Tag Archives: NHS

John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 33 – An anarchist’s death, baths and sleep

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 32

Another weekly diary blog that’s maybe more than a bit self-absorbed. Apologies.

(Photo by 21 swan via Unsplash)

SUNDAY 30th AUGUST

For the last 3 or 4 weeks, my legs have ached when climbing long flights of stairs eg at stations. Really tiring and aching.

I had a lot of trouble getting out of the bath this morning.

But things could be worse.

My eternally un-named friend commented: “It’s a good day when you don’t have a hand grenade thrown through your window.” Something with which I cannot disagree. We think it’s a reference to the 1942 movie Went The Day Well?

As if to prove the point, both in general and a propos hand grenades, later in the day, my friend Lynn told me that (alleged) Angry Brigade anarchist Stuart Christie,whom I blogged about in October last year, died, aged 74, on 15th August. I had not noticed any obituaries at the time.

MONDAY 31st AUGUST

A couple of weeks ago, at Euston station, I heard an announcement for Inspector Sands (a coded message which means that there is a major emergency in the building).

I arrived at St Pancras station tonight and there was another Inspector Sands announcement – this time in English AND in French.

Everyone ignored it. I am still alive to tell the tale. If this happens a third time, I will be forced to conclude that the railway companies have actually been foolhardy enough to employ someone genuinely called Inspector Sands.

My yellow chum bobs in turbulent waters…

TUESDAY 1st SEPTEMBER

I had a bath this morning.

Despite my age, I try to keep mostly clean.

Also, I enjoy farting in the bath and watching my yellow plastic duck bob around in the turbulent waters.

Anyway, I had trouble getting out of the bath again, but it was not as bad as on Sunday.

Later, Ariane Sherine‘s 9-year-old daughter – never to be underestimated – told me that my birthday (28th July) is appropriately National Milk Chocolate Day.

WEDNESDAY 2nd SEPTEMBER

I slept just over 10 hours last night and woke up 12 times needing to drink water.

Today is my mother’s 100th birthday. She is dead, of course.

Ariane Sherine’s 9 yo wished my dead mother a happy 100th

Ariane Sherine’s daughter sent me well-wishes and a design she had created to celebrate my mother’s birthday.

For some reason, she had my mother’s maiden name down as McHamilton instead of McLellan, but my mother is dead, so no harm there.

Not that there would have been any problem; she would have been very happy. Very honoured.

Perhaps Ariane’s daughter is writing a musical. I would not put it beyond her.

THURSDAY 3rd SEPTEMBER

I slept from 2200 last night to 2000 tonight with a couple of short periods awake to eat and a very large number of wakings-up to drink water.

When I woke up, l had a bath and still had some trouble getting out of it. The muscles in my legs or somesuch.

“It seems to have been a Thursday for at least eight days now.”

It seems to have been a Thursday for at least eight days now.

A friend commented on my ongoing sleeping problems: “It seems quite uncope-able with, no? Not much of a life? You seem to just have an existence of being asleep, merely waking to eat or gasping for a drink.”

But maybe that description covers a very large percentage of people’s lives.

FRIDAY 4th SEPTEMBER

July… August… September… It all merges into one…

Ah! The (in)efficiency of the NHS bureaucracy!

This morning (September 4th) I received a letter from the Kidney Man posted yesterday and written on July 29th about a July 6th chat referring to a future early August appointment. It was sent to my GP with a CC to me so I presume he also received it this morning.

In the afternoon, I had a shingles vaccination at my GP’s. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, none of the GPs are there any more. They all work from home.

The nurse giving the injection CLAIMED it was OK for me to have, despite my recent problems – cause still unknown.

Apparently, the Shingles vaccination is not annual – it’s one in a lifetime. Of course, if it kills me next week, that would still be true.

I found out too late to celebrate that today is National Fish & Chip Day.

SATURDAY 5th SEPTEMBER

Easier to get out of the bath, Almost back to normal.

Well, as far as getting out of the bath is concerned…

Like I said at the beginning, this blog is maybe more than a bit self-absorbed. Apologies.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 29 – NHS chaos, online cults, PC linguistics

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 28

Ariane X – ex Ariane Sherine – the palindrome queen

SUNDAY 2nd AUGUST

In my last diary blog, I mentioned that Ariane Sherine (newly aka Ariane X) said she had discovered that, since finding a new man in her life and becoming happy, she has been unable to write songs.

Inevitably, of course, as soon as I posted that, she wrote another song for her upcoming album, released on the (if you are British not American) palindromic 12.02.2021.

This is part of it:

When you’ve no money left
No love or hope or friends
And your heart it is closed
And you think that it’s the end
And you’re praying to God
Yeah to come and save your soul
Well I’ll save you instead
Bring you in out of the cold

Also last time, I mentioned Charles Aznavour’s observation that, when people are happy, they are all happy in much the same but, when people are sad, there are varied, specific reasons why, so ‘sad’ is more inspiring and more interesting.

Erudite performer and man about town Peter Stanford pointed out that Aznavour had perhaps read the first sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin (or, on my Russian college course, Karenina):

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

All I really remember about Anna Karenina is some bloke tapping the wheels of a train and maybe that was only in the movie.

MONDAY 3rd AUGUST

NHS confusion continues.

Last week, my face-to-face appointment with the Kidney Man was changed to a telephone consultation but, having experienced this twice before, I disbelieved it.

On Friday, I checked with the Kidney Man’s secretary and it was indeed a face-to-face appointment.

When I arrived at the hospital at lunchtime today, the two security men checking arrivals (no visitors are allowed because of the COVID-19 restrictions) directed me to Reception just inside the door.

It was the same man on Reception as before – last time he said the entire Nephrology department had moved to another hospital – so I ignored him and went straight to Outpatients reception.

They directed me to the appropriate Consultation section’s Reception. The nurse on that Reception tried to find my details but couldn’t. Then the actual Receptionist arrived.

She told me all the face-to-face appointments had finished; there were only phone ones now. The nurse told the receptionist: “There’s no John Fleming on the list. In fact, there is no list. It may have been thrown away by accident.”

The receptionist said: “I will ask the doctor if he will see you.”

He said Yes.

The Kidney Man knew he was supposed to be seeing me masked-face-to-masked-face.

Apparently this is a micrograph showing a renal core biopsy (Photograph by Nephron via Wikipedia)

He told me I’m still “a mystery”. Nothing showed up on the last blood test. He may send me to see an Ear Nose & Throat man in case that throws up any irregularities. He also has a colleague who is “interested in calcium” so he might want to see me. And they might try a kidney biopsy, though that is unlikely.

“What is a biopsy?” I asked. Does it involve cutting me open?”

“We just stick a needle in your back, under local anaesthetic,” he replied, “and take a little bit of kidney out.”

My next face-to-face appointment with the Kidney Man is in two months, unless something bad were to show up on the blood test.

He sent me down one floor for a blood test. “They may be closed,” he told me. “If they are, just phone the number on the sheet and make an appointment.”

The Phlebotomy (Blood Test to you and me) Department was open.

I left the hospital and went to the National Express office at Golders Green to see how much a two-day coach trip to Edinburgh on 15th/16th August would cost. I want to see what the Edinburgh Fringe is like without the Edinburgh Fringe… and to see comedian Arthur Smith do his annual midnight tour of Edinburgh.

It was £76 return by coach. Much, much cheaper than a railfare.

Nobel Prizewinning Irish politician John Hume

TUESDAY 4th AUGUST

Irish politician John Hume died yesterday. He won the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for his work trying to bring peace in Northern Ireland.

