Tag Archives: Milan

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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The coronavirus is spreading – I have a bad cough, slimy feet and a bit of snot

For someone who has eaten unhealthy junk food all his life, I am surprisingly healthy. Although, unsurprisingly, given my diet, I have bad teeth.

I guess that’s the inevitable effect of a Scottish upbringing.

I have had slight toothache for a couple of weeks and went to see my dentist on Monday.

“I hear there’s a shortage of masks for dentists,” I said, “because loads of people are buying them as a result of the coronavirus scare.”

“Yes,” he said, “the trouble is they are mostly made in the Far East and most of the factories making them there are closed because of the coronavirus.”

This seems like it would be a very comforting situation if you were a virus. You would be a rather smug virus, having out-manoeuvred the opposition.

Britain is starting to take the coronavirus seriously. Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced measures the government is taking to combat it and repeated his advice that everyone should wash their hands with soap for the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday To You twice.

I thought: Well, that’s going to please the copyright owners of Happy Birthday to You. But it turns out the good news (for us) is that copyright on the Happy Birthday song expired in the European Union on 1st January 2017, so it is free to sing. 

Every silver lining has a dark cloud, though. Bad news for some is that apparently sales of Corona Beer in the US have fallen by either 30% or 70% depending on which scare-mongering tabloid newspaper you read. The good news, though, as reported in the London Evening Standard’s business section yesterday, is that shares in at least one funeral group have surged in value amid hopes for a high death toll. Every shroud has a silver lining.

Al Jazeera has Tweeted images of deserted Italian tourist sites

My friend Sandy in Milan tells me that there “all schools from pre-schools to universities and everything in-between are closed; so are post offices, sports stadiums, cinemas and theatres. They have all been closed for one week and are now going to remain closed for a second week.”

Despite, as previously mentioned, being normally surprisingly healthy, for the last three weeks I have had a horrible, dry, hacking cough. This has nothing to do with coronavirus, but it is very useful for emptying carriages and getting seats in trains. A few days ago, I had a slight coughing fit and someone sitting two seats away moved to the next carriage.

It was done in a very British way. When we arrived at the next station, he got up and walked towards the doors as if he was going to alight, but he kept walking to the end of the carriage and beyond, into the next carriage. As he sat down, he slightly glanced back as if to check I had not followed him like some determined Angel of Death. 

Unjustly defamed by name – Corona Beer

I have always had an irritating dry cough since, I think, my twenties. At one company I worked for, I was nicknamed John ‘Irritating Cough’ Fleming, which I always felt was a rather inefficient nickname as it necessitated the use of four words instead of one.

My father had the same cough as long as I knew him, which was quite a long time. But this current cough I have is a different, nastier, hacking cough.

I had the same horrible cough a few months ago. It took about three weeks to clear up. I think I got it from writer Ariane Sherine’s 8-year-old daughter who, in turn, got it from her 2 or 3-year-old half-sister. 

I can’t remember her exact age. To a 2 or 3-year-old, one year is a long time. To me it flashes by from one Edinburgh Fringe to another, with comedians constantly obsessing and stressing about the past or upcoming Fringe for all twelve months in-between.

Anyway, I blame Ariane Sherine’s otherwise blameless daughter for my hacking cough.

So it is only fair that, in what may or may not have been an attempt at redemption, Ariane suggested something to me.

Last year, she published another book: Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide to Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help.

But her suggestion had nothing to do with that. I was just blatantly plugging the book.

People in Wuhan are now touching toes when they meet

Instead of suggesting I have therapy, she suggested that one way I might get rid of the cough was, before going to bed, to rub Vicks VapoRub – normally rubbed on the chest and/or throat – onto the soles of my feet. She had heard this worked. 

I waited for her to tell me this was a joke. She did not.

It sounded mad but, because I know the Chinese are obsessed by feet – acupuncturists love ‘em – I think it’s something to do with meridians – I thought I would give it a go. Also, apparently, people in Wuhan – the source of the coronavirus outbreak – instead of shaking hands when they meet are now touching toes (when wearing shoes). Strange but true,

So, for the last three nights, I have smeared Vicks VapoRub on the soles of my feet at night and worn socks in bed. It is not a good look.

