Tag Archives: medical

A comic’s heart, the medical benefits of cocaine and the sexual use of Mars Bars

This has been a funny and complicated old week so, instead of what I did yesterday, here are three extracts from my e-diary 15 years ago – on 8th October 1999.



This can give even a seasoned performer  heart palpitations

I phoned up a comedian. He was worried.

He had had more heart palpitations – for about 90 minutes.

This morning he had gone to his local hospital for tests.

He told me he would get the results within ten days.

He thought maybe the problems were caused by the stress of giving performances and moving house.

He talked of maybe giving up performing: “It makes you think,” he told me.


Not recommended by me (Photo free from Wikipedia)

Not recommended by me (Photo is free from Wikipedia)

I had a meal with a TV colleague. He told me it was only taking cocaine that had got him off his anti-depressants (members of the Prozac family of drugs).

Before that, trying to get off the anti-depressants, he was getting bright silver flashes in his brain.

I think he should have stuck with the silver flashes, given the way coke has now screwed-up his brain and his personality.


A Mars Bar split in half as it should be.

A Mars Bar divided in half as it should be, not in a messy way.

I mentioned to the same television colleague the famous (possibly mythical) Mars Bar story involving Marianne Faithfull and the Rolling Stones. He told me it had inspired him to do the same thing.

But, with the Mars Bar embedded in the girl’s vagina, there is a point beyond which you cannot eat and, by that point, it has become impossible to extricate the stump of the confectionery bar from within the girl. It is further complicated by the fact that the periphery of the Mars Bar has melted and is, in effect, glued to the insides of her vagina.

He was reduced to exhorting her to push and push as if it was childbirth to try and expel the chocolate bar. Eventually, they succeeded.

“It was,” he told me, “un-erotic and, for quite a while, a bit of a sticky situation.”

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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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Comedians abroad, Archbishop Tutu & the “Britain’s Got Talent” egg-throwing

Last night at the London Palladium...

Last night on tour at the London Palladium

I never go anywhere. Nothing interesting ever happens to me.

Last night, I went to see John Cooper Clarke’s show at the London Palladium, courtesy of comic Matt Roper, who had tickets but then had to fly South Africa on Saturday to appear in the June/July comedy festival where, apparently, all proceeds go to the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and, in Cape Town, Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be performing a stand-up comedy spot on the press night.

See what I mean?

I could say Whooo! I went to the London Palladium last night! But Matt Roper has trumped me by going to South Africa to (in a sense) perform comedy as his dribbling, lecherous alter-ego Wilfredo with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

And, while I was in a train on the way to London yesterday, comedy critic Kate Copstick was flying to Kenya for three weeks where she will be working for her Mama Biashara charity.

AND I got a text from comedian Sarah Hendrickx, cycling to Barcelona to better her soul and to collect material for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe shows. Sarah has barely cycled any further than a local ice cream shop before this. Her text said:

“I covered 520 miles and could easily have done more so not too shabby.”

See? Sickening. All I’ve done is go to Oxford Circus in a train and a tube.

And then there is the extensive egg throwing.

Yesterday - an irresistible pun for the Sun

It was an irresistible pun for the Sun

Yesterday, the papers were full of the woman who threw eggs at Simon Cowell during the live televised final of Britain’s Got Talent.

This is good pre-publicity. The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August will include the official Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette All-Comers Championship.

American comic Lewis Schaffer will be defending his 2012 title against the likes of comedian Richard Herring and aforementioned comedy critic Kate Copstick. The event – basically people smashing eggs on their foreheads for a laugh – will be supervised by Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation, who is travelling up to Edinburgh for the event.

But, again, Andy has trumped me and gone one – or several – better.

Organiser Andy Dunlop provides eggs for Russian Roulette

Andy at last year’s World Egg Throwing…

“August is going to be busy,” he told me yesterday. “We have the Australian Egg Throwing Championships early in the month, the Malcolm Hardee Show in Scotland on the 23rd and the Belgian Championships on the 31st.

“Meanwhile, we have a Japanese TV game show coming to Lincolnshire for the World Egg Throwing Championship on June 30th – they’ll be bringing four raw viewers with them to take part. And there is an Australian children’s TV show coming for some egg throwing here in September.

