Tag Archives: psychology

My weekly diary No 39: self-delusion, Scots pronunciation and Janey Godley

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 38

…BEWARE! OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AHEAD…

The Komsomolskaya (Circle Line) metro station in Moscow (Photograph by A.Savin via Wikipedia)

SUNDAY 11th OCTOBER

I remember returning to Granada TV in Manchester after a trip to Moscow in the mid-1980s and saying the beautiful metro stations were only in the middle of the city.

I had gone out to the ends of a couple of metro lines where the stations were just dull concrete monstrosities and I had gone into supermarkets where there were lots of empty shelves and only one type of anything on sale; maybe only 3 types of biscuits.

Someone I worked with at Granada told me I had been taken in by Western propaganda about the USSR.

They had never been outside the UK.

People hold very strong second and third-hand opinions: even moreso in the new world of social media.

MONDAY 12th OCTOBER

…and the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in people, has amplified and magnified their faults.

Today I mentioned to a friend one stand-up comedian who has crossed that not-so-thin line from being self-obsessed to being an uncaring cunt. It’s school bully mentality. Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility. He doesn’t care if people die provided he gets attention and people look at him.

“Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility” (Image by Jon Tyson, UnSplash)

I paraphrase… slightly… from March this year: “COVID isn’t real. It’s just a panic. The panic will all definitely be over in a couple of weeks. By April 6th. Because I say so… and here’s a photo of me posing in the park. Don’t I look great?”

It’s like a 16-year-old with no conscience. Reality doesn’t exist outside himself. What he says becomes the truth in his mind because he said it.

Or like Donald Trump. You just say what you want and in your own mind it becomes reality. Then, if it doesn’t happen, you say you never said it and that becomes your reality because no-one outside yourself is a real person. They’re like bits of furniture around you, not people.

Self-obsession creating a genuine schoolboy bully mentality. Crossing the line from self-obsessed to uncaring, self-deluded cunt.

Great on a comedy stage. Not so good in reality.

One of the best posts I saw early in the pandemic – I wish I had copied it so I know who wrote it (not anyone I actually personally knew) was to the effect of:

I thought my friend had wasted the last ten years of his life sitting around doing nothing and being a failure. How wrong I was! It turns out he must have been spending all his time at home studying epidemiology and virology to a level which puts to shame all those academics and doctors who have spent decades practising in the practical professional medical field. And now he is sharing his wisdom with us all on Facebook.

He is not alone. I showed the above diary entry to another comedy industry person I know to test the reaction and they thought I was describing them… I was not…

TUESDAY 13th OCTOBER

Findochty, Findockty or Finechty? (Anne Burgess, Wikipedia)

Life is full of surprises. Today I discovered my eternally-un-named-friend – to my considerable surprise – can pronounce the Scottish ‘ch’ sound correctly. Something few English people can do. For example, they mis-pronounce “Loch Ness” as “Lock Ness” and let us not even go anywhere near Auchterarder or Auchtermuchty.

The explanation seems to be that my eternally-un-named-friend, as a child, was partly brought up in Aden with an Arabic-speaking local as her childminder. A similar sound to the Scottish ‘ch’ turns up in Arabic. For example, though the English call the Gulf state Ba-rain, the locals pronounce it Bach-rain with a sound not too far from the Scottish ‘ch’ or the Welsh double-L as in Llandaff or Llanelli…

So, like me, my eternally-un-named-friend can correctly pronounce the Moray/ex-Banffshire town Findochty… even if the locals themselves pronounce it Finechty.

You can seldom second-guess the pronunciation of British place-names.

WEDNESDAY 14th OCTOBER

As if things could not get more bizarre in the current world of coronavirus, a BBC Location Man rang my doorbell mid-afternoon today. He was looking for a location for a forthcoming drama about an ex-SAS man and thought my house looked like somewhere an ex-SAS man would live.

Clearly the ex-SAS man in the drama must be on a downward spiral!

My next-door neighbours have the advantage of a recently-built conservatory at the back. I think I may have scuppered my dramatic chances by telling the Location Man this.

THURSDAY 15th OCTOBER

A comedian of my ken told me today that they are having a bad time in the current world of coronavirus semi-lockdown.

Always look on the bright side of life… Really… No shit…

My words of little wisdom were to suggest that, for a creative person, when things are shit, that’s the time to write it down or to pour it out onto your mobile phone voice recorder for cold creative use later.

Shit requires therapy and is raw material for creativity which is self-therapy. The act of creating can distract and distance you from the shittiness of reality by making it more abstract.

I then looked in a mirror and saw a man with his head up his own arse.

FRIDAY 16th OCTOBER

Janey Godley, Have I Got News For You & Nicola Sturgeon

My Scottish hyphenate chum Janey Godley – the stand-up comic-author-actor-Twitter star-viral YouTube sensation – appeared tonight on both BBC1’s Have I Got News For You AND, in Scotland, on the STV Children’s Appeal in which she performed a comedy sketch with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Janey has just published her latest book Frank Get The Door!

She has another book (possibly two) out next year.

Anyone who has read her jaw-dropping best-selling 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark knows that she came from abject poverty with little chance of succeeding in anything except possibly getting put in prison.

The fact that, in a single evening, she appeared on one of BBC TV’s long-established, widely-watched peaktime entertainment shows AND appeared on ITV in tandem with the political leader of Scotland is a tribute to her talent, dogged determination and increasing public popularity. And she has done it all herself.

It is also a reflection on the mindlessness of London-centric Oxbridge-educated executives and commissioners that she does not have her own TV series.

SATURDAY 17th OCTOBER

Showbiz, though, is full of scarcely-believable OTT life-stories.

Constance Smith – from Hollywood to homeless – a scarcely-believable OTT true life story

I stumbled on Impulse (1954) on Talking Pictures TV this week. The leading lady in this Hollywood movie was Constance Smith, an English actress I had never heard of. So I looked her up and… Wow!

For starters she was Irish, not English.

She was born in 1928, the first of 11 children, won a Hedy Lamarr lookaline beauty contest in Dublin when she was 16, got a contract with producer Darryl F. Zanuck in Hollywood…

… married British actor Bryan Forbes in 1951 and was a presenter at the 1952 Oscars. By the time her contract expired (she was sacked) in 1953, she had undergone an abortion forced on her by the studio and the first of her three marriages was on the ropes. She divorced Bryan Forbes in 1955.

As the years went on and she failed to get the parts she felt were commensurate with her abilities, she began an embittered descent into a life of drugs and alcohol.

She acted in a run of minor films in Italy between 1955 and 1959 and, during her time in Rome, she first attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

Back in Britain, in 1962, she was sentenced to three months in prison for stabbing her then boyfriend, the documentary maker and film historian Paul Rotha.

In 1968, she stabbed Rotha for a second time and was charged with attempted murder. She and Rotha married in 1974. She also tried several times again to kill herself.

Her last few decades were spent, dissipated, in and out of hospitals. When able to get herself together for brief periods, she worked as a cleaner.

She died in June 2003 in Islington, London, aged 75.

Some people win in Life. Some people lose.

Vīta brevis,
ars longa,
occāsiō praeceps,
Experīmentum perīculōsum,
iūdicium difficile.

Life is shit and then you die.

I just looked in the mirror again.

Yup. You guessed right. That man is still there, with his head still up his arse.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 20 – The reality of a drive-through test centre

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 19

SUNDAY 7th JUNE

When I brush my teeth, I have always cleared my mouth by drinking water straight from the tap – and, in the recent hot weather, was drinking a lot of water from the tap. Also, I have been waking up a lot during the night recently, my mouth totally bone-dry – and I was getting up, going to the loo and drinking water straight from the sink’s tap.

I woke up in the middle of last night wondering if the high calcium level in my body could be due to this drinking from the tap. I might have mentioned before that science – and, in particular, chemistry – is a big blind spot I have. The build-up on the end of the tap I always thought was probably built-up spittle and general gunge but, of course, it is really probably calcium from the very very hard water which London has.

Or is it?

Or something.

What do I know? Not chemistry.

But, from now on, I will drink bottled water bought from supermarkets, rather than water straight from the tap. Something I thought I would never do. I mean, I thought, why BUY water when it is on tap for free?

Paranoia? Who knows?

Not me. And certainly not at 3.00am in the morning.

Plus ça change elsewhere. We are still in lockdown. Households are not allowed to mingle with other households and, outside, we have to keep at least 2 metres away from other people unless we live with them in a single household.

“…the risk of catching the virus or not having a computer…”

MONDAY 8th JUNE

I had a tiny problem with the trackpad of my 9-year-old MacBook Pro laptop, so I took it to the excellent MacSmiths repair shop in Cambridge Heath/Hackney.

To get there, I had to take three trains each way – a Thameslink train, an Underground train and an Overground train. On each of the six trains I used, I was the only person in my carriage.

At MacSmiths, I asked if business had been badly affected by the lockdown because people had been too nervous to risk travelling to the shop.

“Not really been affected at all,” was the reply (I paraphrase). “If it’s a choice between the risk of catching the virus or not having a computer, the fear of not having a computer seems to be worse for people.”

Green close (good). Hay fever (bad).

TUESDAY 9th JUNE

My Eternally UnNamed Friend came up to see me in Borehamwood and, keeping 2 metres apart, we walked across Green Belt land close to my house.

This is allowed – You can now visit someone you know provided you don’t go inside their house and provided you keep 2 metres apart outside.

But, inevitably, this unleashed hay fever on me.

