Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Uncle Beer

I've been working hard the last few weeks in particular, with a degree of success, and some fine moments. After work was done today, three of us went to the pub (my suggestion) and we talked among other things about the benefits of the place. Checking in for a pint and chat at the end of the day, we observed over our various drinks of Guinness, ale, and pomegranate juice, that the pub provides a social support network, a place to reflect, and a context for drug taking which acts as harm reduction.

I got a call a couple of days ago from a dear old friend who I have not seen in months. He's agoraphobic, alcoholic and living in a very bad, cold accomodation with fungus on the walls. He's been tested recently too and we swapped tales. His results were unescapably awful. He has to quit drinking now or else either his pancreas and/or his liver will cease functioning. So, he's on happy pills from the doctor (which, he told me with a chuckle, he never takes for long enough to work) in order to stay off the booze and counter his phobia, and attempting to allow his family close enough to help him move somewhere more healthy.

I love this man a lot, and it's shocking, even after years of low life living and hedonism, how much of a toll drugs, in particular alcohol, have taken on his body by the age of 43 - and equally astonishing that he has kept his mind, his warmth, and his gentle, insightful humour. We used to play live gigs a lot, years back - he would often be wearing a long coat, whatever the weather - you can hide a bottle of vodka there no problem. There's no moral here, he just did not cope with life in the same way as the rest of us, and found relief from loneliness and depression in the bottle. I stopped being judgemental years before he entered hospital for the first time, after which he dried out completely for a while. Not dealing with the issues that caused him to become alcoholic in the first place meant that as life's stresses took their inevitable toll, he found his way back once again to cosy, deadly Uncle Beer.

Talking with D. O. F. I realised that we sixties/seventies kids are now of an age that we are beginning to reap what we have sown, dealing not just with our natural proclivities but with the choices we have made, the chances we have taken or missed, destinies that have found us or departed.

I've not had a drop to drink for a month now. In nine days, I return to the doctor, who said to me three weeks ago, "Live as normal." It's normal for me to stop from time to time, and especially when in mortal fear.

I have been taking extra notice of the various aches and pains of my body. My legs are still not looking great. I've noticed that the itchy redness and the bloodstains under my skin have diminished over the past five weeks, but tonight, getting out of a hot bath, the scary coastlines have re-appeared. I cannot tell if these are old marks returned to vividness by the bathwater, or else new ones. Maybe my ankles have come up redder in a couple of small new places. I should really photograph them, but I don't want to become obsessive.

I had some dull aches in my neck and around my collarbone three weeks ago, but these seem to have gone - maybe that was just me sleeping badly. The ribcage injury I sustained from having an inadequate bass strap seems to be fixing. But I have felt Odd Pains down my left side, more so down under my ribcage, and round the back in the area of my left kidney. I'm going to take my notebook with me when I go back to the doc, and report the vagaries of my working body in detail.

Enter the geek, pursued by a beer.

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Did You Mean Maintenance?

Google is taking over from poor shrinkwrapped Microsoft as our new pet fear. Look at this:

However big and bad Bill Gates' Evil Empire may be, nobody Microsofts a PC - they just switch it on and use it. But people do use the term "google" to mean "use an internet search engine" or even just to mean "look something up in a directory". They are already using the verb "to google" as a replacement for the verb "search" in some places, such as schools, where children constantly invent new language forms to describe the modern world.

As Google begins the wholesale assimilation of printed literature, our language (and therefore our reality) is being shaped by this phenomenon and I wonder how healthy is it that it is happening with all of us apparently sleep-walking, ebay-addled, Amazon-soaked, and Bloggered into extinction - just like the cockabindi..

Update: "Google 37.3% of searches"

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Friday, November 25, 2005

We Are Nero

L'Intifada Française is making reactive waves, much of the population outside the ghettos still shocked at the violence that erupted there - plans are afoot to find scapegoats in French rap musicians. How bizarre, but predictable. They are blaming the messenger for the message, and this highlights the polarisation of French culture and the total lack of understanding of the causes of the violence there on the part of the entrenched establishment.

One of the funky things you can find on FUNK is Cinema Du Lyon, which doesn't know quite whether it is an art movement or a musical outfit and is possibly both. With this affection in mind, I travelled to Lyon and visited the main areas to inspect the cinema there. They are still showing films, much as you would expect.

