Tag Archives: NHS

John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 4 – “I was involved in pandemic planning”

In response to my blog yesterday about the coronavirus outbreak, someone I know – a very level-headed chap – sent me these three pieces, which I post without comment…


(Photograph by Roman Kraft via UnSplash)

I have been a community first responder (CFR) for some years. This is an unpaid role where we attend all sorts of medical emergencies – we use first aid equipment, defibrillators and oxygen.

As the coronavirus situation became more widespread, the calls we could be sent became more restricted as the threat level increased. No being sent breathing difficulties or anything that could be COVID-19 related. Preparations were ramped up within the NHS.

More call handlers were required for 111, more admin staff. 

We were asked: “Would we help?” Two days training AND pay. 

We, of course, said: “Sure, whatever you need.” Didn’t ask what rate. I’d do it for free.

A week later, the call for help changed: “We may need 999 operators and dispatchers. Can you help?”

“Of course. Whatever you need.”

Now, these 999 operators and dispatchers, as new recruits, normally get 12 weeks training in a classroom and then close supervision before being unleashed. This is intense and skilled work.

Last week, I got 8 hours training and I am now on standby for when COVID-19 illness or isolation reduces the current team to below minimum levels.

When the call comes, I shall drive 70 miles, each way, to my call centre. During my shift – which may be nights or weekends – I will get an unpaid half-hour meal break. I will, of course, pay tax and National Insurance on my wages.

My hourly rate? £9.17p


(Photograph by Antoine Dautry via UnSplash)

In a previous life, I was involved in pandemic planning for national government. 

The published loss rate (ie death rate) was based upon 1% of the total population. We actually pre-planned for 2.5%. 

This % loss was based upon the group most affected. 

The 1918/21 flu targeted 18-30 year-olds.

In 1958/60 – children.

And normal flus target the old and sick.

We did an Impact Assessment and, as required for any plans, a Cost Benefit Analysis.

If it hits children (who are 25% of the population) we lose 10% of the kids. Very sad, but we’ve not spent much on them. They are replaceable AND we get smaller class sizes.

If it hits working adults (who are 50% of the population) we lose 5% of the potential workforce. Very sad; we have wasted money educating them, but we keep their pension pots, they will be replaced soon AND unemployment goes through the floor. We pay less Social Security benefits and get more tax revenue.

If it hits Old Age Pensioners and the vulnerable (25% of the population), we have a 10% loss rate of grannies, grandads and the permanently sick. Very sad, but they were going to die soon anyway. Do the maths… up to 10 years x 1.6 million x weekly pension savings, care savings, savings on hospital costs, bus passes, free TV licences, etc etc. PLUS… all those homes are freed-up.

Two years or so after we completed our planning, they accidentally purchased the wrong flu vaccine as the wrong seasonal flu hit us. 

There were 60,000 excess deaths of the old and vulnerable.


(Photograph by Engin Akyurt via UnSplash)

People at the moment are hoarding because they are short-sighted chimps and self-obsessed.

I currently do my shop once a week and buy what I need for the week. Supported by an online shop with delivery.

That said, with my background, I had seen this coming and stocked up way before the rush in January and February with some rather nice frozen ready meals, frozen vegetables and canned stuff. The wife has noted my cooking has improved dramatically. 

I have ample stocks of hand sanitiser, nitrile gloves and toilet paper. That last item is almost a no-need, though, as I benefit from a top of-the-range Geberit Mera bottom washer/dryer. People (who haven’t got one) laughed at the expense when I purchased and fitted it two years ago.

My home is also rigged-up for my standby generator and I have stocks of petrol (in cans and in the wife’s car) for one month of limited usage, along with a wood burner.

The country is two meals away from anarchy…

Indeed, when the power goes off, people will be using their ill-gotten toilet roll stashes in the dark and wondering how long their frozen food will last and can it be eaten cold? 

The shops will not open as lighting and tills won’t work. Cash or barter will be the only currency – the former in short supply as the hole-in-the-wall cash machines cease to operate. 

The mobile and landline phone systems will crash within 24 hours as their batteries drain. WiFi and TV stops immediately. The few who have old FM radios will get news telling them to flee to the hills, but they can’t re-fuel their cars as the underground tanks won’t pump. 

Essential services that maintained their standby generators are good for seven days but need to protect their own assets. Their staff fail to turn up for work, though, as they are sick or self-isolating or, more likely, just protecting their family from gangs of feral youths and adults who roam the streets looking for places to loot.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 3 – What it feels like to have the virus…

We are advised to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds (Photo by Nathan Dumlao via UnSplash)

SUNDAY 29th MARCH

I woke at around 0530 this morning. I live with my grandfather. He had been out late last night and upstairs, from my bed, I could hear him opening the front door downstairs, then coming up the creaking wooden stairs. Then I woke up. There was a strong wind outside making creepy noises. My grandfather died in the 1970s.

