Tag Archives: lupus

Flying toilets, taking new drugs and having a penis enlargement operation

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I record a weekly Grouchy Club Podcast. It covers more than gossip about the comedy industry as do the monthly, live Grouchy Club meetings. Inevitably, after this week’s was finished, the conversation carried on. Three main anecdotes cropped up…


Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Schreibkraft)

Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya (Photograph by Schreibkraft)

FLYING TOILETS

The podcast is recorded in Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherds Bush, London.

The charity works in Kenya, helping small business start-ups.

When over in Nairobi, Copstick lives in slum areas and had this description of the ‘flying toilets’ in Kibera, Nairobi, said to be the largest urban slum in Africa. 

* * * * *

The houses are incredibly close together – you can’t really extend your arms in the little rat runs between the houses. It is much better now but originally there was allegedly 2,000 people to every one long-drop toilet.

Now the government have put in some standpipes and there are public toilets but you are still sharing a toilet with a helluva lot more people than you would like to. If you go out into the darkness of the night – and you really can’t see in front of your face – you have no idea what you are stepping on, you creak open the door of the long-drop toilet and have no idea what state it’s in. It’s a bit Russian Rouletty. You may also get killed or attacked on your way there or back.

So, if you wake up in the middle of the dark night and think: “God! I desperately need a shit!” – which people do a lot because there is a lot of diarrhea around – what you do is go outside and take a shit into a plastic carrier bag, then tie the top of the carrier bag and take the little butterfly bit at the top and whirl it round your head like a Scotsman flinging the hammer. When it gets to peak velocity, you let go and it flies away into the night as far as it can.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you aim high and generally what will happen is that somebody a couple of streets or houses away will hear a SPLATT! on their corrugated iron roof and they will think: Oh fuck! Somebody’s flying toilet! I must remember to go up and scrape it off in the morning!

The shit is in a plastic bag but, when the plastic bag lands, it generally splits open. Also, if you are in a big family – my mate Sylverster has a one-bedroom house for seven of them – as the children get older, when it’s not raining, the girls sleep inside the house but the boys sleep on the roof. So that can get messy.


Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick prepares for a Grouchy Club

WHITE BLOOD CELLS

For many years, Copstick has suffered from the painful and debilitating disease lupus. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.

Until 2½ months ago she was in agony most of the time…

* * * * *

Since the lupus struck, I have always had a low white blood cell count – neutropenia. The white cells are the fighter cells and scavenger cells. When you get a bruise, the neutrophils go in and clear away all the damaged blood.

Last June, they put me on this new medication – methotrexate – which I injected into the flub on my stomach. It is a kick-ass drug. It’s used in chemotherapy – for leukaemia and other cancers. Then they found out it really worked for rheumatoid arthritis and, through that, they found it worked for other auto-immune diseases like lupus.

I got put on methotrexate last June/July. Then in August in Edinburgh I got bacterial pneumonia and they thought it might be the methotrexate and I kept taking it and they said: “Oh, your white blood cell count keeps going down.”

Then suddenly, 2½ months ago, I felt great; I felt fantastic. Nothing had been changed in the drugs but I suddenly felt physically great. And the best I’ve felt psychologically for years. I was actually happy. I felt happy. Just wonderful. No pain; no headaches; no tinnitus; no cold sweats; and the white blood cell count had gone down even more.

Then, two weeks ago, the doctors said the white blood cell count had become very dangerously low.

I said: “I’m feeling fine!”

They said: “No no no no no. You’re very dangerously low.”

They kept asking me if I had temperatures and beadaches.

I said: “No! I feel wonderful!”

So, last week, they told me to stop taking the methotrexate because they thought that was lowering the white blood cells. I stopped taking it and I feel like shit this week. As soon as I stopped the injections, I got the pain back – tiredness, pain, headache, dizziness – all the lupus shit.

I mean, everything you take, every normal mainstream medication that you take does something bad to you. I think it should be about what makes you feel good. I’m fucking fed up feeling like shit. I’ve felt like shit for a lot of years, a lot.

Nothing bad seemed to be happening with the low white blood cells and I was feeling great and I reckon for me that’s better than being like this and taking handfuls of tramadol and dihydrocodeine and anything else I can lay my hands on just so I can be functional.


Devils on Horseback

“A bit like Devils on Horseback” which is dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon

PENIS ENLARGEMENT

In her TV production hat, a few years ago, Copstick developed, wrote and produced a series for the Bravo TV channel called World of Pain.

* * * * *

It was about things like pain for pleasure, sporting pain, all different things. And one episode was called Suffer To Be Beautiful which was about people having plastic surgery and all the crazy shit they do.

So I went to New York to film a penis enlargement operation. It was around the year 2000 and there was nobody in Britain who would allow me to film them. Those who go for penis enlargement tend to want people to imagine that’s how they always have been naturally.