But it seems to be working.

Either that or it’s just coincidence.

I will die never knowing.

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The rules of being an Italian stereotype

Yesterday afternoon, I flew back to London from Milan. The English girl in the next seat on the Ryanair flight was at university in Italy. We were talking about the bureaucracy there. Italy is a good place to visit. Not a good place to live because of the bureaucracy.

“I’ve never known inefficiency like it,” the girl said. “I thought England was bad… but Italy…!

“It’s the lying,” she continued. “Constant lying. If they actually said something would take two months, I might be irritated. But they say it will take ten days, knowing it will take two months, then I’m just very, very angry. It’s like they enjoy it.”

That morning, on a motorway near Bergamo, I had been talking to my friend who lives near Milan about the cliché of Italians.

“They’re very conventional,” she said. “The way they dress, the colours of the cars they drive. The neatness of the way they dress. The women’s make-up. It’s like they obey the rules they think are expected of them.”

“What about the cliché of bad Italian drivers?” I asked. “I’ve never driven in Italy, but they never seem to me to be as bad as the stereotype. There’s a problem in Rome, but it’s because they have enormous wide-open street junctions and no traffic lights. The system’s haywire, not the driving.”

“I tell people who come here,” my friend said, “that the most dangerous thing on Italian roads is to drive slow. You have to drive fast because everyone else does. If you drive slow, they will go straight into the  back of you. You have to drive with confidence even if you don’t have any.”

“They drive far too close to the car in front,” I agreed. “No braking space if anything happens.”

“They ignore all the rules on the road,” my friend said. “It’s like they think they’re expected to disobey the rules of the road, so they all disobey the rules because that’s the rule. They weave in and out and use the hard shoulder. They tailgate like they have a death wish. I’ve been overtaken a hearse at traffic lights. He ran the red light at great speed, with the cross on the bonnet wobbling.”

“It’s the legacy of the Ben-Hur chariot race,” I suggested.

“Mmmm,” my friend said as we were overtaken on both sides by speeding trucks.

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Mafia capitalism takes the same route as the Titanic on its maiden voyage…

Capitalism with a dash of  socialism to add a restraining touch of morality  is, arguably, the least-worst economic option for running a country’s economy. Certainly better than Communism under inevitably self-perpetuating elites.

But shareholder-based capitalism is flawed and possibly doomed, because its aim is the short-term maximisation of profits for the shareholder rather than the long-term growth and health of businesses in which the shareholders invest. The aim is short-term profit-taking, not efficiency. In that sense, it has the same flaws as countries run by dictators or businesses run by criminal organisations… or, indeed, countries run by criminal organisations.

Which brings me to Italy.

I have just arrived in Milan for a couple of days.

I have blogged about the Mafia before…

According to a report issued two days ago, the Mafia is now “Italy’s biggest business”. But this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

Post-War Italy was, in effect, run by the secret Masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due) for around thirty years: an unholy alliance of politicians, big business, the military, the intelligence services and the Mafia. It was a conspiracy theorist’s most paranoid dream come true.

The real ‘new’ news story about the Mafia’s financial power seems to be that the current world financial crisis has particularly hit Italy and has partially unified the traditional Mafia groups.

In the current economic crisis, traditional banks are reluctant to lend, so many Italian businesses nationwide have been forced to borrow at crippling rates of interest from organised crime, including the three big Mafia groups – the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.

As a result, the Mafia now have an alleged annual turnover of around £116 billion with reserves of 65 billion Euros, making them “Italy’s biggest bank”.

This is according to a report issued a couple of days ago by Confesercenti, a prominent employers’ association which represents 270,000 small-to-medium businesses. They simply called their report Criminality’s Grip on Business  and it says the Mafia account for around 7% of Italy’s Gross Domestic Profit – and we are talking very ‘gross’ here.

Marco Venturi, the president of Confesercenti, was quoted as saying: “According to our estimates, loan sharking caused the closure in 2010 of 1,800 businesses and destroyed thousands of jobs. Right now, Mafia Inc is the only business enterprise willing to make substantial investments.”

