In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned the NHS wasting time and money sending out three letters when only one was required. That referred to a local hospital appointment I am (still) having on 11th May with the Respiratory Department.
Today I received a text on my mobile from the same hospital about a telephone appointment I have with their Physiotherapy Department on 4th March. The text tells me that my telephone appointment has been changed to a telephone appointment.
Apart from the surrealism of my telephone appointment being changed to a telephone appointment, there is the quirkiness of the fact that they could have saved money yesterday by sending me one text rather than three physical letters. The technology seems to be not unknown to them.
The NHS is an organisation that just keeps on giving. After reading yesterday’s blog, a care worker I know sent me a message she received from the NHS’s ‘Health Education England’ – presumably sent to all NHS workers in England who interact with members of the public – advising her what to do if she should “misgender someone by accidentally using the wrong pronoun”.
Her reaction to me was: “FFS, I think I’ll stay in lockdown”.
In other gender-bending news, Hasbro’s Twitter account announced that, from Autumn this year, its iconic Mr & Mrs Potato Head toys will be getting “a 21st-century rebrand” as ‘Potato Head’ so that the toy could “break away from traditional gender norms” and, when the new brand is unveiled, “kids will have a blank slate to create same-sex families or single-parent families”.
This would mean the toys would not “impose a fixed notion of gender identity or expression”, freeing kids to do whatever feels most natural to them. A girl potato might wear trousers and a boy potato might wear earrings. Hasbro would also sell “boxed sets that don’t present a normative family structure”. This approach would allow kids to project their own ideas about gender, sexuality and family onto their Potato Head toys, without necessarily offending parents who might have more conservative notions about family.
After some surprised reaction on social media, Hasbro then re-Tweeted yesterday that, although the toys would indeed be re-branded as Potato Heads, they would also still be identified as ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ on the packaging.
So Mr Potato Head will now be called Potato Head to avoid gendering the toy, but the toys will be identified on the packaging as Mr Potato Head or Mrs Potato Head.
I am undecided whether this is good publicity – lots of coverage of the brand – or bad publicity – too much ducking, dodging, diving and weaving in the PR.
Collins Dictionary currently defines ‘Potato-head’ as “[slang] a dumb or stupid person”.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, Man-of-All-Arts Peter Stanford has spotted a piece in a 1884 edition of Tit-Bits magazine.
Peter’s reaction was: “I so want some reputable magazine to offer this service. I would write my own, and send it off with my subscription, just in case.”
All publications are desperate for readers and ever have been.
In yesterday’s Daily Record (basically Scotland’s national equivalent to England’s Daily Mirror), there was a prominent article on comedian and author Janey Godley ‘dividing the internet’ by posting a picture of her dinner: a plate of toast, mince, peas and onions.
According to the Daily Record, “many were outraged by her choice of dish”.
You know you have really succeeded in the fame game when a national paper starts reporting your dinner (with pictures) for the sole reason that, if they publish your name, people will want to read the article. All the more jaw-dropping because this week Janey started writing a weekly column for the Daily Record‘s competitor, The Herald.
Yesterday, my Yorkshire-born friend Lynn stumbled on this story in The Week from last month, which both of us had missed. She says: “I had to read it three times and I’m still not sure I get it. Whoever the morons are, they surely can’t be Yorkshire folk.
To be clear, the concept of the three wise monkeys became popular in 17th century Japan, before spreading to the West. It is associated with the Tendai school of Buddhism where monkeys are considered sacred and perceived as helpers for divine figures. They are “vehicles of delight”.
I always think people who censor monkeys for being racist should look at themselves in the mirror. Far be it from me to say “political correctness gone mad”… but I will.
That was yesterday.
Today, Lynn spotted this piece in Computer Active magazine about Facebook’s algorithm getting similarly censorious.
I told her: “Eat your heart out for any publican trying to make a living by running the Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.”
Afterwards, I Googled to see if there actually IS a Cock Inn, Scunthorpe.
Sadly there is not, but Google told me there is a Blythe Black Cock Inn. Arguably worse in Facebook terms, but un-censored by them.
I feel the good people of Plymouth Hoe have cause to be aggrieved about being picked-on by a US algorithm.
It covers the period from 1890 when Ike Rose “started living the legendary life of a top vaudeville & burlesque producer” to 1957, when Billy Barty founded his “advocacy group” the Little People of America.