I filmed the entire operation. It was absolutely fascinating. I was the cameraperson. When we sent it to the compliance lawyers, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor not because it was erotic but because there was just so much blood. Somebody was having the shaft of his penis split open with a scalpel and the skin peeled…

What I did not realise was that every man is born with as much penis length as anyone can give you. It just depends if you are a show-er or a grow-er.

If you are a show-er, even when you are flaccid, it is all hanging out there.

If you are a grow-er, there is more to come from inside.

So what they do, when somebody wants more length, is make two cuts in the inguinal area – just above the pubic bone – one on either side – and in there are the ligaments that hold the penis in place and they snip those.

Then – this is true – one doctor or a very strong nurse holds the patient on the operating table while the other doctor grabs the penis and pulls. And I am talking PULLS. We are talking like tug-of-war. And they yank out as much of the penis as they can.

Then they stitch up the little incisions and you are now a show-er.

What surprised me is that men who want more length want it for the locker room. They want it for that moment when the Calvin Kleins hit the carpet and another person – male or female – gets their first look at what you are packing.

This guy I was filming wanted more length. So they did that. But he also wanted more girth.

Enhancement can help a bit on girth with what they call ‘harvested tissue’. Have you ever larded a joint of meat? Where you take strips of fat…

Anyway, what they do is get the penis and slit open the skin down the length of it and then… Have you ever buttered the breast of a chicken before you roasted it?

What you do is you ease your hands in between the flesh and the skin of the chicken and you open it up so the skin separates from the flesh.

So, with penis enhancement, they get little rectangles of harvested tissue, lift the skin of the penis away from the shaft and wrap these bits of tissue around the shaft. Then they sew that bit up and do another bit until… It’s a bit like Devils on Horseback or a beef olive.

Then they stitch the skin back into place and wrap it all in very tight elastic bandage. Then the person goes away with lots of painkillers and hopes that they only think clean thoughts.

Because the single biggest problem with the process is guys who go away from the hospital, take their painkillers and, after a day or so, wake up with a bit of morning glory and burst all their stitches.

As for pee-ing, initially you are catheterised but the answer after that is to pee very very carefully.

How do you get harvested tissue? With a scalpel and a dead body.

So be careful when you sign your organ donor card. You may think you will be giving sight to the blind, but you could end up giving girth to the under-endowed and find yourself wrapped around some tiny-dicked guy’s enlarged penis.

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Filed under Health, Humor, Humour, Kenya, Medical, Poverty, Sex

Edinburgh Fringe: suicide & drugs for breakfast, laughter & tears for comedy

So which, I hear you cry, Edinburgh Fringe shows did I see yesterday?

Pasta la vista - Ali Price

Pasta la vista – Ali Brice as his Fringe show alter ego Eric Meat

Ali Brice Presents: Eric Meat Has No Proof, Only Memories of Pasta
Everything you would expect from one of the absurdist Weirdos collective. Plus the chance to take a bite out of an apple.

Liz Fraser: Lifeshambles
Perfect example of a new Fringe genre: attractive, intelligent women (usually not circuit comedians) of around 40 impeccably performing shows about the arrival of their mid-life years.

The Gilded Balloon press show

The Gilded Balloon press show last night

Abigail Schamaun: Post-Coital Confessions
Does what it says on the label and is pitch-perfect. Sexy enough not to disappoint, presented to a mostly middle class audience without them being offended.

The Gilded Balloon Press Launch Show
30th anniversary taster of this year’s shows by arguably the Fringe’s most technically proficient venue. Standout comedy acts yesterday were both Irish – Al Porter and Aisling Bea.

No swinging cats in this shower

No swinging cats in this small shower room


So now today’s blog…

The flat where I am currently staying during the Edinburgh Fringe has no bath, only a cramped shower. This is a drawback for me, as I find it comforting to lie back in hot bathwater and wallow in grains of my own dirt. It is a bit like watching dust particles float in the air through shafts of sunlight – you are literally watching the world decay around you.

Yesterday morning’s shower was interrupted by a phone call from BBC Radio Wales at 10.10am asking me if I wanted to take part at 10.30am in a discussion on learning foreign languages. Well, that is not quite true. I missed the call and picked up an answerphone message at 10.45am, too late to take part in the show. The offer was a tad bizarre, as I speak no foreign languages of any kind. Apparently I was on their list because, a couple of years ago, I slagged-off the frankly unnecessary Welsh language on some BBC Radio Wales show.

Highly prestigious comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are sharing the flat this year. She, of course, is not phoned-up by the likes of BBC Radio Wales. She gets phoned up to do 4 minute interviews on Sky News. This morning, she was dragged out to the Royal Mile at 8.15am to be asked if Dicing With Dr Death was a suitable show for the Fringe.

Kate Copstick on Sky News this morning

Kate Copstick expressed her views on Sky News this morning

In the show – billed as comedy – Philip Nitschke of the controversial suicide advice group Exit talks about suicide. I blogged about the show back in January and February this year when comedian Mel Moon was to co-present it. She and Philip subsequently split over creative differences and she is now in her own show Sick Girl.