I have never forgotten this strange but true fact - up until the start of war in 1939, Hitler read not one novel, but he watched a film every night that he could. Nazi propaganda came in a triumphalist, modern way straight from Hollywood; he was the first media dictator. I have always imagined him and Eva, conversing about their leisure activities like couples do.

"Eva, meine Schnickelfritz, what shall we do later, after we've burned down the synagogue? There's an Al Jolson film I wouldn't mind watching."

"Oh but Adolf, that's such old hat. I wanted to catch the Sniper gig."

"Don't be silly, meine kleine Vegetarier! You'll be able to see any filthy French rap band you like in a year's time."

France has a relatively large right wing movement - Le Pen is still very much at large, and the burning of city centres is likely to add recruits to white elitist factions, which could fuel further disharmony and social collapse.

We have witnessed a spontaneous uprising of disaffected youth, and I hope that the French powers take the situation seriously enough to address the very real disadvantages that are the real cause of the violence.

Yet I fear that too little will be done, too late, in the same way that mounting evidence (which we continue to ignore in spectacularly idiotic fashion) is showing us that we are now at the ecological tipping point.

We are Nero, and we all play that tune.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Your Music Is ILLEGAL

"Loud noises 'bad for heart' " shouts this BBC headline, referring to research which shows that the threshold for noise levels ought to be dropped to around 65 decibels (busy office) rather than 85 decibels (roadworks).

They say nothing about loud music, but, having three days of rehearsals last week, played a gig on Tuesday, been to another last night (Souad Massi at the Marquee - really excellent - I must start to review these events properly) - I am now worried about my long-term prospects.

Once upon a time in Tenerife, I was audio engineering in very posh club in the beautiful Spanish, rather than the tacky British, tourist area. The band I was with played loud 80s electronic soul/funk/pop. The mirrored, marbled interior gave me a nightmare controlling the sound - too many reflections from hard unforgiving surfaces. Nonetheless, the band's manager would without fail every night, ask me to turn up the music. Then the bar manager would appear ten minutes later and ask me to turn it down. I said yes to both of them, and did nothing.

After two weeks of this, one evening I got talking to a very nice guy on his annual holiday who worked for the Spanish airport authority. He loved the music. Work done, at 3am we all went on to another bar, wooden ceiling and panelling, full of people dancing and singing. It was loud but comfortably so, a far better audio environment. As we chatted I remarked upon the difficulties I was having in the other place and as he laughed, congratulating me on my good work, he said casually, "You are working at above 120 decibels. If this was a jet, it would be too loud - your music is ILLEGAL!"

There is a balance to be struck is there not - the great health benefits of emotional release, against the stress of the actual process of catharsis. I am sure Alfred Hitchcock films must have caused more than a few heart attacks - does that mean we should not be exposed to their tremendous artifice? Which reminds me of another tale, told me by a tremendous artist, about his mother. She was in the cinema with a female friend watching a Hammer horror film. At the end of the show, Peter Cushing, who had been sitting in the seat behind her, leant forward and said gently into her ear, "Did you enjoy that, Madam?"

She survived.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Tickety Boo Bar

The gig was a small affair in a central basement club. It went well - seventy five people or so, maybe one third of them friends and supporters, all attentive and listening and watching. There were some nerves but no real howlers, and we played with a lot of feel and some real flair. The applause was loud and praise was warm. I was grumpy until it was over, but I still enjoyed myself. You have to put whatever you feel on the day into your playing, channeled through the discipline of practise and rehearsal.

I thought I would celebrate by putting this colourful recording of it online.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Most Beautiful Fog In All The World

Whether air pollution is up or down, they say that living in London is the equivalent of smoking two cigarettes a day. What they don't say is that living in London is the equivalent of being on twenty years of Prosac. It's the never-look-down attitude, millions of lives built upon shifting estuary sediment layers of denial. It's "of course we would have gone years ago but we've a small place in (small provincial spot anywhere in Europe) we get away a couple of times a year..." it's "honestly there is nothing to do outside of town", it's "frankly only the job that keeps me here..."

No. This is all tosh. London is a habit, a dangerous one. Money, endless churning ex-Empire self-aggrandisement, plus some bizarre belief in our own shit heap's superiority over others equals a refusal to countenance the awful truth: that London is extremely bad for your health, and we are all hooked.

Mind you, all those airborn particulates still make London fog the most beautiful fog in all the world.