“I am already gut busted. I have just spent six days in hospital due complications with surgery to repair complications from surgery in May that followed a life saving op in October (that had complications).  That was because of complications from a life saving op to repair a bust gut 32 years ago, which was a complication from failure of my umbilical cord to wither correctly 55 years ago. Life is full of complications, as was the bag, attached to the tube that drains the wound in my belly, until it detached overnight……. twice.”

Ever-sympathetic, I asked him to send me a photo of himself in hospital for this blog.

Egg-throwing man Andy Dunlop in hospital

Andy Dunlop – ‘Mr Happy’ – in hospital…

“Here it is,” his e-mail said, a few minutes later. “The photo was taken last October by a ‘friend’ to show how cheerful I was following emergency surgery at 03.00am. Note the tubes (including auto morphine drive) inserted into various openings in me, not all natural. I am wearing a badge that says Mr Happy.

“I left hospital on that occasion after five days with an infection in my belly wound that required several months of treatment as it was 10cm deep and wider than a wide-mouth toad. There were daily visits by the local district nurse team to prod and re-stuff me with magic seaweed-based filler. I had four belly buttons along my rather impressive 10 inch scar

“The weakened area of belly then developed a rather cute little bulge (or, as my wife said, What on earth is that?, pointing to my nether regions) which was identified as an “incisional hernia” that required day case surgery to repair.  I had that on the 23rd of May and one of my four belly buttons was removed during this process.

“That led to an emergency re-admission and a rather grotesque distension of my belly, which was drained of two pints of red gunge last week during my last six-day stay. It is still draining. Another two pints since done. Still infected.

“I am still happy… and alive.”

Andy then added, as well he might:

“So it goes.”

Other people!

Their lives are too interesting.

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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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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What UK comedy critic Kate Copstick did when she wore a burka last week

Kate Copstick in Kenya last week

Kate Copstick at work in Kenya last week

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards have been given since 2007 and will run until at least 2017. As usual, there will be a Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The show is free which, in Edinburgh, means audience members can donate money when they leave the venue if they want to.

Once again this year, 100% of all donations will go to the Mama Biashara charity run by Kate Copstick, doyenne of British comedy critics.

Copstick (as she likes to be known) is currently in Kenya.

Mama Biashara helps poor people in Kenya (mostly women) set up their own small businesses by giving small grants – sometimes as little as £5.00 – to individuals to set up businesses which will give them a life – Copstick looks on it as a hand up not just a hand out.

No-one involved with Mama Biashara (including Copstick) receives any salary. No-one receives any travel, accommodation or any other reimbursement of costs. 100% of all money raised goes to the people for whom it can do most.

As well as giving small start-up grants to small businesses, Mama Biashara holds local medical clinics. The extract below from Copstick’s diary describes one such clinic she held last week and perhaps puts the self-obsessions of British comedians struggling to build their careers into a wider context…


Doris calls to say we have a venue and a crowd of illnesses. She tells us to drive past the posho mill and she will find us. We do. She does. And announces another change of plan.

The local Mosque, late but to great effect, have, along with the call to noon prayers, broadcast a call to the sick to come to the Mosque to be healed. So we are diverted into the Mosque. As luck would have it, I have my new Sudese with me and am able to burka-up. Wouldn’t want a fatwa.

We are shown into a sort of side storage room and ‘bang!’ the doctor is in. We have a list of thirty. And a crowd of about fifty. At odds with the written list, the boss man outside seems to be sending in the men first. As the sounds of screaming babies rises, I poke my head out and query this. The men have to go work, he says. I suggest in the nicest possible way that our medical workshops are really focussed on women and children who are really sick. He nods and smiles. And ushers in yet another of Allah’s more ancient male followers.

This gentleman is 110 years old, he tells us. He has some aches and pains and has a little difficulty going to the loo. He is followed by a relative youngster (82). He is obviously unwell. He is shaking and is suffering pains that suggest he has a urinary tract infection that has reached his kidneys. I ask if he is having trouble going to the loo. “I have a pipe” he says. Five minutes later I am in the toilet with the old man and he is fumbling with his nether garments. I am expecting to be shown a catheter in his penis and steel myself for a wrinkly old willy.