Ike Rose, apparently, was “one of show biz history’s great impresarios, now forgotten but once in a league with names like Barnum and Ziegfeld as men who delivered full value for the price of a ticket.”
He seems to have rivalled Barnum is hype.
The book admits: “each component of the troupe’s name crumbles into dust by light of day.
“‘Rose’ was a pseudonym; the company held no Royal seal of approval; and the word ‘midget’ has passed out of use in polite society.”
The selling line for the book claims: ”Without pandering nor passing judgment, this book documents in detail the performers, producers, the stage routines themselves and the various venues from those straight up and upscale to others shameful and shady. This book probes both the Dark and the Dazzling sides of the American Imagination. Only rare books like this seriously confront our more bizarre past and allow the new generations of show folk to revise, to re-invent, to reform American Theater.”
Rare indeed – apparently only 50 copies of the book are being published.
Tomorrow – well, tonight at 8.00pm in New York; tomorrow 1.00am in London – there is a free online Zoom conversation between author Trav S.D. (Donald Travis Stewart) and Vaudevisuals’ own Jim R.Moore.
As I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May last year (medical conditions) and am currently sleeping on the floor at night because my back is buggered, the possibility of my listening in on this Zoom call is iffy. But it sounds interesting.
I have also, this morning, just received a letter from the NHS saying that I should ignore the other letter they enclose in the same envelope cancelling my appointment with the Respiratory Team on 11th May.
Obviously, in this main letter, they don’t mention when or with whom the appointment is because that is mentioned in the letter which they are telling me to ignore.
They say, in the first letter telling me to ignore the second letter, that they will send me a third letter rescheduling the appointment.
The third letter, dated the same day as the other two letters, will inevitably say they are rescheduling my appointment which was at 1345 on Tuesday 11th May and, instead, I will have a telephone appointment at 1345 on Tuesday 11th May.
Life is but a surreal dream, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….
Yesterday’s blog was me bitching about the inefficient, mindless bureaucracy of the NHS. In particular, about how they sent me three self-contradictory letters about changing my meeting with a Consultant in June (in four months’ time) from an in-the-flesh meeting to a telephone call (because of the infection risk during the current COVID outbreak).
Inevitably, about ten minutes after posting that blog, I got a phone call from the NHS about changing from flesh-to-telephone a different appointment I have tomorrow with a different Consultant at the same hospital.
Something of a pity that I am not seeing him in the flesh because last week I had a recurrance of the vertigo I suddenly had without warning three weeks ago… and the neck/shoulder/arm pain which has recently got worse since it started back in November… and, of course, the fact I have not had a proper night’s sleep since I was in hospital in May last year – I wake up at least once every hour during the night, dehydrated, with my throat and mouth parched and having to drink water.
This means – because of the water – having to go to the toilet a lot during the night, which is not helped by falling-over vertigo or a painful and restrictive neck/shoulder/arm problem which is easier to describe visually rather than over the phone.
It also means I will not be given a blood test to see how my calcium level/kidney function is progressing or not. Those were involved in my problem last May, the cause of which is still a “mystery” (technical term).
Anyway, I got a fair number of comments about yesterday’s blog. These are a few…
Andy’s response was:
You should raise this with The Minister at The Department of Administrative Affairs. The response will be that to change a standard NHS letter issued by a single key stroke that generates three different but essential standard letters to the same person whilst informing several departments of the change is essential in effective running of the appointments system.
Whilst admitting that this does appear to be wasteful and confusing, particularly if the three letters received by the patient are opened in the wrong order, to alter the system requires the employment of a number of consultants and support staff over a period. It’s estimated, that may extend over several years because there is no central office for administration within the NHS.
You’ll recall the failure of the government proposed computer system to link all the the NHS computer systems into one seamless system. It’s considered that to fix this issue, which is considered mostly harmless, would take in the area of £736,000,000 and is therefore not worth doing.
In addition, all of the Ministers’ friends are all currently overstretched in other government projects they’ve been awarded so won’t be able to start work in this until at least 2037.
Yes it is the efficient work of computerised automation. Once there would have been a thinking clerical worker managing your appointments. But computers are cheap to employ even if they produce three contradictory letters where one would suffice.
This is the same bureaucracy that, when medics were crying out for Personal Protective Equipment, refused to deal with many suppliers who had stockpiles of exactly the right equipment, in date, authorised for medical use… They refused to purchase it because that particular supplier couldn’t be added to the procurement system due to a lack of past dealings.