A BBC commentator said that, the first time Hulme met the IRA leadership face-to-face, he (Hume) said it was like meeting a cult. They were genuinely shocked to find out people genuinely had different views to them. Before then, they had only talked to themselves and their supporters. Anyone outside that circle who disagreed were not seen as people with genuinely different opinions – they were seen as evil.

I immediately thought: Corbynistas… Brexit… almost anyone on Twitter… To hold any opinion different to what you and ALL your friends have is not valid because it is not possible. If you disagree, you must be total evil, must be silenced.

Just me on that one, then?

There was an explosion in Beirut today – around 150 dead and over 4,000 injured. It turned out to be not a bomb but fertiliser. Of the kind used in bombs. Shit happened.

I was going to book an airfare to Edinburgh, after searching cheap price comparison websites. The cheapest return was £65 via Easyjet – cheaper than a coach and a journey time of only 90 minutes as opposed to 10 or 11 hours in a face mask.

My eternally un-named friend suggested looking on the actual EasyJet website. She was right.

It was £65 on the cheap price comparison websites and £55.98p on the EasyJet site itself. (Same flights.)

Arthur Smith was scuppered and scunnered by coronavirus

WEDNESDAY 5th AUGUST

Arthur Smith cancelled his tour of Edinburgh because of the Scottish government’s COVID restrictions on outdoor events. Shit happens.

THURSDAY 6th AUGUST

I got a letter saying my next face-to-face hospital appointment with the Kidney Man is on 19th Ocober. Inevitably, a few days before this, I will get an erroneous text saying it has been changed to a telephone appointment.

Talk of dabbicals, gangbangs, carjacks, bums and fags… (Photograph by Dmitry Ratushny via UnSplash)

FRIDAY 7th AUGUST

I spent the afternoon with my eternally un-named friend.

At one point, an arrangement went wrong. She said: “It’s a dabbical.”

We both looked at each other. Neither of us knew what the word should have been. I suggested it was a reasonable-sounding word so should be in common use.

Later, I was in conversation with someone totally different and it came up in conversation that, in the US, she had been told the British word ‘gangbang’ means ‘carjack’ over there.

Later still, I looked it up online and, as far as I could find, on both sides of the Atlantic, gangbang = gangbang and carjack = carjack. A very odd misunderstanding.

I do always wonder, though, what would happen if an Eastender from London said to someone in Kansas: “I want to bum a fag”.

Late night: my eternally un-named friend phoned to say: “Debacle…”

The offensiveness of phral and bhrātṛ

SATURDAY 8th AUGUST

Continuing with linguistic problems, in the new ultra-PC, non-binary world, a performer posted the following on Facebook:


QUESTION: I’ve been working very hard on replacing gendered collective terms like “dudes” & “guys” with “folks” whenever I address groups. I occasionally slip up. But I’m trying.

I was convinced that “pal” was non-gendered but I’ve just looked it up and it isn’t.

Its etymology is:
First recorded in 1675–85; from English Romani: “brother, mate,” variant of continental Romani phral, ultimately from Sanskrit bhrātṛ “brother”.

Does anyone know a non-gendered equivalent, please?

I’ve just found out that by using “pal” with a trans friend (who calls me “pal”), I’ve been unintentionally mis-gendering her and I don’t want to.

“Alright, friend?” feels odd.

There must be a non-gendered equivalent? Surely?

That said I’m struggling to think of a feminine version and the lack of that might be the reason I assumed it was non-gendered.

It’s two things:

a) Does this have the capacity to hurt someone?

b) Is it easily within my gift to avoid even the potential of causing that hurt and it cost me nothing more than the tiniest bit of thought?

If the answers to both of those questions are “Yes” then I’d feel like an utter arsehole if I didn’t at least try.

It’s my job as a decent human being to try to make extremely minor and trivial accommodations to avoid the possibility of hurting someone.


I may be revealing myself as an utter arsehole here but – admirably caring and commendably sensitive though his aim is – I think if someone is linguistically sophisticated enough to be offended by the 17th century Romani or ancient Sanskrit roots of perfectly commonplace 21st century English words, then they are probably intellectually resilient enough to cope with being called “pal”… although, frankly, I would be wary of using the word without care in Glasgow (where “cunt” is a genuinely commonly-used conversational term of affection).

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 25 – COVID in Glasgow, Indians in Moscow

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 24

My natural rhythm was Go to sleep quickly, Wake up slowly…

SUNDAY 5th JULY

All the way through my life I have only very very rarely been able to remember any dreams I had at night – maybe once every six or eight months if I got woken in mid-dream. My natural rhythm was to go to sleep quickly and wake up slowly, so I guess I rarely woke up during the dreamy bit.

Now – I guess because of the kidney/calcium problems which landed me in hospital a few weeks ago – I wake up at least once an hour during the night; sometimes I wake 11 times, my throat parched dry, having to drink water.

And I am aware of my dreams.

I never realised dreams were so visually detailed and, certainly in my case, have an ongoing narrative. Sometimes I have a detailed scenario which picks up one night where it left off the previous night. I know that because I am aware of it happening during the night and realise it is happening.

What the dream/dreams is/was/are about, on the other hand, I can’t remember when I wake up… because I have a shit memory. I am just – now – aware I have them.

Now the boring bit… You may want to skip on to Tuesday, which is more interesting…

MONDAY 6th JULY

I had a telephone appointment with the Kidney Man from my local hospital at 1240. He eventually rang at 1437.

“Sorry,” he said. “IT problems earlier.”

My calcium level when I went into hospital was 3.2 instead of 2.6 which it had been last October. And 2.6 is the high end of ‘normal’ – Normal is 2.2-2.6. It is now 2.4 (as of 22nd June).

My kidney function, which had been an OK 62 last October and a very-much-not-OK 19 when I went into hospital, was 34 when I left hospital.

It is now (as at 22 June when I had a blood test) 44.

Which doesn’t worry the Kidney Man: “The calcium level can affect the kidney function, but the kidney function can’t affect the calcium level.”

The calcium level is now fine and the kidney function should return to normal. Last time, I was told a kidney function of over 60 was OK for a man of my age. So 19… 34… 44 is going in the right direction.

The blood test on 22nd June, like the Petscan before it, was OK.

The parathyroid glands (which create calcium and are tested via the blood test) are normal.

The Kidney Man does not know why I am waking up 8 or 10 or 11 times a night with a dry mouth. But he is not worrying. When I asked him, he said: “I don’t know”.

This genuinely reassured me. No bullshit waffle.

“You are,” he added, “a mystery.”

If only I were a performer, I could use that as a strapline on a poster.

He is going to arrange a face-to-face with me at the start of August which will include another blood test. Doctors love blood tests.

Beautifully-written, word-perfect vignette of current reality

TUESDAY 7th JULY

The UK is slowly, tentatively, opening-up bit-by-bit after the coronavirus lockdown.

Scottish comedian Scott Agnew is, like all other stand-ups in the UK, unable to perform because no venues are open. This morning, on Facebook, he posted a beautifully-written – I think word-perfect – vignette of current reality – in Glasgow, anyway.

With his permission, here it is:


Popped out to pick up a spot of breakfast at the wee roll shop at the end of my street – first time since March…

Wee roll shop wummin: “Oh a fucking stranger returns I see! Where the fuck have you been?”

Me: “Eh, I’ve been in lockdown like everyone else.”

