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What a Soviet sleeper agent told me about the Russians invading countries…

Once upon a time, in the 1990s, I was going to write the ‘autobiography’ of an Italian man who was a ‘sleeper agent’ for the USSR. We chatted in Ashkabad, London, Pantelleria, Rome and various other Italian cities.

The ‘autobiography’ fell through because of various complicated reasons. Now he is dead. Here is an extract from what he told me… Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…


In December 1979, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and I was on the Russian/Afghan border.

The attack on Afghanistan was totally stupid. No reason for it. And, in Afghanistan, the Russians did something much worse than the Americans ever did in Vietnam. The Americans committed their My Lai massacres, but they were not part of an official policy; with the Russians, it was a planned military strategy. 

I was told this story by a Ukrainian friend….

He spoke the local Afghan languages fluently and was employed by the Soviet government as an agent in Afghanistan just before and during their war there. My friend told me the Soviets extensively employed Central Asians and Caucasian Muslims – mainly Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks and Turkmen – whom they equipped with sophisticated personal weapons and sent into Afghanistan to act as killing squads, acting freely and independent of the Soviet and Afghan government armies. They belonged to the worst segments of Soviet society and one of the first things they did was to play a double game, make contact with the Afghan rebels and sell them weapons. Later, they became bandits inside Afghanistan, which is what they had been in their home countries.

My friend was once travelling from Herat in north west Afghanistan across the border to the town of Mary in Turkmenistan and he was robbed by one of these bands. They took his Kalashnikovs and jeep and everything else and he had to walk most of the way.

I was occasionally inside Afghanistan myself during the war and what I saw was complete anarchy. Being a closed Soviet war, there was none of the press cover, dialectics and moral niceties of the American war in Vietnam. It was simply a criminal action run by the criminals who by now ran the Soviet Union and they were fighting utter barbarians – The Afghans are nothing less than that.

We could go into complicated sociological analysis, but we wouldn’t get very far. The problem with true colonial wars is that your enemies really are savages and it is better not to be caught because they will cut you to pieces. When the Italians were famously defeated by the Ethiopians at Adwa in 1896, all 2,000 Italian prisoners were sent back castrated. In Afghanistan, some Russians were skinned alive.

The fact is that, in Afghanistan, everybody killed each other just for the sheer excitement of it and neither side was fighting for any principle. You could buy anything and everything across the border in Pakistan because the Russian soldiers were prepared to sell anything. Both the Russians in Afghanistan and the Americans in Vietnam lost their war and one reason is that they were racist. Every army, for psychological reasons, has to look on the enemy as inferiors. But the Americans in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan looked on their own local allies as inferiors; that is a recipe for total disaster.

As far as I understand it, the South Vietnamese Army was not a rotten, corrupt mess. It started out being efficient and had well-motivated, committed soldiers; many were massacred because of their commitment after the North Vietnamese won. But the Americans showed contempt for their South Vietnamese allies just as the Russians despised their Afghan allies – as they did all Central Asians. You cannot win if you despise your own side.

An imperial power can win a war in a Third World country provided its immense economic and military resources are channelled towards at least one section of the population and you treat them as your equals. If you don’t, you will lose. When the British fought an open war against guerrilla insurgents in Malaya – and their secret war in Oman 1967-1975 – they never underestimated their allies. They never despised the local population and they succeeded because they used their energy very selectively by reinforcing segments of the country which would eventually unify the state. 

Historically, the British seldom underestimated the people they conquered, but they stayed very aloof. In India, they kept themselves apart from the Indians, they socialised in their own clubs and took elite, controlling jobs for themselves. The Russians, on the other hand, sent settlers into all their colonies and they permeated every layer of society doing even menial jobs. When the time came to leave India, the British could virtually walk to the boats and leave en masse; very few stayed and most of those were in good consultancy and supervisory roles. The Russians ended up poor, isolated from their homeland, trapped into staying doing menial jobs, being mechanics and driving taxis in their former colonies.

Yet people who lived under the British Empire tended not to dislike the Brits. Whereas people who lived under Soviet domination did hate the Russians. I don’t know the reason for that, but perhaps it was because the Russians, like the Turks of the Ottoman Empire before them, were not so visibly superior to the peoples they conquered. The British – although they did not rub the conquered people’s noses in it – had a far more visible superiority to the nations they conquered – in technology, finance, social structure and military power. It was, perhaps, more acceptable to be ruled by the British than by the less-wealthy and less-organised Russians or Turks. The Russians are also disliked in their former colonies because they were very violent towards the locals.

The Americans failed in Vietnam despite their immense military power because they had a superiority complex and, ironically, the direct result was that they lost badly to a more lightly equipped guerrilla army. The Russians were beaten out of Afghanistan for much the same reason and in much the same way and now the fundamentalist Taliban have taken over, backed by the appalling Pakistan government. The end result of both wars was the worst of all worlds for the defeated Russians and the defeated Americans.