Imagine my shock when he exposes a lower abdomen with a plastic tube sticking out of it, like an overflow pipe in a wall. As the inside of his undies does not exactly smell of roses, it is no stretch of anyone’s imagination as to how he might have got this infection. I need to see him again and talk to the doctor who did this. Meanwhile he is improving on antibiotic bombs and a strict regime of disinfecting the end of the pipe.

We manage to smuggle in a girl from another workshop who is HIV+ with a CD4 count of 4. We will see what the marvellous multivitamins and cod liver oil provided by HTC can do for her. This could be their best advert yet !!

She is followed by a child with hideous eruptions on her arms. The eruptions do go all over her body and come and go for no discernible reason. Big scabby lumps which in some cases are extruding pink pus (presumably because it has blood in it). I get Doris to add her to the Hospital list. There are wheezes and swellings and the usual pains in the usual places.

There is also a younger man who also has waterwork trouble. He passes water all the time. And confides (amazingly for an African man) that he suffers from premature ejaculation. Adding that his wife is not happy. Then there is a beautiful girl with two sick children – one of whom sounds like the proverbial old cab horse – who, once they have been attended to, says she has problems with ulcers in her vagina. I ask what they look like and she obligingly (with the kids out of the room and Doris guarding the door) whips off her nether garments and shows me.

I realise that it is probably wholly inappropriate to notice things like this but, small ulcers aside, she has a truly beautiful vagina. It is like a dusky rose.

We don’t leave until well after seven and notice, as we do, that the waiting crowd is bigger than it was when we started. ‘Tis ever so. We agree to come back the following week. I shall have to rinse through the burka. It is amazing how you get used to living in something between a small tent and a big onesie, but it is a fairly sweaty business.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick’s ‘Grand Master Plan’ to build an HQ in Kenya

Kate Copstick: critical charity work, now building, in Kenya

Most years, I stage a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Free Festival during the Edinburgh Fringe. Any money donated by people at the end of the show is given to comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity. No money is deducted for any overheads; 100% goes to the charity.

Copstick is currently in Kenya. Her charity helps poor women start up self-sustaining businesses. This is another extract from her diary.



As I have the usual mountain of medication and stuff to take with me – and as No 23, Arse End of Nowhere makes this village sound positively central compared to where it is – we are taking David (bang goes another £20) and the car.

David asks if I know about the broker in the group yesterday. I clench. David had heard some of the women talking about someone taking 1,000 shillings from every woman who was given a grant. As the biggest grant is 3000 shillings… anything that I think has been clenched before now positively goes into spasm.

I call Doris.

There is a stunned silence at the end of the phone.

The workshop is cancelled. We rendezvous in Kenol where Doris lives and start calling round the women from yesterday. As soon as we start phoning and asking questions, the village telegraph kicks into action and soon we are fielding calls from them. Of course hysteria, internecine rivalries and general gossip mongering create a tsunami of crap. Everything from extortion to gang warfare is hinted at.

We find the woman who says she was involved. Oddly, her name is Purity.

There were just seven others we hear. I demand they come to Limuru on pain of being summoned by the Chief (err… local Chief, not Proclaimers‘ ‘The Chief’). We head to Limuru. I wonder whether I am in the grip of ‘roid rage, as I have pushed my daily dose up to 10mg for the time being. Probably not, I decide.

We meet the seven on a hillside next to the Bata Shoe factory. I am grim-faced. I told them, I say, that if they mis-used even one shilling of my money I would hunt them down. Well I have heard that someone has been demanding 1,000 shillings from those who received a grant. And I have hunted.

Through tears and waving hands we hear that Purity (who is a really smart, together woman) had suggested to ten women that, as nothing like this (ie me coming out of the blue to give a grant for business) had ever happened before, nor was likely to happen again, they should take the opportunity to put a little aside into a savings account and, by the time I come back to check, they would have bought a donkey and cart and have a whole new business on the side as well as their own individual businesses.

She took 1,000 shillings from each woman (seven as it happened) who wanted in on the savings scheme because I had been handing out the grants in 1,000 shilling notes. She went to the bank, got change and refunded 900 shillings to each woman. The account they were opening was an interest paying account and they each planned to put (after the initial 100 shillings) about 70 shillings into it each week.