Every once in a while there’s a cry-out for everyone in the NHS to receive a pay rise or bonus due to the hard work they’ve done in fighting the pandemic.
While I wholeheartedly agree that every single person in the NHS who has been right there in the hospital, facing danger, risking their own health as well as that of their families should get something, I’m still very reticent to make it a blanket award as I don’t want to reward those who made it more difficult or who simply did their job from home at no additional risk to themselves or others.
…and Sandra said:
The NHS? I have been lucky in my treatment from them in the main.
Apart from the time when I was sent for physio, when in fact my hip was on the point of fracturing.
Plus one other doctor whom everyone avoided.
As it turned out, he mis-diagnosed my condition, complained about the price of the meds he was about to prescribe, then ran after me begging forgiveness because he had given me the wrong prescription. Bastard.
And I told him so, leaving out the word bastard…
Obviously, I realise my alleged problems are only relatively minor inconveniences, but – hey! – look – it’s my blog. It needs writing and where else can I selfishly whinge up my own arse if not in my blog?
This week, on one single morning, I got three NHS letters in two envelopes from the same London hospital, all posted from Bristol and all written on the same day, five days earlier.
The first told me (in paragraph 2) that my appointment to see a doctor at 10.30am on Friday 18th June had been cancelled “as part of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak”.
In paragraph 3, the letter explained that, although the second paragraph “states your appointment has been ‘cancelled’, this is not the case. You have been placed on a waiting list.”
Attached to this letter was a second letter saying: “We’re sorry but we have had to cancel your appointment” at 10.30am on Friday 18th June.
Both these letters were in the same envelope.
In a second envelope which arrived at the same time on the same day was a third letter dated on exactly the same day as the first two letters.
It said: “This letter is to confirm that a telephone appointment has been made for you at 10.30am on Friday 18th June. When you have a telephone appointment you are not required to attend the hospital.”
So basically, entirely reasonably, to avoid people attending the hospital in person during the COVID-19 outbreak, my in-the-flesh appointment at 1030 on Friday 18th June (over four months away) had been changed to a telephone appointment at exactly the same time.
To do this, I was sent a letter saying my appointment was cancelled but not cancelled… an attached letter saying my appointment was cancelled… and a third, separate letter saying my appointment had been changed from physical to telephone.
All that I needed to receive was one letter saying my appointment had been changed from physical to telephone, not three letters, all sent from the source on the same day.
Have I mentioned before how much I hate mindless bureaucracy in general and what an administrative mess the NHS is?
Bad: cut head. Good: if you have freckles, no need for hair…
I got my Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccination yesterday. Apparently over 12 million people have now been given the jab.
No side effects so far except that, about half an hour after getting the jab, I fell over backwards in my back garden.
I was unable to control the fall, landed flat on my back on the concrete path and hit the back right side of my skull against the sharp edge of my back doorstep.
Now I have a very sensitive-to-the-touch large domed bump on my head and a V or Y-shaped cut. Surprisingly no blood.
Nothing to do with the vaccine, of course – I just accidentally clicked my heel against the slightly raised concrete path by the grass and fell backwards. But it’s a kinda clickbait way to start a blog.
The execution of the vaccination itself was stunningly efficient. A steady flow of people entering the venue, being rapidly processed and exiting. I can only assume the organisation of it was set up by the Army not the NHS and not politicians.
I think anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I do not get on well with mindless bureaucracy.
All large bureaucracies are inherently mindless, inefficient and incompetent, no matter how well-meaning the staff may be.
Aye and there’s the rub.
Settle back with a nice cup of something hot. This is a lengthy, self-indulgent blog.
Early last week, I contacted my local doctor because I have a persistent pain at the right side of my neck, across my shoulder and in a straight line down the outside of my right upper arm. The pain has been there since late November. It is now early February and has been a bit worse the last month or so.
I think it is a muscular pain and the problem is really in my neck. I could be wrong.
My shoulder was broken in 1991 – pulverised in two places
In 1991, while standing on a pavement, I was hit by a large truck. It pulverised (technical talk for “powdered”) my collar bone in two places. The back left side of my head was cut open when it hit the edge of a low brick wall as I fell.
It also turned out later that my spine had been damaged at the bottom. The same effect as a slipped disc, though I don’t think it’s medically called that. And it hasn’t mended.