That sounds to me like a man with an eye for publicity.

But, basically, if you are running a small business facing ruin and potential closure in the current economic crisis where banks are only interested in short-term strategies, you have few options to try to save yourself except to borrow from the Mafia… which ironically may itself result in ruin and the potential closure of your business.

Small business owners with tight margins and limited cash flow also, as always, face extortion and straight robbery by the Mafia, at a reported rate of one crime every minute.

This week’s Confesercenti report says the influence of various mafias is now being felt not only in traditional strongholds such as Naples and Palermo, but increasingly in the wealthy north of Italy, in regions such as Lombardy – in other words, the country’s business capital of Milan – and the report says the mafias have expanded there with the “complicity” of some politicians, as well as lawyers and accountants.

Again – perhaps especially in Italy – that comes as no surprise.

Another report this week – by Libera, an anti-Mafia association – says the average adult Italian spends nearly 1,300 Euros every year on slot machines, bingo and other forms of gambling. This 76 billion Euro market is Italy’s third biggest industry and the Libera report claims the Mafia have also now moved into what the report calls ‘new’ areas of business such as public health, transport and logistics.

Milan is known for its fashion industry and now seems to have picked up the latest street fashion – criminal organisations running not just Big Business but the country’s infrastructure.

Well, that is the story.

In fact, I think, as I said earlier, this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

In Italy, traditions run deep.

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Silvio Berlusconi and the Mafia man with easy access to the horses’ heads

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation as Prime Minister of Italy and quoted an English friend of mine who has lived there for around 25 years.

Yesterday, she told me the national newspaper Corriere della Sera carried an interesting front page.

The Rubik’s cube of Italian politics is not exactly simplified by the fact that the secret masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due), in effect, ran Italy from the end of the Second World War until at least 1976 and possibly until 1981. Its all-pervading power lay in its membership and links, which included Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia), politicians, media, the police and the intelligence services.

It was a bit like the Groucho Club with attitude problems and access to armed force.

A list of P2 members, discovered in 1981 included Silvio Berlusconi.

“Right in the centre of Corriere della Sera’s front page today,” my friend told me yesterday, “there is a photograph of the two Sicilian judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who were both assassinated within a two month period in 1992 after they led the Italian government’s anti-Mafia investigation.

Corriere della Sera quotes Borsellino’s wife as saying he told her – only 24 hours before he was blown to bits in a car bomb outside his flat – that, if he was assassinated, it would not be the Mafia who killed him. Corriere della Sera presumably printed this article now because there is a current investigation into claims that the Italian State continues to be connected to organised crime in a big way.

“Ask yourself why,” my friend told me: “Ask yourself why – in this week of all weeks – on this day of all days – why this particular photo and story would be on the front page of a national newspaper that is otherwise all about Berlusconi…”

In his last video interview, given four days before Falcone’s assassination and two months before his own assassination, Paolo Borsellino spoke about the possible link between Cosa Nostra’s mafiosi and rich Italian businessmen including Silvio Berlusconi.

Borselino claimed that well-connected mafiosi Vittorio Mangano was the Sicilian Mafia’s link to its business interests in Northern Italy.

Somewhat bizarrely, Berlusconi employed Mangano to look after the horses at his villa in the small town of Arcore, near Milan, where Berlusconi lived. It has been alleged that Mangano’s real job may have been to deter kidnappers from targeting the Berlusconi’s children.

But there were also allegations made by Mafia supergrasses that Berlusconi was connected to the bomb blasts which killed Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Magistrates in Caltanissetta spent almost two years examining these allegations and decisively rejected them.

The mafiosi supergrasses had also apparently wrongly alleged Berlusconi had had contact with Mafia ‘boss of bosses’ Totò Riina and arranged legislation favourable to Cosa Nostra in exchange for Cosa Nostra support for his political party Forza Italia.

Politics – in Italy perhaps even more so than in other countries – is a dark art involving smoke and mirrors.

It also reminds me of the ancient Roman saying Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus sergeant.

It sounds very posh because it is Latin. But it has a more basic meaning:

“If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”.

Something that applies to all politicians.

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