Tag Archives: humor

Sleepless nights, gushing waters and a new lockdown – My Weekly Diary No 41

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 40

SUNDAY 25th OCTOBER

In my last diary blog I mentioned that, as I am not seeing my NHS Kidney Man again until next February – and as the Ear, Nose & Throat and Calcium blokes he suggested are but mere possibilities in a bureaucratic future mist – I was thinking of seeing my Chinese herbal doctor. Pricey but value for money.

I asked my friend Lynn what she thought. She suggested I should pursue the two misty-futured NHS blokes to gee-up the bureaucracy and not go to Chinese doctor – or, at least, do both. Try the Chinese path AND certainly try to gee-up the NHS. But I can’t be bothered, NHS bureaucracy takes its own sweet time, even if it kills you.

MONDAY 26th OCTOBER

“Wrongly mistaken for anxiety or nervousness”

In my last blog, I also mentioned that my tendency to witter is sometimes – wrongly – mistaken for anxiety or nervousness whereas it is simply mindless wittering.

After reading this, comedy uber-fan Sandra Smith emailed me:


Re your blog and anxiety.
I can see how you could present as anxious, having seen a couple of videos of you being interviewed. Your speech speeds up without pause and you constantly fiddle with your ears. If the the interviewer is female, a slight self consciousness creeps in. You appear much more comfortable as the interviewer.


I replied:


Mmmm… Interestingly, I’m not nervous being interviewed. In fact, I always did badly in job interviews; I think because I never got nervous so came across as being over-casual and therefore potentially unreliable! I have never noticed the ear thing. Must stop that.


In fact, what I thought was: “If the the interviewer is female, a slight self consciousness creeps in”…  Oo-err. What’s that about? and Is that a good or a bad thing?

TUESDAY 27th OCTOBER

All this came after sticking out my tongue…

I saw my Chinese doctor at lunchtime. As always, he took my pulse and asked me to stick my tongue out at him. That’s Traditional Chinese Medicine for you.

I think the theory is that the tongue is the only internal organ which you can see externally and so its state – cracks in it etc – reflect the state of your body.

He thought my sleeping and dehydration problems are connected with my kidneys – in fact, in the 1990s, he said I would have kidney problems in the future.

I got a month’s worth of tablets and made an appointment to see him again on 24th November.

WEDNESDAY 28th OCTOBER

In yet another reference back to my previous blog, the NHS Track & Trace mobile phone app again sent me two too-fast-to-read notifications – A COVID alert followed by a message saying it signified nothing.

I also got a message from my eternally-un-named friend.

She told me she had been crossing a pedestrian bridge at Canary Wharf, looked down and saw a group of skimpily-clad people in a hot tub sailing by.

“The weather was dry but chilly,” she told me. “There was a little fire in a front funnel, so I guess that must have been heating the water inside the tub.”

I was left fairly speechless. So was she.

Not a normal sight in the waters of Canary Wharf, London, in the chilly late weeks of October…

THURSDAY 29th OCTOBER

I never used to remember any of my dreams until this recent calcium/kidney problem which has resulted in me waking up 8-12 times every night. So the world of dreams is new to me.

“…gushing water, tumbling down towards the platform…”

Last night, I dreamt that I was rushing to get on a plane at an airport and the escalator down to the departure platform – Yes, platform… It was a narrow platform like a railway platform with tracks on both sides – the escalator down to the departure platform was covered in gushing water, tumbling down towards the platform.

What on earth was that all about? 

FRIDAY 30th OCTOBER

This probably won’t be happening until 2022.

I had another disturbed night of waking up pretty much every hour with a totally dry mouth, my tongue almost sticking to the inside of my mouth… made more entertaining at one point by simultaneous hiccups and heartburn… That’s potentially an hour-long Edinburgh Fringe show there. I have seen worse.

Online, there was the news that the Edinburgh Fringe will probably not be back properly until 2022 (its 75th anniversary) as the COVID pandemic effects will still be screwing-up things next year.

SATURDAY 31st OCTOBER

Chris Dangerfield: “How much of what he said is printable?”

For a forthcoming blog, I had a Skype video chat with sometime comic, always controversial raconteur Chris Dangerfield, who now lives in Cambodia. How much of what he said is printable is something I will have to grapple with.

He told me I looked well.

Clearly he is not a reader of my blog.

Boris Johnson precipitated a surge of toilet roll buying…

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that, to try to slow the recent surge in coronavirus cases, England will go on a second total lockdown from next Thursday for a month (November 5th to December 2nd).

I thought it was probably bad PR for him to announce this on Hallowe’en, the precursor to the Day of The Dead… and to start the lockdown on Guy Fawkes’ Night, which is about blowing up Parliament.

When I went out to a supermarket later, it was obvious that, as in the previous lockdown, a sudden panic-buying of toilet rolls has started, which makes no sense – the coronavirus, as far as I am aware does not result in diarrhoea and there was/is not a shortage of toilet rolls. Come to that, there is a wide variety of alternatives to toilet rolls – kitchen rolls, newspapers and small furry woodland creatures.

The COVID-19 effect: devastation in the toilet roll section of Lidl supermarket, Borehamwood.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 35 – Life is but a dream. This week for sure.

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 34(b)

All the world’s an online stage in the coronavirus era (Photograph by Tianyi Ma via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 13th SEPTEMBER

I was talking to a stand-up comedian. She said she had done an online gig, but didn’t like them.

I can only imagine what it is like to play an online gig in silence from an invisible audience. It must be like a rehearsal where you have to deliver your performance at 100% all the time with no motivation and no reaction.

It is a strange twilight world, this coronavirus world, like a dream where brain fog is dense, motivation to do anything is very low and every day seems the same.

THURSDAY 14th SEPTEMBER

To add to the dreamlike quality of this week, I travelled on a Thameslink train today – never a good idea.

There was a lady with green hair and a red skirt sitting half a carriage away from me with a corgi dog on her lap – She looked like upside-down traffic lights.