Coughs, sneezes and sniffles guaranteed to make nervous people keep socially distant from me,

Although the official UK total of coronavirus-related deaths is now over 40,000, reports say the real death rate is probably over 60,000 if you compare the increase in deaths this year with the number of deaths in the same period last year.

WEDNESDAY 10th JUNE

Yesterday’s hay fever symptoms seem to have been wider-spread than just in Borehamwood. Today I got this message from someone I know in one of the other nations in the UK. (Note to Americans reading this: the UK comprises four nations.)


One of the UK’s drive-through coronavirus test centres…

I wasn’t feeling great yesterday. A sore throat and running nose. Probably just a cold or hay fever but, for safety, this morning I went to one of the drive-through coronavirus testing centres manned by the Army.

I went to the centre because I thought I might end-up doing the swab test wrong if I got a kit to self-administer at home.

It turns out that, at the drive-through testing centres, you have to self-administer the test in your own car…

The Army blokes give you instructions by phone as they stand by your closed window. Then you open your window and they lob in the swab test kit from 2 metres away.

You sit in your car and test yourself by sticking the swab up your nostrils and into the back of your mouth. If you make a mistake, you use the hazard lights on your car to attract their attenton. If you feel unwell, you honk your horn.

I made a mistake with the swab. So I had another conversation by phone with the man despite the fact I could actually hear him talking to me on the phone standing right by my closed window.

The whole thing was surreal.

When you’re finished, they leave a big yellow bin by your window and then leg it away fast it so you can lob the test in the bin.

All rather comical and strange.


The total deaths are now 41,128 – up by 245 in the last 24 hours.

THURSDAY 11th JUNE

I got another email from my friend about her drive-through test:


I think I fucked-up the test after all that. I got this one-size-suits-all email:

The instructions for a self-administered swab test to be taken in your own car…

NHS COVID-19 NOTIFICATION

Your coronavirus test result is unclear. You’ll need to apply for another test.

If you have not had symptoms of coronavirus, you don’t need to self-isolate. If you have symptoms, self-isolate for 7 days from when symptoms started.

You may return to work on day 8 if you’ve not had a high temperature for 48 hours and feel well. Talk to your employer first.

If someone you live with has tested positive, continue to self-isolate. Follow the guidance in the text message they received.

If this result is for a care home resident or someone who is shielding, they may need to be tested again. Follow the specific guidelines.

If this result is for a child or staff member at school/nursery, tell the school or nursery.

Contact 111 if you need medical help. In an emergency dial 999.


FRIDAY 12th JUNE

Cabin fever has kicked-in.

It is five months since I had a haircut. I am not foolish enough to attempt a self-haircut, but I shaved off my 5-week beard and tried to refresh my self-image.

SATURDAY 13th JUNE

My friend had another swab test – this one NOT self-administered. It was negative.

Elsewhere, today was the day on which normally, annually, Trooping The Colour takes place on Horseguards Parade in London. Because of the coronavirus ban on large crowds and social distancing, a smaller-scale event was held inside Windsor Castle.

Leicester Comedy Festival judge Louisette Stodel was listening to the Radio 4 Lunchtime News and says it reported:

The BBC covered the Welsh Guards in their “bare skins”…

“The Welsh Guards have performed a socially distanced tribute to the Queen in their bare skins.”

Obviously, the script read “bearskins” not “bare skins” but on radio this vital nicety was missing.

It is, however, an odd way to phrase a report. So I mused to Louisette that perhaps there had been a bet in the BBC Newsroom to see if they could get away with that phrasing as a laugh.

I thought I was joking but maybe there was, indeed, a bet because Louisette told me that, in the 5.00pm news bulletin, the BBC solemnly reported that, to celebrate the Queen’s Official Birthday:

“The Welsh Guards in their bare skins performed a special tribute designed for social distancing.”

I do seem to remember there was once a bet in a newsroom where someone reckoned he could include the names of all seven of Snow White’s dwarfs in a serious bulletin without anyone noticing. Which he succeeded in doing.

My memory tells me this truly happened. But maybe it was in a fictional film. Or maybe I just imagined it.

The line between reality, imagined-reality and straight-up fantasy is beginning to blur.

Already no-one knows what day it is.

Every day seems like a Sunday because all days are the same, most shops are shut and the streets are only sparsely dotted with people.

Eventually, as I understand it, our Sun will expand and explode, taking everything with it.

We and everything which exists and which ever existed on Earth will be stardust.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose to an extent.

But Tempus fugit trumps all.

The bits and pieces past and present of the United Kingdom (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 18 – Stalin, ‘Mr Bedlam’ and I leave hospital

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 17

My release seemed to be almost within reach…

MONDAY 25th May

The mattress, pillows and bedclothes of the man who apparently died last night were taken away in big plastic bags, replaced by new ones. 

Another patient, whom I shall call The Welshman replaced the dead man. He is only here for one night – going to be released tomorrow.

I am in a 4-bed ward or rather bay. In fact, I think maybe the larger ward itself has four ‘bays’ each with 4 beds. But all I am aware of is my own section – my own ward.

I now share the 4-bed ward with the almost blind man opposite (George – not his real name) and the guy next to me (Basil – again, not his real name).

Basil was here when I first arrived. He spends most of his days silently with his chin slightly down and his eyelids hooded, so you can’t tell if he is awake or asleep. He is fairly deaf.

The nurses work in 12-hour shifts 0800-2000 and 2000-0800. At the changeover point, the old shift leader tells the new shift what they need to know about the patients in the ward.

I overheard the morning briefing today. The shift leader told them that Basil was almost in dementia (he mutters in his sleep overnight and plays out entire nighttime scenarios in conversation).

She told the new shift that George was a ‘Do not revive’ patient.

And she said I was ‘random diabetes’… I do not have diabetes and they know I don’t have diabetes but – because they have no idea what has caused my kidney/calcium problem – they randomly test me on occasion as if I do have diabetes to see if that might give them some result which might give them a clue.

The first blood sample of the day was taken – eventually – by a man who clearly didn’t quite know how to do it. Presumably one of the medical students brought in to beef up staff numbers during the coronavirus crisis.

Just before lunch, a doctor came in to tell the staff a visitor had walked into a nearby ward (not this one) with no protection on to visit her dad. No visitors are allowed anywhere except close family members in the end-of-life wards.

I asked British performer Matt Roper in New York: “I hope President Trump is paying you something – or do you count as a Mexican alien?”

He replied: “No Trump money. Living off money allocated to pay taxes next year. (We can see where this is going…)”

George – in the bed opposite me – is isolated by his near-blindness and fairly bad hearing. He told a West African nurse that he was the former General Secretary of a major British trade union, which he named. And, indeed, I checked on Wikipedia and he had been.

This, of course, meant nothing to the young West African nurse. He mentioned an honour he was given by the Queen and told her that “The press know who I am.”

I imagine the nurse just thought he was fantasising. There is a lot of it around.

Later, George asked another nurse if he could use her mobile phone (it is actually the ward’s mobile) to call his son. He had his own two mobile phones brought to the hospital by his son yesterday. But he doesn’t know how to use either of them. 

This is not something you want to share a ward with (Photo by Peter Coxhead via Wikipedia)

There is a hornet in the ward. I thought this was a fly-like creature but, when one of the nurses thwacked it, it turned out to be like some giant creature from a Hollywood special effects movie.

George – former General Secretary of a major trade union but now a bit doolally – asked a young black nurse (who was saying this morning how she missed Africa) if she knew David Lammy. 

She said No. Perfectly reasonably. He is a black UK Labour MP.

George said: “He came and spoke for me…”

So I presume this very caring young nurse also now thinks he is fantasising about how his possibly imaginary mate Dave came in to visit him yesterday… even though no visitors are allowed.

Later in the day, George – remember he is a bit deaf – started listening without headphones to an audio book he has about history after WW2. This was bad enough – there is a limit to how much I want to hear about the intricacies of Stalinist squabbles in the 1940s and 1950s Soviet Union – but also the reader of the audiobook kept mispronouncing ‘nuclear’ as ‘nucular’. For some reason, after a time, exploding a ‘nucular’ device seemed a fair option to me.

After the lecture on Stalinist ‘nucular’ policy abated, a kidney consultant came in to see me. He said they may release me tomorrow. Only ‘may’. 

It depends on the kidney and calcium numbers.

They think the calcium level is affecting my kidneys and they have, really, I think, been trying to treat and monitor my calcium level not my kidney function. Who knew?

My kidney function is up from 27 yesterday to 28 today.

If the calcium is OK, then my kidneys should be nearer to OK, as I understand it.

But, as yet, they as yet have no idea why the calcium number is/was off.

Kidney Man said the kidney function numbers I have been asking about – eg 62 last October down to 19 last Wednesday – are always slightly unreliable. He went into a very complicated multi-faceted explanation of the two more trustworthy numbers they really follow, neither of which I can get my head round. Did I mention chemistry is a mystery to me?

Once my kidneys are at an OK (not necessarily perfect) level, they will continue testing stuff, but I will not need drip feeding or measuring urine or the poor nurses investigating and reporting on the texture and colour of my ‘stools’ etc etc so I can go home.

After they release me (whenever that might be) he will treat me as an outpatient from his clinic either here or in another hospital, probably by phone. I presume because of the continuing coronavirus outbreak. On the NHS. They will do a PetScan after I am released.

After he left, I started the first of three more 6-hour drips.

TUESDAY 26th May

In the early morning, around dawn:

Nurse – “Are you in pain?”