After the knock-down, I was in my local hospital for a week.
I was in the bone section ward of the hospital because of the shoulder injury; but I was bureaucratically under the care of the brain section people because of my head wound. These were/are two different departments/wards on two different floors of the hospital.
It meant that, in the hospital, although the nursing staff in the bone ward cared for me and looked out for any after effects on my shoulder and brain, the consultant supervising the bone ward ignored me.
“He is not our responsibility,” said the doctor, passing by.
One day, I heard him say, as he approached my bed with a bevy of (I presume) eager and attentive trainee doctors: “This is Mr Fleming. He is one of Mr XXXX’s patients, so he is not our responsibility.” And, as normal, he passed by my bed without stopping or talking to me.
Mr XXXX, who was on a different floor of the hospital, never visited me.
Eventually, late one Friday afternoon, an exhausted and I presume very over-worked junior doctor who worked for Mr XXXX came down, had a brief chat with me and told the nurses in the bone ward I could be sent home. Presumably they had advised Mr XXXX that I had no long-term head problems. (Which was not the case, as it turned out.)
After I was sent home, there was no physiotherapy, no after care of any kind. Much later I discovered there should have been but – hey! – it’s a big organisation. Shit happens. Some things don’t.
For about the next nine months I had waves of inability to think properly, I presume caused by concussion. I am still unable to read books because of concentration problems. Oddly, I can write books on a computer but I cannot read printed books.
I also buggered my shoulder. Mea culpa.
Because of the fractured bone(s) in my shoulder, I could only walk very carefully and slowly. I discovered walking is quite a violent shock to the torso. Who knew? Every step was a jolt and a knife stab into flesh because my bone had broken diagonally, creating two very sharp pointed ends. And I had to sleep on my back at night. Throughout my life I had previously slept on my side.
To avoid turning over, I slept with my left arm stretched out at right angles to my torso. This meant I mostly did not turn over but also had the side-effect (not realised at the time) that my shoulder bone, fractured in two places, mended with the bits of bone overlapping rather than re-attaching as before.
Not me (Photograph by Dylan Sauerwein via Unsplash)
This, in turn, I think, had the result that my left shoulder is slightly shorter horizontally than it should be and muscles around the back of my neck are a bit bunched-up.
So, occasionally, the back of my neck gets very tense and bunched.
In November last year, this was happening again and the right side of my neck started having an occasional vertical pain. As this developed, it also went along the top of my right shoulder and, for some reason, in a straight line down the outside of the upper half of my right arm.
Currently I get a pain on the right side of my neck and in that line down the outside of my right arm. I can’t really lift my arm more than halfway up my torso without a shooting pain.
All this, I think, is muscular and related to my buggered back-of-the-neck – not anything to do with bones or trapped nerves.
So I phoned my local doctor earlier this week. We are, of course, still in mid-COVID pandemic, so seeing anyone is pretty much of a no-no. The first person I talked to put me through to a second person. She told me: “There are no appointments left today. You have to phone back at 8 in the morning to book an appointment.” I was not asked why I wanted to talk to a doctor.
The next morning, I set my alarm for 0756 and phoned back at 0800.
This was the same number I had successfully phoned the previous day.
The answerphone said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”
111 is a general NHS advice number.
As an aside… In May, I was advised after a negative COVID test to contact my doctor because I had odd non-COVID symptoms.
When I phoned the GP surgery and told them my symptoms, their initial reaction was: “It is not our responsibility. Phone 111.”
When I phoned 111, they told me to phone back the local GP surgery and tell them that 111 said I HAD to talk to my doctor and he had to talk to me within three hours. I did. He phoned back just over three hours later and got an ambulance to take me to A&E because he believed I had had a stroke (although I had no symptoms of having had one).
When A&E tested me, they took me into hospital immediately. I had dangerous kidney function/calcium levels. Someone later told me I was probably within spitting distance of being on kidney dialysis machine.
Anyway, back to this week…
I phoned back the surgery’s number again after a few minutes gap. Same message. “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”
I went online and checked the surgery’s number. It was the correct number. I phoned back again.
“This line is no longer in use,” a different message said.
I phoned back again. The answerphone again said: “Thankyou for calling. This number is no longer in operation. Should you require urgent medical advice, please hang up and dial 111.”
I phoned back again. Same number. This time, I got a receptionist who put me through to another receptionist who asked what, in general, was wrong with me and said a doctor would phone me back “sometime today”.
