly what any potential problems might be.

Good.

It might take six weeks to arrange the scan.

Well, OK.

So it was a surprise when my friend got home yesterday night to find a letter from Guy’s Hospital telling her the appointment to have the scan was arranged for yesterday morning.

She had been away from home for a couple of days.

The letter from Guy's Hospital - bad timing

The letter from Guy’s Hospital – bad timing

The letter for a scan at 10.00am on Friday 15th February, dated Thursday 7th February, had been sent second class on Monday 11th February. In theory, this should have arrived on Wednesday 13th February. If you trust the Post Office.

My friend was at home on the Tuesday, away Wednesday/Thursday and returned at 2300 on Friday night. She missed the scan appointment at 1000 that day. The letter, we think, may actually have arrived on Thursday, one day before the appointment.

In the minds of the no doubt amiable and well-meaning people creating the letter on 7th February for an appointment on 15th February, that was enough notice. But then the letter was not posted until 11th February. It was sent second class so – even if the postal system worked effectively – it would not arrive until 13th February and there was no thought of someone being away from home on two consecutive days.

So well-meaning people bumbled into incompetence.

At the bottom of the letter, it says: “If you are unable to attend your appointment please contact the Department giving 48 hours notice… If you do not attend an agreed booked appointment your form will be returned to the referring Doctor and you will need to contact your Doctor for a new referral.”

So, even if my friend had received the letter on Wednesday 13th (with the mail being delivered late-morning) she could not have re-arranged the appointment with 48 hours notice.

And now, because she did not know about the appointment, she will have to go back to her GP, get another referral, get another appointment to see a doctor at Guy’s, get that doctor to make another appointment for another scan, wait for the system to arrange another scan and then hope she receives a letter in time to know she actually has a scan appointment.

400 - 1,200 patients killed at Stafford Hospital

Stafford Hospital – where 400 – 1,200 patients were  killed

In some parts of the NHS, of course, patients die because of lack of care.

A couple of days ago Lord MacDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, was calling for police to investigate the “needless deaths” of between 400 and 1,200 patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital between 2005 and 2009.

Five days ago, NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh announced that nine English hospital trusts were to be investigated because of abnormally-high death rates:

– North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust

– United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

– George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust

– Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust

– Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

– The Dudley Group NHS FT

– Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS FT

– Medway NHS FT

– Burton Hospitals NHS FT

My experience in Hertfordshire and my friend’s experience in London are of course – in comparison – wildly trivial. But they are a sign that, even when well-meaning people try their best, the NHS (perhaps like all large bureaucracies) is a mess.

In the case of the NHS, though, it is not just inconvenience which is caused but, in my friend’s case, continuing pain and, in many other people’s cases, death.

From tiny, slightly deformed acorns do vastly warped oak trees grow.

My friend phoned the number on the letter this morning and got no answer.

“It rings and rings for ages, then cuts off,” she told me.

So she then phoned the main telephone number at Guy’s Hospital.

“You get a voice recognition computer which asks for the department you want,” she told me, “If you ignore it, it gives you operator. The operator told me the Appointments Department is only open weekdays.”

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Britain’s National Health Service: Sod’s Law. What happened to me yesterday.

NHSlogo

Mostly amiable but badly organised

I have said it here before. What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a moan?

My mother had the eye disease glaucoma. So did my father’s mother. And so, I think, did my mother’s cousin. It is hereditary.

If you get it and the doctors catch it early, you can be cured. If they catch it late, there is no cure. You will go blind.

So I have regular eye tests.

After the last eye test, my local optician said the pressure on my right eye (always my weakest eye) was slightly – but only slightly – abnormal. So she sent me for more tests at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital. I went yesterday afternoon.

I am not going to name the hospital because the people who dealt with me were well-meaning people and trying to do their best. But, as in most of the rest of life, meaning well gets tsunamied by Sod’s Law and everything goes arse-over-tit.

When I eventually got an appointment, it was not in a letter. I got a phone call last Friday (the 8th) from a computer with an automated voice. It told me I had an eye appointment at my local hospital on Thursday the 14th at twndthee.

What?

Twndthee.

I phoned the number a couple more times and, as far as I could tell, the automated voice was saying “twenty to three” but I was only, perhaps, 65% certain. It might have been twenty past three or something else to do with three. Or possibly two. If it was, indeed, saying “twenty to three” they had, presumably, programmed the computer to say that phrase as it is friendlier than saying “two forty”.

A good intention. But the result was less clear.

I decided to wait for the inevitable letter.