This morning on Sky News, Copstick said: “I think everyone ought to have the right to die. We have lots and lots of rights nowadays. I have the right to become a man tomorrow, more or less. But I don’t have the right to be assisted to end my life with dignity and without pain. And I think that’s something we should be talking about… This is comedy to help people. He’s not making fun of anything; he’s not making light of anything. He is putting his information in a more accessible place.”

Kate Copstick’s breakfast yesterday morning

Kate Copstick’s breakfast yesterday morning

Copstick came back to the flat in agony last night.

When I first heard she had the disease lupus, I thought it meant she turned into a wolf on a regular basis. Some of the acts she reviews may have suspected the same thing.

In fact, it is not. It just means she is in pain almost all of the time.

Yesterday was our first breakfast. I had toast. She had six tablets: she needs hyper-strong painkillers for her lupus.

Lewis Schaffer manages to promote one of his while still talking to Ivor Dembina

Lewis Schaffer (left) manages to promote one of his shows while continuing a conversation with Ivor Dembina

After this, yesterday morning, I bumped into comedian Lewis Schaffer in the Fringe Central building and then we both bumped into comedian Ivor Dembina. There is a lot of bumping in Edinburgh at this time of year. I will only repeat one sentence from the ensuing conversation – when Ivor Dembina said to Lewis Schaffer:

“The last thing I want is a lecture on ophthalmics from Lewis Schaffer.”

I think the quote gains from having no context.

Alex Dallas’ Edinburgh fringe flyer

Alex Dallas’ subtle Edinburgh Fringe flyer

Shortly afterwards, Canada-based comic Alex Dallas came and sat with us. Ivor asked for her first impression of Lewis Schaffer, whom she had never met before.

“He is a silver fox with dimples,” she said. “He’s a ladykiller.”

“Dimples?” I asked. “It’s like flying over Cambodia and seeing the bomb craters left by B-52 bombers in the Vietnam War.”

No-one laughed.

Charmian Hughes spots Alex Dallas

Charmian Hughes spots Alex Dallas yesterday

At this point, comedian Charmian Hughes arrived. Conversation soon turned (I did not introduce the subject) to late comedian Malcolm Hardee. Alex had memories, when she lived in London, of him paying her £40 after a performance, then asking her to loan him £20 to pay another comedian; Charmian said she had untold stories of her relationship with Malcolm in her current show When Comedy Was Alternative (The Laughs And Loves Of A She-Comic).

Before she moved to Canada in the 1990s, Alex had been in the female comedy group Sensible Footwear.

“There were,” she reminisced, “a whole lot of women’s troupes back in the 1980s. There were the Scarlet Harlots, the Frank Chickens, Spare Tyre, the Cunning Stunts…”

Alex Dallas with Ivor Dembina yesterday

Alex Dallas with her old(-ish) friend Ivor Dembina yesterday

“That,” said Charmian, “was the first workshop I ever went with. I had to go in a corner and be a rock for an hour. It was my first dramatic experience. It was the happiest hour I’ve ever had in my life.”

“The 1980s were good,” said Alex.

“That’s what my show is about,” said Charmian. “My tagline is now: Did I get off with you in the 1980s? Did I stalk you in the 1990s? If so, you are in my show.”

Lewis Schaffer and Ivor Dembina left. Then Alex Dallas and Charmian Hughes left. Just as I was about to leave, I got an e-mail from TV producer Danny Greenstone. It was headed: The Phantom Raspberry Blower. It read:


Danny Greenstone

Danny Greenstone – blowing phantom raspberries

Believe it or not (and I couldn’t blame you if it’s “not”) I have been asked to direct my first ever London West End stage play. It’s a staging of a radio performance of what was the last ever written – but unperformed – Goon Show. So it will be a bit like the way Round The Horne Revisited was staged.

The producers have launched a Kickstarter project to raise additional funds for the show – There’s absolutely no pressure and no obligation and no dead fish wrapped up in newspaper will turn up at your door… it’s an opportunity if you’d like it.

Kickstarting for extra funds Goon Show

The un-performed Goons show: Kickstarting for extra funds

If you wish to investigate further, here’s the link.

And there we have it. You, too, can be part of The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town which opens its cloak at the St. James Studio Theatre in London on 30th October 2015.


Alice Fraser - a law unto herself

“…all the horrible things that had been happening in my life”

After reading this, I tried to leave Fringe Central again, but I was accosted by someone I did not recognise. It turned out to be Australian comic Alice Fraser, about whose preview show, Copstick raved in last weekend’s Grouchy Club Podcast. Alice had recognised me from the (occasionally videoed) Podcast.

“That show Copstick saw,” Alice told me, “was less of a try-out than she thought it was.”