Later that morning, the doctor phoned me from a very echoey room. He was either in his kitchen or a very small room with hard walls. It sounded like a toilet but I felt that was unlikely.
He listened to the symptoms I had had since November. I told him I had tried rubbing on Deep Heat, Tiger Balm (suggested by Boots chemist) and Chinese Wan Hua Oil, all to no effect.
He suggested I take paracetamol or some other simple over-the-counter pain killer.
This is why I largely distrust Western Medicine. The object is to relieve the pain and hide the symptoms… not to cure the cause which will continue, masked by the drugs.
“Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary…”
I have, perhaps, been unduly influenced in my thinking by a line in Rosemary’s Baby… “Pain is a sign that something is wrong, Rosemary.”
I somehow, perhaps foolishly, doubt that I am pregnant with the Devil’s baby, but pain is my body telling my brain that there is a problem in some part of my body, its seriousness reflected in the level of pain transmitted.
I would rather know there is a problem and try to solve it rather than not know and let it develop unknown by me.
I have a feeling that a good neck massage might help me, but – hey! – we are in a COVID pandemic where no-one wants to get to close to anyone else.
The doctor did say he would text me two NHS online exercises for neck pain and shoulder pain. And get a physiotherapist to contact me.
Whether this physiotherapist actually will contact me or not is in the lap of the Gods, but I had a look at the two pages of NHS advice as sent by the doctor.
The one for Neck Pain says: “See a GP if pain or stiffness does not go away after a few weeks”.
The advice for Shoulder Pain says: “See a GP if the pain is getting worse or does not improve after 2 weeks”.
As I mentioned to my GP, I have had pain since November.
I can’t imagine this NHS treatment happening in a pandemic…
Ah well, I should look on the bright side. I am seeing my Chinese doctor in two weeks.
The good thing about Chinese medical philosophy is that they try to cure the problem not mask the symptoms.
Western Medicine and the NHS is a pain in the neck.
Normally, I am a blood donor but, I was in hospital for a week in May with a high calcium level and a very low kidney function.
I am still not quite back to normal levels and the doctors still do not know the cause of the problem despite endless X-rays, scans, blood tests et al.
So, last time I was due to give blood, I checked and was turned down and told I could not safely donate until I had finished being an out-patient at my local hospital.
My blood is Group O+ which is, I think, the most common type.
I asked the Blood Donation person on the phone: “I’ve got dead common blood. Why are you phoning me – because people aren’t giving as much blood during the pandemic?”
And this, indeed, turned out to be the reason.
I was told there were fewer donors than normal because of the coronavirus pandemic and – also because of the pandemic – some of the smaller donor centres (hired for the day) have either closed-down permanently or are currently shut because of the ongoing lockdown provisions.
Blood donations have lowered to the extent that they are now phoning up existing donors to encourage them to give blood soon.
In my last diary blog I mentioned that, as I am not seeing my NHS Kidney Man again until next February – and as the Ear, Nose & Throat and Calcium blokes he suggested are but mere possibilities in a bureaucratic future mist – I was thinking of seeing my Chinese herbal doctor. Pricey but value for money.
I asked my friend Lynn what she thought. She suggested I should pursue the two misty-futured NHS blokes to gee-up the bureaucracy and not go to Chinese doctor – or, at least, do both. Try the Chinese path AND certainly try to gee-up the NHS. But I can’t be bothered, NHS bureaucracy takes its own sweet time, even if it kills you.
MONDAY 26th OCTOBER
“Wrongly mistaken for anxiety or nervousness”
In my last blog, I also mentioned that my tendency to witter is sometimes – wrongly – mistaken for anxiety or nervousness whereas it is simply mindless wittering.
After reading this, comedy uber-fan Sandra Smith emailed me:
Re your blog and anxiety. I can see how you could present as anxious, having seen a couple of videos of you being interviewed. Your speech speeds up without pause and you constantly fiddle with your ears. If the the interviewer is female, a slight self consciousness creeps in.You appear much more comfortable as the interviewer.
Mmmm… Interestingly, I’m not nervous being interviewed. In fact, I always did badly in job interviews; I think because I never got nervous so came across as being over-casual and therefore potentially unreliable! I have never noticed the ear thing. Must stop that.