The Americans should have learned their most basic lesson in World War Two at Monte Cassino, where other countries fought on their behalf. They are a great industrial nation and, so long as they use their factories, workers and capital, they can win any war. But they must never get involved in fighting an actual war themselves. They were not at Monte Cassino because they got themselves bogged down fighting at Anzio.

Hollywood provides perfectly suitable substitutes for Americans who want to fight wars but with none of the attendant dangers you encounter in real ones. In 1975, with the disaster of Vietnam upon them, the Americans partly learned this lesson and soon afterwards combined their two great strengths. Having got out of the War, they elected a Hollywood actor (Ronald Reagan) as President and then, by running a military and industrial race and evoking the name of a movie, Star Wars, they rapidly defeated the Russians.

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The surreal UK Covid-19 self-isolation advice: Franz Kafka meets Catch-22..

(Image by TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay)

On the morning of Christmas Day, I tested positive twice for Covid on a lateral flow test, although I had no symptoms. That same day, I was able to walk in to a PCR test area and get that more definite test. Two days later, that test, too, came back positive. 

I had taken two lateral flow tests (morning and evening) on Christmas Eve which had been negative.

Current UK government guidelines for England said I should isolate for up to ten days from my first positive test. ie until Tuesday 4th January. But, if I took a lateral flow test which was negative on Day 6 and, 24 hours later, on Day 7, the rules said I could stop self-isolating.

On the evening of Christmas Day – the day I first tested positive – I had some internal flu-like shivers overnight; and the next night some lesser internal shivers. And, for the first four or five days of self-isolation, I had a new and persistent hard-edged hacking cough. 

But, by Day 6, I was back to having no real symptoms. 

However, on Days 6 and 7, I still tested positive for Covid.

Positive, too, on Days 8 and 9.

On Day 9 – that’s today – I phoned the government’s 119 Covid advice line because my attention had been drawn to the government’s own online advice, updated on 30th December.

The online advice said (and says):

“You should not take any more LFD tests (ie lateral flow tests) after the 10th day of your isolation period and you may stop self-isolating after this day.”

But presumably only if you test negative?… No. It doesn’t say that.

It continues:

“This is because you are unlikely to be infectious after the 10th day of your self-isolation period and should not take any more LFD tests after this date.

The italics are mine. And there is no time period mentioned.

What is said – and still clearly says – is that you should stop self-isolating after 10 days come what may and, in theory at least, you should never again under any circumstances at any point take any other lateral flow test.

Obviously that cannot be the intended advice – that you should never again take a lateral flow test. 

But the advice is clearly that, whether you test negative or positive on Days 9 and 10, you should stop self-isolating and re-join society.

This sounds mad and, I thought, cannot be the actual advice so, like I said, I phoned the 119 Covid advice line set up by the government.

Their on-the-phone advice was that, as a person triple-jabbed with vaccine, if I test positive on Day 10, I should self-isolate for 10 days although I could un-isolate if I test negative on Days 6 and 7.

“But,” I said, “the government website says I should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10, so I won’t be able to know if I test positive or negative on Day 6 and 7 of the new self-isolation period without taking a lateral flow test which, the advice says, I should not do.”

“That’s right,” I was told. “You should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10.”

“But, if I have to self-isolate after testing positive on Day 10, tomorrow, how can I know on Day 6 or 7 of isolating if I am positive or negative?”

“If you are negative you can stop isolating, otherwise you have to keep isolating until Day 10, at which point you can stop taking the lateral flow tests.”

“But I would not know if I were positive or negative without taking a lateral flow test and the government says, after Day 10, I should not take a lateral flow test.”

“If you do test positive, you have to isolate for another 6 days or until you have done 10 days in isolation and then you can stop isolating and do not have to do the lateral flow tests.”

They say Frank Kafka died on 3rd June 1924. I am not sure. 

I have always been attracted to surreality but there are limits.

I am going to return to daily life after Day 10 while keeping a healthy, well-masked distance from people and will wantonly keep taking daily lateral flow tests even though I have no symptoms. If I have two consecutive days where the tests have negative results, I will feel less wary… though not of bureaucracy.

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Having Covid now in the US – Day 19

(Photograph by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay)

A couple of days ago, on New Year’s  Eve, Mick Deacon appeared in this blog – He is an Englishman temporarily living in the US.

I am currently self-isolating in the UK because I tested positive for Covid on the morning of Christmas Day. Currently in England the rules are that, if that happens, you have to isolate for up to 10 days, though you can re-emerge if you test negative- 24 hours apart – on two consecutive days from Day 6 onwards.

I am currently on Day 8, still testing positive, though I have no apparent symptoms.

In the US, Mick is currently on Day 19 of being infected.

He has symptoms.

I thought it would be interesting to extract his progression from the various emails he has sent me.

He is over in the US temporarily to see his girlfriend. 

His first e-mail references him returning to the UK at some point… He had his first two vaccine jabs in the UK but his third jab – the booster – in the US.


DECEMBER 13th 2021

I hope I won’t have problems on the way back as I’ve had the booster here. I told my UK GP’s surgery the day after and they said just bring the card in and we will add the details. 