When Copstick saw Alice’s Savage preview – the one she raved about – Alice had just flown from Australia with a 45-minute stopover in Singapore, got off the plane in London and virtually gone straight to perform the show in Shepherd’s Bush.

Alice Fraser: Copstick raved about the show

Alice Fraser: Copstick raved about the show she previewed…

“I was incredibly jet lagged,” Alice told me yesterday, “so the show was more of a mess than it would normally be, but all the bits were meant to be there. It was like doing it in a dream. The audience were mostly my friends from ten years ago. All these faces from my past, smiling dimly at me while I told them all the horrible things that had been happening in my life.”

Alice’s show has audiences both laughing and crying.

“You were here ten years ago?” I asked.

“I went to university here in 2007.”

“Which university?”

“Cambridge.”

“What did you study there?”

“English Literature. Rhetoric.”

“Specifically rhetoric?” I asked.

“Specifically rhetoric. I did a Masters.”

“What was your BA in?” I asked.

Alice’s show has had audiences both laughing and crying

Alice’s show has had audiences both laughing and crying

“My BA was at Sydney University in English and Law. I used to be a lawyer – I was in corporate real estate – and I quit it to become a comedian. The thing about Law is how do people believe that one thing is a crime and something else is not a crime? How do you make them really believe that?”

“You wanted to be a public speaker?” I asked.

“No. I was just interested in how people communicate and more how people get ideas.”

“What is Rhetoric?” I asked. “Just learning about Greek people and a few politicians?”

“Anything. Comedy is really interesting when it comes to rhetoric. You can break it down in incredibly nerdy ways if you want to. Comedy is persuasive speech in itself. You are persuading people (A) that you are funny and (B) that they should laugh at any given joke. Any joke is persuading you of a number of things both of the content of the joke and that the joke itself IS a joke and that it’s funny and worth laughing at.”

A street poster for Alice’s Savage show

A street poster for Alice’s Savage show

“So,” I said, “you are an ex-lawyer and you are interested in rhetoric and therefore you are very together and therefore you are not the normal sort of mad comedian.”

“I AM the mad comedian,” insisted Alice. “I’m just projecting a shield of togetherness.”

“And your show?” I asked.

“I don’t want easy answers. The show is about somebody offering me an easy answer and how infuriating I found it – to be offered an easy answer to an incredibly complicated situation.”

As I said, Alice’s show has audiences both laughing and crying. Copstick raved about it. I have not yet seen it. I am going to see it. It is titled Savage.

That’s life.

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A day in the life of the most-fearsome comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe

Kate Copstick at yesterday’s Grouchy Club

Fearsome Kate Copstick at yesterday’s Grouchy Club

Every afternoon, I am co-hosting The Grouchy Club at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The idea is that, with luck, comedians, other performers and show-related people come along and we just chat to the inherently interesting audience.

For the last three days, we have included a 10-minute section where comics performed to get feedback from their peers.

My co-host is Kate Copstick, doyenne of comedy critics. She runs Mama Biashara, a charity based in Kenya where she spends, I guess, half her year.

Regular readers of this blog will know that, a few months ago in Kenya, she had a very serious accident and had to have a hip replacement in Kenya – no insurance, so in a local hospital. She came back to the UK in a wheelchair though she has now recovered fairly well though not completely.

For the last eight years or so, she has also had lupus.

Wikipedia defines lupus  as “a name given to  collection of autoimmune diseases in which the human immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tisses. Symptoms of these diseases can affect many different body systems, including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs”.

What this means, day-to-day, is that Copstick has to take very heavy pain-killing drugs and, even then, is in high pain for a large percentage of the time.

She arrived a couple of minutes late for yesterday afternoon’s Grouchy Club.

“How are you?” I asked.

“It’s not been a good day so far.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m running out of painkillers. I’m running out of one of the medications I take for lupus. And now I’m running out of anti-depressants.

Copstick in London yesterday

Copstick in her London charity shop on her recent return (with new hip) from Kenya

“One of the things when that happens is I get weird moments. I always know when I need to up the dose – or drink heavily, which is the alternative.

“I get panic attacks.

“I go to leave the house and, as soon as I think Time to leave now, I get this feeling in my head I’m going to forget the keys. Or my wallet. I’m definitely going to forget my wallet. I’m going to forget something really important. Probably the keys; probably the keys. 

“So then I get to the door and open the door. You’ve forgotten the keys! You’ve forgotten the keys! Have you forgotten the wallet? Let’s check the bag! You’ve forgotten the keys! Definitely forgotten the keys! You haven’t forgotten the keys. Must be the wallet then. You’ve forgotten your wallet. Check the bag. But the keys are in the pocket. Never mind, check the bag anyway!

“So I check the bag and check the wallet. And then I get outside and I’m just pulling the door to and… No! You’ve definitely forgotten the keys! If not the keys then the wallet or if not the wallet then what’s in the wallet. Probably got no money in your wallet.