This arrived on Monday confirming that, indeed, my appointment was at 2.40pm.

On Wednesday, I got a phone call from a genuine and very polite human being asking if I could come a little earlier – 1.30 instead of 2.40.

No problem. All agreed. Earlier appointment at 1.30 was confirmed.

Yesterday morning, my eternally un-named friend asked me: “Are you going to drive there?”

“Ah!” I said. “I had forgotten about that. I think they put eye-drops in and warn you not to drive.”

I looked at the letter.

“There’s nothing in the letter about it,” I said.

So I phoned up the telephone number on the letter.

“What is your reference number?” I was asked by the very amiable man on the other end of the line.

I read the reference number on the letter.

“Not that number,” said the very amiable man. “I need the reference number.”

“That is the only number I have,” I said.

“What is your NHS number?” he asked.

I read it off the letter. There was a pause.

“…and what is your password?” the very amiable man asked.

“Erm…  I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t know I had one.”

“It is on one of your reference sheets with the reference number,” said the very amiable man.

“I only have one sheet,” I replied.

“I cannot process your request without a password,” said the very amiable man. “The reference number and password are on the referral letter sent by your GP to the Hospital.”

“I don’t have any copy of that,” I said. “I only have the appointment letter sent to me by the hospital.”

“I need a password to process your request,” said the very amiable man.

“I am having eye tests at the hospital in a couple of hours for glaucoma,” I said “and just wanted to know if I was allowed to drive. I wondered if they might be putting eye drops in which would mean I shouldn’t drive.”

“I cannot speculate on the answer,” said the very amiable man, “but sometimes they put eyedrops in. I cannot speculate on what they may do without access to your medical records, which I cannot access without your password.”

So, yesterday, I got a bus to my local hospital for the 1.30pm appointment. I arrived early and had a cup of tea. Then:

1.20pm – I turn up, present my letter to the receptionist and point out I have been asked to come for the earlier 1.30 appointment. No problem. I am logged in.

2.25pm – I think it best to check. I politely asked the receptionist if he can double-check what time my appointment is. Much fiddling on computer. “Two forty,” he says slightly aggressively. “Ah,” I say.

2.35pm – I am called in to the very amiable nurse, who makes the first tests on my eyes, photographs the back of my eyes and tells me she doesn’t think there’s any real problem, but I will be having two more sets of tests by other people and then seeing the Consultant.

"Wait in here," I was told

“Wait in here…” I was told by my first very amiable nurse

2.50pm – She takes me to another examination room and says, “Wait in here. You may have to wait a bit of time for the other tests.” I sit down. She leaves.

2.59pm – Another very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something and is surprised I am sitting there. I tell her why and I describe the nurse who left me. This second very amiable nurse takes my name and goes off saying “I will check.” I tell her: “The other nurse told me I might have to wait a bit.” The second nurse tells me with a smile: “Don’t worry unless it starts to get dark.”

3.06pm – The second very amiable nurse comes back into the room again to get something, looks surprised again and asks, “Any luck yet?” I say , “No.”

3.11pm – The original very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something, looks surprised to find me there, and says: “Oh, you’re not supposed to be in here: you’re supposed to sit outside” (in the corridor). I go and sit on a row of seats in the corridor.

3.17pm – I hear my name being called about 15 feet to my left, in the original waiting room. It is a very amiable Consultant. He examines my eyes.

The end result is he says I have no signs of glaucoma. “Your nerves are way too healthy,” he tells me. “When I look at them, they’re lovely and pink, lots of nerve tissue there. You’ve got thick corneas so, when they test your pressure, particularly with the air puff machine, they’re going to get false, high readings. The most important question is Is this pressure damaging your nerve? and the answer is No. Your nerves look 100% healthy. They’re lovely.”

“So I can put my nerves into the 2016 Olympics?” I ask.

“Yes,” says the Consultant.

Everyone was very amiable.

The organisation was a mess.

No one person was to blame.

That is life.

Sod’s Law.

I guess death in the NHS is much the same.

So it goes.

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Origin of the word ‘Wally’ + red-faced Malcolm Hardee and ladies’ underwear

Martin Soan and my eternally-un-named friend last night

Comedian Martin Soan, my eternally un-named friend and I went to a Creative England event at Elstree Film Studios last night, where studio boss Roger Morris gave what I think is the most upbeat assessment of the future of the British film industry that I have heard in thirty years.

When the three of us got back to my home, Martin said:

“Jesus was at Weeley.”