DECEMBER 16th

I got Covid a couple of days ago. I’m going with the notion of I might as well get it over with now and hopefully get more immunity.

It is like being hit by a truck while someone sticks needles into you whilst barely having the energy to stand up. Not an attractive cocktail. 

I have now had the two AstraZeneca jabs and the Pfizer booster but it was just over a week after having the booster when I got Covid. So maybe it had no time to kick in.

I’ve got health insurance but am trying to not see a doctor. Being ill in a foreign country, even with insurance, makes you feel very vulnerable. 

I am isolating and better than I was yesterday thankfully. 

My girlfriend hasn’t got it but it’s weird isn’t it? My handyman in the UK got it the eve he had been working at my place and everyone else apart from me got it, I felt kinda smug and healthy at that point. 

Over here, people on the whole aren’t careful at all. Bloody Americans.

DECEMBER 19th

It’s quite strange… Mornings are the worst – very weak and dizzy but, with the help of painkillers, the day begins to get better. 

The fatigue is horrendous but I’m improving and I can string a sentence together now in the morning which at first I couldn’t. 

I don’t like being ill and abroad, but there’s nothing I can do about that now. 

It is bloody awful.

DECEMBER 23rd

Still testing positive for Covid. Just waiting for the results of today’s test. 

DECEMBER 25th

Merry Xmas 

I kinda looked at it like, by the law of averages, I was going to get it, so thought it was better to get it over with – to look on the bright side! 

DECEMBER 27th

Just got a cough now that doesn’t want to go.

I get tired quite quickly, but improving. 

DECEMBER 29th

I had one good day when I thought it was all done with. Then I started coughing again and I feel shattered again. Not as bad as before though. 

DECEMBER 30th

Weirdly, the last 4 days, I keep getting bouts of nausea and coughing fits and fatigue. 

I don’t think my booster had time to kick in before I got this. I was only on day 7. 

Numbers are raging here, but they are just carrying on with everything. 

JANUARY 1st, 2022

I was really ill yesterday. I keep having attacks of nausea, headache and stomach ache. Feel very weak again today. I was already worn out when I first got this, so it’s slightly my own fault. 

I just fell asleep for 2 hours. Not like me at all. 

JANUARY 2nd

I keep waking up with a bad but peculiar-feeling headache and I keep getting bouts of really bad stomach ache and nausea…

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An Englishman in the US with Covid reflects on some cultural differences…

(Photograph: Alexandra Koch via Pixabay)

Back in November 2018, I wrote a blog about a man I know called Mick Deacon, an Englishman visiting the US; he has a girlfriend there – possibly an ex-girlfriend. 

Back in 2018, he was talking to me about the US mid-term elections. At the time, he was living in the working class heartland of Donald Trump’s America. 

Recently, he went back to the US to re-visit his girlfriend – possibly ex-girlfriend – in the same city.

Donald Trump is no longer President and, replacing him, the Covid-19 pandemic has been getting all the headlines worldwide.

Mick currently has the relatively new Omicron variant of Covid.

We chatted via FaceTime.


TUESDAY 21st DECEMBER

JOHN: You look very healthy.

MICK: I certainly don’t feel it. I feel absolutely awful. It came on really fast. The first day I just thought Oh! I’ve got a cold! That’s weird! because I had not encountered anyone with a cold, I had been wearing my mask and I just thought: Oh, that’s a bit odd! That first day, I just went to bed.

Then it came on at a rate of knots.

The following day I thought: I REALLY don’t feel well! It was like total exhaustion. My legs could barely lift me up. It was like flu times three. My head was pounding; like someone sticking little needles into your head. So I took a lateral flow test – I had brought a box with me from the UK – and it was positive. I had never had a positive test before.

JOHN: Had you had the ‘booster’ jab?

MICK: Yes, but I don’t think my booster had had time to kick in before I got this. It was on day 7 after the booster. 

I got the booster vaccination here in the US which was relatively easy, possibly because my girlfriend had had a chat with a bloke at the clinic and had explained the situation. 

Even so, they started off with the attitude: Ugh! This is gonna be really complicated because you’re English! 

They asked me: “What’s your Insurance Number?’

“I haven’t got an Insurance Number, because I’m English.”

“Oh… uh…”

I thought they weren’t going to give me the injection, but then the guy who my girlfriend had spoken to went: “Right. It’s fine. We’ll just do it.” And there was no charge. I mean, they sometimes pay people to have it here; sometimes they pay you $100 to have the jab. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to us Brits in the US.

Anything you think you have to do like a PCR test, if you go to the testing place as a British person, it’s like: “Can I see your, erm, your card, your ID… Well, that doesn’t look like a…”

“Well, no, I’m English…”

“I’ve never seen one of these before…”

“That’s because I’m English. I’m a tourist. A visitor. You allow visitors now. From across the sea.”

You just don’t want to have that administrative headache unless you have to.

My girlfriend said to me this morning: “I’m going to take you to hospital.”

I told her: “I don’t want to go to the hospital. I am managing it.”