Most supermarkets now have an hour at the beginning or end of the day set aside for older people and/or people in vulnerable categories and/or NHS staff. I was in the local Iceland store this afternoon and got talking to a man at a safe distance across a frozen food cabinet. He told me he lives in Pimlico and, last week, someone was mugged in Pimlico and their NHS pass was stolen. Apparently true. Just the NHS pass.

MONDAY 30th MARCH

Yesterday afternoon, I had a FaceTime chat with a friend’s 8-year-old daughter. It lasted 1 hour 19 minutes and she is the most sensible person I have talked to since the coronavirus crisis started. Facebook and Twitter are awash with self-pity and paranoia.

The number of known UK deaths from COVID-19 was announced today as 1,408.

Things perked up later when the extraordinarily talented Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted the first in a series of videos about his family and being self-isolated by the coronavirus crisis.

TUESDAY 31st MARCH

In the current coronavirus crisis, we are told only to contact our GP (local doctor) in a real emergency.

Most things in life depend on your viewpoint. Take this online posting from an Online COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group in an expensive area of London:


Hello, my wife and I have been asked by our GP to self-isolate as we are showing symptoms of a viral infection. Our problem is we do not know any neighbours being newish to the zone who can shop for us and we require dog food. Our dog has IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – so she can only eat pasta and veg (broccoli, cauliflower & sprouts). If anybody can help with this plea we would welcome your contact. Many thanks.


The reaction of the person who told me was: “Honestly! People!  So well connected they’ve actually seen their GP! Human beings can’t get pasta to eat let alone dogs! Middle Class entitled First World problems! Give the dog some bloody dog food, not vegan muck and it’ll soon feel better…”

A website satire not too far from reality

That reaction seems pretty reasonable to me. But, seen from the point of view of the isolated couple in a new neighbourhood, caring about their dog, their plea is not unreasonable either.

The NewsThump satire site reported a fictional outbreak of people sticking things up their bottoms from boredom.

This might not be a total fantasy. Many years ago, a friend with a friend who worked in the A&E Department of a hospital told me Saturday nights had a high incidence of this type of thing including people misunderstanding the physical nature of fish… 

Fish can only go one way…

You can stick a (small) fish head-first up your bottom but – remember they have scales – you cannot pull it out… Result… a visit to the local hospital’s A&E Department… And people think coronavirus is bad…

WEDNESDAY 1st APRIL

Back to reality today. A Junior Doctor in the NHS Tweeted: “Last night I certified far more deaths than I can ever remember doing in a single shift. The little things hit you: a book with a bookmark in, a watch still ticking, an unread text message from family. Pandemic medicine is hard.”

The number of daily coronavirus deaths in the UK in the last 24 hours has increased by 563.to 2,352.

A friend who lives in central London, who was ill for a week or more and is just-about getting over it emailed me:


I have definitely had it, John. Without a doubt. All the symptoms – fever for the first week, complete loss of taste/smell, dry cough, aching all over. The GP more or less confirmed it on the phone. The fever comes back sporadically. But the worst thing is not having a working nose.

I’m sure I got it on March 8th when I went to an event with my two girlfriends who also got ill at the same time as me. One is now in hospital.

There is no guarantee that one can’t get it again but the hope is that, like with other viral illnesses, I will have immunity. If there were an antibody test, I would take it.

No masking the truth… (Photograph by Ashkan Forouzani via UnSplash)

The medical people are definitely mentioning the effect on taste and smell, certainly in the things I read and my and my friend’s GPs both said that’s the clincher. It is quite different from losing your sense of smell with a cold. It is just total. If you gave me two slices of bread, one spread with Marmite and the other with Nutella, I could not taste the difference.

Smell is a useful sense – I am only now realising how much I rely on it. I can’t smell whether food has gone off, whether something is burning in the oven, whether a tee-shirt needs washing. With food I never used to throw things out on the Best By or Use By date – if it smelled OK, I would eat it. Now, not so confident.

I am fine now except nose and the odd night fever. I think once over it, one is over it. It takes a couple of weeks. If you get lung complications like my friend (and another friend who is so weak he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days) it’s fucking horrible, but I didn’t thankfully.

My cousin only has loss of smell but the two people who work for him also got it (at the same trade fair) – both young. One got a light dose like me; the other (53 years old and a fit runner) floored by it.

One can see that if one is old or infirm, this would see you off. Some friends who are Junior Doctors are very frightened of it as they’ve seen so many people with it.

Martin Soan practises his planned ascent of Mount Everest

THURSDAY 2nd APRIL

I am desolate.