In fact, what I thought was: “If the the interviewer is female, a slight self consciousness creeps in”… Oo-err. What’s that about? and Is that a good or a bad thing?
TUESDAY 27th OCTOBER
All this came after sticking out my tongue…
I saw my Chinese doctor at lunchtime. As always, he took my pulse and asked me to stick my tongue out at him. That’s Traditional Chinese Medicine for you.
I think the theory is that the tongue is the only internal organ which you can see externally and so its state – cracks in it etc – reflect the state of your body.
He thought my sleeping and dehydration problems are connected with my kidneys – in fact, in the 1990s, he said I would have kidney problems in the future.
I got a month’s worth of tablets and made an appointment to see him again on 24th November.
WEDNESDAY 28th OCTOBER
In yet another reference back to my previous blog, the NHS Track & Trace mobile phone app again sent me two too-fast-to-read notifications – A COVID alert followed by a message saying it signified nothing.
I also got a message from my eternally-un-named friend.
She told me she had been crossing a pedestrian bridge at Canary Wharf, looked down and saw a group of skimpily-clad people in a hot tub sailing by.
“The weather was dry but chilly,” she told me. “There was a little fire in a front funnel, so I guess that must have been heating the water inside the tub.”
I was left fairly speechless. So was she.
Not a normal sight in the waters of Canary Wharf, London, in the chilly late weeks of October…
THURSDAY 29th OCTOBER
I never used to remember any of my dreams until this recent calcium/kidney problem which has resulted in me waking up 8-12 times every night. So the world of dreams is new to me.
“…gushing water, tumbling down towards the platform…”
Last night, I dreamt that I was rushing to get on a plane at an airport and the escalator down to the departure platform – Yes, platform… It was a narrow platform like a railway platform with tracks on both sides – the escalator down to the departure platform was covered in gushing water, tumbling down towards the platform.
What on earth was that all about?
FRIDAY 30th OCTOBER
This probably won’t be happening until 2022.
I had another disturbed night of waking up pretty much every hour with a totally dry mouth, my tongue almost sticking to the inside of my mouth… made more entertaining at one point by simultaneous hiccups and heartburn… That’s potentially an hour-long Edinburgh Fringe show there. I have seen worse.
Online, there was the news that the Edinburgh Fringe will probably not be back properly until 2022 (its 75th anniversary) as the COVID pandemic effects will still be screwing-up things next year.
SATURDAY 31st OCTOBER
Chris Dangerfield: “How much of what he said is printable?”
For a forthcoming blog, I had a Skype video chat with sometime comic, always controversial raconteur Chris Dangerfield, who now lives in Cambodia. How much of what he said is printable is something I will have to grapple with.
He told me I looked well.
Clearly he is not a reader of my blog.
Boris Johnson precipitated a surge of toilet roll buying…
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that, to try to slow the recent surge in coronavirus cases, England will go on a second total lockdown from next Thursday for a month (November 5th to December 2nd).
I thought it was probably bad PR for him to announce this on Hallowe’en, the precursor to the Day of The Dead… and to start the lockdown on Guy Fawkes’ Night, which is about blowing up Parliament.
When I went out to a supermarket later, it was obvious that, as in the previous lockdown, a sudden panic-buying of toilet rolls has started, which makes no sense – the coronavirus, as far as I am aware does not result in diarrhoea and there was/is not a shortage of toilet rolls. Come to that, there is a wide variety of alternatives to toilet rolls – kitchen rolls, newspapers and small furry woodland creatures.
The COVID-19 effect: devastation in the toilet roll section of Lidl supermarket, Borehamwood.
My friend Lynn popped in to see me as she was on the nearby M25 motorway. She hadn’t seen me for a month and told me I looked better than the last time.
I mentioned that, twice when I was in hospital in May, staff had thought I was very anxious when, in fact, I was not remotely: I was totally calm and relaxed. Lynn told me my wittering comes across as nervousness.
I remember once walking across an open plan office at Granada TV in Manchester and someone asked: “What on earth has happened, John?”
Apparently I looked as if my entire family had been killed in a sudden air crash or a freak attack by a rogue herd of rabid wildebeest. In fact, I was particularly relaxed, happy and at ease with the world.
To quote Rabbie Burns:
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us.
MONDAY 19th OCTOBER
After a two-month gap, I saw my Kidney Man at the hospital again. He/they still have no idea what was/is wrong with me.