If I suddenly got worse, I would have to. But, as an English person with insurance, you know that, even though you’ve got insurance, it isn’t going to be easy because… I had an accident before where I burnt myself on a kettle in the US… The insurance company took two years to pay out.

You really really really don’t want to have to go to the insurance company because it’s never simple. You have to jump through so many hoops.

People moan about the NHS back in the UK, but it’s always there. It’s horrible being ill abroad because that safety blanket of the NHS is not there. 

JOHN: The medical side of the NHS is wonderful, but the bureaucracy is horrendously incompetent. Like all bureaucracies.

MIKE: I really don’t want to end up in hospital in America.

JOHN: You told me Lateral Flow Tests, which are free in the UK, were $20 for two in the US.

MIKE: Yes. Thank God President Biden is now saying we can have the Lateral Flow home tests for free from today. But, as a British person, I probably can’t get them. 

JOHN: When did you first test positive?

MIKE: It started on Tuesday last week, so it’s a week today.

JOHN: You’re still testing positive…

MIKE: Yeah. As of this morning. I don’t have a very good immune system, which is why I’ve been so careful in the past.

JOHN: I know you reacted badly to the second jab…

MIKE: First and second. I’ve had pneumonia in the past and other stuff and it takes me a while to get better.

JOHN: I’ve always been pretty healthy. Just this calcium/kidney problem for the last two years. At least your mind seems clear.

MIKE: Ha!

JOHN: Someone else I know in the UK has it: Jane Hicks. You know her?

MICK: No.

JOHN: She got it last week. She says she has no energy; she feels like a rag. She also had it early last year – around March 2020 – and her sense of taste and smell hasn’t really recovered from that even now. She’s got it again despite the fact she was triple-jabbed.

MICK: She’s got Omicron this time?

JOHN: Apparently when they do the PCR test, they just say you have the Coronavirus; they don’t tell you which variation.

Also a friend’s 10-year-old daughter had it about a couple of weeks ago. She got over it but, as of about an hour ago, her stepmother has it. But her mother hasn’t got it – and the kid slept with her mother for all of her 10 days of isolation. 

MICK: Her mother was triple-jabbed with the vaccine?

JOHN: Yes but so was Jane Hicks and the 10-year-old’s stepmother.

MICK: My girlfriend refuses to take a lateral flow test. She says: “I’m OK because I’ve had three jabs.” But, then, so have I. And I got it. 

I took two tests this morning. My girlfriend says she has no symptoms so doesn’t need to take the test.

JOHN: But there are asymptomatic people roaming about possibly infecting people.

MICK: Absolutely. I’ve told her she could be carrying it. But she says: “No, I’ve got loads to do. I’ll just get on with it.”

She doesn’t take any tests. She thinks she’s invincible because she’s jabbed.

She’s just going round doing what she wants to do as normal. She’s going to the Capitol today because she’s buying a plot of land to build a house on. She wanted me to go with her. 

I said: “It’s not fair is it, if I go and somebody catches it off me, because I definitely have it.”

There are hardly any precautions here. A blissful sense of Oh! It’s not happening here!… and then it is and then it isn’t… It depends who you listen to. You listen to the News and it’s Omicron is coming! Omicron is coming! It’s like…

JOHN: …a Coca-Cola commercial.

MICK: Everything that happens in Britain happens here but a bit later… when you realise it. But they don’t seem to realise it until way after the horse has bolted.

JOHN: The British News yesterday was saying that, in America, the sudden announcement had been made that Omicron was all over America, as if from nowhere.

MICK: Yeah, that’s what it was like. They said: “Oh, we’ve found one Omicron case” and then…

JOHN: So what’s your downmarket neighbourhood like? Are they anti-vaxxers?

MICK: Errr… It’s kinda like… It’s kinda kept like a bit of a secret, I think, as to whether you are or you aren’t.

I am 100% certain I caught this from the bar that me and my girlfriend go to every Sunday. She insisted I go. I said to her: “It’s terrifying in here, because there’s at least 70 people here and only six of us with masks on and people are sweating all over me, dancing behind me. The sweat was flying past me. People came up and just grabbed and hugged her – and me.” 

JOHN: Very un-British.

MICK: I remember thinking last Sunday: Right! Which one of these is going to give me Covid? When I came down with it on the Tuesday, my girlfriend said to me: “It’s when you’re out on your bike, cycling to the park. That’s when you’ve caught it. The virus is airborne.”

I said: “I didn’t catch it outdoors when there’s just me cycling along alone.”

JOHN: She thinks out in the fresh air you’re going to catch it but in a crowded bar you’re not?

MICK: Yes. In a crowded bar with sweat flying through the air. She thinks that’s fine. You won’t catch it if you’re vaccinated. People of all ages… no masks on. In Britain, at least we step back a bit from other people. I always just air-hug friends in Britain. I mean, they’re still gonna have Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

JOHN: When’s that?

MICK: This coming March. They were talking about it on the TV this morning and I thought: Is everyone here mad? Because Omicron is well-and-truly on its way. Last year there were really high numbers after Mardi Gras. People come from all over and from different countries. It spread like wildfire last year. New Orleans was one of the worst places.