Comic Martin Soan had planned an ascent of Mount Everest tomorrow. Now he has called it off. Only a week after he called off a concert at the Albert Hall.

Possibly just as well, because a recent article in The Smithsonian Magazine reported that there are over 2,000 bodies on Mount Everest – so many that they are now used as landmarks for climbers.

These are the facts you pick up when you are isolated in your home and only allowed out very occasionally.

“I am quite happy it’s low, but have no idea why”

FRIDAY 3rd APRIL

There are 3,605 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the UK now: 684 in the last 24 hours.

The normal resting heart rate for adults over the age of 10 years, including older adults, is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). Highly trained athletes may have a resting heart rate below 60 bpm, sometimes reaching 40 bpm.

My resting heart rate (according to my Apple Watch) is in the low 50s – around 53/53/54. I am no athlete.

I am quite happy it is low but have no idea why.

SATURDAY 4th APRIL

On Wednesday, my friend in Central London had mentioned another friend who was so weak “he can’t get from bed to loo and hasn’t eaten for ten days”. He was admitted to hospital last night, diagnosed with COVID-19 related double viral pneumonia.

Another friend who lives in rural tranquillity in Sussex tells me she has heard tales (by telephone) in the village about joggers hassling walkers, spitting and coughing near people etc etc.

I had to tell her that Borehamwood, where I live – administratively in Hertfordshire but really on the edge of London – has always seemed to me to be surprisingly not anti-social.

Borehamwood – “It is really culturally an Essex town”

It is awash with secondary schools and Yoofs and it is really culturally an Essex town, but there is almost no graffiti. I think the aspiring anarchists must go somewhere else to be anti-social… Not something they can do at the moment, so I dunno where they are. There is no particular sign of Yoofs on the streets.

All I can imagine is that they are staying at home snorting cocaine or shooting-up heroin – both allegedly normally available in town – but this lockdown must surely have screwed the coke, crack and smack distribution system and it sure as hell must have put burglars out of work – everyone is always at home now…

These are grim times for the crime biz…

But the good news is my friend who had lost her sense of taste and smell reports back: “I had smoked salmon for lunch today. And it tasted fishy!!!!!!

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comedian Lewis Schaffer got attacked, ‘cold cocked’, and had his nose broken

On Sunday night, London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer was attacked, scarred and got his nose broken.

Last night (Tuesday) I asked him via Skype what happened.

Lewis Schaffer talked from home on Skype last night, two days after he was attacked in London


JOHN: God! You look terrible.

LEWIS: Do I look muscly?

JOHN: Strangely, yes. So what happened? You were cycling along the road on Sunday night…

LEWIS: I was cycling along. I was going down Gipsy Hill (in South London). It’s very steep; it’s really steep. It’s fast and I’m being very conscious of what I’m doing. And this woman driving a car got very close to me and my bicycle wobbled and I thought I was going to die.

It was a white Fiat 500; a small but newish car. It happened halfway down the hill. They sped off ahead. I didn’t pursue them, but I caught up with them at the bottom of the hill, cos this is London: it’s gonna be congested. You can’t make an escape in London. You can’t have a chase scene filmed in London, because someone’s gonna get caught in traffic.

JOHN: And you had an argument with her.

LEWIS: I didn’t have an argument. I was telling her off. I said: “Hey! What are you doing? You almost killed me!”

She gets out of the car and says: “Oh! You were swerving!”

Another woman gets out of the car and this dude gets out of the car and they have to hold him back and he gets very very angry. He gets super angry. He’s a young kid, whatever. 

They’re screaming at me saying: “You were weaving! You were doing this! You were doing that!”

I said: “I wasn’t weaving! You almost killed me! You don’t want to kill somebody!”

And they were holding this guy back. He was a young kid.

JOHN: How old? 18? 19?

LEWIS: I dunno. He could have been like maybe 15 years old. But, at my age, everybody looks young.

Then he gets back in the car. I thought everything was alright. Then he gets out of the car again – he must’ve gotten something in the car possibly – I dunno what he did – he might have picked up something – it’s all a blur – I got hit in the head – He hit me in the head. I thought he had picked up a stone but I had turned away from him and he hits me right in the face. Breaks my nose. I didn’t even have a chance to protect myself. 

It wasn’t like a fight or anything. He just kinda like cold-cocked me.

JOHN: Cold cocked you?

LEWIS: Sucker punched.

JOHN: Cold cocked?

LEWIS: You never heard that phrase?

JOHN: No. I was brought up a Presbyterian.

LEWIS: Wait… Here… online… here it is… It means to knock someone out, typically with a blow to the head. To cold cock.

JOHN: There was only one punch?