I am much the same. Waking up maybe 8 or 10 or 12 times every night with my mouth bone dry and having to drink water.
He told me my blood test results… My calcium level should be 2.2-2.6. Last time it had settled at a good 2.4 but it has gone up to a little over 2.6. My low kidney function, which should be 60+ and which was 19 when I was taken into hospital – rising to 33 a week later and, after a couple of months, to 44 – is now around 50.
He is booking me in for another appointment in 4 months but may move that if required and he will recommend I get seen by two other different specialists before then – a calcium man and an Ear Nose & Throat man.
Afterwards, I had a new blood test, the results of which I will presumably hear about in 4 months time.
TUESDAY 20th OCTOBER
This morning, unlike previous occasions, when letters took several weeks/months to arrive, I got a copy of a letter from the Kidney Man to my GP about yesterday’s meeting.
It said I had last been weighed in 2002 rather than 2020 and that my next appointment would be in 2 months not 4 months. Attention to detail is always reassuring in someone who is diagnosing me and who may, at some point, perform surgery on me.
Later in the day, a notification flashed-up on my iPhone from the NHS coronavirus Track & Trace app saying I had maybe been exposed to COVID-19. It was followed immediately by another notification to the effect that they had checked and I could ignore the whole thing!
This seems a very ineffective notification system. No idea when/where/how it occurred. (Though I was inside a hospital yesterday). And seemingly designed to give old people with paranoia a jolt big enough to trigger a heart attack.
Track & Trace sounds like the name of a more successful female pop duo of the 1980s.
WEDNESDAY 21st OCTOBER
I woke up even more than normal last night – maybe 15 times. Mouth bone dry. Needed to drink water.
My eternally-un-named-friend e-mailed me to say:
The friendly Gents (not the Ladies) toilets at Canary Wharf
Yesterday I saw an elderly woman stripped to the waist washing her armpits at the sinks in the toilets at Canary Wharf.
She apologised to me, saying it was because she was hot.
I said: “No need to apologise,” and offered her a few of my tissues to dry herself off with. She also helped me locate a tap with running water as the first two didn’t work when you waved your hands underneath. It was like being at school. It was heartwarming.
She looked quite fit for her age. Well, for any age. It did help that she was slightly slim
I wonder what her story was.
Maybe she just didn’t have hot water at home or maybe she was homeless, though she didn’t actually look that rough with bags and stuff.
I saw a woman maybe last year in the toilets at Marks & Spencer in Oxford Street. And you could tell she was a street homeless person.
THURSDAY 22nd OCTOBER
Aha! That letter I got on Tuesday from the Kidney Man… the one which arrived so quickly… was NOT from the previous day’s consultation! A duplicate of the letter arrived today with an extra sheet on the back.
It was written on 7th October about my meeting with him on 3rd August, modified on 14th October, printed on 20th October and presumably posted on 20th October (although I actually received a copy through the post on 20th October). So bureaucracy at work and all the details to my GP are 2 months out of date.
I also got a separate letter this morning – from Bristol – about my next appointment with my Kidney Man – in London – on 15th February next year… so the 4-month gap between appointments was true.
FRIDAY 23rd OCTOBER
Last night I woke up less often than normal – maybe 5 times – with a bone dry mouth, having to drink water.
In the afternoon, Ariane Sherine‘s 9-year-old daughter was telling me about a woman who is addicted to eating bricks… and how cuttlefish hypnotise crabs. Both true.
It was an educational journey.
Later I received an email telling me that (after a complaint) YouTube have admirably put an age-restriction on one of the videos I posted 14 years ago – unsurprisingly one featuring the late Malcolm Hardee – though, mysteriously, there is no hint what the age restriction is… I think Malcolm would have been shocked not by the age restriction but by the fact it took 14 years to happen…
SATURDAY 24th OCTOBER
I am thinking of seeing my excellent Chinese doctor, as the NHS are not really getting anywhere on figuring out what caused my calcium/kidney problems nor why I am waking up dehydrated maybe 10-12 times every single night with a bone-dry mouth.
My Chinese doctor is not cheap. But he has always been value for money.
On my mobile, there was a notification which said: Your iPhone continues to look for possible exposures on your behalf.
When it was pointed out to me that this was a message about the COVID-19 Track & Trace app, I felt strangely disappointed.
British Summertime ends tonight and the clocks go back one hour.
I received a message from my eternally-un-named friend:
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.
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.
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).