“So I open the wallet up and I do have money. But what about your cards? You’ve probably forgotten your cards. You’ve got no cards. What if you lose that money or you’ve got no money or you’ve got to give it to somebody or something else happens? Then you have no cards to get more money. But I’ve got the cards, got the money. What about the keys? What if I don’t have the keys? I won’t be able to get back in. This is a rented flat. I’ll have to break down the door. Imagine the cost of that.

“So it takes me about half an hour to leave the house and, when I do leave the house, I have my wallet in one hand – open, so I can see all the cards and everything – and my keys in the other. Have you forgotten anything? Have you got a pad? You’ve probably got no pens. You’re gonna have to buy a pen. 

“And, all the way along the road, I’m just checking everything in my bag.

“So now I’ve had a large Drambuie and I feel a lot better.

“It’s quite simple, really. People think mental health is this big, complex problem.

“It’s not.

“You just need to drink.

“If you feel a wobbly moment coming on, find a bottle of alcohol. I am not saying it is a long-term cure, because it is quite expensive and sadly – though I have spoken at great length to my doctor – it is apparently not available on the NHS. That is a big mistake. It is almost worth going into politics for.”

Our Grouchy Club show ends at 4.45pm every afternoon.

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin with a flower

Yesterday, I bumped into Copstick again at around 6.15pm when I turned up at The Hive venue to see Matt Roper’s show as  strangely-loveable lounge lizard Wilfredo.

Copstick was nestling her left arm in a strange way.

Some drunken punter, running along a street, had collided with her and knocked her down. She was on her way to A&E.

At 9.25pm, I got a text message from her:

Humerus fractured. Make of that what you will…

I texted back:

Even more important, did you get the drugs you need?

It is around noon as I write this.

I have not heard back yet.

Our next show starts at 3.45pm.

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Filed under Comedy, Medical

Comedy critic Kate Copstick was in a hospital with rats, thieves and Lupus

Kate Copstick at the Mama Biashara shop this weekend

Kate Copstick at Mama Biashara this weekend

Yesterday’s blog told how Britain’s most feared comedy critic Kate Copstick ended up a few weeks ago – with no travel insurance to cover her – at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, having a full hip replacement operation.

I had almost expected to be in a full body cast when I woke up after the operation,” she told me at her Mama Biashara shop in London two days ago.

“You know those movies about injured airmen, where they have to communicate with people through a sophisticated system of mirrors above their head?… But, when I woke up, it was all normal apart from this massive lump between my legs.

“I thought: They’ve given me the wrong surgery! I’m a man! Now I’m a man! – I seemed to have the world’s largest sticking plaster from waist to knee with padding in the middle.

“I asked What is this? and the doctor explained It’s to keep the pelvis aligned, because it’s very important for you to keep your legs apart.

Luckily enough, I said, I’ve never had a problem with that. But that was where the loveliness ended. The hospital itself were… Can I say ‘cunts’ in your blog?”

“Well, it’s a term of endearment in Glasgow,” I told her.

“OK,” said Copstick. “They were cunts. I had to fight the large and quite scary nursing staff for my own medication, because I HAVE to take my lupus medication.

Ah! The doctor has stopped it! they told me… The doctor can’t stop it,” I told them… They just didn’t have a clue.”

“Remind me about your lupus,” I said.

Wikipedia’s illustration of lupus

Wikipedia’s illustration of some effects of lupus

“Lupus,” explained Copstick, “is an auto-immune disease where my immune system is as mental and vicious as the rest of me. Instead of staying where it is supposed to be and attacking only when there is an infection to fight, it regards my own body as an infection… I know there are many comedians who would agree with that.

“But it looks on my body and my organs as infections so, at any given moment, it might go into battle against… well, for example, my lungs are a bit fucked because it attacks my lungs. So you get pleurisy and stuff like that. One time, my kidneys packed up and the doctors couldn’t figure why and it was just my own immune system attacking them. You get incredible fatigue with it. And pain and what can I say? I’m a brave and wonderful human being. I am like a non-blind, non-deaf Helen Keller.”

“How long have you had it?” I asked.

“I was diagnosed about eight or ten years ago.”

“And when does it cure itself?” I asked.

“It doesn’t. Either it stays the way it is or it gets worse and you die… But you’ve gotta die of something.”

“You’re a comedy critic,” I said. “You could die of shame.”

“I was hoping more like exhaustion from alcoholic poisoning,” said Copstick. “I could go out in a blaze of ghastliness as the climax to one of Bob Slayer’s shows.”

“Anyway,” I said, “you are lying in this bed in Nairobi and you have told them they cannot stop your lupus medication…”

A walking frame, not much liked by Copstick

A walking frame… not Instagrammed

“Some of my medication was stolen,” said Copstick, “and there was a large rat running alongside my bed. The day after the operation, I was hobbling around on crutches but the nadir, I think – apart from lying in an agonised crumpled heap in the dirt when I shattered my thigh bone – the nadir was when they wheeled me down to physiotherapy. They took me to a set of parallel bars and nobody said anything.