When the brightly-coloured lady got up to leave at the next station, the dog was on a lead and followed her out of the carriage… And I saw it was not a corgi but a fox.

Is this even legal?

How did she get through the ticket barrier with a fox without being queried about it?

Thameslink may be unreliable and incompetent, but it has the bonus of having its fair share of eccentrics.

Don’t even get me onto the woman with the teddy bear who talks to anyone and everyone about the aforementioned bear; or the bloke with the bright clothes and over-enthusiastic moustache who, according to the Evening Standard, was once convicted of killing his brother.

THURSDAY 15th SEPTEMBER

In a chilling warning to all forced to use the Thameslink line, someone arrived at Elstree station to see me today and, before coming out, used the toilet facilities.

Thameslink: bottomless home of horror

She sat in there doing what she had to do.

The toilets have recently been refurbished.

This included the installation of a movement sensor controlling the lights in the ceiling.

Because there had been no movement for a short while, all the lights suddenly went off.

Pitch black.

My friend was sitting in a windowless cubicle inside a windowless Ladies’ toilet. She waved her arms around. No effect. She could not remember if the door had a bolt or a lever or where it was and she couldn’t find it. She couldn’t immediately see her handbag but eventually found it and, by touch and much guddling around, found her iPhone and switched its torch on.

The lesson to be learned from this is that, while sitting on a Thameslink toilet, be as quick as you can and move around as much as possible.

THURSDAY 16th SEPTEMBER

I think my constant waking up with a dry mouth during the night may be getting to me.

In my last Diary Blog, I mentioned an incident that happened in the street. No need to check back. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin or possibly a MacGuffin.

A McMuffin – not to be confused with a McGuffin

But, for some reason, it has been reminding me today of a story I was told once. I may have mentioned it in a blog years ago. Dunno. I can’t be bothered to check. It doesn’t matter; it’s just a McGuffin. This is a story within a story within a story.

Back in the 1990s, I did not write someone’s autobiography. He is dead now. He was a ‘sleeper’ agent for the Soviets, part of a sleeper group run for them by East Germany’s Transport Minister. Strange but true.

This is the story as told to me by the man whose autobiography I did not write.:


One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman, the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearful eyes, as if she is looking right inside him.

Afterwards, he becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

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

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

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

And the standard-bearer realises that she is Death.


THURSDAY 17th SEPTEMBER

Even the spam is kinda weird this week. This was a comment on one of my blogs this week. You can tell it’s a tad odd from the first sentence:


Spam (Photograph by Hannes Johnson via UpSplash)

Hello and welcome to my webpage. I’m Kyran.

I have always dreamed of being a book writer but never dreamed I’d make a career of it. In college, though, I assisted a fellow student who needed help. She could not stop complimenting me.

Word got around and someone asked me for to write their paper just a week later. This time they would compensate me for my work.

During the summer, I started doing academic writing for students at the local college. It helped me have fun that summer and even funded some of my college tuition. Today, I still offer my writing services to students.


I was impressed by Kyran’s turn of phrase, particularly: “someone asked me for to write their paper”.

There was a link to his website and to his Trustpilot reviews which were almost all of the 5-star variety. The latest review read:

I may sub-contract writing my blog to Kyran…

THURSDAY 18th SEPTEMBER

Below is what happens when you give your iPhone to a 9-year-old and she asks Siri to translate the word ‘John’ into Chinese…

She also told me that one of the boys in her year had stolen one of another schoolmate’s micro pigs.

“A micro pig?” I asked. “This is some sort of cuddly toy?”

“No, they are real pigs,” I was told and, to prove it, a Wikipedia entry and Google photos were produced.

“He stole one of her micro pigs?” I asked.

“Yes, he stole one of her micro pigs after school. She has six. She brought one of her pet micro pigs into school in a top hat and he stole one after school.”

“She was wearing the top hat?” I asked.

“Of course not. The pig was inside the top hat. She carried the top hat in her hands with the pig in it.”

“Did she notice the pig had been stolen?” I asked.

“Of course… There was a tug-of-war. He tried to steal the top hat and the pig but she held on to the hat, so he ran away with the pig.”

As a postscript, I was later told that, although the light-fingered boy had stolen the micro pig, it was later returned to its rightful owner by “the man who looks after the boy”. I know no more about the pig’s fate.

“The man speaks English but I think he is French,” I was told.

“Have you heard him speak?” I asked.

“No,” I was told.

THURSDAY 19th SEPTEMBER

Last night, I woke up 14 times with a bone dry mouth and had to drink water. As always, this resulted in me being mentally zonked all day. Not helped by Thameslink.

I arrived at Elstree station at 1026 to catch the 1038 train which was (obviously) due to arrive at 1040 unless you read the indicator board which said the next train was at 0514…

Thameslink. The rail franchise holder with the slogan:

Reassuringly dependable incompetence in an ever-changing world.

I need to conserve my energy, because tomorrow is a big day – Thursday.

Oh… And… by the way… I made up the story about the fox on the Thameslink train. Life is what you make it and reality and surreality overlap all the time. Everything else apart from the fox story – the live miniature pigs, darkened toilets, illiterate humanity paper writers, the top hat, the homicidal man with the over-enthusiastic moustache and every day of my life being a Thursday – was true.

Or was it?

Yes, it was and is.

… CONTINUED HERE

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The backward-walking man is dead. Long live the backward-walking man!

The late Michael Dickinson, circa 2014, as he appeared in the Camden New Journal this week…

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Camden New Journal and was sad to read about the death of Michael Dickinson.

You’ve never heard of him? Neither had I until May last year, when I was in Camden Town and saw a man walking backwards. Not just for a couple of seconds or a minute. He walked backwards the whole time.

I posted two videos of him on YouTube. This was the first:

Obviously, I looked him up online and found out he had been doing this for years and was former actor Michael Dickinson.