I rescind my demand to have all the money returned to Mama Biashara, but not before explaining why we came after them. And why ALL and ANYTHING other than business that concerns the money from Mama Biashara must be done openly and with the consent of Mama Biashara.

I check that all the businesses will be able to start 100 shillings down on their grant. And then ask why, if they CAN, did the women ask for a grant that was higher than they needed. Anyway, all is well that ends well and, bearing a woolly capful of a tiny version of fruit that we call loquats or nisperos over here (unbelievably sweet and moreish), we leave.

As it is now too late for a workshop, we meet with Julius in Satellite to discuss Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan. And drink hot chocolate.

The meeting is slightly complicated by the fact that the man outside has fired up his rudimentary barbie to cook mutura (a little like Kenyan haggis but without the oatmeal) and the surrounding area is thick with charcoal smoke and burning fat fumes. But you get used to it.

Julius wants to arrange a medical clinic for Monday for about fifty people. He also wants to do microfinance but I tell him that I don’t trust his group with money (we have previous that ended with my getting the Chief and the police involved) so he can bring ten hand-selected businesses to apply.

“You promised…” he begins. I cut him off.

“I NEVER promise,” I remind him.

“You say you try…”

I give him my patented Mama Biashara look that says “My head does not zip up the back”. It used to say (and in my defence I can only claim it was an expression I heard over and over in my Scottish childhood) “I didn’t come up the Clyde on a banana boat” – until I realised the full horror of what that actually meant. What can I say? I am a recovering racist. One day at a time…

We arrange the medical clinic, agree fifteen businesses, agree that Doris can add a dozen or so cases from the area, agree that Julius’ phone is indeed “sick”, agree to buy him a new one (God Bless Nokia), and get on to discussing Mama Biashara’s Grand Master Plan.

Mama Biashara has been offered use of a plot of land in Kwa Maji, an area very handy for bus transport, thriving with businesses and not prone to violence, even in election periods. An area I know well.

We want to build a large structure – an enormous hut, as it were. It will have electricity  and water from a large tank (which we will erect on a tower) which will get filled once or twice a week according to consumption. Inside, the structure will have the following divisions:

  1. Mama Biashara’s office.
  2. Mama Biashara dispensary (a small division of the office for medical supplies and basic consultations).
  3. Meeting / training / workshop space. A multi purpose space which can also be rented out to other groups when free.
  4. The Pads Project: pulp from juiced sugar cane is brought in in huge sacks to be turned into sanitary pads and Pampers. This space will have a vestibule for clothing and footwear changing and will be kept as sterile as is possible in a slum area.
  5. Njoogo Project: peanut butter production. We already have a deal from one of Kenya’s big supermarkets to take unbranded jars of peanut butter from us. They will brand and give their own quality stamp. Vestibule as above.

Each of the areas will have its own entrance.

Around the outside of the structure will run a sort of covered verandah.

On this verandah outside Nos 4 and 5 will be delivery and storage areas.

Outside nos 1 and 3 will be space for baby businesses.

When Mama Biashara starts a business and feels that the person needs a little support to begin with, the business will start outside the Mama Biashara Centre – using our electricity (where necessary) and water and being monitored by Mama Biashara. Each baby business will get one month to get on its metaphorical feet and then be replaced with another. This is  NOT a training ground, just a little initial  monitoring.

Loos will probably be outside. But nice. And clean. With a place for workers to shower in the same block.

It might be that we have to hire an askari (a guard). If so, I have someone in mind.

Here Doris, John Kibe and probably Julius would be part of a Mama Biashara official presence.

The building would, of course, be branded to buggery with the names and logos of anyone who helps get it up. I want to start in November and am meeting to finalise the “I am letting you use my land” agreement on Monday (ish … a Kenyan Monday).

And when I say “structure” we are not, of course, talking bricks and mortar but probably corrugated iron sheets on a wooden base. Which means we don’t need planning permission.