George – “Where?”

Nurse – “Anywhere.”

George – “No.”

The ward ran out of its recyclable cardboard urine bottles…

The ward has run out of cardboard (ie recyclable) urine bottles. I get through about four each night, with the drip putting litres of liquid into me.

The nurse thought the supply problem might be because yesterday was a Bank Holiday. Luckily I had hidden one big cardboard urine bottle under the bed for just such an eventuality… Another, far-sighted, nurse gave it to me a few days ago as a precaution.

At one point, George and Basil, in beds diagonally opposite each other, both somewhat deaf, were being examined by nurses and having conversations with them. Because both are a bit deaf, both nurses were having to shout a bit.

George (registered blind) thought the voice of Basil’s nurse was his nurse so he was answering to the wrong nurse and Basil thought that George was talking to him, so we entered a complex cross-conversation situation as if a Two Ronnies comedy sketch were scripted by Harold Pinter.

Afterwards, George returned to listening to his audiobook on Stalinism – back up at full whack again.

At 1600, a new 8-hour drip started. Before the new bag was attached, I went to the toilet. I have been mildly constipated for a couple of days – well, I have not, to use the technical term, ‘had a bowel movement’. I can urinate at any time using the cardboard urine bottles (if available). But, if I want to go at any other time, I have to get disconnected from the electricity socket in the wall to which the saline drip thing is attached..

At least, I thought I wanted to go and ‘have a bowel movement’. And I did manage, with all my internal strength, to push the most gigantic ‘stool’ out of myself. One that felt worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. 

But, when I looked down into the pan, nothing, nada, zilch, absolutely nowt. 

It must have been just air.

So a nurse gave me tablets – two to be taken daily – sodium something. Everything seems to be sodium something.

Another roaming nurse offered me a free shave which I declined. You get the full Park Lane hotel treatment here, especially the truly wonderful food.

Astonishingly good: you get the full Park Lane treatment…

Astonishingly good.

If it were not for the constant blood-letting – including getting a needle in my stomach (well the fatty bit) every evening, I could happily stay here… as indeed may turn out to be the case.

The Welshman was rather disappointed not to be released today.

WEDNESDAY 27th May

My blood sugar level is 5. I have no idea what that means.

My kidney function which was 62 in October last year and was 19 last Wednesday is now 32. But, of course, that is the inexact number which the doctors don’t really use.

I talked to the lady who does the wonderful meals here. They are sent in from an outside company and then, she said, she did something to their healthiness. She may have been joking; not sure. But she supplies food for 24 people daily – that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The nurses, of course, do long-12 hour shifts. 

I was thinking: If you allow 8 hours for sleep and 1 hour for travel from home to work to home (likely to be a big underestimate in London) that leaves only 3 hours of personal life each day they work. 

After lunch – all within half an hour – Basil was taken off to be looked after at home. The Welshman was released, to be looked after at home. And George was taken to a local rehab centre/community hospital.

The ambulance men who took them out wore face masks and gloves. One of them told me that, when they deal with COVID patients, the only extra stuff they wear is an apron. He said, in April, this ward and the surrounding (non-COVID) wards were “choc a bloc with patients, like Piccadilly Circus”. 

Almost immediately after the other three left, a new patient was brought in. He was like someone from 19th century Bedlam. He would suddenly shout out, half-try to get up out of his bed, look sideways, startled, then look up and examine the ceiling as if there was something important up there – much like the acid girl when I first came into the hospital. Or the mental hospital in Essex when I was 18. Except they drugged everyone into silence then.

This is what Mr Bedlam sounded like:

Who would be a nurse?

Soon afterwards, without much warning, I was discharged (to become an outpatient) because my calcium level was OK and my kidney function was no longer in the “danger” area.

Because no-one was coming to collect me and I was an “independent” patient (which I think means I didn’t need a carer once home) they were not allowed to give me any hospital transport home: I had to make my own way home. This was not the nurses’ decision; it was a bureaucratic Discharge thing. Rules.

This meant either getting a bus back home or getting a mini-cab. 

“We would prefer it if you didn’t get a bus,” I was told.

When the Discharge person had left, I asked the nurse if she had the number for a minicab. She didn’t, but said Main Reception would and would arrange for a cab to come for me. She took me to the lifts. I was a bit light-headed. I had been basically lying on a bed for seven days with a saline drip in my arm for all seven days.

There was coincidentally a tired-looking doctor in the lift. She asked him to show me where Main Reception was. He said they would be able to phone for a cab.

He showed me where Main Reception was. They said they couldn’t phone a cab for me but, round the corner, there was a wall phone with a direct line to a cab company. I asked if they took credit cards (I only had a single £10 note in my pocket). She said she didn’t think so, but I could stop off at a cash machine on the way.

I gave up and walked out and up a slight hill to the main road and waited at a bus stop.

In the lower floor, the front area by the driver was taped-off so you couldn’t infect him. There were seven passengers, all sitting separately but no way near being 2 metres apart from each other (not possible). 

I was a bit light-headed and got near home on the bus route, then walked back home safely and drank a lot of water… The doctors still don’t know what is causing the kidney problem…

I switched on the TV. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on TV, looking like shit, bags under his eyes. Like he was auditioning for the part of Mr Covid in a Christmas panto.

… at home again …

… CONTINUED HERE

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

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 16

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

(Nothing to do with COVID-19.)


When I had to wear a coronavirus mask …

SATURDAY 23rd May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurse – “You want your phone?”

George – “This is the reason.”

Nurse – (Gently) “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

George – “I can’t reach forward.”

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

George – I am in pain in my knees.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George – “I am old. I wanna go home.”

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

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

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

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

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

George – “From what country?”

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

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

Nurse – “I’ll get you back into bed.”

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY 24th May 

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

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

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

0402 – Light headache on right temple

0414 – Light headache at front, between eyes.

0419 – Light headache in middle of forehead

It went away.

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

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

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

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

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

He plugged the machine into a wall socket.

It worked.

Neither of us reacted as if anything unusual had happened.

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

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

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

“No, no problem,” the nurse said.

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

The hospital menu: less British Railways, more Park Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The music is no more.

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

True.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The normal view of the fourth bed in the ward…

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

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

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

But no patient in it.

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

I presume the man in that bed is a goner.

Brown bread. Dead.

… CONTINUED HERE  …

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 9 – Personal stories in a strange new world

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 8

SUNDAY 19th APRIL

Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu posted another video of family life in lockdown in London:

The latest figures for coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals are 592 deaths in the last 24 hours (down from 888 yesterday)… So now 16,060 in total.

My friend in Central London, who has a close friend with coronavirus in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit updated me on his current situation:

“I spoke to the hospital earlier. Things are not going well since yesterday. They have been reducing sedation over recent days but he was not coming round, so they stopped all sedation last night… but he’s still not waking up. ‘Neurologically unresponsive,’ they said just now. CT scan of brain later. Today will be a tough day. I am full of fear.”

MONDAY 20th APRIL

(Photo by Luke Jones via UnSplash)

A friend who lives near Milan tells me that the Italian government is going to start easing some restrictions and trying to re-start things on May the 4th. I suggested on Facebook that the Italians must be big Star Wars fans… I was told by someone that this did not work when translated into Italian.

In the last 24 hours, there were 449 hospital deaths linked to coronavirus (down from 592 yesterday)… So now 16,509 in total.

Lynn Ruth Miller, an American living in London – who recently contributed a piece to this blog Diary – writes:


I am an 86-year-old woman. I am a performer whose life revolves around travelling throughout the world to do my act. I am in comparatively good health. I live alone. I have no children, no partner, no family. Because I am in a third floor flat, I have no dog or cat. I am in relatively good health with no debilitating pre-existing conditions.

Governments the world over have told their populations that all people over 70 must go into social isolation. That means I must stay home without visitors and talk to no one face to face. If I need exercise I should walk around the garden. But I do not have a garden.

This social isolation is robbing me of my future. Let’s face it. 86 is the beginning of old, old age. Every day my horizons are less distant. The end of my life is nearer. Each moment that I am able to live a purposeful and rewarding life is especially precious to me because those moments diminish every day. They diminish for us all, of course. But the reality is I have less time left to enjoy them than someone who is younger.

Since March 15 when we were advised to stay inside, I have not been face-to-face with a living, breathing human being. I have not held anyone’s hand; I have not hugged a friend or petted a puppy.

I do not want to get sick. I do not want to make anyone else ill. But I do want to smile at someone who smiles back. I want to tell a joke and hear the laughter. I want to feel a human presence. Live-streaming on a computer screen doesn’t do it for me.


TUESDAY 21st APRIL

Wot’s this ear? It’s some wag’s image of van Gogh

Uncertainty continues about whether people in the UK should wear or not wear masks when out. Jokes have appeared online. One source-unknown wag visually pointed out that Vincent van Gogh would have had problems attaching even a simple face mask.

The real world gets even more surreal than that. The price of oil has turned negative for the first time in history. This means that oil producers are paying buyers to take the stuff off their hands because demand has dropped so sharply and suddenly – because lockdowns across the world have kept people in their homes – that the producers’ storage capacity could run out in May.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours rose by 823 (it was 449 yesterday)… So now 17,337 deaths in total…

WEDNESDAY 22nd APRIL

One friend of mine is taking no chances…

The debate on whether to wear face masks or not continues in the press and one friend of mine is taking no chances by wearing full serious face mask and goggles when she goes out. This is 100% true.