He had been born in either Durham or Yorkshire, depending on which legend you believe, and he studied at the Manchester School of Theatre from 1969 alongside future actors Julie Walters and Richard Griffiths.

Michael Dickinson (right) with Simon Callow in Passing By – Gay Sweatshop production at the Almost Free Theatre, 1975.

In the 1970s, he became an actor himself. In 1975, he kissed Simon Callow in Passing By, a ‘groundbreaking’ two-man show about a gay romance.

Rather miscast as Jesus in another play, he eventually mostly gave up acting and took up collage art.

In 1982, he held an exhibition in Primrose Hill and a review in esteemed local paper the Hampstead & Highgate Express (the Ham & High), said he was “wickedly adept at exposing the two-faced tendencies and follies of our leaders”.

In an interview in the Camden New Journal on 25th May 2017, he claimed that he could no longer walk forwards and had self-diagnosed his condition as ‘retropulsion’.

He said: “It could be psychological, or I heard somebody say it could be a disease, but I don’t feel unwell apart from that. If I didn’t feel this retropulsion I would much prefer to be walking forwards. When it first started happening it was bewildering, to say the least.

“Occasionally people in cars blow horns at me, which is dangerous because I turn to look at them rather than where I’m going. 

“I don’t really want to see a doctor, I feel they’ll just put me on some sort of medication and I would rather not be. I can deal with it and there is no law against it. I’m careful that I had never hurt anybody, although I did hurt myself the other day when I tripped over a branch as I walked through the woods.”

From the mid-1980s for almost three decades – before he started walking backwards – he had lived in Turkey, working as a teacher and artist, sometimes telling fortunes to pay his rent.

…with one of his less insulting Turkish collages in 2014… (Photograph by Polly Hancock for the Ham & High)

He somewhat annoyed the Turkish authorities in 2006 by creating a collage which depicted leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a dog receiving a rosette from American President George W. Bush in a pet show. The resultant court case stretched over four years.

In 2008, he was prosecuted for insulting Erdogan by creating the collage. He was initially cleared, but the verdict was overturned in 2010 and then, after shouting a political slogan at police in a separate incident in 2013, he was deported.

Back in London between the two incidents, in 2011, he was arrested in Parliament Square (where he was living in a tent) after shouting “No more war!” during a Remembrance Day silence. He was charged with a public order offence, but the case was eventually dropped.

Permanently in London after his deportation from Turkey, he slept in the streets around Camden Town. While living in a cardboard box next to the Sainsbury’s supermarket there, some people who were squatting in the former police station in Hampstead met him at a soup kitchen and invited him to join their squat.

While there, he ate food discarded by shops and cafés and chucked-away in recycling bins. He made some money by telling fortunes on the street.

It was possibly not too rough an existence as it was a Grade II listed building and they had a wide-screen television set.

He was very grateful to the squatters.

He told the Ham & High: “I would still be in that box were it not for them.”

Squatters are evicted from the former Hampstead police station in 2014 with their belongings, including wide screen TV

Eventually, on the afternoon of 2nd May 2014, the police evicted the squatters in the former Hampstead police station and he took to sleeping in a tent in a Hampstead cementery, though he eventually ended up in a legitimate Highgate flat by 2017.

When and why exactly did he start to walk backwards? 

Leonie Scott-Matthews of Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead told the Camden New Journal this week: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here; he got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

His friend Charles Thomson says: “It was clearly symbolic I felt. He enjoyed be­ing in Turkey and he couldn’t go back. He was walking back­wards when I last saw him.”

His friend Kay Bayliss added: “He emailed me around Christmas saying he was having phlegm problems that persisted. He was still suffering this when he emailed me on April 11 and now had serious-sounding gut problems… Michael had a very interesting life. At school all the girls loved him. He was so good looking and very complimentary even in more recent times.”

Michael Dickinson died “from peritonitis resulting from a gut obstruction”, in his Highgate bedsit, aged 70, on 2nd July 2020. 

So it goes.

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John Fleming’s (half) Weekly Diary No 22 – Coughs, teeth, dead surrealists

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 21

SUNDAY 21st JUNE

One of my front upper teeth has gone out of alignment with the others. Hopefully this is a false tooth.

Staying on things oral, I have a lifelong dry, irritating (to others) cough, which is very useful for clearing queues during the current coronavirus outbreak.

One of the many British comedic highlights of the past which I missed was The Fast Show on BBC2 (1994-1997 + 2011-2014). I never saw an entire episode though I saw occasional excerpts.

One thing I apparently missed was a running gag/character called Bob Fleming, who had a dry irritating cough. Someone drew my attention to it today.

I had zero involvement in The Fast Show, but I did (inevitably, though Malcolm Hardee) peripherally have a nodding acquaintance with a couple of the cast members. It would be nice to think one mentioned in passing about this bloke John Fleming who had a perpetual irritating cough. That would be my 15 seconds of inspirational fame.

Alas, I imagine the thought of phlegming/Fleming is a more likely source.

Today I also chatted with TV chap Simon Kennedy for an upcoming blog. Inexplicably, the subject of long-time Chinese statesman Chou En Lai came up… and his famous quote.

Ever-wise, much quoted Chinese statesman

In the early 1970s, talking to Henry Kissinger, he was asked if he thought the French Revolution had had a successful outcome. The French Revolution happened in 1789.

Chou said: “It is too early to say.”

I have always seen this as the epitome of Chinese long-sightedness.

But Simon correctly told me that Chou was actually referring to the 1968 student riots in Paris.

What a pity.

It is far more Chinese to say that 1968 was too early to say what long-term effects an action in 1789 had.

MONDAY 22nd JUNE

China – and, indeed, similar political paradises – are known for their bureaucracy.

So today I arrived at my local hospital at 0845 (with my three appointment letters) for my 0900 Nephrology appointment at Outpatients and, on presenting myself and my three letters at Main Reception, was told the department was closed and all appointments had been moved to another hospital.