“I hiked myself up out of the wheelchair because I’d seen it in movies – you know, Reach For The Sky about Douglas Bader… I channelled my inner Kenneth More and pulled myself along the parallel bars twice and there was a man standing there with a Zimmer (walking frame). He didn’t say anything. He just nodded. So then I had to do laps of this little gym on a Zimmer. I just hoped there was no closed-circuit TV and that I would not end up on Instagram.

“The second day I was on crutches.

“The third day they showed me the bill.

“The fourth day I discharged myself.”

“Because of the bill?” I asked.

“Too fucking right!” said Copstick. “It was £6,500 with things like 90p for 9 millilitres of water for an injection and £1.50p for a face flannel which I didn’t get.”

“Just like British private medicine,” I suggested.

“I don’t know,” said Copstick. “I’ve never gone private. I’ve never regarded myself as rich enough.”

“But even when you got out of hospital,” I said, “you couldn’t come home.”

“They said I couldn’t travel for six weeks and I said I’m terribly sorry, but… Luckily I have friends Alan Wickham and Lynita Harris who have a wonderful eco-camp with safari tents and they gave me the spare room on the ground floor of their home, so I was there for three weeks. I only went back to see the doctor once because you get charged £30 for him to say Hello, you’re looking well.

“I told him I have to get home to try and get some work – anything.

Copstick_5november2012

Copstick at the Mama Biashara shop in 2012

“I was on a plane four weeks to the day from the operation. I was supposed to come back on 14th March and ended up arriving back on 4th April.”

“When you were still in Kenya,” I reminded her, “you told me you were even having trouble getting a plane.”

“Well,” said Copstick, “British Airways wanted a huge amount of paperwork because they didn’t want me to die on a flight because it’s terribly bad publicity. The thing that leaves me really angry and frustrated, though, is that it was all entirely my own fault.”

“It was an Act of God,” I suggested.

“No. My own unbelievably stupid fault,” said Copstick. “It would have been better if I had been hideously mugged in the street because then I’d be a victim and Oh dear. But this was all my own fault. All my savings went. All my carefully-calculated Well, this amount will last me this length of time. And I’ve never been in this position before. Never in my life, because I’ve always saved and always worked for money until Mama Biashara.”

The Mama Biashara shop in London last week

Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in London last week

Copstick works unpaid for her Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her expenses. She now lives in Kenya for about five months each year and works unpaid in the Mama Biashara shop in London for most of the rest of the year, excluding August when, she says, she is “up at the Edinburgh Fringe treading un-softly on comics’ dreams and, obviously, being part of the increasingly-prestigious and highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and your less-coveted but hopefully increasingly-prestigious chat show.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s not happening this year because I haven’t got a venue.”

“No?” said Copstick.

“No,” I said. “And the Fringe listing is too expensive for a free show. Pay attention. How much longer are you going to be like this?”

“Well,” said Copstick, “I can walk with crutches and I can walk for very very short distances without crutches. I was here in the shop at 8 o’clock this morning shifting furniture and lifting soapstone and all kinds of things I definitely should not be doing. So it gets sore when I do that.”

“Have you got a Zimmer frame?” I asked.

“John,” said Copstick, “look into my beady blue eyes and tell me you think in any universe I would not rather die than be seen on a Zimmer. I feel quite old enough with the hip replacement without getting a Zimmer. The wheelchair is fine, because I can do my Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? impressions. I’m very good as Joan Crawford. The crutches are reasonable for the sympathy vote. But a Zimmer is a walking aid too far.”

“Have you got a ground floor flat at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?” I asked.

“No. But stairs are OK. It’s hills that are a bit of a bugger.”

“You are going to have difficulty going up and down the hills in Edinburgh on crutches,” I said. “Will you be totally mended by August?”

“I had fucking better be,” said Copstick, “otherwise I shall strap myself to a skateboard.”

“The wonderful Tanyalee Davis gave you a lift on her mobility scooter last year,” I reminded her.

Copstick had an orgasm on the cobbles yesterday

Tanyalee Davis gave Copstick a thrilling ride on her mobility scooter at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

“Oh! Tanyalee!” said Copstick with enthusiasm. “I’d love a mobility scooter! Though I suppose I can’t be both the scariest critic in Edinburgh AND a figure of public ridicule as I bump and hum over the cobbles. It’s just not going to happen. I have to be OK by August. You cannot be scary with a walking aid.”

“How about a broomstick?” I suggested.

“Fantastic,” said Copstick. “Or one of those knobbly, gnarly walking sticks. It would look like I might be able to strike you dead with it. Painted black, of course… Or it could be a job opportunity for some young, strong, virile stand-up comedian who feels like earning an extra star on their review to carry me around Edinburgh on their back.”

“An extra star AND a good photo-opportunity,” I said. “Young, virile comics will be lining up to service you.”