Her equipment may seem over-precautious and certainly likely to keep strangers in the street at a socially-acceptable distance. But the virus can enter the body, it is said, through your mouth, nostrils or eyes, so only wearing a flimsy mask covering mouth and nose would leave your eyes open to attack.

Thus her choice of full headgear makes total logical sense.

THURSDAY 23rd APRIL

Correct social distancing is marked on the floor

Most of the large chain food stores now have positions marked-out on the pavement outside and the floor inside to help keep social distancing (2 metres) from each other.

My friend who lives in Central London updated me on her friend who is in Intensive Care in hospital…


It has been a bumpy old week. From being told by a doctor on Sunday that we should prepare for the worst because my friend was not coming round from two weeks of deep sedation and that a CT scan of his head would assess possible brain damage, to being told that the CT was thankfully clear. 

But then he needed several blood transfusions as his haemoglobin kept rapidly dropping. The doctors were looking for an internal bleed somewhere, but could not find one. So that was all very worrying. 

Then yesterday the ICU consultant said my friend was doing as well as can be expected and seems to be following the same course as others who are further along (a week or two) in the COVID-19 disease process. He clarified that As well as can be expected means still critically ill. He also explained (perhaps unnecessarily) that they are literally stopping these patients from dying every hour of every day… A ‘good’ day for a patient means “still alive” and they don’t want to give false hope, even when small forward steps are logged…

However, today when I spoke to an ICU nurse, some small forward steps had been logged. Although still on a ventilator, he is now initiating his own breaths and seems to be holding his own. But, a week after removing all sedation, we are still waiting for him to come round. Last Sunday he was “neurologically unresponsive” which sounded pretty endgame-ish. However today I’m told that his pupils are reactive and that he has a good cough (which, in ventilated patients, is apparently a good thing). Small steps.


The total deaths related to coronavirus in UK hospitals now stands at 18,738 – a rise of 616 deaths in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 24th APRIL

Last night, BBC TV’s Big Night In show, lasting all evening, combining the charity know-how of Comic Relief and Children in Need and featuring a mega-star-studded array of names including Prince William, the presumed future British King, raised £27 million for charity.

Bizarrely, Captain Tom raised more than £28 million by walking round his daughter’s back yard. We live in strange times.

Also last night, “somewhere in Southern England”, my friend Lynn shot a video which shows that cabin fever has hit the local Brits in total lockdown…

In a press briefing yesterday, President Trump suggested that sunlight or ultraviolet light could be put inside the body – or disinfectant injected into the body – to treat coronavirus. After a backlash, particularly from bleach manufacturers who issued statements telling people not to drink their product, the man with his finger on the nuclear button claimed he was being sarcastic and/or joking, despite the video clearly showing he was being serious.

My friend in Central London spoke to the ICU consultant again today.


The consultant is cautiously positive about my friend’s progress on the ventilator. He is initiating breaths for himself, and the ventilator helps to fully inflate his lungs. His ventilation requirement is now less than 50%, which is still life support but a lot less than it was even a week ago. This whole process is called ‘weaning’ from the ventilator and is done by minuscule reductions.  

He also briefly opened his eyes this morning before drifting off again. The consultant expects it will still take some time for him to come round properly because his lack of kidney function means the sedation is still hanging around, even a week after they stopped it. Some COVID-19 patients are taking weeks to wake up, he said. 

I asked about the previously mentioned tracheotomy, but they’ve decided not to rush the decision. He said the option with the best outcome would be extubation (removing the breathing tube completely and stopping ventilation) when they are more confident that he can breathe on his own. However, a tracheotomy for continued longer-term ventilation might still be necessary although not ideal, as patients who go this route have a worse prognosis. The consultant said they will see how the weekend goes and review on Monday.  

As always, it was stressed that my friend is still critically ill, needing life support, and that there is no guarantee of a good outcome. But the consultant added that his team does think my friend has a chance of recovery, otherwise they wouldn’t still be fighting for him…

So I see this as a glimmer.

Another friend I know – an anaesthetist at a local hospital – agreed that this all sounded encouraging. However he cautioned that, even if he does make it out of hospital, my friend’s lungs and/or kidneys might be permanently damaged. A high proportion of long-term ICU patients have psychological and psychiatric problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression (not to mention the much-documented ‘ICU delirium’). There is also a high risk of cognitive impairment. And the road to recovering some level of normal life will be measured in years, not months, with an army of physio and rehab support. He will need 24/7 care for months and obviously somebody living-in when he returns home. So there is a glimmer. But. at the same time… fuck!


UK hospital deaths related to coronavirus went up by 684 in the last 24 hours, making total deaths 19,506. Deaths in the US, where President Trump, despite figures to the contrary, says they are over the peak, have gone over 50,000. Globally, deaths are around 195,000.

Meanwhile, Captain Tom got to No 1 in the hit parade with his rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

SATURDAY 25th APRIL

The Guardian reports today on Mark Grenon: “The leader of the most prominent group in the US peddling potentially lethal industrial bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump at the White House this week… Grenon styles himself as ‘archbishop’ of Genesis II – a Florida-based outfit that claims to be a church but which in fact is the largest producer and distributor of chlorine dioxide bleach as a ‘miracle cure’ in the US. He brands the chemical as MMS, miracle mineral solution’, and claims fraudulently that it can cure 99% of all illnesses including cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDs as well as autism.”

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in UK hospitals in the last 24 hours was 813, making a total of 20,319; we are only the fifth country to go over 20,000.

Meanwhile, in Britain, rounding off the week, Romanian entertainer Dragos Mostenescu’s latest video shows he has found it is easy to get distracted when homeschooling his children in locked-down London…

… CONTINUED HERE

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John’s UK Coronavirus Diary – No 5 – Social media psychos and Boris Johnson

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 4 …

SUNDAY 5th APRIL 

The latest official UK figures are that there were 621 hospital deaths of people with coronavirus in the last 24 hours; that brings the total to 4,974. As always, the death figure does not include deaths “in the community” or in care homes; it is only deaths in hospital. 

On BBC Breakfast this morning, someone was saying it is almost impossible to be sad if you are dancing to an upbeat tune because all the audio, visual and physical information the brain has to deal with lessens its ability to feel sadness. What a pity I am not one of Life’s passionate dancers.

However, on a cheery note, Romanian TV superstar Dragos Mostenescu has posted the second in his online series of life in lockdown with his family in his London home. 

This year’s Olympics, Euro 2020 football championships and Wimbledon tennis tournament have already been postponed because of coronavirus. But I received news today of another tragic major sporting cancellation.

Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation tells me that plans for this year’s official World Egg Throwing Championships have now been abandoned. They have been held annually since 2006. He also came back on my mention in last week’s Diary about bored people sticking fish up their bottoms.

“Not just fish or via that entrance,” he reports. “Colleagues of mine were called to assist at the local A&E when a young man arrived with a ring spanner stuck on his todger. It seems he couldn’t get it out of the spanner and this led to a rather nasty swelling and great pain. The cure was the largest set of ‘parrot jaws’ you could imagine. These are the things used to cut off car roofs. 

“Having shown the selected removal tool to the almost-fainting lad, they then slathered his ‘tool’ with large amounts of a heat-absorbing gel and resorted to the actual plan of angle grinding the offending tool off his own tool. There were sparks! Because of the nature and quality of the ring spanner, the process required three separate cuts and very very steady hands.”

I developed fairly bad toothache in the evening and took two of my stash of 30 paracetamol tablets.

Later in the evening, the Queen made a TV broadcast about the coronavirus outbreak – only the 5th ‘one-off’ of her reign.

About at hour later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

One comedy performer’s reaction was: “Hopefully he dies.”

I blocked them.

MONDAY 6th APRIL

I now have medium toothache… This goes back to several weeks ago and I may have to have a tooth extracted… if my dentist is working.

The tooth was discussed with him several weeks ago. I am hoping the ache goes away, though I suspect it won’t – it is an infection in the root that antibiotics did not stop when I took them for a week.

But, obviously, my medium toothache is a minor thing compared to what else is happening.

On Twitter, one paramedic Tweeted:

“Yesterday my patient died. The doctors had to choose between three patients who would get the Intensive Care Unit bed. They only had one ventilator left. My patient missed out because of her age. She would have normally had a good chance of survival. This is the reality everywhere. #stayhome”

In the evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken into the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, his condition having worsened over the course of the afternoon.

I also got a message from my friend who lives in Central London. One of her friends was taken into hospital last week. It was mentioned in last week’s Diary blog. She updated me:

“I spoke to the very nice Intensive Care nurse who was looking after him today. No change. Still on support for both lungs and heart. No improvement in ability to self-oxygenate. I’ve spoken to most of his family today. It’s tough.”

TUESDAY 7th APRIL

My toothache has gone away.

On the TV show Good Morning Britain, presenter Piers Morgan said: “It’s worth bearing in mind when we talk about immigrants in this country, these are the immigrants currently saving people’s lives. Coming here and actually enriching our country and doing an amazing job.“ 

With luck, one outcome of this coronavirus outbreak might be to improve race relations, as so many of the NHS staff seen on screen are non-white.

But will we become a more caring society? No. The psychos will still roam social media.

One professional writer Tweeted about how shocked she was at the online vitriol she received when she mentioned she likes Keir Starmer, the newly-elected leader of the Labour Party.

Elsewhere, a comic performer Tweeted: 

“That’s me on a Twitterbreak. In these awful times, we must be kind & compassionate, something which I’m sorry to say I’ve definitely failed at times on here.”