JOHN: Scotland has just cancelled Hogmanay in Edinburgh. The Scottish government didn’t like the thought of 20,000 people hugging each other.

MICK: Well, all that hugging – it’s very un-Scottish.


That conversation took place on 21st December.

It is now New Year’s Eve, 31st December.

I got in touch with Mick again last night to see how he currently is. It is now 17 days since he first tested positive. 

He told me: “The last four days, I keep getting bouts of nausea and coughing fits and lots of fatigue.”

In the ten days since we had the blog conversation above, the 10-year-old’s father has tested positive for Covid; the 10-year-old’s mother has tested positive; and, on the morning of Christmas Day, I tested positive for Covid. All three of us had been triple-jabbed. I am currently in self-isolation, as required under the current rules.

… CONTUNUED HERE

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Now the UK National Health Service wants me to attend a nuclear facility…

My last blog was about the reliability of the NHS – You can always rely on their organisational arrangements to be in total chaos.

Basically, I was told that a Renal hospital appointment I never had was being moved to a date which doesn’t exist. I was told that the new appointment was on Tuesday 20th November – but 20th November is actually a Saturday. 

The same message also said I should attend the “Kidney & Urology Dept on Wednesday”… with no time nor date mentioned.

Neither the previous non-existent appointment nor the previous non-existent new date were on a Wednesday.

None of the above has been sorted out yet.

So imagine my lack of surprise when I got home around 8.00pm last night to find I had received a letter about a totally different new hospital appointment unrelated to the other two (or it might be three) previously confused appointments.

I have ongoing calcium level and kidney function problems which put me in hospital last May and this July. 

The previous confused communication had been about the hospital Renal (ie Kidney) Dept and the Kidney & Urology Dept.

This new missive was about a forthcoming appointment with the Nuclear Medicine Dept at the same hospital with which, on Monday 29th November, I now have an appointment to have a Spine and Hip Bone Density scan or, as the letter says, “Bone densitometry DXA”.

This scan has never been mentioned before at any of my chats with my Kidney Man and my Calcium Man – and neither have my spine nor hip been a source of interest – but I’m prepared to believe it’s a legitimate part of the search for what’s wrong with me. I had a PETscan at the same Nuclear Medicine Dept in August this year. A PETscan is the one where they inject radioactive material into you and then (as I understand it) look at it circulating in the body.

I have been told by two separate consultants that I am a “man of mystery” because no-one has any idea what on earth the cause or causes of my calcium/kidney problem is/are.

This means, among other things, of course, that I cannot be treated because they have no idea what they should be treating. They know the result of my problem but they have no idea of its cause.

The actual doctors seem efficient and thorough.

But the NHS bureaucracy – like all large bureaucracies – is a catastrophe of incompetence.

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More UK National Health Service chaos: my life is in their incompetent hands…

In hospital in, erm… who knows when?

As long-suffering readers of this blog will know, I was in hospital for seven days in May last year and again for seven days in July this year with a very high calcium level and (as a result) dangerously low kidney function.

No-one has been able to find out the cause. So I keep seeing consultants, mostly kidney and calcium men.

My kidney/calcium levels are pretty-much but not-quite back to normal now. But, still, no-one has any idea why they twice went dangerously haywire.

I wrote a blog in August this year when I simultaneously got three completely self-contradictory and chaotic letters about NHS hospital appointments.

Doctors, of course, like to use posh names, so ‘kidney’ staff are usually called Nephrology or Renal staff… and ‘calcium’ staff are usually called Endocrinology staff. In what follows, I have anonymised the hospital names as Hospital A and Hospital B.

In September, I was told my next appointment with the Nephrology team (my Kidney Man) would be on Monday 13th December at Hospital A.

Then, this afternoon, I got a text from Hospital B, which is part of the same group as Hospital A: 

Renal means Kidney.

The message concluded:

“Please attend Hospital B, Kidney & Urology Dept on Wednesday. TO RESPOND please follow this link…”

I did and responded:


I’m confused. Can you clarify?

I have an appointment to see Nephrology at Hospital A on 13th December at 10.30. (See attached letter.)

I had no appointment to see the Renal Dept at Hospital B on 16th November. 

And the ‘new’ date you give – Tuesday 20th November – does not exist (20th November is a Saturday).

You also seem to ‘confirm’ I should attend a Kidney & Urology appointment at Hospital B “on Wednesday” (no time given but presumably either Wednesday 10th November this week or an unknown Wednesday in December).

Could you tell me if the ‘new’ Renal appointment on Tuesday 20th November (a date which doesn’t exist) is the same as the Kidney & Urology appointment I have never previously heard about at an unknown time this Wednesday 10th November?

If I do have to attend Hospital B this Wednesday, could you give me a time for the appointment?

John Fleming


I await a reply with open-mouthed interest but little hope of efficiency or factual accuracy… It is always a tad worrying when your life and death is in the hands of large impersonal bureaucracies… All large bureaucracies are inherently incompetent…

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Three of the reasons why I don’t trust the police in London (or elsewhere)…

I once had a long chat with the head of a prestige City of London solicitors who acted as the private solicitors for the then British Prime Minister. This guy told me he would never put a serving Metropolitan Police officer on the stand to give evidence in court without someone else who could give corroborating evidence – because he could not be certain the police officer would be telling truth.