LEWIS: Only one punch. Possibly they did other things. People said I was kicked in the stomach.

JOHN: You were knocked out?

LEWIS: I must have been knocked out for a second. I might have been unconscious for a bit. By the time I get up, he’s back in the car and I’m covered in blood. Like literally. Blood is pouring out of me. I’m looking at him and saying: “What the fuck have you done?”

I’m bleeding and I’m taking the blood and I just start throwing the blood at the car. They got back in the car. They’re about to drive off and I’m throwing blood at them. It was weird, really.

I’m saying: “Look what you’ve done! Look what you’ve done!” And I’m just throwing blood all over the car. This beautiful white Fiat 500 car.

“God! You look terrible” … “Do I look muscly?”

JOHN: And then what happens?

LEWIS: They drive off.

JOHN: And you don’t follow them?

LEWIS: No. I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding.

I was thinking to myself: You know what? At least they’re going to have to spend some time to clean up the car! They’ve punched me in the face, but I’m punishing them!

People around me are saying: “We got it on film! We got it on the CCTV!” 

There’s like 5 or 10 or 15 people there who’ve seen it.

They say: “We’ve got it on TV. Sit down.” They come out. They’re bringing…

It’s just an amazing act of generosity from the people in the neighbourhood saying: “That was outrageous! I can’t believe that happened!”

Three of them brought packets of ice for me to put on my nose. They were just so helpful all these people. They called the ambulance. They called the police.

JOHN: And the car’s already gone off…

LEWIS: Yes, but they got the licence plate number and the next day the guy was arrested.

JOHN: And you got taken to A&E at King’s College Hospital in Denmark Hill…

LEWIS: I’ve got a huge gash in my nose and I’m dripping blood all over everything. They ask me all these questions and I say: “I’m alright; I’m alright,” so, instead of treating me instantly, they put me in ‘Urgent Care’, which is not so urgent I found out.

JOHN: How long did it take to see you?

LEWIS: Six hours. 

JOHN: And eventually you had seven stitches. What happens with a broken nose? Do they leave it to mend itself?

LEWIS: Well, the doctor said: “Wait a week to see if we need to re-set the nose.”

JOHN: You must be on major pain-killers.

LEWIS: The only pain-killers they give you are paracetamol.

JOHN: And you’re OK?

LEWIS: I’m not OK. What am I supposed to do about it? And I feel really, really psychologically bad.

JOHN: Psychologically bad is good for your schtick. Are you in agony?

LEWIS: I’m in agony, yes. My face is killing me. And I’ve got a broken tooth.

JOHN: And tomorrow, you’re getting up at 4.00am because you’re appearing in a major movie. Are you allowed to say the name of the production?

LEWIS: No.

JOHN: But it’s a major Hollywood feature film.

LEWIS: Major, major, major, major, major. Big studio thing with hundreds of extras.

JOHN: And it doesn’t matter you’ve got your nose broken?

LEWIS: It might matter. I’m really concerned. I’m gonna have to put on make-up.

JOHN: What time did you get punched on Sunday?

LEWIS: About six at night, after the Crystal Palace game. I’ll tell you something, John… To go see Crystal Palace and then to get into a fight and then to spend six hours in A&E at a hospital – Now I feel I really belong. How much more British could I be?

Lewis Schaffer shortly after the attack…

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Comedy critic Copstick’s buttocks and Twonky’s Stinking Bishop sans cheese

The Mama Biashara show

The two Mama Biashara Fringe preview shows

In Monday’s blog, I mentioned that Kate Copstick, my Grouchy Club Podcast co-host had woken up with a face that was “massively puffy. Eyes like currants in a dumpling. But a red dumpling.” (Her words.)

Tonight, I went to see one of the Edinburgh Fringe previews which Copstick is hosting at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London – the charity gets 100% of all donations. Well, there were two previews tonight – from Daphna Baram and Sajeela Kershi.

“You look paler,” I told Copstick when I arrived.

“But still not good enough to be photographed,” she said. “You know it’s not good if you walk in and the doctor says: Oh! My goodness!… She started poking at my face, saying: Oh! It’s hot! It’s hot!… Well, I mean, Hello!?? That’s why I’m here seeing a doctor!”

“What was wrong?” I asked.

“Apparently my lupus has kicked itself up a notch,” she told me. “It’s like a computer game and I’m now at Level 5. So I got a arseful of extra steroids. They’re amazing: it’s something called depomedrone. I got a buttock full of it and, believe me, my buttocks are fairly capacious.”

“You only got it in one buttock?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Copstick. “It is on the NHS. If I had gone private, I might have got two buttocksful.”

“So,” I said, “you now have a giant left buttock and a normal right buttock? Don’t you tend to fall off chairs when you sit down?”