“I can but hope,” said Copstick.”

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Sick British comedy critic Kate Copstick living in Kenya with a tiny black pussy

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

La Copstick squatting in Kenya

British comedy critic Kate Copstick set up the Mama Biashara charity in Kenya to fund health care projects and help poor people (especially women) set up their own small businesses. What is perhaps not generally known is that Copstick suffers from lupus, a disease in which the immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissues.

Copstick is currently in Kenya. These are extracts from her diary over the last week. She lives in the slums of Nairobi with a small kitten.

TUESDAY 16th APRIL

To be honest, I am not feeling that well. NO, this is not a hangover. Just lupusy crap.

I stay in bed all morning, asleep. I am not missing much as the torrential rain that generally falls through the night is falling through the day now. The whole place is a mudbath. This is monster rain and it precludes movement in slum areas as roads become impassable and impossible. People are patching up their homes, rescuing animals and children from the flood and generally wondering where a friendly neighbourhood Noah is when you need one.

I awake at around 3pm to the sound of lashing rain and a phone that says 22 missed calls. I agree to meet up with Doris (a) to prove I really am still alive and (b) to buy a dongle for the Mama Biashara notepad and a dedicated Mama Biashara telephone line. Doris has a penchant for second-hand smartphones and they are a disaster. There are species of mayfly with a longer life expectancy than the battery on a second-hand Samsung smartphone. We will be buying the BASIC Nokia (like wot I have… well the current version. Mine is seven years old and still going strong).

We also need to send the boys from the workshop (the ones who want to sell duck meat) their start-up money. And meet and talk to the firewood group who need a chainsaw. And I have to send some money to Sammi Njoroge, a great guy who is looking after four orphans (with Mama Biashara’s help).

WEDNESDAY 17th APRIL

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the local Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

I have agreed to meet Felista to discuss DECIP (the Dagoreti Early Child Intervention Program, an AIDs NGO), why it looked like such a disaster area and why it is unlikely that she could make a go of working with Childfund. Also to talk about why it is now ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for her to find other people to help fund DECIP.

The talk is pointed. Not to the point of heated. Warm maybe. Simmering.

I ask why DECIP looked like such a disaster area. It turns out that the work demanded by the City Council (and funded by Mama Biashara) was only half done. Everything was stopped because of the rain. The two flooded classrooms were being prepared for new flooring when the flooding came and now they have to wait for the flooding to abate before going ahead with the work.

At the end of that, DECIP should be back on track. On track to what, I am never sure, but on track.

We put together a budget to help with funding the school (100 destitute, orphan pupils, no visible means of support). The money being used to pay the teachers a 50% salary each month has been diverted from buying food and food is being bought by the money from CWAC (the Children With AIDs Charity) and collected in donations from visitors.

The rain is, once more, torrential.

THURSDAY APRIL 18th

I am awoken by the kitten licking my eyelids. As its tiny tongue makes its way across my temples to my ears, the sensation is worryingly sensual. I pick the tiny black pussy off my face and get up. Good grief ! Is this how the slide into utter depravity begins? Alone in a shipping container, with no form of entertainment other than picking one’s scabs and scratching one’s lumps, and a small black furry thing presents itself…

What would Mother Theresa do? I ask myself.

Undoubtedly beat the kitten until it converted to Catholicism.

Undoubtedly… So THAT is no help…

Luckily I have loads to do.

My prototype raincatcher in the Rift Valley outside Maai Mahiu is a huge success. On the first night (Monday), although there was only a light rain, it filled the 250 litre drum. On the Tuesday, with heavier rain, people were lining up with their tanks and getting them filled by Mama Biashara’s Raincatcher. And so we are on to roll the model out as far as we can on this trip.

It is pouring down again.

FRIDAY 19th APRIL

Group of former prostitutes who now make shag pile carpets

Group of former prostitutes who now make shag pile carpets

Mama Biashara is really operating at a different level now, largely thanks to Doris and her endless, wonderful work in the furthest reaches of Nairobi’s slums (and beyond). Her ability is to mentor and support and suggest and get big groups of people to band together with a truly viable business, showing not just proper product knowledge but research and a swathe of orders set up in advance. These businesses have a serious success rate. The members keep each other on their toes. It really is a huge step in the right direction. And this is a woman struggling to survive herself – a single mum with 3-year-old triplets. She is a glorious human being.

Some time ago, we did a workshop for a community of first and second generation Zimbabwean refugees. We did a business workshop but also gave cod liver oil, multi-vitamins, ibugel etc.

Now some of the women have come to Doris with a problem. Their children are being beaten at school because their homework is not being done properly. This is because the mothers cannot help their children with homework (as they are meant to do) because the mothers themselves are wholly illiterate and innumerate – because educating women is against the culture of the community which has settled here.

In a massive breakthrough, Doris has persuaded the Elders to allow some university students to come and help the kids with homework.