Social media is like a school playground where the psychos and insecure get together in small gangs to bully others and persuade themselves they are not alone and powerless but that they are, in fact, powerful and normal because they are not alone. A playground where your voice, thoughts and opinions are paid attention to by ‘everyone’ – even though ‘everyone’ is a tiny number of people amid (in the case of the UK) 67 million people. You can tell yourself any freakish opinion you hold is mainstream because the vast majority of your very small, self-selected gang believe what you believe.

Meanwhile, in the real world, my friend in Central London texted me again about her friend in hospital:

“No change. Life support. Not rosy.”

WEDNESDAY 8th APRIL

In the morning, my friend in Central London told me:

“Hospital just phoned. They’re losing him.”

The total reported UK coronavirus deaths now stands at 7,097 – up 938 since yesterday.

Meanwhile, in the unreal world of social media psychos, the writer on a popular cartoon locked her Twitter account following a backlash after she Tweeted about Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation: “The cunt deserves every blunt needle he’ll get”

The Labour Party announced it was “suspending from the party” a local Labour mayor, who had written of Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation with coronavirus that he “completely deserves this”.  Her name was also taken off the website of the firm of solicitors she works for…

However, no action was taken against a man who had Tweeted: “You have to have a heart of stone not to smile just a little bit” in response to the news that Boris had been taken to an Intensive Care Unit. The man Tweeting is a barrister and Senior Counsel to a World Bank initiative and on leave from being a Professor of Law and Legal Theory at a London University, where he teaches jurisprudence plus political and legal philosophy.

THURSDAY 9th APRIL

UK coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours 881. 

‘Social distancing’ means we are supposed to only leave home for essentials and to keep 2 metres away from other people when out.

Today the BBC reported that, last weekend, Greater Manchester police had to break up 660 parties – including 166 street parties and 494 house parties, some with DJs, fireworks and bouncy castles. There were 122 different groups gathering to play sports, 173 gatherings in parks and 112 incidents of anti-social behaviour and public disorder.

The BBC also reported that, last Saturday, police in Morecambe arrested two men who had gone into a Sainsbury’s food store and were licking their hands, then wiping them on vegetables, on meat and on refrigerator handles

This evening, it was reported that Boris Johnson had left the Intensive Care Unit but remained in hospital.

My friend in Central London texted: “No news today. Thankfully. Early night. Not sleeping much.”

GOOD FRIDAY 10th APRIL

The UK coronavirus death toll in the last 24 hours rose by 980 to 8,958.

For the third day in a row, I went out on my daily exercise forgetting to put on my latex gloves – I bought 100 three days ago via the internet.

In Germany, the Oberammergau Passion Play which is performed once every ten years and was due to be performed again on 16th May this year has been postponed for two years because of the danger from coronavirus. The villagers of Oberammergau started performing the play in 1634 so that God would protect them from the plague. This postponement follows the holy, healing waters of Lourdes being closed because of the danger to life from the virus. I am thinking of returning to the Old Gods, finding a virgin policeman and building a Wicker Man.

Back in London, Dragos Mostenescu and his family, in lockdown, have now opened a Game Park in their back garden.

My friend in Central London messaged me:

“I just spoke to the senior Intensive Care Unit nurse. Overnight they again tried to decrease his sedation and ventilation by a small amount but he couldn’t tolerate that so they had to increase it again. This morning he was ‘quite unstable’ so they again increased both to maximum level.

“He is now receiving as much oxygen as possible with the ventilator and is deeply sedated so is not aware of any discomfort. The nurse said that he has ‘acute renal failure’ – his kidneys did not start working after they stopped filtration last night so they re-started that today. She added that his blood pressure is fine today, without help.”

EASTER SATURDAY 11th APRIL

The UK coronavirus hospital death toll in the last 24 hours rose by 917 to 9,875.

On Twitter, a consultant working in Intensive Care Units wrote:

“If you end up in an Intensive Care Unit, it’s a life-changing experience. It carries a huge cost even if you do get better.

“As our patients wake up, they are so weak they can’t sit unaided, many can’t lift their arms off the bed due to profound weakness. They need to be taught to walk again, breathe again and they have problems with speech and swallowing. Some have post-traumatic stress, body image and cognitive problems.

“They get better in time but it may take a year and needs an army of Physiotherapy, speech and language, psychology and nursing staff to facilitate this. The few weeks on a ventilator are a small footnote in the whole process.”

Not very good news for Boris Johnson, even though he was reportedly not on a ventilator… nor good news for us.

There is an interview with the doctor on YouTube…

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller finds life tough in San Francisco and meets Trump supporters

Lynn Ruth’s view

The last couple of blogs have been by the uniquely multi-talented comic, writer and occasional burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, ruminating on her recent visit back to San Francisco, where she lived for nearly 30 years. Here she rounds off…


I met with Mike Morgin who is my US tax consultant. His stage name is Mike Moto and he was an active part of the American comedy scene.

His heritage is part of his set. He is part Japanese, part Yugoslavian so he always opens with: “I am a Japoslav”.  

The last time I heard him, we were in a tiny theater that holds 20 people and someone in that minute group shouted: “I am, too!” You cannot make these things up.

Six years ago, Mike suffered a severe stroke and the interesting thing about this story is that for six years he has struggled with his rehabilitation and within two years he was managing to go back on stage. His balance is precarious and he walks with a cane. Although his speech is improving, he still is difficult to understand. However, he is determined to master these challenges. He is doing more shows every year. His progress is slow, but he proves the cliché “once a comedian always a comedian”. His set is still solid and, as of just this year, he has been doing longer sets not just for comedy audiences but for people recovering from a stroke.

Since comedy is not the most lucrative profession for those of us that TV has not discovered (yet), Mike is a tax consultant during the day and he has been doing my taxes for about 8 years.

On the Friday, I was booked for Samson Koletar’s room in Oakland.  Samson is from Mumbai and came to Silicon Valley because he got a high-paying job in IT. He moved into a beautiful apartment near San Francisco’s Mission District. He said that, in Mumbai, his parents, his sister and he all lived in a one bedroom flat and the isolation of living alone in his fancy new American home was almost more than he could bear.

Samson started Comedy Oakland several years ago and its growth was very slow; but he persisted.   

The city of San Francisco was the center for sophisticated entertainment. Stand up demands intelligent listening to be enjoyed. Oakland, on the other hand, has a fluctuating population and the income and cultural levels are extremely varied. 

It has some of the most gorgeous and expensive places to live near scenic Lake Merritt. It is also one of the places famous for its drive-by shootings and immense consumption of drugs.

Lynn Ruth Miller alone on stage in Oakland

Sam continued to bring in good comedy to this area because it had no comedy at all and he knew eventually the shows would be accepted and be well attended. He succeeded. This time, Sam scheduled two shows back to back and the place was sold out.

Once again, I am faced with the question of what keeps us at it. Comedy is a thankless, stressful career, at best. At worst, it is the stuff of suicide. It is very stressful to get up on a stage and bare your heart to a bunch of strangers.  

I lived alone with no family and very few friends. Comedy was my lifeline and I hung on to it for dear life. I fed on the laughs no matter how sparse they were when I began.

I went for dinner with my friend, Judy Lawrence. I met her at the Park Movie Theatre when she was the manager there almost 40 years ago. We became fast friends and I saw her through some very difficult times. 

Her favorite nephew got brain cancer and died and Judy was torn apart. She went from one dead-end job to another and, between the ups and downs of her very challenging life, we would meet now and again. At one point when I was in my house in Pacifica, she had dyed her hair a bright green and pierced herself like a pin-cushion with rings everywhere – her tongue, her nose, her eyebrows, her ears. I asked her: “Why do you mutilate yourself like this?”.  

She said: ”Why did you have anorexia?” 

And the penny dropped.

I realized then that the only thing we can control is our bodies and, when life goes off the charts, we turn to our anatomy and force it to do our bidding.  

I starved and stuffed my body because it kept me from facing my many failures and inadequacies. Judy pierced hers trying to come to terms with the unfairness and cruelty of disease and loss.

Owning a house in San Francisco is beyond most of us and to my happy surprise, Judy now has her own little house in a beautiful and safe neighborhood of the city. She has a partner now and her mother lives with her as well and – surprise of all surprises – Judy works for Apple.

Apple in Silicon Valley (Photo: Carles Rabada via UnSplash)

She is now part of that top income level created by the Silicon Valley Greats that people say is destroying the city and erasing the middle class.

These very high-income professionals can pay outrageous prices for what they want and, in America, money is the only power that counts. 

Judy has a brand new car; she dresses in up-to-the-minute fashion. The rings are gone. Her hair is a conventional color. But, underneath, she is the same fun-loving and adventuresome Judy that I bonded with at the Park Theatre.  

Our circumstances change, but those basic impulses: compassion, kindness and adventure… we hang on to them. The difference is that, as we age and as our circumstances change, the way we express those tendencies becomes different, less impulsive and, perhaps, a bit more staid.

That night I had a sleep-over with my long-time friends Alan Schneider and Deidre Laiken. When I met them, they lived in San Francisco’s North Beach. They were originally from New York State and came west as so many of us did because we believed California was a magic place. And indeed it was – over ten years ago – when the two of them became part of that culture: jazz on Sunday afternoons, wild street entertainment every day and idyllic weather, never too hot or too cold.