He had read my blog a few days ago about the word ‘Wally’ and how it had supposedly come into the language either via the 1971 Weeley Music Festival or the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

“I was there at Weeley in 1971,” Martin told us, “and people did shout out Wally!. But, really, anyone from East London was shouting out Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal. There was this chant Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal.

“Why Dick-eyed Wal?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Martin, “Dick-eyed Wal is East End terminology for saying you’re a fucking idiot.”

Martin was born in Stratford in London’s East End. He explained:

“We used to call – and, to this day, they still do call – pickled gherkins Wallies.”

“So it did not start in the 1970s?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “it was something I picked up as a kid. I remember buying pickled gherkins as a kid and calling them Wallies. I don’t know where it came from, but Dick-eyed Wal was the same as a Wally and was basically a prick. We used to call pickled gherkins Wallies and they’re sort-of penis-like and we used to call people Wallies back then because you associated them with penis-shaped gherkins and Dick-eyed Wals.”

“Why were they shouting out Dick-eyed Wal at Weeley?” I asked.

“They were saying Where’s Wally? on the PA system and we were shouting out Dick-eyed Wal – Dick-eyed Wal like What a wanker! What a wanker! I remember it distinctly because I was with a couple of East Londoners and they started it. And the other thing I remember is Jesus.”

“Jesus?” I asked.

“He used to be at very early music festivals,” said Martin, “with a pageboy blond haircut which, even in those days, was just a bit too much and he wore these long flowing kaftans and did this trippy-type trance dancing and he was always down the front. I saw him at various festivals.”

“And was he consciously trying to be Jesus?” I asked.

“I dunno, but everyone nicknamed him Jesus. I heard a story about him years and years later… This guy was celebrated, you know? He went to lots of festivals. And, later on, he had a go at becoming someone in showbiz.

“So he got some B-celebrity folk singer to appear on this show with him at Camden and he billed himself as Jesus.

“The B-celebrity folk singer did his thing and went down OK and then Jesus came on with the introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Jesus… and just down the road were these gasworks and they exploded. So he walks on the stage and there’s this huge explosion and everyone was evacuated from the building. And that was his only attempt at showbusiness and everyone went away thinking Wow! That’s Jesus, man!

Earlier, at Elstree Film Studios, almost inevitably, the subject of the late Malcolm Hardee had come up. Malcolm used to perform with Martin Soan in The Greatest Show on Legs.

“You wouldn’t have thought Malcolm could ever be embarrassed,” Martin told us. “But he was once.

“He wanted some sexy lingerie for one of his girlfriends so there was this sexy lingerie shop in Lewisham and I said to him, Well, go in and buy some, and he said, No, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.

Why not? I asked him.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, he said. So I had to go in there for him. He was too embarrassed to go in.

“The strange thing was I went in and told the assistant I want to buy some sexy women’s underwear and she asked Are you a lorry driver? and I dunno why she said that. She must have just had a lot of lorry drivers coming in asking for women’s underwear. Then she asked me Do you want it in red or black? so I stepped outside into the street and yelled out: Malcolm! Do you want your basque in red or black?

“What did he say?”  my eternally un-named friend asked.

“He just ran off round the corner,” said Martin. “It was so unlike Malcolm. I suppose it was because it was Lewisham and that was where he was brought up, just up the road. Perhaps he was a bit embarrassed because of that.”

“But,” I said, “he never worried about showing off his bollocks to hundreds of people at a time.”

“But it’s like,” Martin replied, “me staying at your house tonight. I’ll get up on stage in front of 300 people and stick my cock in front of a camera and fuck it, but walking naked through your living room with just you and your un-named friend – your eternally un-named friend – it would be embarrassing.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “I can’t see at night without my glasses and you’ve always had the Scandinavian way, you and Vivienne.”

“Yeah,” said Martin. “In front of our children, but not in front of strangers. Not one-on-one.”

“When I used to visit you,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “people were having baths.”

“Of course,” said Martin. “It’s our house. We can have baths in our own house. But, if I walked through naked in front of John in his living room, I’d feel embarrassed. Walking naked in front of 400 people, no problem. If it was part of a stage show, I’d lay my knob over the top of John’s head like a Mohican.”

“Well…” I said.

“… if there were 400 other people there,” continued Martin. “But coming down into his living room at 9 o’clock in the morning with no-one else there and I lay my knob on his bald head, it would be quite…”

“Let’s not go there,” I interrupted.

“…funny, wouldn’t it?” Martin finished. “But tragic and embarrassing. And no-one wants to see that or have that done to them.”

“Oh,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I don’t know.”

“With the long winter nights coming on…” I said.

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