But the women want to learn. They feel really bad that their kids are being beaten.

But the Elders are dead against the women learning.

So we plan Mama Biashara’s Secret School. I know there are issues about interfering with other people’s cultures, but this has been driven by the women and we are hardly going to be teaching them the Complete Works of Andrea Dworkin – just ABC and 123 and how to write their names.

We (I say we, I mean Doris) are going to make a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Elders to allow the school. Fingers crossed.

SATURDAY 20th APRIL

It has to be admitted that I awoke feeling less than chipper. Plan A had been to get up early and get to the bank before it closes at 12 noon. This doesn’t happen. I hit the ATM for some of the necessary readies I need to collect stuff at the market. Lucia’s bags are getting more beautiful every time I see her. I get armloads of stuff and get on the bus back to Corner. We have an irritating onboard preacher who shouts a lot about covering us all in the Blood of Christ and insists we all pray.

Now it is pouring rain. I cannot sell rain-soaked raffia bags and so I negotiate a decent cab fare and get a ride home.

I am feeling dodgier by the minute and now appear to be pissing out individual drops of sulphuric acid. This has happened before in Kenya and I go to the lovely ladies at the (fairly) nearby chemist and get a pack of a combination of antibiotic, anti-everything bombs that should nuke whatever it is and, if it is more kidney grit, make sure there is no following infection. I drink mugs of Bicarbonate of Soda solution which helps a bit. I don’t sleep well.

SUNDAY 21st APRIL

I spend twenty minutes in the loo in quite some pain. I come out and almost immediately go back in again. I get a taxi home. It is not a good day.

I appear to be weeing tiny blood clots. And now have hilariously explosive (and LOUD) diarrhoea. Even the cats go outside.

I take another dose of the combination bombs and drink loads of water.

MONDAY 22nd APRIL

I am much better than expected. I feel a little like I have been through the boil wash and the spin dry but much better. And this is a Big Day !!!

The Mama Biashara Patent Raincatcher Water Harvesting Project is being rolled out across a (very small) part of the Great Rift Valley. The tanks are there, the taps are fitted into the tanks. It is all going so well. Until we discover that the hardware shop owner who had agreed to take the tanks out to the Maasai meeting place in his big lorry for just the cost of the fuel, has buggered off to Limuru with said big lorry. I get a bit stompy and moody when his wife (an irritating woman in a bad wig) just shrugs and sniggers when I ask what we should do.

TUESDAY 23rd APRIL

Kate Copstick cares in Kenya

Kate Copstick pictured up against the wall, Kenya

We hear that the Zimbabwean Elders have said that Mama Biashara CAN run a school for members of the community, but only for the men.

Meanwhile Doris has a handful of university students on break teaching the kids and helping them with their homework in the hope that they won’t get beaten senseless at school for doing it badly.

The Elders are allowing the children to learn at school and with the students (a BIG leap of faith for them) but they won’t allow the women to learn even ABC and 123 so that they can help their own children.

Doris thinks that The Elders believe we are going to teach the women about contraception, independence and other Western Ways. They have also heard that I don’t believe in God and so this makes me The Tool Of The Devil. Such Tool, of course, is not to be allowed near their women.

We head off to do a medical workshop.

Unfortunately, by the time we get there, I have come over a bit funny (it’s the way I tell them) and am sweaty and sleeping on the back seat. It seems the nasties are back – even after being zapped with a double dose of what is basically Agent Orange for the human insides.

Doris insists I go home to bed. I am a bit, to be frank, worried myself. We stop by the chemist.

I ask for industrial-strength antibiotics. The lovely girl there, usually so helpful, offers me many things, most of them with names starting with ‘Gyno-‘.

“No no no,” I say.

Finally, she offers me clotrimazole.

“I do not have thrush!” I say very loudly and much to the amusement of the two gentlemen in the queue behind me. They smirk knowingly. I can see they think this obviously slutty mzungu is in denial.

“Ciprofloxacin?” I beg.

“Ah !” she disappears and comes back with a box. “I feared to offer you antibiotics,” she says. “I know you hate antibiotics.”

Ah… Hoist by my own tirades against the universal prescription of Amoxil and Piriton for everything short of sudden death.

I swallow two antibiotic bombs and take the rest of the course with me.

“It is a good medicine,” says an old bloke appearing from upstairs. “Generic. From India. Never use the Kenyan medicines. They are useless.” And he is a doctor, it transpires.

At £1.50 for a course, I am willing to let India do what it can for me.

And it does well. By the time the little kitten who stays with me wakes up, has what is undoubtedly a feline epileptic fit, pukes into my open hand and shits all over the floor, I am feeling quite well enough to clean everything up. My temperature is normal (I forgot what a difference that makes). The pains are going … All good.

** Mama Biashara is financed solely by donations; Kate Copstick receives no salary and takes no money to cover any of her personal expenses nor her travel costs

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