I ignored this – as I had had the three letters and had had a phone call confirming the appointment. I phoned the Kidney Man’s answering machine, found Outpatients and sat in Main Outpatients Reception (open from 0830 but with no receptionist).

About 0900, the Kidney Man’s secretary phoned me back to confirm I would be seen and if no-one turned up, to phone her back. I was due to see a Kidney Woman.

I said if no-one turned up by 0920 I would phone back.

The Kidney Woman arrived at 0917, unlike the receptionist.

She (the Kidney Woman) told me that, during my 7-day hospital stay, they had not treated me – just observed. Fair enough.

During that time, my calcium level had gone back to normal without any treatment (except the saline drip for 7 days). My calcium level had been 3.2. I had been told in hospital it should be 2.6.

The Kidney Woman told me: “2.6 would be an absolute maximum.”

Apparently ‘normal’ would be 2.2 to 2.6.

My kidney function last October had been an OK-for-my-age 62 but, on entering hospital, it was down to 19. Over 7 days in the hospital I had been told it had risen to 28 which was concerning but no longer “dangerous” and the Kidney Woman today told me it had been 34 on discharge from hospital.

“Anything over 60 would be OK for a man of your age,” she told me. “Your calcium level would affect your kidney function, but your kidney function could not affect the calcium level.”

Still, there is no hint of why my calcium level/kidney function went haywire nor why I keep waking up 6 or 7 or 8 times a night with a parched, bone-dry mouth and have to drink water. Next week, I will hear the result of today’s blood test.

During the day I am mostly OK though I sometimes have to have a late afternoon nap for a couple of hours; and I go to bed, tired, around 8.00pm or 9.00pm. My normal bedtime used to be around midnight.

Whether this tiredness is a result of my calcium/kidney problems or just being old or having constantly woken up 6 or 7 or 8 times the previous night… Who knows?

TUESDAY 23rd JUNE

The pandemic has resulted in much more dental bureaucracy

The tooth cap that was out-of-alignment on Sunday has now got decidedly wobbly. It is hanging on in there, but threatening to either fall out during the day or (in my fantasies) drop out and get swallowed by me during the night.

Miraculously (because of the coronavirus lockdown) I was able to get a dental appointment next Tuesday. My dentist re-opened last Monday (eight days ago) for emergencies.

I got an appointment after answering a lot of detailed medical questions and, I think, because the dodgy upper tooth is towards the front and visible.

There will be absolutely no drilling of any kind because of the danger from airborne spray from the mouth. So anything that would normally involve drilling will, instead, be temporarily repaired.

Around lunchtime, I was sitting on a bench with someone (the regulation two metres apart) in the Green Belt area near my home when a stray football from a nearby game headed towards us. I got up, kicked the ball back and nearly overbalanced and (did not) fall over.

I am constantly lightheaded during the day and waking up hourly at night.

Who knows why?

In the afternoon, I was told of the death of Douglas Gray last Thursday. He and brother Tony were The Alberts, a surreal comedy duo which linked The Goons and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I met the brothers years ago – in the 1980s, I think, at their home (I think they lived in the same rambling house but I could be wrong) in Norfolk. They were interestingly and gently eccentric and one – I think it was Douglas – appeared to be dressed for playing cricket for no apparent reason.

They should have been British cultural treasures but, alas, mega-fame escaped them, like so many worthy performers. I seem to remember that they used to pretend to work on a national newspaper in London, before Margaret Thatcher destroyed the ‘closed shop’ policies of the trades unions.

They told me, I think, that they would drive down from Norfolk to London each Friday, sign on as print workers (they had union cards), then drive straight back to Norfolk. They got paid well for working at the weekends although they were not even in London, let alone working on the production of the newspaper.

They were surrealists on and off stage.

Today was the last day of the daily government Briefings/updates about the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown restrictions will be partially, but not by any means totally, lifted on the 4th of July – our ‘Trim-dependence Day’ as one BBC News reporter put it, because hairdressers will be allowed to open with safety restrictions.

The total of reported UK coronavirus deaths is now 42,927… up 171 in the previous 24 hours

WEDNESDAY 24th JUNE

I have received the three pages of forms I have to fill in before seeing my dentist next Tuesday.

The accompanying letter details what will happen.

The tooth will out…

– I should rinse my mouth with mouthwash before leaving home, to kill off any bacteria in my mouth.

– I should not arrive early, because the surgery’s street door will be locked and I will only be allowed in when the previous patient has left.

– On entry, my temperature will be taken with an infra-red thermometer.

– I will have to wash my hands with anti-bacterial gel before seeing the dentist.

– The dentist and nurse will be wearing protective clothing: presumably face masks and/or plastic face visors.

As if to celebrate my filling-in of the dental forms…

…my tooth fell out.

… CONTINUED HERE

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The death of the second ‘Albert’ – supreme British surrealist entertainers

The Alberts – images from their Facebook page

In a 2014 blog, I wrote about the death of Tony Gray, one of The Alberts – the gloriously eccentric British brothers who linked the shambolic opening night of BBC2 to The Goon Show, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python’s Flying Circus

This afternoon, sadly, I received news from Sheba Gray – Tony’s daughter – that Douglas, the other half of the duo, “passed away last Thursday (18th June), just shy of ninety”…

British Rubbish Revisited, a recent release with recordings from their 1960s shows, can currently be found on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc…

And a 58-minute video – The Alberts – An Evening of British Rubbish – is currently on YouTube.

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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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Kunt and the Gang with Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and the Yorkshire Ripper

I try to make these blogs fairly immediate. But, in this case, I have failed miserably.

After trying and failing two or three times to meet up online during the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, Kunt (of Kunt and The Gang – is there any other?) and I eventually chatted via FaceTime on 14th May – that’s almost a month ago now.


JOHN: What have you got on the wall behind you?