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Monday, November 21, 2005


I have a gig tomorrow, and much of last week was taken up preparing for it. It is a low-level affair but nonetheless important in its way, as we are debuting new material and it's a first proper outing for the Caliph of Maidenhead, in front of what she can truly call her peers, i.e. young talented musicians.

I have been very careful to maintain my healthy attitude over the past three weeks. I am having a yoga lesson today. K is coming over at lunchtime with her mats and bendy routines. I have a large enough room here, if I shift some of my music gear out of the way. I am slightly worried though because I have developed a nasty pain in my left side, just at the bottom of the ribcage around the back. Every so often I get a sharp ping there, like a trapped nerve. My inclination is to assume it is kidney cancer (or something foul and life-threatening) but it is probably inter-costal strain, a self-induced complaint from standing up and playing a heavy bass guitar held up by a too narrow strap.

I notice that when my mind focusses on a particular painful area of my body, pains elsewhere seem to diminish.

I firmly believe that wellness is within me, like a long-lost twin brother, requiring a genuine invitation, and perhaps the airfare, to show up. Will I love him when he comes, or resent his perfecting presence?

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Work Is Unhealthy

Once you start looking for bad health, you can find it everywhere.

Unhappy workers 'at illness risk' shouts this BBC headline.

People with low job satisfaction are most likely to encounter emotional burnout, reduced self-esteem, anxiety and depression, say researchers. Even a modest drop in job satisfaction could lead to burnout of "considerable clinical importance", the report warned. The study of 250,000 employees was carried out by Lancaster University and Manchester Business School. Depression and anxiety were now the most common reasons for people starting to claim long-term sickness benefits, overtaking illnesses such as back pain, it found.

Professor Cary Cooper, of Lancaster University Management School, urged employers to seriously tackle the issue with "innovative policies".

Hang on. I thought that "work" was an invention, a fairly recent one at that, designed to line the pockets of our capitalist elite. Consumer culture is the sop, is it not, to pacify the workers, as religion used to be. So the best and most innovative policy would surely be NOT TO WORK.

I know there are flaws in this argument. For example, this blogging business - do I not in some way treat it as work? Do I not rely on my ISP and also the mighty Googlith Corporation to make my blog run smoothly, and berate them when it doesn't? If the health professionals I rely upon to make accurate diagnoses and administer appropriate treatments decided that work was the problem and didn't show up, would I be glad that they had released themselves from the burdening chains of employment whilst I became dangerously and life-threateningly sick?

People are presented with "work" like it is the sole option. People are forced into work, coerced, kidnapped, press-ganged. The most disturbing health news I read today was this account of a Lithuanian woman trafficked and forced to work as a prostitute.

The Lithuanian woman, who was beaten and threatened by the gang, was kept in conditions of virtual slavery, according to the police. Detective Constable Tracy Rankin, of South Wales Police, said: "When we met her, she wasn't in the cleanest of conditions.

"Her hair wasn't looking great, neither was her skin. She seemed incredibly confused. The place where she was staying was sparsely decorated and through speaking to her, I understand that she didn't often eat. Her basic standards of hygiene did seem to decline considerably. The situation she was in was a controlling environment and she was given the bare minimum, if that, to live on."

I think I might become confused if I was kidnapped, beaten and forced to have sex with seven men a day.

I understand that this poor soul was in a different situation from the many unsatisfied people who hold down unremarkable but respectable jobs to feed, clothe and shelter their families, but this seems to me to be the other end of the same employment pole. Bullying, cruelty, being forced to undergo regular humiliation, and never being paid properly are daily experiences for many workers, even if they do get to go home at the end of the interminable, exhausting, demoralising day.

Work is unhealthy.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Rat Recipe

Scientist have been stressing out rats again. The BBC reports that diet probably affects your health by changing DNA. As far we know, the happier you are, the healthier you are. Optimists live longer. Optimistic rats will now be saying, "Look, we are stressed out now because of these evil scientist guys - but further down the line, they'll all be dead from bird flu, we'll be eating all sorts of groovy shit, and WHOA what a party we'll have then!"

Nothing is said about the effect of eating stressed-out rats.

This research seems to indicate that what you eat can change your genetic capacity to deal with stress, which affects your resistance to disease, including cancer. I am always shocked that people do not realise the truth of the maxim, you are what you eat because it is so obviously true. See that fabulous creature looking back at you from the mirror? Not a visible cell is the same from a couple of months back. Everything you can see is made of countless slices of bread scoffed in the interim. Wipe that crumb off your lip, before it becomes your smile.