I also once knew and chatted with a guy who ran a very high profile UK private detective agency based in London. He employed people from various sources including ex-SAS men but he told me he did not and would not employ ex-policemen because they were not necessarily honest or trustworthy.

A successful South London criminal once told me that dealing with the police is like going to a restaurant – you always have to pay The Bill.

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UK comic Sean Lock remembered by Australian performer Matthew Hardy

(Image by comedy news website Chortle.co.uk)

The British comedian Sean Lock died of cancer on Monday, aged 58. I remember him in the 1990s as highly intelligent, a very very funny stand-up and, most of all, a kind man unspoilt by any discernible ego. I don’t think he changed when he became successful.

Here, Australian performer Matthew Hardy pays tribute to Sean…


(L-R) Matthew Hardy, Malcolm Hardee, Sean Lock (Photograph courtesy of Matthew Hardy)

Rising up the London stand-up comedy club ladder in 1993, I’d started to get paid gigs (after 12 months of poverty-stricken gradual improvement), many of which were ‘Door Splits’ (meaning the Promoter splits the door-take equally with the comedians).

I’d been living in Welwyn Garden City, way too far out of London (grateful though I was for anywhere at all, having landed from Australia without a clue) and needed a room closer to the city, quickly. 

I ended up staying with the most outrageous individual I’ve ever known (who became a great mate, the comedian Malcolm Hardee, pictured above in the middle, but that’s a whole other story) and that opportunity came about because I’d been telling anyone who’d listen within the comedy community (I didn’t know anyone else) that I was desperately lacking in both money and a place to live. 

After an early paid Door Split gig at a well-attended club I won’t name, another act (who I met for the first time that night) named Sean Lock, offered me a lift to Kings Cross station (where most changeover train routes threaded through: trains I couldn’t afford tickets for, so I’d be nervously watching out for inspectors the whole way in and back) and, having delivered a good show, I spoke excitedly to him about how awesome it was to be have been paid £20.

“TWENTY POUNDS!” Sean said, loudly and incredulously.

“Yes”, I said, “I’ve been doing open-spots (free 5 minute trials) for a year now and it’s great to have gotten good enough to get paid”.

“You told the Promoter you were skint and needed somewhere to stay, didn’t you?” Sean said. 

“Yeah – and they said they’d try to help me out if they could,” I replied, enthusiastically. 

“Help you out?” he said. “The rest of us got £120 pounds each!”

I’d been lonely and thought I was about to cry, at which point Sean pulled over, took £50 out of his wallet and shoved it in my hand.

“Now we’ve both been paid the same,” he said, with a smile. 

And then, “You’re not in the outback anymore, cobber. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open. And, by the way, I loved your ‘Windy Day’ routine”.

He dropped me off and I recall this all concisely because I was keeping a daily diary back then.

People remember kindness. 

People won’t forget Sean Lock.

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 7 – Agony, staring and coitus interruptus…

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Tuesday 27th July

At some point in the middle of the night, a nurse came round and took everyone’s blood pressure. General Davide was fast asleep. The nurse looked at the Friends of the Hospital woman sitting at the foot of his bed and at the security man and said quietly to them: “I do not think it is a good idea to wake him…”

She left the ward without waking him.

I woke from a DEEP sleep around 7.00am with noisy chaos around me. It turned out to be in the bed next to me, which was curtained-off. All I could tell was that there were several nurses’ voices and a man in a lot of pain.

At the staff shift change-over, the nurse in charge overnight went through the details of each patient but, with General Davide, she added: “…and there is the aggression problem which is why he (pointing at the security guard) is here.”

The man in the bed opposite me had a strange look yesterday. He was totally silent and staring. His eyes were wide open and staring blankly, seldom blinking, but he didn’t seem to be focusing on anything… and there was something oddly twisty about his mouth. Like the top half of his face was solid but the bottom half of his staring face had no bones, just muscles and flesh which floated randomly. Like he was chewing but he was chewing nothingness. He seemed very young, maybe in his twenties or thirties. His was propped up, looking ahead, wide black eyes staring, but maybe sightless.

This morning, there were two nurses and a doctor round him. he was less propped-up, his head lying back on the pillows. So his pointed chin was up and his neck was exposed. He looked like an ancient man, 120 years old, drained of life. He looked like some Egyptian mummy, raised from the dead in some 1950s Hammer horror movie.

He was refusing to eat or drink, but silently. The doctors and nurses were trying to get him to respond. But, from him, no words, no moans, nothing. Alive. But just silent resignation to something. I have no idea what.

The new nurse in charge of the day shift is a man. When he injected me, I said: “You’ve done that before, then…”

“I’ve been doing it for thirteen years,” he said.

The young female nurse today is his half-sister. She is a trainee nurse and this is her second day on a ‘real’ ward. She has kind eyes.