KUNT: It’s my memorabilia… Look… Here… I got this on my final tour: it’s a signed picture of Rolf Harris, some saucy seaside postcards and…

Kunt in front of his wall of memorabilia… Saucy postcards, a famous family TV star and Kunt’s book

JOHN: Who’s in that picture on your Facebook page? The Yorkshire Ripper and Jimmy Savile and…

Kunt performs in front of the Yorkshire Ripper, Jimmy Savile and Frank Bruno… in Hitchin…

KUNT: On my final tour, at a gig in Hitchin, they said: “Have you got an image you want projected behind you?” and I said, “No. not really, but it’s a shame not to have something projected,” and so we used that one. It’s one of my favourite photos. It’s Jimmy Savile introducing Frank Bruno to the Yorkshire Ripper.

JOHN: He’s a nice man is Frank. Did he know it was the Yorkshire Ripper?

KUNT:  No. he was completely hoodwinked into it. So there’s Frank shaking hands with The Ripper and Jimmy Savile is in the background just looking all pleased with himself. The thing I like most about that photo is that it was obviously years before all the stuff came out about Savile and he’s there in I think Broadmoor with a great big cigar and, behind him, there’s a NO SMOKING sign. That says all you need to know about Jimmy Savile in that one photo, smoking, introducing the Yorkshire Ripper to Frank Bruno.

I also love the fact The Ripper is in a late-1980s/early-1990s shell suit. Savile must have just taken it in on that visit and said: “Here, Pete, just slip this on. This’ll suit ya.”

Kunt’s latest Bumface book – free to download

JOHN: It’s been so long getting to chat, I’ve forgotten what you are plugging. Is it your children’s book Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown?

KUNT: No, I’m not actually plugging anything. That was weeks ago I done that.

JOHN: Look, I’m an old man; I’m sick; I’m not going to last much longer. There’s COVID-19 around. Help me out here. Make up something surreal. Are you plugging your nightly online show Kunt’s Korona Klub?

KUNT: No! I’m not plugging it because I don’t want other people tuning in to it. I like the people who are tuning into it already, because they’ve been with it for kinda 45 nights and, if you tune in now, you just won’t understand what’s going on because it’s sort of developed its own lingo.

JOHN: You don’t want my blog readers? I’m shocked and saddened.

KUNT: A couple of ‘em are alright but the majority of ‘em I wouldn’t give the time of day.

JOHN: You’ve started drinking early…

KUNT: It’s to take the edge off doing FaceTime with you. I don’t really like doing FaceTime. I don’t wanna plug anything, John. I don’t like plugging things; it’s a bit shameless, ain’t it?

JOHN: Shameless? Have you listened to any of your songs??

KUNT: Well, they’ve got their own integrity. But it’s a different type of integrity.

JOHN: What sort of integrity would this be?

KUNT: One that I sort of tell meself is alright.

JOHN: Which is?

KUNT: It’s morphed over the years.

JOHN: On whom did you base this moral code? Heinrich Himmler?

KUNT: Are you comparing me to Heinrich Himmler?

JOHN: No. He was an underling. You’re more Hitler.

KUNT: Well, I have got a moustache, so there are some similarities. Though not a very good one. It has a bit of mascara on it.

JOHN: Why have you got mascara on your moustache?

KUNT: Because it’s flecked with grey. I’m going prematurely grey.

JOHN: So the ego has landed? You have done pretty much everything. What is there left? You’ve done books, albums, stage shows, become a cult Kunt…

KUNT: I think I’m gonna fake my own death from COVID-19 to make it current and then I’m going to surruptitiously put the thousands of CDs I’ve got stored round me mum’s house on eBay, but in dribs and drabs. It’s the perfect time to hold a funeral and get away with it.

JOHN: Does it have to be a fake death? It would be better if it were real. I could get people to kill you. As a favour, obviously – mate’s rates.

“This is my actual hair. There’s rumours about it being a wig.”

KUNT: John, this is my actual hair.

JOHN: Eh?

KUNT: There’s a lot of rumours about it being a wig.

JOHN: Don’t mention hair to me. Why did you write a children’s book anyway?

KUNT: I’m not plugging it.

JOHN: So it started because…?

KUNT: I went round my mate’s house one day and, on his fridge, he had this picture pinned up of this character with an arse for his face and these poo hands. I asked: “What the fuck is that?” And he said, very matter-of-factly: “That’s Bumface Poohands.”

He said: “I just do these little drawings and leave ‘em in me daughter’s lunchbox to make her laugh.”

JOHN: Has he ever read any books on parenting?

KUNT: No. My mate told me: “He’s a down-at-heel character who ends up in all the situations.” So I said to him: “Have you ever thought of making it into a children’s book?” and I… well… Well, it was just an excuse to meet up every few weeks. We’ve got about a dozen books written now and half a dozen illustrated and we’ve put two out – Bumface Poohands: A Birthday Surprise and Bumface Poohands: A Snowy Day and now we’ve just put this Coronavirus one online as a free e-book.

JOHN: How is Bumface going?

KUNT: It’s going alright. Bumface Poohands and the Coronavirus Pandemic Lockdown seems to have landed quite well. I’m quite happy with it. It sort of tells a story of what we’re kinda stuck in at the moment… in a fairly jocular way, compared to how bleak things actually are – and it seems to kinda cross over with adults and kids.

But Bumface Poohands is like everything I do. I always think Oh! This’ll be the thing that crosses over. But it never is. The ideas I have always have a very finite amount of people who are gonna like them. I thought at one point that Bumface Poohands would be my retirement plan, but now I’m looking at alternative arrangements.

JOHN: If you have 12 new ones written and 6 illustrated, it may yet still happen. JK Rowling approached every sensible publisher in London with Harry Potter and they all turned her down – quite rightly. It’s a ridiculous idea: a boy wizard in this day and age! No-one is going to buy that. Totally uncommercial. But then she got a publisher and now everyone is drowning in dosh.

KUNT: Yeah. I can just see Bumface Poohands becoming the new Harry Potter… It’s never gonna happen, John.