So, for a healthy disease-free life, eat well. But for a long life, eat little. This research tells us that the genes that regulate ageing can be affected by even short periods of going without. "Caloric restriction is the only intervention shown to extend lifespan in mammals" they say. Eat well, but fast from time to time, is the message, which is what a lot of religions also say we should do. I do already eat a good diet - maybe I can add to that by also NOT eating a good diet.

All this conjecture has made me hungry - it's breakfast time. I fancy rodent toast - it's easy to make, and very nutritious.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

The Boy Who Didn't Cry Wolf

At age seventeen, I was disconsolate, all washed up. I had split up with my girlfriend, who had absconded with God. Educational progress went down the pan. After gathering a decent crop of O levels, I had been studying four A levels - French, Latin, English and Art. I had fought to keep studying Art, against school advice, and in the end, it was the only exam I took. I got grade E - one above F for Fail.

I was shattered, demoralised, and laid low with glandular fever. I lived several miles from school, and travelling on a bus or a train became a dangerous mission - several times I awoke cold, sweaty and shivering on a deserted bus, or in an empty carriage at the end of the line. The Deputy Head lectured me in private in that final year, telling me he knew I was fooling them, that I was just being lazy. I was sick, he was wrong, but since he was so certain about me, I told him straightfaced that I would definitely be back next year to take the other three exams, so that I would be entered for the art exam. I took it, promptly left, and took a no-hope clerical job in the Department of Employment at the local dole office.

I gave up alcohol, a necessary measure in order to recover. I discovered the joys of marijuana, and made new friends who liked music as much as I did, with whom I could laugh uproariously and act crazy as much as I liked. We would pile out of our parental homes in the suburban fringe we inhabited, travelling either into the countryside, where we could romp and roam and caterwaul loudly with stoned freedom, or else, head into the city where we could do the same in the comfort of hippy squats and flats. Suburbia was our starting point, nirvana our destination.

At work, queues were long, flexitime accomodated my slow starts, the money was nice, and I bought clothes and records and more dope. Within two months, I was cautioned for "being too cheerful". This was a sensitive time in people's lives, I was told, they may misinterpret my kind greetings and good cheer as mockery. I stared incredulously at the man opposite me, who clearly had no concept of working class manners, as he issued me with a written warning. I left his pale gloss office, went upstairs onto the roof for a smoke, and considered my options. I determined to get out of this place as soon as possible.

Most of my friends were in a band, Orpheus Rocker, which was by no means unusual at the time; but this band was so rock and roll that they already had a huge tragedy to cope with. The lead singer, a few years older than everyone else, had committed suicide in sick but spectacular fashion, by jumping off the bridge over the underpass in central Croydon, which really fucked a lot of people up, including his fiancée and the seventy year old driver of the car that hit him. The band reformed around his younger brother, and trundled on for a while, overshadowed by ghosts and screwed up expectations. I was supposed to be managing them, but this really meant attending rehearsals and helping at the very occasional actual gig. I wore a trilby, a long trenchcoat, and cowboy boots, and Spinal Tap had nothing on us.

Slightly disturbingly, my sister started dating the dead singer's brother, but it worked out alright. She was trustworthy as far as not ratting on my occasional debauched antics, and her boyfriend was friendly enough, and had a car. When the interior was filled with band and guitars and sister, it was in the boot of his green hatchback Nissan that I travelled from Brixton to Croydon curled up in foetal position like a gangster's kidnap victim.

As the dole office became less bearable, and my glandular fever diminished, I was in limbo. Sometimes I would lie awake in bed and look down at my torso, imagining all sorts of appalling internal confusion, nervously examining myself. My stomach in particular would sometimes swell and bulge at the place I knew my appendix to be, but aside from the occasional discomfort from eating late-night kitchen constructions of anything in the cupboard, I felt no pain. I was always unsure about my health, since early childhood asthma made me the focus of maternal fears. It was never a problem to fake an illness to buy a day off school, but I liked school in general, so I rarely pulled a sicky. Nothing wrong with me, I would joke, just a touch of hypochondria.

One late September Monday, I awoke tired and drained from an extensive weekend of pleasure, and I decided not to go to work. My mother was supply teaching part-time, and was the last to leave the house. She called up to me several times to alert me to the arrival of the working week, and I did my best to ignore her. She came in to my bedroom and asked me pointedly if I was going to work, or if I was sick.