Rare sight - shy Copstick - at Mama Biashara

Rare sight – shy Copstick – at Mama Biashara

“No,” Copstick told me, “I just sit with a slight tilt. My right buttock is full of a metal Kenyan replacement hip joint… I think I’m going to make it a thing with Mama Biashara comedy previews that, unless you are sufficiently ill, you can’t perform… People who have some kind of permanent condition… Romina Puma is here on 4th July and has muscular dystrophy, so that’s fine. Tim Renkow is here on Wednesday and he has cerebral palsy, so that means he qualifies. And we have already had Mel Moon.

“I am setting the bar. I have lupus. Anyone less ill than me does not get to come and do a show. I think that’s fair. Do you have any stinking bishop?”

“What?” I asked.

Twonkey,” explained Copstick, “having created his marvellous new show, Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, cannot find any stinking bishop.”

“What is a stinking bishop?” I asked.

“A fabulous cheese with a sort-of washed pinky rind and it pongs to high heaven and it’s absolutely delicious.”

“I don’t like cheese,” I pointed out, “so his chances of winning an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award are fading fast.”

“If you mention it in your increasingly prestigious blog,” said Copstick, “just ask if anyone knows where Twonkey can get some stinking bishop in and around the Edinburgh area. It would make him very happy. Otherwise I may have to secrete some around my person on the MegaBus up to Edinburgh – which would be very unpleasant for everyone.”

“You could put it in your buttock,” I suggested.

“There is no space… steroids,” said Copstick.

“Your right buttock?” I suggested.

“Kenyan hip joint,” said Copstick flatly.

Publicity for Twonkey’s stinking Bishop (No, I have no idea why either)

Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop (No, I have no idea why either)

After Daphna Baram and Sajeela Kershi’s previews, Copstick told me: “Twonkey says a sponsorship deal can be only hours away now your increasingly prestigious blog is involved.”

I puffed with pride.

“If you won’t let me take a photo of your face for the blog,” I asked, “can I take a photo of your left buttock?”

Copstick went off somewhere.

Relaxing Canadian cannabis bath bombs

Relaxing Canadian cannabis bath bombs

She never came back.

I left.

When I got home, there was an e-mail waiting for me from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent.

“I just heard,” it said, “that the dispensaries in Vancouver sell marijuana bath bombs and THC ‘gummy bear’ candies.”

I have never taken recreational drugs but, sometimes, it just seems like I have.

Reality. Don’t talk to me about reality.

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A story about the National Health Service in the UK and a bit of pain

Arthur Smith encouraged singing over ‘dead’ man in Royal Mile

Arthur Smith on Royal Mile tour with prone punter (not me)

Well, I have four as-yet un-transcribed blog-chats to post, but someone has persuaded me to blog about myself today, so you can blame him.

I went to the physiotherapist this morning. A second visit. The muscles inside my left shoulder are still occasionally painful from when I tripped over and fell on the night-time cobbles of Edinburgh during the Fringe in August. I mentioned it in a blog last month.

I blame comic Arthur Smith.

It was during his night-time tour of the Royal Mile and it was at about one o’clock in the morning. I tripped over a kerb amid a crowd of people and fell flat forwards without putting my hands out. I guess I fell on my shoulder.

The problem goes back to when I was hit by a large truck while standing on a pavement in Borehamwood in 1991. The corner/edge of the large container behind the cab of the truck went into my left shoulder, pulverising (apparently that’s medical speak for turning-to-powder) my collar bone in two places. I was thrown backwards, twisting, and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a little brick wall maybe six or eight inches high. The base of my spine twisted slightly, but I did not know that until a few years later.

I was kept in hospital for about a week.

Because of my head injury, I was in theory under the supervision of the ‘head injuries’ department (they kept me in to see if I had any brain damage) but, because of my broken shoulder, I was kept in the broken bones ward.

Each morning, the Consultant in the broken bones ward would do his ‘rounds’ with his students and chat to the patient in each bed – except me. One day, I heard him explain to his students that “Mr Fleming” was under the care of the ‘head injures’ department (not his words) so I was not his patient.

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

X-ray of broken shoulder at the time – pulverised, they said

No-one came to see me from the ‘head injuries’ department because I was in the bones ward. The bones ward had very attentive nurses but I was not seen by any doctors there. Until, after a week, late one afternoon, a very exhausted-looking younger doctor came and saw me. He was from the ‘head’ department, asked me how I was and told the ‘bones’ ward they could discharge me.

Apparently, I later learned, I should have had physiotherapy for a few weeks or months after my release but (possibly because I fell between the responsibilities of two departments and was a ‘head’ not a ‘bone’ injury case), I never did. I never heard from the hospital again.