RSW: “I’ve been here four fucking weeks. No’ fucking hide nor hare aff you?”

Me: “Well when I looked along you never looked open.”

RSW: “Well I wouldnae have looked open if I was shut cause you never move yer fat arse oot the hoose in the mornings anyway unless you’re coming tae me. Was it Tesco ye were getting yer sausages? Aye. So where the fuck have you been? First week I was open I’m thinking I’ll see that big fella – nothing – I’m just thinking he’s an ignorant basturt.

“Second week I’m thinking, this cunt must be deid cause I minded you’d been on that flight back fae Australia – and that was the last I seen ye. There’d be all sorts fae all parts with fuck knows whit oan that flight. And I thought, that’s him had that virus and now he’s deid. Then I thought ye cannae be deid cause yer a comedian – ye’d have heard about that in the papers. Then I thought, well he’s no’ a famous comedian so the papers probably wouldn’t bother their fucking arse about ye.

“So I says to my daughter cause she’s got you oan that internet to check if you were deid. So I says – see if that big fat comedian fella is deid. And here ye wurnae deid.

“Do you know I stood in here wan Friday and had wan customer! Six pounds I took – it cost me more to turn the fucking lights oan.

“So here we are four weeks later and ye turn up noo, turns oot ye ur nothing but an ignorant basturt.

“Two roll and square son?”

© copyright Scott Agnew 2020


Keith Martin being very itinerant…

WEDNESDAY 8th JULY

I mentioned to itinerant TV voice-over artist and one-time choirboy Keith Martin that the post-lockdown openings are (understandably) slightly eccentric.

As I understand it, Christian churches can open for private prayer provided you maintain social distancing but synagogues and mosques cannot open yet because they are more sociable in their celebrations. And, although Christian churches can open, there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“You can’t sing,” Keith told me, “but you can hum the hymns, provided you keep social distancing.”

“You are joking,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “That’s true.”

And, while I haven’t been able to find out definitively, I think he might be right.

THURSDAY 9th JULY

Continuing the musical theme, today I stumbled on a video of the great and much-lamented (certainly by me) 1980s band Indians in Moscow.

I posted this on my Facebook page and the highly-esteemed Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation but a man with wide-ranging knowledge well beyond the aerodynamic properties of farmyard products, pointed out to me that Adele Nozedar – the vocally talented lead singer of Indians in Moscow – was now an author, food writer and forager, whose books include The Hedgerow Handbook, The Garden Forager and her most recent book Foraging with Kids.

She has come a long way since singing about Jack Pelter and His Sex-Change Chicken, a classic track in my vinyl collection.

Readers of previous blogs may recognise Andy Dunlop not just as the esteemed World Egg-Throwing supremo but as the man who has a friend with a dog called Rigby whose calcium problems mirrored my own. I feel my own fate is intertwined with Rigby’s.

“How is the dog?” I asked Andy today.

“He is fine,” Andy replied. “Doing well. Very happy.”

I am reassured, if only temporarily.

A US man unfairly maligned by a UK woman?

FRIDAY 10th JULY

My historic certainties are being undermined week-by-week.

First, there was the fact that Chou En Lai, did NOT say in 1989 that it was too soon to know if the French Revolution of 1789 had been a success. (See a previous blog).

And, today, I discovered that George W Bush did NOT tell Tony Blair that “the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur”.

It seems that Blair’s spin-doctor Alastair Campbell denies it ever happened and suggests that MP Shirley Williams might have put it in a speech as a joke and the idea snowballed.

“This book will probably save your life. Unfortunately,” says Charlie Brooker

SATURDAY 11th JULY.

My multi-talented chum Ariane Sherine chose today to mention she has not one but two projects coming out soon.

Her new book How to Live to 100 is published on 1st October this year…

And – under the name Ariane X – her first solo music album is being released on 12th February 2021. Why that date? Because it’s a palindrome date:

12.02.2021

… unless you are an American and get your dates back-to-front for no sensible reason – For you it is February 12, 2021.

Duran Duran were an early musical influence

Ariane describes the new album as “pop/electric/dance” with influences “including Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, St Etienne, Massive Attack and loads more.”

There are five early, rough instrumental demo tracks on her new ArianeX website. “Vocals, harmonies, guitar, hooks and fills to be added…”

The songs, she says, “are all about my violent childhood, mental illness, suicidal ideation, but also happiness that my life is so beautiful now…”

An extract from the lyrics show they ain’t gonna be no normal trite Moon-in-June songs:

I believe in Russell’s teapot, I believe in Occam’s Razor
And I believe that vaccines are humanity’s saviour
I always look to science to provide me with my answers
And I don’t believe that prayers can ever cure any cancers

As far as I know, there will be no horns on Ariane’s upcoming album…

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 24 – A broken shoulder and anal cell-phones

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 23

This particular blog is admittedly self-indulgent.

Do I care?

No.

But you have been warned.


SUNDAY 28th JUNE

In my previous Diary blog Andy Dunlop, esteemed President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, suggested, rather persuasively, that my ongoing problem with raised calcium levels in my body was paralleled by the troubles of a dog called Rigby and that the cause might be my parathyroid glands.

Today, American comedian and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller contacted me:


“That is a very delicate difficult surgery and…”

So you think it is your parathyroid gland? 

That is a very delicate difficult surgery and can leave you with injured vocal cords.

Be very wary of parathyroid surgery John,. They were going to take mine out years ago and then decided it was too risky.  

Here are the advantages: improved bone health, reduced risk of kidney stones and improved quality of life. 

You also have better memory and no aches and pains.  

However the surgery is very dangerous because you run the risk of injuring your thyroid gland and your vocal cords. Those little glands are very hard to find.

I have really terrible osteoporosis and I was all excited to have this done but the guy who everyone thought was the only one I dare trust to do this thing simply didn’t think I was a good enough candidate for the surgery.

I assumed he either hated women or Jews or the elderly. Possibly all three. So here I am sagging, shrinking and unable to touch my toes; not to mention my lousy tummy and disgusting personality.


My left shoulder as was in 1991 – pulverised in two places

MONDAY 29th JUNE

I wonder if maybe my parathyroid glands were affected by my occasional ongoing shoulder problem.

In 1991, when I was standing on a pavement, I was hit by an articulated lorry. My shoulder bone was pulverised (medical talk for ‘powdered’) in two places. I also had a skull injury – as I fell, I hit the back of my head on the sharp edge of a low brick wall – and, it later turned out, the bottom of my spine was also damaged by the jerk as my head stopped when it hit the wall and the rest of my body continued downwards.

In 1991, I was taken to the same local hospital I was taken to for my calcium/kidney function problem a few weeks ago.

Because I had broken bones, I was looked after in a Bone ward but, because they were worried there might be brain damage (from the skull injury – my brain would have hit the inside of the skull) I was bureaucratically under the care of the Brain people, who had their own ward(s).

The nurses in the Bone ward were very attentive but, when the Bone consultant did his rounds, he always ignored my bed because I was not his patient. Once, I heard him explain this to the student doctors who followed him round absorbing all he said: “We don’t deal with Mr Fleming. because he’s not our patient.”

The Brain consultant never visited me, I guess because I was not in his ward.

But, after about a week of observation, I was released. Late one afternoon, a very tired and clearly very overworked junior doctor from the Brain lot came down to my ward and told me I could go home.

A map of the Rhineland in 1905 looks a lot like the inside of the human brain but is not

I was released but, really, for about nine months after, my mind would occasionally sort-of de-focus and I would be unable to string thoughts together – I presume from some form of concussion. And I could not read for a while.