"Sick," I said, hoping she would go away and leave me to deal with it.

"Then you had better go to the doctor," she said. "You do look pale."

I might have replied, "That's a weekend of marijuana smoking for you," but I kept quiet.

"What's wrong with you?" she demanded. She was being much stricter than when I was at school. Bloody work ethic, I muttered under my breath.

"Stomach hurts," I invented.

She returned five minutes later. "Right. I can give you a lift and the doctor will see you in half an hour."

I moaned and said it wasn't really necessary, but I pulled on some clothes anyway. We set off up the hill, and in that five minutes I made a decision that changed my life. The week before I had watched a TV program which included some medical diagnoses, and I knew about rebound pain. When you press the swollen appendix either from outside the stomach or from inside the bowel, the pain is much worse a moment after the pressure is released. Armed with this knowledge, I decided to fake appendicitis.

So, at the doctor's surgery I went through the motions, even suffering the indignity of the finger inserted into the rectum. Oh, ouch, ah! In fact, I did so well, that the doctor decided I was in immediate need of an operation. I went straight to Redhill Hospital. On the way, as my mother cheerfully cancelled her own day's work on the basis that her child was in need of care, I was waking up to the fact that I was about to have a major surgery. It will buy me some time off work, I mused, and anyway, it's a part of the body I can afford to lose. I checked in, got undressed, a male nurse came and shaved my pubic hair, another came and administered a pre-med, in which opiate haze I was wheeled into the operating theatre. I was joking with the surgeon as I went under.

* * * * * * * * * *

When I came round, I was in agony. I instantly regretted the stupid stunt I had pulled. I was sitting up in bed, and a nurse came over and asked me if I was OK.

"Pain.." I said weakly. "It really fucking hurts..."

"OK well we'll take you back to the ward shortly, and I can give you some more painkiller there."

It felt like hours but was probably ten minutes before I was wheeled back to the male surgical ward, curtains pulled around me, and I got a shot of Pethedine. As the pain dissolved and the opiate washed over me and rescued my sanity, the head nurse, dark haired, blue eyed and attractive, came up to me. Even though I was in severe pain, and on drugs, I will never forget what she said.

"How are you feeling?"

"Thanks," I said, "That helps a lot..."

"Normally," she said, "we do keyhole surgery even on an appendix, and leave a small scar, but your appendix was quite difficult to remove, and we had to make a bigger cut than usual... your appendix had been bleeding and it was stuck to the intestine. If we hadn't have operated today, you would have been far worse off. Peritonitis, perhaps. So, you are very lucky we caught you in time."

She smiled, relaying the good news of my escape. As the Pethedine took me further out of caring, I realised with a muffled shock that I had just saved my own life by faking a life-threatening condition.

* * * * * * * * * *

I recovered. In the weeks of recouperation that followed, I had time to think. I never went back to the dole office. IG's Mum and sister both encouraged me to apply to study for an Art Foundation qualification. Croydon College still had places. I applied late, taking my art along in a black plastic bin liner, and I was accepted.

Sensing that a way out of dreary employment and Croydon lay before me, I worked hard. It was a fabulous time of discovery. By May the following year, I had a place to study for a Fine Art degree in a London college, which was the making of me, the basis for my adult life.

I still cannot explain what happened, so I will not try to do so now. It was years before I confessed to anybody that I had faked appendicitis only to find it was real, and when I did, I wasn't believed.

Neither have I faked illness at any time since then, being extraordinarily wary of the potential consequences.

If there is a moral to this absolutely true story, it could be, be careful what you invent, for it might turn out to be more real than you think. Or it might be, your intuition will tell you what you need to do to survive. Or it might be, fake it until you make it.

Here endeth the story of The Boy Who Didn't Cry Wolf.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Armistice Day

Fighting ceased in the eleventh month, on the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour, and ever since then, we've been observing two minutes of silence. I always find myself wondering, is it the same two minutes every time, come back round, or a new two minutes, to be added on?