At home, in bed at night, to stop myself rolling over onto my broken shoulder, I would lie with my left arm out at right-angles to my torso and, eventually, the broken bones re-merged themselves. Someone told me this had been the wrong thing for me to do because, instead of mending naturally, the left shoulder – stuck out at right angles to the body for eight hours of sleep – foreshortened the mend slightly and the two parts of the broken bone merged one-on-top-of-the-other instead of in a straight line. And messed-up the muscles in the shoulder.

But who knows if that is true?

It was just ‘someone’.

I did seem to have the results of concussion for about nine months: I kept thinking I was better and was not. I would come home and stare at the wall, unable to construct thoughts in my brain nor to read. It was as if my brain de-focussed after about two lines of a newspaper column. I still cannot read books (though, oddly, I can write them).

After (I think it was) about a year, my shoulder still gave me pain for about two-thirds of my waking hours. It was as if someone were sticking the point of a knife into me all he time. My GP doctor said it would be like that for the rest of my life and discussed what drugs I could take.

Miracle oil Wan Hua Oil

I don’t know what it is, but it worked in 1991

Instead, I went to a Chinese doctor – knowing that Chinese medicine is very slow because it tries to cure the cause not the symptoms. The Chinese doctor gave me Wan Hua oil to rub on and, within two weeks, the pain was gone.

The effect of the oil could not have been psychological, because it never entered my head there would be a fast result with Chinese medicine.

That was thirteen years ago.

If I put any prolonged weight on my left shoulder, it will still give me a bit of pain, so I avoid that. Most of the time there is absolutely no problem. But, since I fell on the cobbles of Edinburgh in August, there is some pain when I put on or take off a jacket or a pullover: presumably it is just a muscular pain as I put my arm through an unusually odd angle.

The physiotherapist this morning told me that there was nothing really wrong with the shoulder broken in 1991: the bones would have mended. Logically, he is right. But I know there is a problem in my shoulder. And I know there is pain.

I have been given exercises to do.

Doctors know best, eh?

I have much worse pain in the heel and on the sole of my right foot, but the NHS physiotherapist is only allowed to look at one problem at a time, not two.

This blog’s valued reader Sandra Smith has suggested the heel problem may be Plantar Fasciitis. I think, from the symptoms, she is probably right. It may take a year to mend.

I have started rubbing on the Chinese oil again: on my shoulder and on my foot.

It seems to be difficult to get Wan Hua Oil in the UK, so I have asked comedian Chris Dangerfield for a decent Chinese pharmacy, preferably in Soho.

This may be a mistake on my part.

But he knows about such things.

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Extracts from a diary about a man dying of cancer in Great Britain in 2001…

I was supposed to waken up at 8.30am today. Instead, I woke up at noon.

This is what comes of spending too much time in Cumbria.

So, instead of the planned blog (which involved transcribing a chat) – and because it just involves copy-and-pasting – you are getting extracts from my 2001 diary when my father had cancer.

There have been previous extracts, so I can claim it is a running thread.


My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. I do not know

Tuesday 22nd May 2001

When we visited my father this afternoon, he had one bite of a chocolate cake, then stopped. About three minutes later, he was sick, the chocolate-brown liquid dribbling from his mouth. Today, he had walked eight steps (aided by zimmer frame and two nurses) to his commode (he is badly constipated). Before he was sick, he told us he had little pains all over his stomach – perhaps, I thought, because the liver cancer is gaining strength. How much longer before he needs opium?


Wednesday 23rd May 2001

In the morning, when I got up, my mother was sitting weak in her chair, saying: “I can’t use my legs”. Over the course of the day, they got back to normal.

My father in the afternoon was still constipated, as he had been yesterday, still weak and his mind unable to take in anything he was being told until the second or third repeat. My mother, her mind unable to think in a linear way, would say something without context to my father who would be unable to understand until she repeated it, I guessed what she meant and repeated it again to him. Today was the first time he used the phrase: “If I come home….” instead of “When I come home….” The palms and fingertips of his hands were abnormally pink, his fingers thinner and bonier than before, his eyes with a distant white light in their pupils.


Thursday 24th May 2001

After lunch, coming into the living room on her zimmer frame, my mother looked in amazement and confusion at the television set in the far corner of the room, showing an Australian soap, mute. After a few seconds, she said: “I’m going mad. I didn’t know what the TV was.”


Friday 25th May 2001

My mother fell down in her bedroom at 6.30am this morning and was unable to get up for, she told me, half an hour – though I suspect it was much longer.

I knew nothing about it until I got up at 9.00am.

At the nursing home, my father has been given an airbed to avoid bedsores.