The great showman’s autobiography…

JOHN: Well, you’re a great lyricist; you write great tunes; if you drop a few of the ‘cunts’ and ‘fucks’… You are an Essex boy made good… or bad. Rags to riches story or whatever…

KUNT: But I came from a working class, aspirational middle class family. There’s no story there. It’s not rags to riches.

JOHN: What’s it been like round your way?

KUNT: It’s been strange round here. My mate’s doctor died and the landlady at one of the local pubs. But, other than that, it feels like it’s all kinda happening in London and the cities, not Essex.

It’s like it’s happening somewhere else.

JOHN: I think I have enough for a blog there.

KUNT: I don’t think so.

JOHN: I think so. I will craft it into a thing of fascinating beauty and riotous fun.

KUNT: I don’t think so, John. I read the last one you did.

JOHN: Have you ever had anyone write a brilliant, incisive piece on Kunt and the Gang?

KUNT: No. Anyway, a brilliant, incisive piece wouldn’t really be right for Kunt & the Gang.

JOHN: Then I’m the ideal person for you.

KUNT: Just make it sound better than it actually is, John, and then it’s maybe worth this awkward FaceTime.

JOHN: Do you still feel awkward?

KUNT: You haven’t put me totally at my ease… Heinrich Himmler?

JOHN: This might not get posted in the next two days. I might be sleeping.


Exactly one week later, I was taken into hospital for seven days with low kidney function and high calcium problems. I don’t blame Kunt. Not totally. But I did think it might be a good excuse for taking so long to post this blog.

He finished his nightly Kunt’s Korona Klub shows on YouTube with Episode 58 on 31st May.

Last night, 8th June, I got an email from Kunt. It read:

“How you keeping John, not chasing you up, just seeing how you are?!”

I took this as a veiled threat – he lives in Essex – and I had run out of excuses for my laziness in transcribing our chat. I did not think the fact I currently have constipation would be justification enough.

On a cheerier note, he added: “I’m going to start a new monthly YouTube show called The New Normal in a few weeks time… 

“In one section, Down Meme-ory Lane, I turn investigative journalist and hunt down people whose image became a viral internet phenomenon…

“In another, I’ll Be The Judge of That, I adjudicate over petty Facebook disputes and make a ruling as to who has been the biggest cunt…

“And there is going to be a continuing serial drama following the inhabitants of ‘Yewtree Close’… a bit like Neighbours for sex offenders.”

The man is unstoppable.

 

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The Tiger Lillies release their SECOND album about the COVID-19 pandemic

Dark Weimaresque British singing trio The Tiger Lillies celebrated their 30th birthday last year and today have released a new album COVID-19 Volume II on Bandcamp having already released COVID-19 Part 1 on BandCamp on 10th April with a semi-live launch party on YouTube on May 1st.

The Tiger Lillies won an Olivier Award in 2002 and got a Grammy nomination in 2003. Wikipedia calls them “the forefathers of Brechtian Punk Cabaret”.  I first saw them in, I guess, the mid-1990s, when incorrigible performer Tony Green insisted I go see them at the monthly London event Torture Garden. (It was a surprise to me, too.)

So I thought I would have a chat with composer/singer Martyn Jacques about the new Tiger Lillies album while maintaining a discreet coronavirus social distance of around 580 miles – He has lived for the last ten years in Berlin. We talked via FaceTime.


JOHN: You live in Berlin and the other Tiger Lillies’ founding member Adrian Stout lives in Athens. That sounds a bit complicated.

MARTYN: Well, with this job, we’ve been travelling around for 30 years and you lose the link with the UK. In the end, you don’t have to live in only one country. We’d be doing a gig in Prague one weekend, the next weekend a little tour in Greece, the next weekend in Berlin. You don’t have to live in London, though I don’t think it would have worked if we lived in America, cos that’d be too far. But, with Europe, we could live anywhere.

JOHN: You’re planning to turn your COVID-19 song cycle into a stage show…

MARTYN: We did a show called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 

and, for that, we had two screens – one in front of us and one behind, with all these projections. We had this really amazing, hot artist – Eugene Cavill from the Lebanon – he did the artwork for the new album – and he’s got all these drawings of the virus with people dying, severed limbs and stuff; it all looks sort-of psychedelic. So I thought we might use that two-screen idea again for a COVID-19 stage show.

JOHN: COVID-19 is very of-the-moment.

MARTYN: It’s what we do. We write about what’s going on. We write about unpleasant things. We’ve written songs about rape, paedophiles, pretty much everything really that’s unpleasant.

JOHN: Well, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera is unpleasant. The song Mack The Knife is appallingly nasty in the original lyrics.

MARTYN: Exactly… Even things like Punch & Judy. It’s abuse. A man kills his wife and his baby. I did an album on Punch & Judy

and did Mack the Knife.

Basically, I really like to write about very unpleasant subjects. I did an album on zoophilia, Farmyard Filth which was about having sex with different types of animals. I write about the most unpleasant things all the time. I did Cockatoo Prison – a whole album about prison inmates, but trying to sympathise with them.

I’ve spent 30 years writing about unpleasant, nasty things so, for me, it’s actually very very easy for me to write about COVID-19 now. It seems there’s no-one else writing songs and making music about it. I am perfectly suited to write horrible songs about this very unpleasant disease.

JOHN: Do you think writing about lots of sick, dark stuff is somehow cathartic for you? It gets it out of your system?

MARTYN: I suppose so. But I think what really gets it out of my system is performing it in front of an audience and taking people on a journey. Sadness and beauty and grotesqueness.

And… I’m not doing that any more because of the coronavirus lockdowns. It’s a very weird time for me. Very strange. I’ve spent the last 30 years travelling around the world making people laugh and cry in theatres and now, all of a sudden, I’m not doing it. That’s a bit of a shock to my system.