Gradually, the ambience changed and Deidre tells the story of walking out her front door and being accosted by angry, demanding homeless people who blocked the streets with their sleeping bags and tents. The two decided to do what so many former Californians have done: move away from the city that had originally captured their hearts.  

They chose Folsom, an expanding community nearer to Sacramento than San Francisco. They found a condominium development with every amenity: a gym, a swimming pool, lovely walkways filled with foliage that encouraged birds to nest and a well-equipped clubhouse all at a cost far less than their two-bedroom flat in San Francisco. The weather is more extreme; the culture is just not there; but it is safe to walk outside at any time of the day or night.

To my surprise, both of them are ardent Trump supporters.  Alan explained that, although he has no respect for our president as a person, he believes in the things he has accomplished. Unemployment is down; the economy is up; he says minorities are prospering (?); and Donald Trump is making America greater every day.(???) 

“Donald Trump is making America greater every day (???)” (Image via Pixabay)

“The world is changing,” Alan went on to say. “Families are totally different; we live with our cell phones; we do not eat together; and young people cannot have the same dreams we had. Few of them will be able to buy a home; more of them will have to go to University if they want to earn a living; yet fewer of them can afford tuition; we meet people online instead of face to face. Children are living with their parents longer; they are more concerned about things we never even considered like abusing the environment and the artificial additives we put into food.”

I saw that change he was speaking of when I went out for dinner with another friend, Alan Kahn. This Alan is a teacher and a magician, involved now with a woman ten years his senior, who wants him to move to Oregon, a typical escape haven for people disenchanted with the Bay Area.  

Alan has had custody of his two children since his divorce many years ago. Both are in their twenties and are living at home. They are incensed that their father is charging them rent to live in his home now that they are older.  

He believes he is justified because he says they do nothing to help with the upkeep of the house and are earning enough to pay him for the cost of the utilities and huge taxes that every Californian has to pay. His daughter was so insulted that her father would charge her to live in what she feels is her home, that she has moved out and is paying twice as much rent for the privilege.

Alan is not happy with his job and would like to tour the country in a van performing at magic festivals, but his new partner is not too enthusiastic about that. And he says he cannot even consider such a move until both his son and daughter become self-supporting. Neither of the children have a partner and both of them not only have menial jobs that barely pay enough for food, but also do not have enough education to break into more lucrative professions.

It certainly is a new world. I left home as soon as I graduated from university to take a job my education had prepared me for. After my first divorce, I returned home and it never occurred to me that my parents would charge me to live there. My plan for my future was to marry and have children. The idea that I would not do such a thing – or that I would have to go to work to support myself after I married – would have horrified me.

Today, millennials do not leave home until they have to, marriage is in a steep decline and recreational sex is taken for granted.

Who knew?

… CONTINUED IN LOS ANGELES HERE

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Filed under California, Comedy, Poverty, Psychology, Sociology

I mistook someone else for me in comic Janet Bettesworth’s pre-novel ‘doodles’

She studied Fine Art & Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

Everyone inevitably makes instant judgments on people’s characters at first sight: solely on their looks. But we seldom see ourselves as others see us.

Comedian, art connoisseur and Grouchy Club regular Janet Bettesworth recently announced: “I’m going to write a novel by doodling the characters first.” She studied Fine Art and Photography at Hornsey College of Art.

She is currently posting drawings – she calls them ‘doodles’ – on her Facebook page and asks three questions for Facebook Friends to answer about each unknown person sketched. For example:

  • What is his name?
  • The love of his life?
  • His taste in furniture?

I recognised the 25th sketch was of fellow Grouchy Club regular Peter Stanford. Janet’s questions were:

Peter Stanford – airlifted to safety after a farming incident?

  • What’s his name?
  • His most recent airborne experience?
  • Way of organising a picnic?

Answers included:

  • His name is Nils, he was airlifted to safety after a farming incident. Picnics for him are rye bread & herring & fermented ale.
  • He used to get gigs as a Brian Blessed looky-like until he accidentally boarded an EasyJet to Finland, where he found a lot more work playing Santa to tourists, and now he drinks mulled wine all year round.

And, from Peter Stanford himself:

  • Definitely one of the gods in your novel. Cranach looks down at the mortals giving the Deserving pieces of good luck and mugs of tea. He is rarely airborne as he can transport himself between the godly and earthly realms instantaneously. His worshippers organise ‘Picnics’ (feasts held indoors in the colder months and only outside in high summer) for the poor and homeless – and anyone else – in his honour as part of their devotions, instead of building temples. When he was appearing on earth, he drank mugs of tea, which he shared with other people. “Don’t build any temples”, he told them. “Just organise picnics and tea.” The cult is always in danger of dying out.

A few days later, Peter pointed out to me that No 30 in Janet’s series looked a lot like me, though with different-shaped spectacles. I had a look and thought: Well, bugger me, that does look like it’s me!

The three questions Janet asked of her Facebook Friends were:

Is this me? – or Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge?

  • What is his name?
  • His opinion of Boris Johnson?
  • His chances of winning the Lottery?

The answers seemed to reflect more on the personality of the commentator rather than on me and tended to reflect British people’s somewhat unhealthy continuing obsession with Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

  • Glenn Thoresby. What he really thinks of Boris Johnson is unprintable here; enough to say he believes that the British people have been lied to mercilessly by this entitled upper-class toff who doesn’t give a monkey’s: a feckless, narcissistic, utterly irresponsible public school product, a marionette of Dominic-whom-nobody-voted-for-Cummings. Glenn’s chances of winning the Lottery are nil as he doesn’t buy the tickets. He believes they are an exploitative tax on the poor who, (like Brexit voters) think they have a chance to turn their fates around on a million to one statistical odds. This doesn’t stop him from buying raffle tickets occasionally, though, especially when the prize is a good bottle of plonk and/or the beneficiaries’ cause is a good one.
  • This is a cracking picture. I think his name is Peter Egg and he’s a foodie: a London restaurant critic who is zealous about plant-based foods to the extent that the smell of animal products cooking now makes him gag. Restaurants where he dines now have to put him in a separate room and block the doorframe with towels and wet loo paper to stop the offending molecules reaching his nose. He thinks Boris is an execrable pig or walking pork roast. He has no chance of winning the Lottery as he never enters. It only penetrates his consciousness when he goes to the theatre and sees its logo at the bottom of programmes for plays it has funded.

Janet Bettesworth – Edinburgh Fringe, 2012

  • Dimitri Dennis Zabaroski. He won’t win. He doesn’t do Lottery. Hates the foreign man who won up the road… they should fuck off back home. (Both parents immigrated to Luton in the ’50s.) He works at car plant locally and knows a lot of foreign people abuse the system. Likes Prince Andrew and his confidence. Likes Borris and wants to have a flag pole outside his house with Farage and Union flag. Council refused planning application. All foreign.
  • This is Piggott de Pfeffel-Partridge, known to his closest friends as 3Pee. He is a second cousin, once removed to Boris. He is immensely proud and fond of his childhood pal, with whom he roasted chestnuts and netted little jars of frogspawn when the families got together for camping trips. They frequently got their shorts mixed up, being almost identical in size and shape. They still swap Christmas jumpers, particularly the ones gifted by Rachel as she seems to find the ones with the rudest slogans… Piggott has enjoyed a varied career, which includes a brief spell as a fluffer in a Hollywood porn production company (he was sacked for making badly edited and shaky copies on his secret camera which discreetly attached to his paisley patterned cravat). He also worked as a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong, normally stationed outside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon but few tourists engaged his services due to his extremely eccentric hats and comedy Chinese moustaches… He eventually made his fortune writing haiku messages predicting the purchasers’ marriage prospects onto extremely dark and gloomy canvases which sell for many dollars all over the USA. In his own way, therefore, he has already won the lottery so has no need to buy tickets on the weekly National Lottery, which he disdains with a passion – matched only by that of his antipathy to the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission.

I contacted Janet, because I thought it would make an interesting blog to run her drawing of me with strangers’ character assessments of what this unknown person might be like.

But there was a snag…

She told me it was NOT a sketch of me at all: in fact, it was a sketch of her husband! She said he found the comments amusing – He does despise Boris Johnson, but he does do the Lottery.

Now Janet HAS included a sketch of me. Sadly with less interesting comments/suggestions. 

Does this Jewish man appreciate a good, well-shaped calf?

Her questions were:

  • What is his name?
  • His over-riding passion in life?
  • Way of dealing with problems? 

The responses include:

  • Manny Silverman. Loves small investments. Still dining out on making £35,000 on ‘Britcoin’ a couple of years ago. Cigars and coffee are how he copes with life’s complexities. Don’t mention the time he passed on Apple shares, though.
  • Godfrey was a prostate specialist and his hands could reach parts that others… but now volunteers at his local city farm delivering calves – His approach to life? He always gets stuck in and is happy to get his hands dirty
  • This is Howard Silver. He’s a nice East End Jewish boy now living in Southgate. He’s a life-long socialist and lives in a rented housing association flat that he got through Rachel, one of his cousins who works there. He doesn’t own anything, aside from the clothes on his back and a few sticks of furniture, all the books on Communism he’s read were borrowed never bought. He’s lifelong Labour, red through and through but was recently upset by the growing anti-Semitism in the party so he voted green for the first time ever in protest. He’s what Yiddish speakers would term a poor old nebbish.
  • His name is Frank Gibbins. He thinks that the world has become strange, impersonal and unnecessarily complicated… He seeks solace in the simplicity of nature and its instinctive laws, eg. the way that the ducklings follow the mother duck, the unquestioned authority of the silverback gorilla in setting the direction of his troop and keeping it in order… He likes to sit in the park for hours, observing the behaviour of humans as they centre themselves in selfies against the backdrop of the beautiful autumnal leaves or wander around oblivious to the creatures of the forest…Sometimes he’ll draw them in his book and imagine their thoughts.
  • Constantine Gras – because he looks the spit of a friend of mine called Constantine Gras. Well, what he’d look like in about 30 years. He’s tall – maybe 6’2. He’s an artist/filmmaker.
  • Who are these people? (Photograph: Jez Timms via UnSplash)

    Clive Earnshaw. Son of a bookkeeper and an apiarist, he has inherited a calm demeanour in all kinds of crisis situations, which served him well in his job as an emergency medical technician. His overriding passions in life are his sibling’s children, for whom he would do anything. His search for meaning led him to a retreat in the North African desert and he converted to the Sufic branch of Islam. His way of dealing with problems (apart from whirling) is to quote soothing aphorisms such as: This too will pass. He is deeply peaceful.