If I tried to read a newspaper, it was as if my brain would lose focus halfway through the first or second paragraph.  I still cannot read printed books, though I can write them on a computer screen.

After about a year, my shoulder still tended to feel like it was having a sharp knife stuck in it for maybe 90% of my waking hours. To protect my shoulder at night, I had to learn to sleep on my back with my left arm stretched out at right angles to my torso. This stopped me turning over.

But it also eventually meant that, instead of my shoulder bone mending back to its original state, the two broken, sharply-pointed ends overlapped each other. So my left shoulder is a tiny bit shorter and weaker than my right shoulder.

The pain in my left shoulder was eventually sorted by a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine) and only gives me problems now if I lean too heavily for too long on the not-healed-correctly left side.

Occasionally, still, I also get some muscle pain in my right shoulder and at the back of my neck because (I presume) the muscles are not quite right. Maybe these muscle problems affected the parathyroid glands in my neck? Maybe not.

Anyway, apparently I should have had physiotherapy and outpatient care when I left the hospital in 1991, but this never happened, presumably because of the bureaucratic complication that no hospital department was 100% in charge of me. My brain was too much like confused wobbly jelly to really think straight until much later.

This might also partly explain why, though I admire nurses and other frontline NHS staff, I have a high disregard for NHS bureaucracy… Did I mention I have a high disregard of all large, faceless bureaucracies?

My missing tooth cap

TUESDAY 30th JUNE

Today I went to my heavily-masked and plastic-visored dentist to get one of my capped teeth, which had fallen out, re-inserted. It was not simple and may not be long-lasting as the (dead) root into which the cap is inserted via a spike, is apparently fractured or fracturing.

It never rains but it pours.

WEDNESDAY 1st JULY

Social distancing is still in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. This has some bizarre effects as in the Ladies toilet at an IKEA store in London.

I did not, for obvious reasons, see the Ladies toilet first-hand myself, but a friend took a photo.

It is reasonable to tape off alternate sinks to maintain social distancing. But this does not explain why IKEA has closed alternate (and entirely separated) cubicles, as can be seen in the mirror at the top of this photo.

The Nokia 3210 (1999)

Today, still on the subject of human bottoms, someone else told me that there is a good second-hand trade in old 1999 Nokia 3210 mobile telephones.

In the early days of mobile phones, this particular phone was very popular with the inmates of UK prisons.

Mobile phones, of course, were not allowed in UK prisons, so they had to be smuggled in.

I am reliably informed that the Nokia was popular in prisons because it was small (certainly compared to modern phones) and had rounded edges. This meant it could be shoved up inside the body where the sun don’t shine by a prison visitor and then removed, given to and used by the lucky prisoner who had ‘ordered’ it.

The Nokia 3310, released in 2000. A snug fit in an XL condom.

To preserve cleanliness, the Nokia was usually put inside a condom (XL size) before insertion.

After it was removed, I remain uncertain whether the XL condom was thrown away or used.

But the Nokia 3210s were much used and – even though drones are now often the preferred method of getting things into prisons – the popularity of the Nokia 3210 and its 2000 successor the Nokia 3310 remain (I am told) very high.

This may or may not partly explain why, in 2017, a new version of the Nokia 3310 was released to an appreciative world.

Plus ça change, the more SNAFU…

THURSDAY 2nd JULY

I have a telephone consultation with the NHS Kidney Man (or Woman) on Monday. The fact that it is a telephone appointment – not a face-to-face one – was confirmed in a letter and by phone last week.

This morning, I received a text message telling me that my face-to-face consultation next Monday has been changed to a telephone consultation.

No, you did not mis-read that. Did I mention I have a high disregard of all large, faceless bureaucracies?

A glass of water by my bedside for when I wake up parched…

FRIDAY 3rd JULY

I continue to wake up at least once an hour throughout the night every night with my mouth bone dry, almost as if bits of my mouth want to stick to other bits they are so parched dry. I need to drink water – I have a bottle and a glass by my bedside.

I think it has to do with my kidney function being abnormally low or my calcium level being too high or both – but what do I know?

I counted the number of times I woke up during the night last night – ten times.

So par for the course.

SATURDAY 4th JULY

Today I asked Andy Dunlop, esteemed President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation, if there was any further news of Rigby the Dog and his parathyroid glands.

Andy’s reply was:


Ahhhhh,  I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. 

He’s now home. Arrived last night. Tests dispel initial and obvious parathyroid thoughts but reveal a very rare type of blood cancer.

Treatment will either be put on hold and he will live a long and happy life or not.

This was discovered by invasive biopsy of bone marrow.


Rigby the Dog will live a long and happy life or not… like all of us…

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s (second half) Weekly Diary No 23 – I am maybe sick as a dog

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 22

THURSDAY 25th JUNE

I got a letter this morning from Bristol confirming I have a face-to-face appointment with the NHS Kidney Man or Kidney Woman at my local North London hospital on Monday 6th July – about my ongoing high calcium level/low kidney function problems.

This afternoon, I got an email from Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation who, like all sensible egg-throwers, follows my blog. 

His email read:


President Andy Dunlop weighs the alternatives…

I have been following your tale of woe. 

I noted your last visit to the Kidney Woman.

A friend of mine has a dog called Rigby. It is not well.

A vet’s visit confirmed too much calcium and he (Rigby) is off to a specialist vet to check the cause. Suspicion is placed upon a gland in the neck and a benign tumour.   

Sod all to do with kidneys.


Andy drew my attention to the parathyroid glands, four small glands which regulate the calcium in humans’ – and dogs’ – bodies and how those glands control calcium levels. 

They are located in the neck behind the thyroid where they continuously monitor and regulate blood calcium levels.

When one of the parathyroid glands goes bad, it makes too much hormone, the excess hormone goes to the bones and takes calcium out of the bones and puts it into your blood. It’s the high calcium in the blood that makes you feel bad.

The reason I was taken into hospital for a week was that an abnormally high calcium level resulted in a serious drop in my kidney function from 62 to 19.

Andy tells me that Mr Google is my friend.

I am a little wary of Mr Google’s opinions, but…

Apparently, everybody with a bad parathyroid gland is more likely to develop bad osteoporosis (which my mother got) unless the bad gland is removed.

The parathyroid glands (in yellow)

Not removing a parathyroid tumour and leaving the calcium high for a number of years will increase the chance of developing other cancers in your body (breast, colon, kidney, and prostate).

Symptoms of high calcium levels in the blood include excessive thirst and frequent peeing; lethargy and excessive fatigue; and depression. Yes to all of those.

Mr Google says there is only one way to treat parathyroid problems – surgery.

FRIDAY 26th JUNE

Yesterday morning, I got a letter from Bristol confirming I have an NHS face-to-face appointment in North London on Monday 6th July.

This morning I got a letter from North London confirming my NHS appointment is not face-to-face but via telephone.

I expect a third NHS letter any day soon…

I also received another email from Andy Dunlop:


Rigby the Dog leaves the vet’s happier than when he arrived

Rigby the Dog left the vet’s this afternoon. My friend reports that intravenous fluids and some drugs perked him up no end. Unlike you, Rigby has all his own teeth.

Rigby is seeing a specialist later. I will keep you posted on your canine twin’s progress.

Your doctors were treating the symptoms and not the cause.


Andy drew my attention to Hypercalcemia a condition in which the calcium level in your blood is above normal. It is usually a result of overactive parathyroid glands. Other causes of hypercalcemia include cancer, certain other medical disorders, some medications and taking too much of calcium and vitamin D supplements.