You are a writer, John, and, even though this horrible virus has occurred, you can still write and be creatively satisfied. Whereas, with me, the main thing I do is write songs but the other thing I do is go out onto a stage and perform them. That’s what I’ve done for most of the last 30 years. And I can’t do that any more. So it’s quite traumatic to suddenly have that happen.

JOHN: So half of how you satisfy your creative urge has been suddenly taken away…

MARTYN: More than half, probably. Writing all these songs is an outlet but the writing is not really where the outlet happens. The outlet is when I’m in front of an audience of people, actually singing the songs.

JOHN: Your lyrics tend to be about horrible things, but you tend to also include bits of humour.

“Your lyrics tend to be about horrible things… but you tend to also include bits of humour…” (Photograph (c) Daniela Matejschek-38)

MARTYN: Well, black humour is just waiting to be exploited in horrible things. I’ve used black comedy a lot through the years. I have literally had audiences weeping with laughter and then suddenly I start singing a song which is really, really sad and there is no humour in it. People are waiting to carry on laughing but then there’s nothing funny and now I’m not joking.

It’s something I’ve done through the years that has been a great source of pleasure for me. To take an audience on a journey where one minute they’re laughing and the next minute it’s sad.

JOHN: Marilyn Manson played a Tiger Lillies song at his wedding in 2005 and other fans include The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening and Mel Brooks, who made The Producers

MARTYN: Yes, that is one of my favourite films. 

JOHN: Sort-of bad taste, but acceptable…

MARTYN: Yes, being Jewish, he has the edge on me there. At one point, I was going to do a show called Three Hitlers. Probably about five years ago, on my Facebook page, I put up all these pictures of Hitler – but pictures of him with, like, make-up on, transgender Hitlers, make-up, lipstick. I put these up and… Oh, the hate! The hate! I got so many hate messages. It made people so angry. I pissed people off so much.

JOHN: Was annoying people enjoyable?

“It made people so angry. I pissed people off so much…” – “Was annoying people enjoyable?…”

MARTYN: It wasn’t so much enjoyable. But it was fascinating. There were about maybe ten really good pictures of Hitler in drag.

It took Facebook quite a long time – three or four weeks – to get on me. I was putting up the pictures and getting all this hate. My thing is I try to create argument and debate when I do things like this. And there were all these other people saying: “Actually, there is nothing wrong with this. It is actually taking he piss out of Hitler” – Which I was.

It was fascinating to see all these people standing-up for me. And all these people hating me.

JOHN: What did Facebook say?

MARTYN: Well, they threatened to ban me.

JOHN: Why would making fun of Hitler be against their rules?

MARTYN: Well, you know what Facebook are like. They’re a bunch of chickens. They’re sheep. Cowards.

JOHN: I think your favourite artist is Hogarth. He is in much the same vein as The Threepenny Opera.

MARTYN: Definitely. And John Gay – The Beggar’s Opera – Macheath (Mack the Knife) is in that. It’s all the same thing – Hogarth, The Beggar’s Opera, The Threepenny Opera – it’s all about the street. Nasty, unpleasant things going on.

JOHN: I think you described The Tiger Lillies as an “anarchic, Brechtian street opera trio.”

MARTYN: (LAUGHS) That was probably Ken Campbell. Did you know him?

JOHN: I met him a few times. Didn’t know him. Ken Campbell influenced everybody.

MARTYN: He directed the first show I ever did. Fungus The Bogeyman at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. He was crazy. He was always nice to me. But, God! He used to make some of the actors in Fungus The Bogeyman cry; he used to make them weep. I remember once coming round the corner at the Belgrade Theatre and there were three actors all in floods of tears with Ken Campbell.

I stopped and looked and he said: “Keep… walking… Martyn…”

I don’t think he liked actors.

JOHN: So what next?

MARTYN: I’m doing an album about Sigmund Freud at the moment.

JOHN: The man or the ideas?

MARTYN: The ideas.

JOHN: Is that sick enough for you?

MARTYN: (LAUGHS) Yes. He’s very odd. Very strange. Really weird, actually. Pretty sick. Pretty dark.

… MORE ABOUT THE TIGER LILLIES AND THE COVID ALBUM HERE

The Tiger Lillies – COVID-19 VOL II – released today on Bandcamp

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Dave Brooks, RIP – astonishing original

Dave Brooks with his sons and daughter (Charlie on right)

I was asleep today – about 11 in the morning-  when Martin Soan phoned to tell me Dave ‘Bagpipes’ Brooks – an early member of The Greatest Show on Legs – had died, aged 72. Dave’s son Charlie Brooks had announced on Facebook that his father died at the end of last week.

Charlie wrote: “He passed away end of last week. They broke the mould when they made him. Here’s to all of you who played music with him, loved him, got exasperated with him(!) and had fun with him over the years. With the coronavirus situation, we don’t know what will happen with the funeral at the moment.” 

(Charlie lives in Oregon; Dave lived in the UK.)

“At some point, there will be a moment to remember Dave and it will involve music and a few drinks.

Dave playing at Charlie’s wedding (bride & groom on left)

“Charismatic and occasionally cantankerous, but always quick with a joke and someone who definitely lived by his own rules, for better or worse. He was also a brilliant musician, starting as a jazz sax player in the 1960s, then becoming a piper.

“Going to miss you, Dave… everyone is unique, but they truly broke the mould when they made you. They say you can’t choose your family, but if I could, I’d choose you again. So sad I didn’t get to say goodbye. Love you.”

Martin Soan remembers: “Dave joined The Greatest Show on Legs very early on…

“I don’t know what year or indeed how we came to meet him in the first place, but he was a valued member and was a very funny man indeed.

“Going on tour with ‘The Legs’ wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea: it was a hand-to-mouth existence and a lot of anarchy to put up with, but he fitted in without any trouble and sometimes led the way in outrageousness. 

(L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Martin Soan, Jools Holland, ‘Digger Dave’, Dave Brooks (Photograph supplied by Martin Soan)

“I performed with him a few times in later years and we both slotted in where we left off. It was simply natural to perform and hang out with him.