The trite lesson to be learned from all this?

People see totally different characters and backgrounds in exactly the same faces. Initial assumptions about people can – and very often are – wrong.

Peter Stanford’s view my sketch was:

  • This is Derek Milchman, a friend of No 30: that one which looks like him. They sometimes swap glasses and pretend to be each other. If this is a humorous book, with hilarious results; if a grim book, this leads to a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.

Janet replied: “I am not entirely in agreement. For students of phrenology and physiognomy, it may be observed that No. 30 has a receding jawline, whereas No. 39 has a protruding one. I do like the idea of a tragedy which ruins everyone’s lives.”

Comedy critic Kate Copstick, recognised me: “This is John Fleming!!!” And Peter Stanford asked Janet: “So what role are you going to give him in the novel?”

A “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait

She replied: “If you’re referring to the author of the Malcolm Hardee biography, the hands are too big and seem to be coated with some kind of white substance.”

Janet also told me that she had included a “slightly caricatured” very loose self-portrait – No 31 in the bunch.

And below are three more of her drawings.

Janet tells me: “I do two types of doodles – one where I’m basing it on a real person, and the other where I do random scribbles with my eyes closed, then a face gradually emerges out of the chaos, like seeing faces in the fire – that way is by far my favourite…”

One final comment and query from one of Janet’s Facebook Friends sums it all up, though: “I keep wondering why you’re writing a novel when you’re so ‘geniusly’ good at drawing – Or are you even better at writing?”

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Psychology, Writing

Comic Nathan Lang: “Self-loathing is not normal unless you are a comedian”

Nathan Lang is from Melbourne. He used to appear in the Australian TV soap Neighbours. But I know him from the London stand-up comedy circuit.

I got an email from him:

“For better or worse, I’m back in the UK. Yes I managed to have a baby in Perth and survive the existential breakdown that comes with living in the most isolated city in the world and now I’m back. 

“I’m running a Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney Winter Night Shelter again this year on Tuesday 3rd December. The line up is fantastic. Last year we sold out and raised much more money than expected, it’s a really wonderful night deep in the heart of artsy Hackney Wick.

“It’s not stand-up. The line-up a beautiful, colourful, lighthearted, crazy, unique acts that don’t do stand-up.”

So we had a chat. About two weeks ago.

And I have only just transcribed it.

I got severely side-tracked.

The charity cabaret is tomorrow. Mea Culpa. But, as with many of my blogs, we went way-off subject anyway…


Nathan, baby Chilli and Shelley Lang in Australia

NATHAN: My wife Shelley and I went to Perth on 25th November 2018 to have a baby. Shelley’s family live there. They emigrated from Scotland.

JOHN: I remember I was terribly impressed by your wife when I met her ages ago. Perhaps because she’s Scottish.

NATHAN: Because she’s Scottish, she is a radiant beauty and just the most exhilarating person. That’s definitely what impresses me about her.

JOHN: How long were you back in Australia?

NATHAN: Eight months. We came back on the 9th September 2019. Our daughter is ten months old now.

JOHN: Shelley must have been well-progressed in pregnancy when you got there.

NATHAN: We just scraped in. We really needed the family support and the health care in Australia is really amazing. 

JOHN: And the comedy?

NATHAN: The comedy scene in Perth is stand-up. A very small scene, but the standard is really high. The quality really pushed me to improve quite a lot. It’s similar to a Brighton crowd. They go out; they want to have a really good evening of laughs. Great audiences and one pro comedy club. Just stand-up. It’s stand-up or cabaret there and their version of cabaret is really highly-skilled circus acts who take their clothes off.

JOHN: I want to go there.

NATHAN: Then it’s probably worth that 30-hour journey. 

JOHN: Australia is a faraway place.

NATHAN: And Perth is the most isolated city in the world and it feels like it too.

JOHN: So what are you doing on 4th December, the day after your Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: That’s my day with chilli.

JOHN: With what?

NATHAN: That’s my day with Chilli – my daughter – Her name is Chilli Bobcat.

JOHN: She’s going to get hell in school with those names.

NATHAN: I was going to call her Strawberry until a friend said: “Remember she’ll go to school one day.”

JOHN: So Bobcat is better?

NATHAN: My middle name is Luke.

JOHN: Biblical?

NATHAN: No, my father used to work for a company that distributed cutlery and our cutlery drawer was full of knives and forks that had ‘Luke’ printed on them… I am named after kitchen cutlery.

JOHN: But, basically, you think Bobcat is a more feminine name than Strawberry?

NATHAN: No, Strawberry was going to be her first name but Shelley came up with the brilliant idea of calling her Chilli – after the pepper – which is a cool name.

JOHN: So why Bobcat…?

NATHAN: On Christmas Day, Shelley and I were sober. She was heavily pregnant. Her Scottish family, obviously, were steaming and we said they could choose a middle name. We had not told them whether it was going to be a boy or girl, so they chose a unisex middle name – Bobbie. But then, knowing her first name, we obviously couldn’t call her Chilli Bobbie.

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: The rhythm of that and the two double consonants…

JOHN: So Chilli Bobcat is better than Chilli Bobbie?

NATHAN: We squeezed Cat in because my grandmother’s name was Kathleen.

JOHN: Just to recap… You had thought Strawberry was a good name…

NATHAN: Just for a while… Do you know it’s illegal to call your kid ‘Strawberry’ – ‘Fraise’ – in France?

This would be illegal in France if a child (Photo: Irene Kredenets via UnSplash)

JOHN: Why?

NATHAN: Bullying. There is a list of names you cannot call your kid in France – ‘Hitler’ is one of them.

JOHN: Strawberry is on a level with Hitler in France?

NATHAN: It’s child protection. Social Services. For the welfare of the child. They care about their children’s future in France.

JOHN: They don’t want a future generation of fruits?

NATHAN: Who knows. But Chilli Bobcat Lang: it has a nice ring to it.

JOHN: I think the surname lets it down. It’s a bit ordinary after Chilli Bobcat.

NATHAN: She might just call herself CB. Or she might go by a symbol like Prince did for a while. It might be her first squiggle on a piece of paper. Or she might change her name from Bobcat. She might prefer Caracal.

JOHN: Caracal?

NATHAN: It’s a type of cat that lives in the savannah desert. They jump really high and catch birds in mid-air.

JOHN: Anyway, so what ARE you doing after the Hackney charity gig?

NATHAN: I’m always pursuing my acting career.

JOHN: You seem happy.

NATHAN: It’s the anti-depressants.

JOHN: You’re on them?

Nathan Lang at St Pancras station, London

NATHAN: Yeah. You have obviously never lived in Perth.

After my daughter was born, I had a psychological breakdown and was put on very strong anti-depressants immediately and entered into depth psychotherapy analytic psychotherapy – which was well overdue.

JOHN: Because of Perth?

NATHAN: Well, I can’t blame Perth any more than I can blame my parents, really.

JOHN: Why was it long overdue?

NATHAN: It’s not like I had a psychosis or anything. I had a very sudden intensification of what turned out to be a pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety that I had been living with for so many years I just thought it was normal.

But, after speaking to a GP and a therapist, I was led quite quickly to realise it’s not normal to wake up every day under a huge weight, a huge pressure of knowing that everything you do all day is never going to be good enough and you are going to punish yourself for everything at the end of the day as you run through every single thing you’ve said and done in your mind or just drink yourself to sleep.

It’s not normal to exist in every waking – and sleeping – moment in a state of constant self-loathing and believing you’re a worthless piece of shit… unless you are a comedian, in which case of course (LAUGHS) it IS normal.

So… yes… anti-depressants are wonderful… I feel like I got myself back… and I got my joy back.

JOHN: And you are OK now?

NATHAN: I’m able to be an engaged and joyful father. I was really, really worried about what Chilli would absorb. And it was so hard on Shelley. The first few months of being a new mother AND having me falling apart was… I tried my best to hold together but your most intimates see what’s happening.

JOHN: Men are not supposed to get post-natal depression.

NATHAN: Well, they do, though I have never met one who will admit he has. But I don’t think that’s what I had. It was not a sudden, acute affliction. It was just the exacerbation of a feeling that I was already quite familiar with.

JOHN: I guess women get post-natal depression because they suddenly realise the full enormity of what they’ve let themselves in for.

NATHAN: I heard some interviews with British women who suffered postpartum psychosis and they were sectioned immediately after their children were born and those stories were horrendous.