I am a little wary of Mr Google. but I identify with the last sentence in Andy’s email.

Your doctors were treating the symptoms and not the cause.

I am always wary of Western medicine.

Chinese medicine tries to cure the cause of a problem. Western medicine tries to treat the symptoms of a problem – very often by masking the symptoms with drugs. It seems like the problem has been cured but the fact is simply that the symptoms have been hidden.

If I could afford it (which I can’t) I would constantly get advice from a Chinese perspective in parallel with any Western medical advice. And I would tend to trust Chinese treatments more.

Chinese medical appointments also seem to be more reliable than NHS ones.

SATURDAY 27th JUNE

I slept until about 2.00pm this afternoon and went to bed about 9.00pm. 

Neither my body nor my brain seemed to think this was unreasonable.

The thoughts and feelings of what remains of my soul… That is a different matter.

… CONTINUED HERE

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 21

SUNDAY 21st JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever-wise, much quoted Chinese statesman

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

Chou said: “It is too early to say.”

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

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

What a pity.

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

MONDAY 22nd JUNE

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

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

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

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

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

The Kidney Woman arrived at 0917, unlike the receptionist.

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

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

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

Apparently ‘normal’ would be 2.2 to 2.6.

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY 23rd JUNE

The pandemic has resulted in much more dental bureaucracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knows why?

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

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

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

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

They were surrealists on and off stage.

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

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

WEDNESDAY 24th JUNE

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

The accompanying letter details what will happen.

The tooth will out…

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

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

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

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

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

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

…my tooth fell out.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s Weekly Diary 21 – Bureaucracy, the NHS, a cough, a death, a long walk

… SORT-OF CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 20 …

I have been posting a diary supposedly about life in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic – focussing on the everyday amid the historic.

But it took a sidetrack when, instead of COVID-19, I developed some unknown kidney infection or damage or/and calcium imbalance and/or… well… something. No-one has yet found out what is wrong.

So this strand of the blog will now become a more general diary until I get bored with it or it meanders even more pointlessly than normal like a dildo lost in a jellyfish.


A typical 1888 cough syrup (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

SUNDAY 14th JUNE

I had a bad, hacking cough: probably nothing to do with coronavirus.

I took a Tyrozet tablet.

Stephen O’Donnell in Glasgow reminded me of the type of cough linctus they had in 1888 with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia “skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”.

Presumably, if that didn’t cure your cough, at least you would be unaware you had one.

Forget the telephone consultation – It’s a face-to-face meet…

MONDAY 15th JUNE

As is now normal, overnight I woke up about six or eight times – basically, at least once every hour – with my throat parched dry, desperate to drink water.

When I left hospital just over a fortnight ago, the Kidney Man told me he would treat me as an outpatient. Then, a week later, I got a letter saying it would be a face-to-face consultation at the local hospital.

Forget the face-to-face consultation – It’s on the phone…

Then, another week later, I got a text saying that, because of the COVID-19 virus, they were changing the face-to-face appointment to a telephone consultation. I joked to a couple of people that, as the NHS is a vast bureaucracy and all vast bureaucracies are a mess, they were bound to phone me up today and ask why I was not at the hospital.

Today, after over an hour waiting for the call, I phoned to check that all was OK.

The appointments people told me: “He’s not actually ringing absolutely everybody. Some patients he’s looking up on the system and, unless he feels he absolutely has to speak to them, what he’s doing is dictating a clinic letter which will go to your GP and you will get a copy as well… It’s a little bit of a grey area.”

Fair enough.

About half an hour later, the Kidney Man phoned up because he had been expecting me to go in for a face-to-face consultation and wondered why I hadn’t turned up.

Fair enough.

He told me that the Petscan I had about two weeks ago showed nothing abnormal and they still didn’t know what was wrong with my kidneys. So a blood test would be arranged and I definitely had to come in for that, even if I got a letter or text saying I should not.

After that, I went out (perfectly legally) to South London to see my Eternally Un-Named Friend. It was the first day when face masks HAD to be worn on public transport in England. So I wore a face mask on the mostly empty trains.

We walked along the River Thames from Greenwich to the O2 Millennium Dome – a long walk on what (I had forgotten to check) was a Very High Pollen day. I felt hot and sweaty and slightly light-headed and, for my feet, the walk became a plod.

Nothing to do with the pollen or the company. Something to do with the kidneys, I think.

View of Canary Wharf from near The O2 Dome (Photograph by My Eternally UnNamed Friend)

The south (well, really east) bank of the Thames between Greenwich and the Dome has become mostly a post-industrial wasteland which is being flattened or is already flattened for high-rise flats, with some already built. My Eternally UnNamed Friend found some sort of Wordsworthian Romanticism in the open spaces and vistas. I thought it just looked more like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

At 11.15pm, back home in Borehamwood, as I was about to go to bed, sniffles, sneezes and an itchy right eye started to kick in. Over the last few years, I have tended to get hay fever fairly late at night and almost always after dark. What is that all about? What on earth are the flowers doing at 2315 at night?

Well, the news took me a bit by surprise…

TUESDAY 16th JUNE

The man whom I called ‘George’ in my hospital diaries died yesterday. I know this because my friend Lynn spotted his obituary in various newspapers today and – very impressively – guessed it was the person whose identity I had (I thought) disguised in my posts.

I then (perfectly legally) went to East London by train to see writer Ariane Sherine and her daughter in their back garden (well, back decking).

On the way there and back, I wore a face mask in the mostly empty train carriages. There were some other passengers. But we all seemed a bit half-hearted about it as we were all seated so far apart.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 41,969… Up 233 in the last 24 hours.

Me in my lost hat – Maybe not a great loss…

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

I went to Tesco’s in Borehamwood in the afternoon to buy a hat to protect my bald head from the sun. I lost my previous hat two days ago, somewhere by the post-apocalyptic River Thames.

I was hot and sweaty (despite having had a bath at lunchtime) and light-headed.

Ariane Sherine texted me:

“I’ve made a few jokes about you in my new book. I thought I should run them by you to check you’re OK with them.”

I replied: “I will be OK with them. You can say anything you like about me. I fancy being described as a dishevelled, shuffling, shambling mess. I would quite like to be described as a Dickensian character rotting slowly in my wrinkly skin as the dust gathers in my ears. I always think it is better to be laughed at rather than be laughed with… It is much more memorable. People forget jokes but remember OTT characters… Perhaps you could say something like: He was having a mid-life crisis at least 30 years too late, with fantasies of Baby Spice in a bikini rolling around in tiramisu.

Alas, the book is a serious – though populist – non-fiction work and the reply I got was:

“We are at the proofreading stage, so I can’t add anything, but thank you for being such a good sport.”

My heart sank. I quite fancy being a badly-dressed Dickensian character. But I have never aspired to be a sport.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,153… Up 184 in the last 24 hours.

The ever-admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse

THURSDAY 18th JUNE

Last night, in bed, I had about an hour of feverish hot temperatured forehead and a hacking cough.

I think I may be turning into a paranoid hypochondriac. Or is that tautology? Who cares?

Meanwhile, admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse (I blogged about her in 2018) posted on her Facebook page:


Well that’s a first… I’m on the prayer line this morning and the first caller was a man who said he was in social isolation and lonely. He turned out to be calling from his bath… and was making somewhat too-enthusiastic noises during the prayers. He did say, “Thank you,” and that he was feeling a lot better now afterwards. Obviously, I have to report him to the boss… but I think I should have charged him a very large amount of money… and fortunately, I’m just trying not to giggle.