“His temperament was sunny and always even but also he was very educational (important when spending long hours in a van), He introduced Malcolm Hardee and me to garlic, which Malcolm hated… He knew what was happening politically and, of course, musically expanded our minds… Above all, I will always remember his wicked sense of humour and infectious laugh.

“He excelled on stage and personally made sketches of ours complete and perfect and, after he went his own way, we had to drop the routines he had made his own. The Human Scottish Sword Dance and Dirty Ol Men were his sketches .”

In 1981, Dave performed The Human Scottish Sword Dance with The Legs on ITV’s ratings-topper Game For a Laugh

I myself met him, I think, only twice, maybe three times: clearly my loss. As well as having an original sense of humour, he had wide talents. 

He was wonderful on the Highland bagpipes (and saxophone) playing Irish Traditional and Scottish Traditional music and jazz with many other artists including Joan Armatrading, Graham Bond, Elkie Brooks, Phil Collins, George Harrison, Dick Hecksall-Smith, Manfred Mann, Count Dracula and The Barber of Seville. Probably also Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

He played weddings with Sikh dhal drummers

He had an 18-month run in London’s West End as a piper in the stage production of Brigadoon (where he had his bagpipes sent to sleep for 100 years) as well as appearing in the BBC TV production of People Like Us and in the movie Loch Ness.

He also performed and played bagpipes on the alternative comedy scene with Arnold Brown, The Greatest Show on Legs, John Hegley, Marcel Steiner (Smallest Theatre in the World) as well as Keith Allen (whose record company, Dave said, still owed him £60!).

In the US, he was a founder member of infamous band The Don Wannabes.

Back in the UK, he played various Scots and Irish piping at weddings, funerals and divorces and had his own Irish ceilidh band Sham-Rock, sometimes appearing playing the bagpipes with them as the Green Man, dressed in a suit of leaves. He claimed he was thinking of branching out. He is on whistle in this video…

For Asian weddings, he appeared playing bagpipes with Drummers Delight – two Sikh dhal drummers.

On 29th July 1996, the Corporation of London prosecuted him at Hampstead Magistrates’ Court under an 1890 by-law for “playing a musical instrument (his bagpipes) on Hampstead Heath on three separate counts. This was despite the fact that Dave had been playing his pipes on the Heath for an hour every morning for 15 years without any complaint from anyone.

As part of Dave’s defence, solicitor George Fairburn cited the legal precedent of Jimmy Reid, Highland Bagpiper, who, on October 2nd, 1746 – after the Battle of Culloden – was charged with playing an instrument of war and insurrection. Jimmy stated that his Highland pipes were a musical instrument not an instrument of war (which sounds reasonable). But the Lord Chief Justice of England overruled the original jury’s not-guilty verdict and dismissed their later plea for mercy by declaring that the bagpipes were indeed an instrument of insurrection. On the strength of this, Jimmy Reid was hanged, drawn and quartered.

After the Battle of Culloden, they were “an instrument of war””

Dave Brooks said that if his Highland bagpipes were an instrument of war – as stated by the court in 1746 – then now, in 1996, his Highland bagpipes remained an instrument of war and insurrection and could not possibly be a musical instrument as charged. 

The 1996 judge – Stipendiary Magistrate Michael Johnstone – said that the case of James Reid and his Highland bagpipes was a gross miscarriage of justice – a point not picked up by the press at the time – and then bizarrely threatened to have Dave Brooks and his Highland Bagpipes charged with bearing arms on Hampstead Heath. He said that, if this interpretation was accurate, Mr Brooks could be charged with carrying a dangerous weapon on the Heath and the penalty could be a prison sentence rather than a fine. He asked the bailiff of the court if he was ready to take Mr Brooks, Highland bagpiper, to the cells below the court never more for his bagpipes to be heard,.

Dave was found guilty on three counts of playing a musical instrument and fined £15 on each count plus £50 costs. 

In his summing-up, the magistrate said: “In time of war the bagpipes are an instrument of war and in peace they are a musical instrument”. He dismissed a petition of 2,500 signatures collected around Hampstead by people who liked the Highland pipes. 

Dave with his Scottish military weapon

The Corporation of London as a token gesture gave consent for Mr Brooks to play his bagpipes for one hour, three mornings a week on the bandstand at Parliament Hill Fields. He was also given permission by the management of Alexandra Palace to play his bagpipes in Alexandra Park anytime, which he then did regularly in return for playing his bagpipes at various charity functions for them.

Stipendiary Magistrate Michael Johnstone, in delivering his judgment, conceded that many might not consider the bagpipes to be a musical instrument, although he said he was not saying it was one.

When Dave’s case first came to prominence and he became a cause célèbre in piping circles, the College of Piping in Glasgow offered some words of comfort: “Well, if they hing you, dinnae you worry. We’ll compose a fine lament to your memory!’’

Tracks on subsequent albums released by Dave included the evocative Birds Eat Turds, a flute and pipe combination of Irish and Mauritanian songs like A Chailleach do mharrias me/Arts Plume and the classic Did They Come From Outer Space? No. They Came From Hendon Central.

RIP an original.


Here is Dave Bagpipes Brooks playing Auld Lang Syne…

…and playing solo bagpipes with an Indian theme…

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 8

SUNDAY 19th APRIL

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

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

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

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

MONDAY 20th APRIL

(Photo by Luke Jones via UnSplash)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


TUESDAY 21st APRIL

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

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

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

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

WEDNESDAY 22nd APRIL

One friend of mine is taking no chances…

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

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

Thus her choice of full headgear makes total logical sense.

THURSDAY 23rd APRIL

Correct social distancing is marked on the floor

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

FRIDAY 24th APRIL

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

So I see this as a glimmer.

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


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

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

SATURDAY 25th APRIL

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

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

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

… CONTINUED HERE

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