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Comedy, Kenya

The sick state of British healthcare

Back in November, I blogged about having to get a Wellington boot cut off me with a pair of scissors in a shoe shop and, towards the end of December, I was moaning about how my foot still hurt – as did my shoulder, which was broken in an accident in 1991.

They were both still hurting quite badly a couple of weeks ago, so I went to my GP to see if I could maybe get an X-ray done at the hospital. I have no real belief in traditional Western medicine – they rely on drugs to mask the symptoms without curing the cause – but, if nothing else, I thought maybe an X-ray might help my osteopath: he could see what was inside my foot/shoulder.

But the clue to British GPs is in the name. They are General Practitioners. By-and-large, they know a little about a lot but and a lot about nothing: they are (now) highly-paid generalists not specialists; their job is to filter out all but the most serious cases.

A year or so after my 1991 accident, for maybe two-thirds of my waking hours, my shoulder was still giving me a lot of pain – it was like a knife was being shoved in my shoulder and turned. My GP said:

“That’ll last for the rest of your life. What painkillers do you want?”

Instead, I went to a high-profile Chinese doctor, knowing that Chinese medicine is not fast. It aims to cure the causes, not to mask the immediate symptoms. He gave me Die Da Wan Hua oil to rub on the shoulder. I knew, if it worked at all, it might take months or a year. Within three weeks, the pain had gone. That was twenty years ago. Until this past December, the shoulder pain recurred only mildly maybe only twice a year for a few days, usually if I put too much pressure on it; even now, it is nowhere near as bad as it was in 1991 – maybe a tenth  – and only sporadically.

Inevitably, despite telling my GP a couple of weeks ago that the pain in my foot had been going on for two months and the pain in my shoulder for a month, the guy (whom I had never met before – you get whoever is free at my GP practice) pooh-poohed and refused to get me an X-ray and gave me simple painkillers, saying the painkillers would clear up the problem in “a couple of days”.

So, two weeks later, I am thinking of going to a Chinese doctor after I try some Die Da Wan Hua oil myself.

Harold Shipman can’t be the only GP to have killed patients. His only uniqueness lay in the fact he did it intentionally.

Last week, a friend  told me a doctor she knows confided to her there is an unwritten rule-of-thumb (not mentioned to patients) that, unless something is obviously very seriously wrong, GPs only refer patients upwards to specialists if they come complaining three times about the same problem.

Yesterday, mad inventor John Ward (who designed and made the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards) told me a story of his long-ago youth when he was “in the engineering game a few years after leaving school…

“Three of us new lads,” he told me, “were asked to go and see the local doctor to have a ‘check up’ to see if we were ‘fit’ due the nature of the job we were going to do – lifting heavy metal and so on…

“When we got to the surgery, we found someone who looked like he was out of Last Of The Summer Wine – a very old, whiskered barnacle of a chap with a stethoscope dangling around his neck.

“He asked us: Do you want the ‘long drawn out’ check-up or the ‘short to-the-point’ one?

“We opted for the short one, natch.

“This consisted of him using what he called his CSF Method.

Right lads, he asked us… Can you Cough? – Can you Spit? – Can you Fart?

“In his book, if you could achieve all three of these acts unaided, you were OK to proceed with your life. We said we could do all three.

Then you can bugger off now! he told us. I have to play golf this afternoon and you’re holding me up!

“With that, he let the three of us out, lit up a fag, got in his car and went off to the golf course.”

John Ward has just been told he is “borderline diabetic” but, a week or so ago, he read in the Daily Mail (which is oddly forever printing diabetic stories) that a woman had also being told she was diabetic but plainly was not.

“Apparently it’s a common ploy,” John Ward tells me. “Starting back in the Tony Blair years, it became a scam for doctors to put folk down as diabetic because they got/still get a ‘commission’ on each one they refer. It’s not a bad little earner for them but apparently the figures suggest most people referred are not diabetic. The nurse I am seeing at the moment says that, despite my GP being ‘absolutely sure’ I am ‘borderline diabetic’, the tests say I absolutely ain’t.

“I’m now on four different pills prescribed by the doctor. I didn’t touch one type of pill prescribed for me but, interestingly, I was told that my recent blood tests confirm that these pills (the ones I am not taking) are ‘doing me good’.”


Filed under Health, Medical