This seemed bizarre and unique to me but apparently not. Comments on Maggy’s post included:


– I had a fair few of them while on my Samaritans hotline 😉
– I used to work for a crisis helpline similar to the Samaritans and we had many a call along those lines…
– I used to be a Samaritans listener… we had similar calls…
– Sounds like the time I was a Samaritan on duty on Christmas Day. The tale was different – at the end he learnt it was seen through and it was good he had opened his ‘Christmas Present’ quickly!!


The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,288… Up 135 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 19th JUNE

Original edition. Lots of good advice.

In 2012, Ian Fox published his excellent book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show which was edited by fellow comedy performer Ashley Frieze.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos in comedy and entertainment generally and the Edinburgh Fringe effectively cancelled this year, the dynamic duo have published a follow-up:

How to Write, Perform and Produce a Cancelled Edinburgh Fringe Show: A complete guide on how to not write, perform and produce a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A new book for the new COVID-19 era.

The book is a must-read. Handy tips include:

  • When and how to cancel things

  • How not to travel to Edinburgh

  • Writing a show that is cancelled

  • How not to get a review for a show that isn’t happening

And it’s all in aid of a good cause… The authors have suggested, for every copy purchased, a donation to the Trussell Trust which supports a nationwide network of food banks.

The book was free until yesterday and may be free from tomorrow in one form or another.

Ashley Frieze says: “The ongoing pricing seems to be some random mystery concocted by Amazon.”

Ian Fox: “Truthfully, we didn’t realise you couldn’t just do free Kindles anymore.”

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,461… Up 173 in the last 24 hours.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in triplicate…

SATURDAY 20th JUNE

As of today, I now have three letters – all confirming my Monday face-to-face appointment at the hospital.

It is to have another blood test, so it is unlikely it will get changed to a telephone call.

But never say never…

Never underestimate bureaucracy…

An article in The Guardian yesterday suggested that, at the height of the current coronavirus pandemic, deaths in the UK may have been 64% higher than reported because, part of the way through the current run of the pandemic, the government changed or, at least, the bureaucracy was able to re-define the type of deaths included in the statistics.

But the worst news of the week is that today I discovered – who knew? – that Tyrozets have been discontinued following a challenge from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) over whether the use of an antibiotic in throat lozenges is “clinically relevant”.

Who cares? They worked.

Does anybody know where I can get hold of some 1888 cough syrup “with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”?

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 19 – Comparatively trivial

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 18

(Photograph by Camilo Jimenez via UnSplash)

THURSDAY 28th MAY

Today, the total of UK deaths caused by coronavirus reached 37,837 – up 377 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 29th MAY

My home is, in effect, in a square and, in just the one week I was in hospital (with kidney problems – not with any COVID-19 problems), anarchy has broken out.

The elderly woman (90+) in the house directly opposite me has been taken up to the North of England to an old people’s home near her son. She had been very confused the last few weeks when I met her in the street.

And a man who lives in a house on another side of the square died of a brain tumour in my week away. Apparently he had been ill for a few months but I did not know: a sign of 21st century life. He had been seeing people and things that weren’t there for the last three months. He was buried two days ago. The day I got back from hospital. 

On a lighter note, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu has posted another video of lockdown life with his family in London.

SATURDAY 30th MAY

I talked to Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter on FaceTime. In the middle of a playful conversation, she said: “Any person who never makes a mistake has never tried anything new.”

“That’s very good,” I said. “Did you just make that up or did you read it somewhere?”

“Albert Einstein,” she said.

She will go far. 

SUNDAY 31st MAY

In the nights I have been back home, I keep waking up at least once every hour with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water.

All through the night. Bone dry mouth. Needing to drink water.

And now I have developed constipation, very smelly farts and hay fever.

My life is complete.

The UK COVID-19 death total is now 38,489 – up 113 in the last 24 hours.

An illustration of why social distancing is now UK policy…

MONDAY 1st JUNE

Coughing, sneezing, spluttering hay fever and constipation – This makes it easy to maintain ‘social distancing’ in the street. We are told to maintain social distancing by keeping at least 2 metres apart from other people. I try my best to keep the farts to myself. 

TUESDAY 2nd JUNE

Hay fever tablets have stopped the sneezing and spluttering but not the farts.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they? I am still keeping them to myself.

Total UK coronavirus deaths have now reached 39,369 in total, up 324 in the last 24 hours.

WEDNESDAY 3rd JUNE

I had a petscan at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. This is the scan where they put radioactive stuff in your system and look at it going round inside the body. I have been telling people that, because of financial cutbacks at the NHS, you now have to provide your own pet – and that I rented an iguana for the day. 

So far, no-one has laughed. This is an excellent example of why I am not and never will be a comic. Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller tells me the joke would have worked if it had been a puppy not an iguana.

Travelling to the hospital, the Thameslink and Overground trains were almost entirely empty.

(Photograph by Maria Oswald via UnSplash)

On May 25th – over a week ago – an unarmed 46-year-old black man – George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

He died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was lying face down and handcuffed on the street.

His death has resulted in tightly-packed mass street demonstrations.

Not just in the US but around the world.

I have a British friend who happens to be black – we have known each other over 30 years. I got this message from her in the North of England:


Hi John, I’m sobbing my heart out. About 30  minutes ago I was coughed on deliberately by a young idiot. The pavement was narrow and he clearly didn’t want to walk in the bus layby. I turned my back to him and faced the church wall and felt his warm breath on the back of my neck. I was so shocked I stood there for about five minutes and ran home, jumped in the shower and wiped myself dry with anti bacterial wipes. My clothes are in the washing machine and I’m now paranoid about whether he’s genuinely infected me with COVID-19 or thought it was a great prank to play. I know it could have been worse. He could have spat on me rather than cough. If he’s infected or not… What a cruel thing to do.


THURSDAY 4th JUNE

Total virus deaths in the UK now 39,904 – a 176 increase in the last 24 hours.

Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies

FRIDAY 5th JUNE

Cult Weimaresque British band The Tiger Lillies have released a second – yes, a second – album about the COVID-19 pandemic.  I find it surprising there has not been more musical stuff inspired by the pandemic. Too soon?

SATURDAY 6th JUNE

When in hospital, I mentioned to the doctors that I seem to have a slow heart rate. The average is supposed to be somewhere between 60-100 beats per minute. Mine (as per my Apple Watch) is usually around 51-54 beats per minute; sometimes 47-49. The doctors were not really worried provided it was fairly regular. 

My cousin tells me that she too has a slow heart rate. 

So it must be a family thing.

And a minor thing.

Very trivial.

Comparatively.

UK coronavirus deaths are now over 40,000.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 17 – Red socks, casual racism and a death?

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 16

At this point in the saga below, I am in hospital with kidney function/calcium level problems.

(Nothing to do with COVID-19.)


When I had to wear a coronavirus mask …

SATURDAY 23rd May

The hospital staff have to wear several layers of clothing. About 50% wear face masks and sometimes, when dealing with patients, gloves. Almost no-one wears a plastic face visor. As far as I can see, this is not anything to do with lack of personal protective equipment. As far as I can see, it is choice. None of the staff seems to be nervous inside the ward.

At one point, one nurse was sitting spoon-feeding the old man in the bed opposite me. Another was doing the same to the patient in the bed next to me. Neither nurse had gloves on.