I once did a two minute art performance for this national moment of remembrance. I tied fireworks to poppies, got into a makeshift shelter, and had them hurled at me whilst the National Anthem, Jerusalem, Rule Brittania and I Vow To Thee My Country were all played simultaneously at maximum volume, which caused a bit of a stir as you can imagine. Afterwards, one sensitive old guy came up to me as white as ghost and said, "When I saw what you were doing, I was so cross.. but now I understand why, and even though I am still shaking, I want to say well done..." and he shook my hand with tears in his eyes. Poor sod had served in WW2 and lost more than a few friends and family members. My mother's oldest brother was in a Lancaster that was shot down, and he is buried in Belgium somewhere. It's not that I disapprove of the sacrifices, I just hate the glorification of war.

If I wear anything, it's a white poppy but this year I didn't bother with any of it, until at 10.54 I realised the two minutes were upon us. I had just returned from the doctor, and I was feeling thoughtful, so for the first time in my life, mindful of my own fragility, and of the recent mysterious workings of our parliamentary democracy, I stood alone, and silent, and allowed myself to join in.

At the surgery earlier, I had been weighed (eleven and a half stone) measured for height (5' 10") and blood pressure (135/85) which is "normal" according to the nurse. I gave her some other data. Non-smoker. Exercise three times a week. Drink socially. Nothing about food diet in the questions, I noticed, or about stress levels. That was that. I returned to the waiting room and read a chapter of Leo the African. I was fairly relaxed, so much so that I failed to respond to the electronic sign flashing my name and the room to which I was being summoned. This is a new system, and the receptionists are used to chivvying slack patients into the correct medical cubbyhole, and so I was gently reminded as I sat absorbed in the fall of Granada.

Doctor M was sitting there looking chipper, dressed in grey. My local surgery is a unique place in Islington, started by an eminent General Practitioner called Jack Norell. He took modern techniques and good quality primary care into the shadow of Pentonville prison, and although he died some years back, the culture he originated still remains.

I knocked, entered and sat, book in hand, and waited.

"Your results are all normal," said the doctor, reading my notes, not meeting my curiosity.

"Really?" I said, surprised. "For everything?"


"Liver? Kidneys? Lipids? Red and white cells?"

"Yes." She looked at me with a hint of amusement. My eyebrows were levitating. "All normal. May I have a look, please."

She indicated that I should disrobe, so I stepped into the curtained area and dropped my jeans. She had a good look at my legs and arse, the skin of which is looking a lot more normal, just a couple of places still angry where there has been subcutaneous bleeding.

"Fine. Thank you." She indicated I could pull up my jeans.

"So, what caused it?" I asked, emerging.

"Life, Mr Deekster, is a mystery," she said, with a smile that surprised me even more than the results.

"Could it have been related to alcohol? I have not drunk anything for ten days, and it has diminished."

"Possibly. In Islington, people generally think it is safe to drink far more than it actually is, and I trained in Belfast where they think nothing of drinking ten pints a night, so I am always suspicious when intelligent people don't really know how much they drink."

I said that I had no problem stopping, if that would help.

"My advice," she replied, "is, live as normal. Come back in a month. And of course, if more bleeding occurs, come in straight away."

Came back home, gave profound, loud and heartfelt thanks to God, and spontaneously observed two minutes silence. I noticed that despite my cool, I was extraordinarily pleased not to be facing an imminent life or death struggle - at least, as far as I know from the data gathered. They didn't test my lymphatic system, so it could be connected to that. Or it could be the deoderant which I have been using. Still, nice to know everything they did test shows no damage or danger of immediate decline.

I have had a huge boost to my positivity from this health scare, from the many kind words of support I have received, and from having to prepare to face the worst. It has tipped me towards working on my underlying health, and made me much more generous to other people, attitudes which I shall try to sustain.

A short time later, a text arrived from K whose iBook is playing up. I was about to text her saying, much too busy to help sorry, but I deleted that one. Instead I sent her, call me and as I went shopping, talked her through fixing it. At the end of the process, I had the food for dinner and she had a working iBook. We decided to trade - my computer assistance for yoga, which she teaches, so I am booked in for next Monday.

I don't think there is any danger of my becoming a born-again New Age funkster quite yet, but it has been a while since I experienced the workings of karma so directly.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Blood From A Stone

The stone in this case is the receptionist at the doctors' surgery. I called yesterday, and trotted out the formula as instructed.

"Doctor M asked me to call her today and get the results of my blood test."


I gave it, spelling my surname.

"One moment please."

One moment = four and a half minutes of mobile moments. Ta tum te ta. The studio where I was working is at the top of a steep garden. I walked around, inspecting spiders, avoiding snails, finding dead moths. I whistled. I put the phone on speaker. I sat down, then back up again with a wet arse. I found and minutely inspected a grey mouse mat with a soft gel wrist support which had been left on a wooden table. I moved it slightly, looking at the dark dampness underneath.