“We have the same father,” the male nurse explained to me.

He is Indian. His half sister is Pakistani. And, as it happens, the security guard today is Bangladeshi. The half-siblings both speak Urdu, the Bangladeshi guard does not. But they are very very friendly. In English.

The Friends of the Hospital woman was no longer at Davide’s bedside when I woke up. She must have left during the night or at dawn.

Davide is in a lot of pain now.

In the course of the morning, the man in agony in the bed next to me was removed and replaced by another man in a lot of pain.

The old/young/old man opposite me was left alone, silently staring ahead.

And then I was discharged from the hospital.

My calcium level was down, though still above the normal band of acceptability.

My kidney function was up though was not doing as well as my calcium level and the kidney function’s level had ‘plateaued’ at its abnormal level.

So all is not well, but I was told my conditions were no longer ‘dangerous’.

I and my bed could be released and I can, from now on, be treated as an outpatient. For my slightly damaged kidneys, my calcium level and the mark on my arm which might or might not be Lyme disease and which has now turned into a red smile on my skin.

Though the doctors still have no idea what caused my calcium/kidney conditions last year or this year.

That narrative continues.

But all the other people over the last week are left behind in freeze-frame. Like a narrative coitus interruptus. Like life, this story has no climax. When you die, the narrative just continues without you. So it goes.

I will never know if Michael’s brother arrived to take him away or, if so, where he went and what happened to him. 

I will never know if the man who swallowed his false teeth and the cancer man died a few days later.

Nor will I ever know what happened to blind Italian Claudio or to the boy/old man with staring eyes in the bed opposite me.

As I left the ward, the last I saw of Davide was a glimpse of him walking slowly the short distance from his bed to a chair in the bay window of the ward, which overlooks the entrance to the hospital. It was raining outside.

A tall, thin man with only one arm.

As I left, in my peripheral vision, Davide stopped and the top half of his body bent slightly forward in pain, his head bowed. I think he was carrying a bag of his own urine, but I could be wrong. 

It’s not important.

It’s all in the past, just memories now.

Just like – as Rutger Hauer said – tears in rain.

“The mark on my arm… which has now turned into a red smile on my skin…”

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Seven days in an NHS hospital: Day 6 – The one-armed African liberation leader

(DAY 1 OF THIS HOSPITAL BLOG STRAND STARTED HERE)

Monday 26th July

During the early hours of the night, the curtains on the interior windows and the main ward doors were closed while a dead body was removed along the corridor from another ward. A nurse told me they didn’t want patients to see it… nor any staff who might have incidentally interacted with the now stiff. So it goes. 

The ward aggro today kicked off slowly at 4.30am when Michael started getting up and roaming the ward like a caged animal, pacing back and forth and touching objects around the ward as if checking where reality started or ended. Sometimes he was up and pacing, sometimes he was lying in bed; sometimes he was up and pacing, sometimes he was lying in bed; this went on for maybe an hour.

One of the male nurses is religious (a Christian) and he told Michael: “Tell them to go away”.

Michael lay on his bed for a time, repeating: “God, tell them to go away. Please God, tell them to go away.”

He refused to have his various daily medical checks, verbally abusing the nurses, randomly saying he couldn’t get to sleep and that he could only sleep.

Around 7.00am, he started grabbing, pushing and tussling with the security man to get out of the closed door of the ward. The security guy, of course, could only passively resist.

After the shift change-over, Michael told one of the new nurses he wanted to phone 999 because he didn’t think he was well and wanted to go to hospital.

“You are already in hospital,” she told him gently.

“No I’m not!” he snapped.

Michael now has four Covid masks hidden under the pillows of his bed, given to him over several days. He asked for each one. He is worried he might have Covid and, I suspect, he thinks that simply owning the masks shields him from the virus. He has never put on any of the masks (and is not required to). 

The ward has twice-a-week rapid Covid tests on Tuesdays and Fridays.

When the Calcium Man came round with his two two junior doctors and found I had had the constant drip on Saturday but no drip at all on Sunday, he was not a happy man.

“I asked for the drip all weekend. What’s the point of coming in for treatment if he doesn’t get treatment?” he said to his underlings.

So I will be back on the drip again after he sees the blood tests which have not yet been done.

Michael now thinks I am watching him. 

Michael to nurse – “Everybody’s watching me.”

He then went to the loo but came out and asked where the toilet bowl was and complained he couldn’t see any toilet paper – There are two big rolls in a bright blue dispenser fixed to the wall, where they always are.

A nurse showed him the toilet bowl and the toilet paper.

About ten minutes later, he asked again where he could get toilet paper. The security man had to show him the bright blue dispenser fixed to the wall,

Michael is probably leaving today. He asked where one of the nurses lived. She told him. About two minutes later, he said to the same nurse that today he was being taken by his brother William to (the town where she lives).

A young Buddhist nurse talked to him about his life – he told her he used to work in large hotels on Park Lane in London. I switch on the recorder on my iPhone.

He asked her about Sri Lanka, where she came from.

“Michael,” the young girl asked him, “have you enjoyed your life?”