When I had a scan two days ago, I had to wear a face mask when I was taken to the scanning room (quite a way away), had the scan and came back to the ward. 

It was hot, stifling and horrendous to wear – and I only had to wear it for maybe 25 minutes. The nursing staff are on 12-hour shifts – mostly, it seems, 0800-2000 and 2000-0800, with a few breaks. They are wildly over-hot most of the day. (Admittedly temperatures are high in the UK at the moment.) Occasionally I hear them talk to each other about the discomfort. 

Apparently the earlier face masks they had to wear were worse – more tight-fitting and suffocating. 

There are two effects of having to wear masks for long periods.

1) The nurses are physically uncomfortable wearing them and very hot most of the time, especially over the last few days.

2) They want ventilation and open windows most of the time while the patients, just wearing pyjamas, feel a totally different temperature. 

At the start of the evening last night, I got the two slit windows above my bed closed. Been open since Wednesday night. Draughty.

One of the Filipino nurses is actually a trainee nurse in the first year of a two-year course. The deal is the hospital pays the fees for his course and he works for them. So yesterday, for two hours in the afternoon, he went off to another area of the hospital and, with others who work in the hospital, did academic stuff.

My friend Lynn texts me: “Saturday night in our local hospital here was a revelation. We had a Lord and a knifing one weekend. A real Lord whose wife sat by him knitting throughout and they said not one word to each other. The knifing victim had his extended family in to have a good laugh over the happy event.”

I discover the hospital has free red socks. The joys of the NHS!

Because I did not expect to be taken into hospital, I have been wearing the same pair of socks since last Wednesday. So potentially smelly. I discover the hospital has free red socks. The joys of the NHS!

A new guy was brought into bed space opposite me. I shall call him George (not his real name).

The nurse spoke to him gently and caringly; he muttered his replies, barely audibly.

Nurse – “You want your phone?”

George – “This is the reason.”

Nurse – (Gently) “What?”

George – “I don’t even know how to work the bloody thing. The phone.”

Nurse – “You told me before to put it here, so that you can reach it.”

George – “Oh, that’s rubbish. Absolute rubbish.”

Nurse – “This (the table) moves about… See? Now you can reach it.”

George – “I can’t reach them all. I can’t lean forward, as you know.”

Nurse – “I can put you forward, but you said your back was…”

George – “I can’t reach forward.”

Nurse – “Here, you can sit up. You are not in pain now?”

George – I am in pain in my knees.”

After given his meds and some routine tests, as the nurse left the room, he asked weakly: “OK? Was it OK?” Then, a few minutes later, “Was there a problem? What was the problem?”

The nurse didn’t hear him because she had gone. He is registered blind, though I think he has some slight sight.

Occasionally, throughout the day, George – with no nurse in the ward to hear him – mutters: “What was the problem?”

Later, sitting in a chair by his bed, George was talking with another Filipino nurse. (I had my iPhone so this dialogue is correct):

George – “Why do you still want me here?”

Nurse – “I think they are still sorting out something for you at home.”

George – “I’m an old man. The government are doing all this. I don’t believe it.”

Nurse – “I think the home care is not ready yet. That is why you are still here.”

George – “I am old. I wanna go home.”

Nurse – “They are still sorting out the care before you go home.”

George – “Just let me go home. We’ll sort it out on the way. But it ain’t gonna be like that, because it doesn’t suit you, does it?… I’m an 86-year-old man. Why on earth do you want to keep me here? Why?”

Nurse – “It’s not me. I don’t do about all these things.”

George – “So you don’t agree with it. Why are you letting it happen?”

Nurse – “It’s the doctors deciding what’s best for you.”

George – “From what country?”

Nurse – “The discharge team is sorting something for you at home.”

George – “Why? Why? I don’t believe that. Why? Can I move? My arse aches.”

Nurse – “I’ll get you back into bed.”

George – “We’re getting nowhere. You’ve said so many things and you’ve contradicted yourself. Why I don’t know.”

Nursing is a nightmare. The nurses in the ward are calm, caring and have to understand the psychology of difficult and sometimes doolally patients.

As for me – it’s Saturday now – I have had the saline drip permanently in my left arm since Wednesday around teatime.

Daily, I get injected in my right hand (a blood sugar test, I think); blood samples (two small tubes, I think) are taken from my right arm; an injection in my stomach; and sundry other injections. Blood pressure taken two, maybe three times a day. And a daily chat with a doctor. Still no sign of the doctors discovering what caused my kidney function falling or my calcium level rising. So tests, tests, tests.

Nighttime in the ward, with a couple of chilly open windows

SUNDAY 24th May 

Around 0200 in the morning, it was pretty chilly, I managed to find two new bedsheets and pillowcases half-hidden away on the other arm of my bedside chair.

I vaguely remember out the side of my eye seeing a nurse put them there yesterday, I presumed they were for the next bed. I now realise they were for me. I added them to my single sheet. 

0348 – Drip had run out. Pretty chilly. Bad headache along the base of my skull at the back. 

0402 – Light headache on right temple

0414 – Light headache at front, between eyes.

0419 – Light headache in middle of forehead

It went away.

I have a ‘call button’ for the nurses but they would just have given me paracetamol or similar and I wouldn’t have known how it developed. Not serious pain.

Around the same time (unconnected) and not near me, two nurses came into the ward with jackets on and closed a window at the end of the ward which had been open all day.

Around 0514, I was shaken awake for blood pressure to be taken.

The guy tried wrapping the band around my arm about three times and tried taking the blood pressure four times. Didn’t work.

At pretty much the same point, we both saw a blue lead and an electric plug hanging at the back of his portable unit.

He plugged the machine into a wall socket.

It worked.

Neither of us reacted as if anything unusual had happened.

I suspect, like the very efficient Filipino nurse, he is probably a student.

He went on to take blood pressure from the guy opposite.

The old guy asked: “Is it OK now? Was it OK? There was something wrong last night…”

“No, no problem,” the nurse said.

0715 – I woke with heavy headache at base of skull at the back, but it went away quickly. 

The hospital menu: less British Railways, more Park Lane

The food here is AMAZINGLY good. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Big selection. VERY tasty. Great food! I expected British Railways buffet here, standard circa 1955. In fact, it is like Dorchester Hotel standard 2020.

I saw myself in a full-length mirror in the loo last night, after showering myself. I looked like a bloated stomachy creature.

I mentioned it to a friendly nurse (they are all friendly) who told me: “It will be the water from the drip bags.”

Another day today of little pricks and wetness – needles and drip bags. 

All the nurses now have little individual tattoos on their arms – a gift from one nurse’s 5-year-old who has a book of ‘em. They last about 3 days. The tattoos, not the nurses.

Heaven preserve us! A nurse has turned on a radio for the ward and left the room.

Even worse, it is playing Danny Boy in a particularly saccharine version. The next step will be community singing. If they start playing Country music, I am going to demand a transfer to the Euthanasia Ward.

My friend Lynn texted me: “My nightmare would be hip-hop. They are giving you saline so you will be bloated and you will not be able to move around until the line dancing starts.” 

Oh good grief! Now it’s some ghastly 1950s girl group going full blast with trombones backing them! 

Now The Shirelles! I have no objection to The Shirelles in their place. This is not it.

The three other blokes in the ward are (for them) mercifully fairly deaf. Well, to be honest, one of them is permanently curtained-off and I rarely see him.