JOHN: Why did you come back to the UK?

NATHAN: Our careers.

JOHN: What is Shelley?

NATHAN: A trainee psychotherapist.

JOHN: That’s useful.

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology, UK

The greatest hits and the Jungian psychology of a London dominatrix

So I know this dominatrix.

Not professionally.

On Friday, we had a chat in London, at McDonalds in The Strand.

Outside, Extinction Rebellion protesters were blocking traffic in the street.


JOHN: So you are starting an online blog – The Dominatrix Diary. Why?

M.PSYCHE: Because I think it’s a good place to store the information and I want to develop an online presence.

JOHN: What’s your dominatrix name?

M.PSYCHE: BDSM Butterfly: Mistress Psyche.

JOHN: Why Psyche?

M.PSYCHE: It means butterfly in Greek. And I have an interest in the mental side – ‘mental’ as in the mind side, not the crazy side – of BDSM. The stuff that’s most interesting to me is the mental control of people rather than any actual physical domination.

JOHN: You have an urge to mentally control people?

M.PSYCHE: (LAUGHS) It gives people space to relax in a safe way.

JOHN: So being whipped is relaxing?

M.PSYCHE: It is for some people. I had  guy who wanted me to nail his testicles to a board.

JOHN: Not his actual testicles?

M.PSYCHE: No. The scrotum sac. 

JOHN: And he found this relaxing?

M.PSYCHE: He fell asleep while I was doing it.

JOHN: You’re joking.

M.PSYCHE: No.

JOHN: How long did it take?

M.PSYCHE: How many carpet tacks can you fit round a testicle?

JOHN: It’s not an area I have any expertise in.

M.PSYCHE: He found it relaxing. It gave him space where he didn’t have to think… 

JOHN: Surely the thought that one of his testicles might be accidentally nailed to a board might keep him awake?

M.PSYCHE: He trusted me.

JOHN: The impression I get is that a lot of the clients for this sort of thing are men in positions of power – bankers, top executives, the masters of industry and let’s not even mention Cabinet Ministers and judges…

M.PSYCHE: Yes.

JOHN: …and I can’t understand why people who have spent their entire working lives wanting to dominate and actually dominating other people should want to be dominated.

M.PSYCHE: Well, for powerful men who have to be in charge all the time in their jobs, it’s quite mentally intensive so, to go to someone… with the pain, the bondage, the scrotum-nailing… it’s not the actual experience itself, it’s the space it creates in their mind to be able to relax inside yourself and have some time off.

JOHN: You surely can’t relax if you’re expecting the next stroke of the whip on your back or a cane on your buttocks or carpet tacks in your scrotum. You’re anticipating not relaxing.

M.PSYCHE: Not necessarily… SOME people ARE just into pain. They are going to be excitedly expectant and awake and aware that the next stroke of the whip is coming. 

JOHN: Are you telling me they are not the predominant type?

M.PSYCHE: Most of the sessions I do involve relaxing people and putting them into a submissive space where they can relax.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in stiletto heels…

JOHN: So you are like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?

M.PSYCHE: (LAUGHS) Yes… in stiletto heels and a leather skirt.

JOHN: Getting back to powerful men like politicians and the captains of industry… Is it not that, even though they are tied-up, they are still in control because you are doing to them what they tell you to do? So the person being dominated is actually dominating the dominatrix?

M.PSYCHE: People say that. I don’t think it’s true. I am definitely in charge of all my sessions. Beforehand, they tell me what they want me to do and then I will facilitate it, but I am definitely in charge when it happens.

JOHN: Surely, if I come along to you and say: “Hello, missus, I want you to nail my balls to a plank,” surely I am in charge – You are doing my bidding.

M.PSYCHE: No because, once you enter the ‘play space’, you hand over the power. I have to decide in advance if it’s safe and sane and consensual and then, as soon as the session starts, I’m in charge.

JOHN: Presumably you have ‘safe’ words.

M.PSYCHE: No. You can tell the difference between someone enjoying something – even pain – and not enjoying it… I mean, I’m not a sadist. I’m not interested in moving beyond the point of them enjoying it.

JOHN: The first stories you have posted on your blogsite are… erm… quirky.

M.PSYCHE: I’m picking out the more eccentric fetishes and… Well, to be honest, most of them ARE quite eccentric. There’s the Welsh guy who gets turned-on by inflatable PVC bananas and the optician who wanted to see things. He wanted me to give him some quasi-religious experience in the basement of a famous high street chemist’s shop.

JOHN: I’ve had a bad back for the last three weeks and had to see three osteopaths. One of them has several clients who are dominatrices because they have to do a lot of odd movements – I guess like whipping and caning – so they get what I suppose are repetitive strain injuries.

M.PSYCHE: Well, I don’t do those sort of sessions. I don’t do much whipping and beating and things…

JOHN: There’s scrota-nailing…

M.PSYCHE: …I mostly do transformative stuff. People know what I’m offering and, if they want a hard-core pain session, I’m not really the person to do it. They will go somewhere else.

JOHN: I’ve not seen your online pitch for clients…

M.PSYCHE: It just lists my interests. And there are reviews on the site where I advertise where people leave reviews of the sort of sessions they’ve had from me. I don’t deal with hardcore masochists. The review I have right at the top at the moment says: “She’s a sensitive and very lovely spiritual girl”… which (LAUGHS) isn’t particularly useful. I had to add underneath it: “I do like to give the client the session they request.”

That particular guy wanted me to gag him. I went along to meet him at a hotel in Park Lane and he took me for dinner and told me all about the fact a court had placed a ‘gagging order’ on him. He talked about it and that seemed to be all he needed to do. So I got dinner and a bottle of perfume. He just wanted someone to talk to.

JOHN: You must have turned some people down…?

M.PSYCHE: I only turn people down who want sex.

JOHN: Nothing so bizarre you don’t want to do it?

M.PSYCHE: No. I like interesting, bizarre stuff. Though there was one guy who wanted to be ‘un-gayed’. He wanted me to rape him with a dildo, which he hoped would un-gay him. I told him: “I’m not going to do that, because you’re gay and what you want is dangerous. It could cause internal physical damage.” He wasn’t looking to enjoy being ‘raped’; he was looking to be physically damaged to be put-off being ‘bummed’.

JOHN: So he was encouraging physical damage.

M.PSYCHE: Yes. So I said No.

JOHN: So you are more interested in… what?

M.PSYCHE: What I do is a sort-of renegade form of therapy. I’ve tried to help people but obviously, if you try to help people too much, it stops being sexually exciting. Which is not what they want.

One of Mistress Psyche’s Dominatrix Diary blogs

JOHN: So why am I not interested in BDSM? I’m just a tad too dull? I’ve had enough emotional pain; I don’t need physical pain, thankyou very much.

M.PSYCHE: You might have a different form of masochism. I mean, I’m an emotional masochist. I like being slapped-about emotionally.

JOHN: Being unhappy?

M.PSYCHE: Yes. That’s my type of masochism.

JOHN: So you have analysed yourself.

M.PSYCHE: Yeah. I know absolutely all of my mental illnesses and conditions. I know what they are; I know how they get triggered; I know how to manage them.

JOHN: So you never get over-emotional?

M.PSYCHE: Well, I’ve figured out how to manage that. But is over-emotionality a sign of mental illness? What is considered ‘sane’ and ‘insane” changes over time. Being gay used to be presented as being… It’s all very dubious. I mean, they were still lobotomising people until the 1960s. That’s the nature of mental health: very fluid and also very culturally determined and that’s why it’s all quite dubious. I’m very glad I figured out all my stuff before I went to… I mean, I have never been to an actual doctor.

JOHN: You mean to a psychiatric doctor…

M.PSYCHE: Yes. Or to an actual doctor. Because I would have been prescribed things and I would have been given ‘diagnoses’ that are actually very unhelpful and limiting.

I had a random consultation when I was doing another job and this woman told me that, probably because I was abused, I have borderline personality disorder. Which has become much more mild. But they give you drugs for that. And actually NOT having the drugs has meant that I have been able to manage it myself and get it under control rather than using medication which just suppresses it.

I have a friend who was also abused who went to a psychiatrist after a breakdown and they basically just papered-over it. She’s still really mental. They just gave her drugs and coping strategies whereas, because mine is DIY, I seem to have done it at a deeper level and actually got to the roots of stuff and sorted out the real underlying issues causing problems. It’s about creating balance in yourself. It’s basically the Jungian idea that you’ve got light and dark.

A little bit Jung; a little bit old yin-yang

JOHN: Jungian or yin and yangian?

M.PSYCHE: Jungian AND yin/yang and Zen and all these things that exist on a spectrum inside you and you need to find ways of balancing them and, if you can’t do it in one way, you have to do it in another.

JOHN: I’m not up on Jungian stuff.

M.PSYCHE: Basically, you have a shadow self. You can use these things as an access point to understand your shadow and integrate it because, in the West, we have a very disintegrated sense of identity and this is why you end up with these bizarre fetishes.

JOHN: Why?

M.PSYCHE: Because we are disintegrated as individuals. We have stuff which is acceptable; we have stuff which is unacceptable – all the taboo stuff which you actually need to accept as being an essential part of your human psyche. This is why people don’t function properly: that they can’t just accept these things are actually an aspect of them.

JOHN: Being healthy is balancing the yin and yang…

M.PSYCHE: Yes, exactly. It’s a counterbalance. That’s what I’m interested in. That’s why I’m called Mistress Psyche.

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