“Nah,” he replied. “Do you have children?”

“Yes,” she replied. “A daughter.”

“Married?” 

“Yes.”

“Your husband’s from Sri Lanka?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever been married, Michael?”

“No.” Michael said. “Are you happy?” 

“Yes… Don’t think about anything, Michael, just relax your mind.”

“How can you relax your mind?”

“Just forget everything,” she told him.

“You can’t forget everything,” he said, “you just can’t.”

“It’s very hard,” she said, “but you need to get better before you go home. So don’t try to fight with everybody. Just relax.”

“I can’t do it though. I’m not that type of person. I wish I was.”

“You need to relax and have a good sleep.”

“I can’t sleep. I keep going through Who wants me? and that type of thing… What do you do at your college?”

“I am studying nursing. I am still studying.”

“I’m still shaking,” Michael told her. “I can’t relax. I wish I could relax like you. Do you do the Buddhism every day, do you?”

“Yes. I am listening to the sermons.”

“What are they like?”

On her phone, she played him a soothing Buddhist Society sermon about ‘the four ways of letting go’.

Eventually, after about five or six minutes, Michael got up and asked the security man, “Why are you doing this to me? You know what you’re doing. Why are you doing it?”

The security man said nothing.

“You’re a liar!” Michael snapped at him. “It’s too late for me to be a Buddhist!”

At 1.25pm, the cancer man was taken away to the other, bigger hospital for radiotherapy.

The ambulance men who were here on Friday and today are from a county out to the south east of London but are subcontracted to this county to the north west of London because this county doesn’t have enough vehicles. The ambulance men drive their vehicle up here each morning and back each night. I guesstimate it must take them at least 90 minutes each way. Longer if the M25 motorway is clogged with traffic.

While the ambulance men from another county are moving the cancer patient to wheel him out, Michael is asking nurses how to work the shower and demanding attention.

By now, Michael has taken to wandering round in a maroon jacket on top of his NHS pyjamas and carrying a green plastic bag containing, I think, some ad leaflets and postcards.

After excessive rudeness from Michael, the security guard took to sitting outside the ward door instead of being inside.

Michael accepted this situation for about ten minutes then (I think) got lonely and went out to talk to the already overly busy Receptionists.

I think he is maybe trying to fill the loneliness gap. Complaining and being angry/paranoid means you are never alone.

“They want to examine the rash on my arm…”

I am told I am going to be kept in at least tonight because they want to examine the rash on my arm which one of the Calcium Man’s junior doctors spotted a few days ago. They think it might be Lyme disease.

Later in the day, the cancer man was brought back from his radiotherapy. About an hour or so later, after seriously dramatic vomiting, he was given more morphine and a suppository.

After this, Michael started offering to help the staff with their medical duties and offered to buy the Buddhist nurse a beer at the bar. He seems to have confused the Reception desk with a pub bar.

Michael in his self-absorbed dementia reminds me of many a stand-up comic I know.

Two beds away from me, one nurse talks with the wife of the almost-certainly-dying man who swallowed his own false teeth.

Across the ward, another nurse is dealing with Claudio the blind Italian in the toilet. 

And Michael is obsessed with what time his evening meal will arrive and I think offering to take multiple nurses out for a restaurant meal tonight. 

He offers to buy the security man a pint of bitter in the non-existent bar.

My unused monitoring screen (top left)…

At around 6.30pm, at 15 minutes notice, the doctors decide to move me to another ward because they need a monitored bed and mine is the easiest one to get.

There are only three monitored beds in the ward. The one occupied by the almost-certainly-dying false teeth man. The one with the almost certain-to-die cancer patient. And my one. And my monitoring screen is not being used.

So I am now moved to a new four-bed ward in another part of the hospital.

One of the beds is occupied by the one-armed African liberation leader Kofi Davide – the tall man from a small African country – who got booted out of my previous ward for hitting a nurse. (All names in this blog have been changed)

He now has a hospital security man sitting permanently by his bed or in the ward’s bay window presumably in case he decides to hit another nurse.

As I arrived in this ward, a Russian nurse – or, at least, one with what sounded like a Russian accent – was berating the one-armed African liberation leader for “losing” the cigarette she gave him yesterday.

When the shifts changed, he asked a couple of nurses, separately, if they had a cigarette. When they said they didn’t, he said, “Go away!” curtly.

In the early-evening, another nurse came in and she started talking with him about the former leader of his country.

She asked him: “Where do you live now?”

There was a long pause while he did not answer because he obviously did not want to tell her exactly where he lived… then he said: “In the world. In the world. I am a citizen of the world.”

In mid-evening, a black woman (could be British but with a slight African accent) from the Friends of the Hospital took him – apparently out of the building (with the hospital security guard) – and they came back with takeaway food.

He told the very attentive Friends of the Hospital woman that his wife is flying in tomorrow, though it is unclear from where. He told her that his wife is flying in from England.

The Friends of the Hospital woman said to him: “I am going to stay here all night to make sure you are safe.”

And she did. She sat by his bedside all night.

(CONTINUED HERE…)

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