Talk about rest and recovery! I think the North Koreans have invaded and are torturing us. I have realised it’s not the radio but a tape on a 5-10min loop. The North Koreans are demonstrating why Western Civilisation has to be destroyed via its own worst 1950s US musical culture. Give me earplugs, a bread knife and a bucket for the blood.

The music is no more.

One nurse is saying to another that, outside the hospital, some nurses have been approached asking if they want to get a clap – meaning that, if they pay, they would be given a clap in appreciation for their work.

True.

The nurse was saying: “What planet are they on? Do they not know what’s going on around them?”

I talked to a doctor. I misunderstood the numbers for my kidney function and its drop.

In fact, 90 is normal kidney function for a young man. My kidney function in October was 62, which is OK for my age.

My kidney function was 19 on Wednesday 20th and now, thanks to all their dripping, has gone up to 27.

My calcium level on Wednesday was (I think) 3.3 and is now down to 2.7.

They’re going to keep me in until I get back up to a reasonable kidney rate (how long is a piece of string?) with the drips… then they can send me home and do other care from there. Or it might be a proper calcium level they need to get me to. I really was rubbish at chemistry in school.

They still don’t know the source of my kidney/calcium problems.

It feels nastily like I may be here another week Although it is almost worth it for the food.

The normal view of the fourth bed in the ward…

I am in a 4-bed section of the ward and, since I arrived, one of the four, as I mentioned, has been curtained-off. Rarely seen.

They just curtained-off – it is now the middle of the night – the other three sections – this has never happened before – and there was a coming-and-going of I think two men and a trolley bed or beds was/were being pushed around. One was taken out.

Then our three beds were un-curtained and the fourth bit was now uncurtained with a newly-made bed. 

But no patient in it.

People have been wheeled in and out before but without the curtaining.

I presume the man in that bed is a goner.

Brown bread. Dead.

… CONTINUED HERE  …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 16 – “The first of the blood tests begins…”

CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 15

THURSDAY 21st May

Throughout the night, I was on a liquid drip, linked into my left arm.

0930 – The first of the needles and blood tests begins.

First new consultant of the day. A white South African. Never usually a good omen. But she seems fine.

Now a drug bloke with questions about my lifestyle. Alas, I am very dull. No smoking. No drinking. No recreational drugs. No bestiality beyond the norm.

I am attached to a bag of gooey stuff with an electrical thingie in between it and me

Around midday, I have to drink unexpected vegetable soup and have a new drip tube inserted into my left arm linked to a bag of gooey solution. I have to keep my left arm as straight as possible otherwise it cuts off the electrical thingie between the bag and my arm. Not good if I want to eat or hold an iPad with my left hand and type with my right hand. 

It will be there for the next 8 hours, so presumably they won’t be sending me home today. Hopefully tomorrow.

This billed day of multi-tests has turned into some brief blood-taking at the start… then the first four hours (1200-1600) of new planned 8-hour drip treatment.

A new bag is attached at 1700 and the next bit is now going to be three 2-hour bag drips – presumably ending at 2300. So one suspects definitely not getting out tonight!

I am reattached to this new drip bag for my latest 6-hour stint at 1700 but then taken along corridors at breakneck speed in a broken wheelchair (although I can walk fine) for a scan. 

There had been some bureaucratic SNAFU – the scan people hadn’t known which ward I was in.

The wheelchair pusher was very much a jobsworth. He told two other wheelchair pushers we passed by that they were leaving their wheelchairs in the wrong places and told a cleaner bloke outside the scanning room that a couple of other staff had been saying he (the scanner bloke) had been being lazy but he (my bloke) had said the other guy was a good worker not lazy. Psychological workplace politics at play.

I had the scan lying on my back. They scanned from top of my chest to my pelvis, to include lungs, liver kidneys, etc etc.

It was then back to my ward where my evening meal was waiting at around 1810 but I was only reattached to my drip around 1830, presumably to avoid me switching off the drip by bending my left arm when eating. Who knows when this attachment to bags will finish?

“So bad at chemistry, my teacher emigrated”

FRIDAY 22nd May

They have just (1041) changed the drip feed bag again. 

I have already had another blood test. The nurse (Hispanic) says this new bag is for eight hours. I guess that means another night in. 

A nurse tells me the liquid in the bag is 98% or 99% water and the rest sodium chloride. It is only later I realise ‘sodium chloride’ is actually salt. Like I knew?

At school, I was so bad at chemistry, my teacher emigrated to New Zealand. I am convinced my inability to do the subject was at least a contributory factor.

Yesterday, a young Thai nurse told me this is an awkward ward to work on because the patients tend to be old men, some either doolally (my word) or very awkward.

My night nurse was a black (I guess from the accent) African lady.

This morning, round about dawn, further down the corridor, my African nurse was having an argument with an old patient. Raised voices, I’m guessing because his hearing was not good:

HE – “Don’t touch me! Do NOT touch me!”

SHE – “You have wet yourself. I have to change you. Your bottom is full of poo.”

HE – “Get out! You are fired!”

(Later)

SHE – “Who is Darkie? Who is this Darkie?”

She eventually got him to let her look after him by a combination of shouting back and not letting him tell her what to do – to leave the room etc – and by getting some laughter into their exchanges as if they were chums having a play fight.

Then she immediately had to come back into my ward where she was quietly tender, gentle and caring to a patient. She should write a book on psychology: How To Control Uncontrollable People Who Have Uncontrollable Mouths. 

One clever thing they seem to have done in the hospital – this is only my guess from observation – is to split the teams on ethnic or linguistic grounds. I have so far not seen any white nurse. All 100% are non-white, multi-ethnic, multi-national.

My night team are black Africans and share a language – I’m guessing Swahili but the main nurse is probably West African.

During the day I have Spanish-speaking teams. (Not necessarily from Spain itself.)

Occasionally there are a few Asians – Thai, Chinese-origined, Filipino etc.

What this means is, as they are almost all working in a second language, they can communicate nuances to each other in their own shared first language and there can be clearer communication.

In strict PC terms, there should not be teaming by ethnicity or nationality but, in this case, I think linguistics and a shared social background wins over.

The doctor tells me they still have no idea what is wrong with me. So they are just testing everything in sight. I will be in here at least one or two nights, I am told.

If they can find a cause for my calcium and kidney problems, then they can maybe send me home. If not, more needles ahead.

During the current coronavirus lockdown, the hospital allows no visitors unless you are dead or giving birth and then only (I think) one person. There are special rules for the end-of-life wards, but I’m not exactly sure what they are and it would seem presumptuous to ask a nurse.

I get a text message from British performer Matt Roper in the US… “God forbid I ever have to stay in a hospital in America. I pay $355 for health insurance every month and I’m still billed for co-pay regardless. I have to pay $30 for a visit to a GP, $50 for a specialist, $35 for urgent care and $200 for a trip to A&E. They are running a racket. God bless the NHS.”

My friend in Central London, whose friend is still in the Intensive Care Unit of an NHS hospital with COVID tells me: “A COVID-19 ICU bed costs the NHS £1,500-£2,000 per day. He has been in there 45 days”… at no cost to him, of course.

Ariane Sherine, currently training to be a celebrant at Humanist funerals (true), has offered to give me a free funeral. It is a bargain, though there are personal pros and cons to my having a funeral right now.

Personally, I think a funeral for me is pointless and have told my executrix Lynn I don’t particularly want one – Just bung me in the ground.

But I don’t really care: the real me won’t be there.

Unlikely to happen in the near future, but a pig may fall on my head at any time.

Worldwide, that is not as uncommon as it might seem.

… CONTINUED HERE

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