Bank Holiday Monday 28th May 2001

Extract from a letter delivered to Colchester General Hospital:

Mike Pollard
Chief Executive
Colchester General Hospital
Turner Road
Colchester
Essex CO4 5JL

delivered by hand 28th May 2001

Dear Mr Pollard,

This letter is a complaint that Colchester Audiology Department are refusing to supply my father (who has liver cancer) with a hearing aid specifically made (after many months) for him. I am being told that the hearing aid must lie on a shelf in Colchester Hospital until such unknown time as a Colchester Audiologist may decide to wander down to Clacton Hospital. This, I am told, could take “up to six months”. I am further told I cannot collect it from Colchester and it must lie unused there “in case it does not work”  and “so we can show your father how to use it”.  These are direct quotes and the reasons given for keeping the hearing aid lying useless on a shelf.

If the hearing aid is supplied, there is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility it will work and my father will benefit from it. There is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility we can work it and my father will benefit from it. However, if Colchester Hospital do not supply the hearing aid, there is a 100% certainty my father will not benefit.

This is not healthcare, this is vacuous, mindless bureaucracy with the emphasis on mindless. My father had his first appointment to arrange the hearing aid at 11.15am on 13th September 2000 although, over-all, the process has been going on for a year.


At the nursing home, my father’s mind was very, very confused. After seeing him, my mother, my aunt and I drove back in total silence.

At home, my mother was very depressed, with deep furrows on brows above pained eyes: “He’s not getting any better,” she said flatly.


Tuesday 29th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

On the phone, my mother sounded depressed, telling me my father was very confused – even moreso than yesterday.


Wednesday 30th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

“His mind was much clearer today,” my mother told me of my father.


Thursday 31st May

When my mother and my aunt (his sister) went in to see my father today, he was wondering where his sister was, despite the fact she was sitting by the bed. Both the matron and my aunt thought he was looking jaundiced, though my mother did not think so. The last time I saw him I, too, had thought his skin looked a little yellow.

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Filed under Death, Health

Heroin wholesaling in Scotland & why comedian Del Strain was shot in the leg

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

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Del Strain shares bis thoughts in Trafalgar Square yesterday

“I’ve never really understand why anyone wants to perform comedy,” I said to Scots comedian Del Strain yesterday.

“Because when I’m on stage,” he told me, “for them twenty or thirty minutes – when you’ve got the audience, for that piece of time, my legs ain’t sore, no matter what’s going on in the world, no matter what your financial state, no matter if someone’s died in your family that day… there’s nothing else there. It’s just like being a surfer riding a wave.”

“And why are your legs sore?” I asked.

“Cos of the gunshot wound,” replied Del. “Getting knee-capped. When I’m on stage, nothing else matters. It’s a better buzz than any Class ‘A’ drug I’ve ever took. I’m buzzing on adrenaline all the way home. That’s why I do it… It don’t feed you, it don’t put shit in your fridge, but it feeds you in the soul.”

“Why a gunshot wound?” I asked.

“Cos I got shot by accident,” replied Del, after a pause. “The gun went off by accident and I got shot.”

“Who accidentally shot y…” I started to say.

“My brother,” said Del immediately.

“How come?” I asked.

“Because, basically, I was winding him up,” said Del, “and he picked up the gun and he didn’t realise that there was still one in the chamber and it went off. He didn’t mean it to go off, he didn’t mean to shoot me, my parents were very, very…”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“About 17. But my parents were… Let’s say they didn’t have the best morals around, but they did teach us how to shoot. If it had been intentional, it would have been in the head.”

“It may seem a bit dull,” I told Del, “but, when I grew up, we didn’t have guns in our house.”

“We did,” said Del. “We had quite a few guns in the house.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Everyone I knew had a gun,” Del replied.

“This is in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in the 1980s?” I checked.

“Yeah,” said Del. “Late 1970s, early 1980s. We grew up with pump-actions and .22s. People did use guns up there for legitimate reasons, I suppose. Like shooting vermin on their estates.”

“Depends on your definition of words,” I said. “What did your parents do?”

“They were heroin wholesalers,” Del told me. “Well, my dad… The first 20 years of his life, he was heavily involved in drugs. But my dad’s been ‘clean’ 27 years and actually started working in a rehab. So he spent the first half of his life putting people on the gear; and the second half of his life getting them off it.”

“He’s had a full life,” I said.

Del in St Martin in the Fields crypt yesterday

Del in St Martin in the Fields’ crypt yesterday

“My birth mother actually died a year ago yesterday,” said Del. “Cancer. It was horrible. Fair warning: anyone who’s had an alcohol or a drug problem in their life and who has anything like that on their medical record… When you come to the end of your life, the NHS will treat you like a piece of shit. They will Hum and Hah about benzos and morphine and they won’t even give you the duty of care – because you’ve got that on your record.

“Even though you’ve got like a week to live, they think you’re trying to blag them to get some extra morphine. It wasn’t until the third day that the Macmillan nurses came in and done great work… She came in and she trebled the morphine and my mother had two peaceful days, God bless her, and she slept and went. That was a bit of a shock to me when I saw it with my own eyes.

“My dad’s been clean 27 years. He had a liver biopsy and he went to the hospital and asked What about pain relief? He’d never took no pain relief, cos that’s the way he rolls. But the doctor’s still looking at him after 27 years like my dad’s trying to do him out of 4 or 5 codeine a day. Like 10 pence worth of codeine. Which I take as an insult but also find pretty funny.

“It’s people’s psyche. They don’t change their opinion about you, no matter how much you turn your life around. Every day of my life, I try to do two mitzvahs – two acts of random kindness. I’m a big believer in What goes round comes round and I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve had Bad back for those mistakes, but the way I’ve tried to live my life for the last seven or eight years is just trying to be a better person, trying to be creative and trying to make the world a better place.”

“When we talked about this a few years ago,” I said, “you told me your son had turned your life round.”

“That was it,” said Del. “I went to jail and I had never been away from my son for a day of his life – he was about 5 – and that was a shock to my system. What I was doing at that time – selling pot – gave me what middle class people would call flexi-time. So I did very little work. I would go out for three hours on a Sunday and make £1,000. I could live on that and spend lots of time with my son. Going to jail was a shock to my system. I wanted positive affirmation for my son. My son is now in all the top classes at school, never been in trouble at school. He is all the things I wasn’t at 15.”

“And how old is he now?”

“15.”

“Even if I stop doing stand-up tomorrow,” Del told me, “in the last eight, nine, ten years, it was never about fame or fortune. It was about me actually putting some good into the world. It was about bringing my son up with positive affirmation, because I don’t want him to be a scally like I was. But I don’t know what’s going to happen. Tomorrow, I could go back to doing what I done ten or twenty years  ago. Who knows?”

“You sold pot,” I said, “and…?”

“Only pot,” said Del. “I’ve never sold any Class ‘A’. After everything I saw with my parents, I never ever wanted to sell Class ‘A” – I don’t believe you get any luck with the money.”

“And your father…” I prompted.

“They were the main dealers,” explained Del, “for the whole West Coast of Scotland for about eight years.”

“And he was using it as well?”

“Yes. He was using it from the 1970s. But people don’t understand that there were no illegal drugs in this country back then. There was a small select group where he came from of about eight people. And that’s all there was for many years. They got their drugs by breaking into pharmacies and chemists and, in chemists at that time, you had 98.7% pure heroin and cocaine.

“In 1979, my dad was one of the first five registered addicts in the whole of Scotland and he was on a scrip (a prescription) from Edinburgh… But the first thing Margaret Thatcher did when she got in as Prime Minister was take away the junkies’ scrips and that’s when the illegal drugs market started. It was an accumulation of the (Soviet Union’s) war in Afghanistan and the Shah getting thrown out of Iran. The 1980s were just flooded with heroin for a catalogue of reasons but, if Thatcher hadn’t done that then, we probably wouldn’t have had the numbers on heroin that we ended up with.”

“I’ve never understood why we stopped supplying heroin to addicts,” I said. “We seemed to have a system that worked at that time.”

“There was 300 addicts in London in 1973,” said Del. “The whole of London. Think about that. While my dad was on that scrip, he had a job, an apprenticeship. He was actually working, going to his work every day, living a normal life.”

“And, getting back to your gunshot wound…?” I said.

“I still get horrific pain,” replied Del.

“And there’s nothing they can do about it?” I asked.

“No. It’s fucked,” said Del. “It makes my leg swell up and the blood don’t pump properly. Veins and nerve damage. All smashed-up. They wanted to cut my leg off and I wouldn’t let them.

“I went home and, after about four years, when I came to London, I was doing Class ‘A’ and my leg swelled up and Guy’s Hospital threw me out with some morphine and told me if I started urinating blood to come back. I sat in a room for fifteen months and my leg wouldn’t straighten – bright red, like a boxing glove – nearly lost my leg – and it took me fifteen months to learn how to walk again, to straighten my leg. I was shot in my left leg and now, when I walk, I walk on three toes on my left foot and the heel on my right foot.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. That’s just how I’ve adapted to walk. The blood clot caused nerve damage in my ankle so, when I pull my sock on… you know when you hit a nerve in your tooth and you go Agghhhh!? My ankle’s like that. But it’s been like that since I was 23. I take prescribed drugs now to block the spasms: you know the drugs they take to stop seizures? It’s them things. It stops the nerves from jigging.”

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Drugs, Politics, Scotland