"Hello?" came the voice, "Your results are not in file."

"What does that mean?" I asked. "You have them, but not with my medical notes, or you don't have them?"

"They are not in file," she repeated. I was making her uneasy with my questions. "When did you have the test?"

"Monday," I replied.

"We don't usually get them back for a week," she announced triumphantly.

"Well, why did Doctor M send me urgently to the hospital and ask me to call and speak to her at this time? I am confused..."

Truth is, I was not at all confused, but I have often found it useful to take on the role of the confused, when I am dealing with someone who is confused. Then, we are both confused. I have joined the confused in a solidarity of confusion, and this may help the confused to come out about their state of confusion. In this case, she said,

"They might be with the doctor."

"I see." I kept patient. After all, I was the patient. "Can you possibly find out? After all, she did specifically ask me to call."

"She has someone with her at the moment. Can you call back in twenty minutes?"

Twenty minutes later, I called back. No, the results were not there. Yes, I should keep my appointment for this morning.

In one hour, given that the surgery is still where I left it, and the doctor is in surgery, I shall have my blood pressure taken and then wait thirty minutes to get the lowdown, if there is a lowdown to get.

Good old National Health Service. It is free, you know.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005


I get my results today. If I want them.

I was being nonchalant about it last night. I had convinced myself that since I was anyway going to the surgery tomorrow, I may as well not potentially ruin a perfectly good work session with bad news, and I told GGF on the telephone last night.

"Call them," she said gently.

"I might be in the middle of something at 12.30."

"Set your alarm."

"My mobile will be on silent. Anyway, I haven't got the number."

"Get it from the internet."

"Why? I will learn tomorrow anyway."

"If it is bad news, I can come with you tomorrow."

I realised I was being selfish about my health, as usual, and that she was supporting me. She has hidden her worries but of course she has them. I am not facing this on my own. This is rather humbling, something to which I am not accustomed.

I capitulated, set my alarm, and now I am going to find the number.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Live And Direct

It is a beautiful autumn but a gloomy time. My neighbour's daughter lost her life on Hallowe'en. Everyone here has been touched by the death. She is to be buried this afternoon, a service to be held in the church opposite, the entire estate due to be present as the carriage sets off. Ronnie downstairs is replanting his friend's garden for the occasion. The bins will be empty and all the leaves swept up. The caretaker even arranged for the stairwell to be steam-cleaned yesterday - I had to shout at the waterproofed steamjet-wielding operative so that I could pass by. It transformed the concrete stairs into a dripping grotto for an hour.

Poor girl was young - two years and a decade all she had. I knew her and know her parents quite well, helped them set up their computer on a wireless network. I have been somewhat affected by this local drama, as I go through my own scare.

I have to go to Brighton in an hour, so I will not be at the funeral. I already gave my commisserations, for what they are worth. I don't fancy the public display in any case. I am glad I will be working elsewhere.

Every seminal book or film or painting in my life has in some way helped me with my attitude towards sickness and death. At age twelve I was beset by body fears. I was convinced I was going to get bone cancer - I had seen the young Kennedy on TV limping and on crutches. I grew up and read Catch 22 fourteen times. I strongly identified with Yossarian's morbidity. As I look back I can recognise that I have slowly dealt with the amount of negativity regarding my body and expectations of it's weakness and failure, but not entirely. I transferred my expectations of disease and death into "more realistic" terms, so that instead of obscure childhood cancers, I now expect a heart attack, or simply an accident, to claim me.

I do have accidents. Last night, sober as a judge but much more hungry, I bit such a hole in my tongue whilst demolishing my evening meal that it didn't stop bleeding for two hours. It is very sore.

"You know what live and direct means?" asked Aswad of the crowd at the start of their fabulous 1983 live album. "It means: live and direct..." I always found that a wonderfully bemusing entrée, and today, I cannot get it out of my head. Live and Direct, singing sweet melodies to a massive reggae backbeat, that's what I want to be, not Dead and Indirect, in a puff of marijauna smoke, pushing up daisies.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Punctured and Bruised

Yesterday, I cycled to the hospital and back, all the way up and down the Holloway Road. I had to fast from 10.30pm Sunday night. It was very odd being awake and in a public space without having drunk tea. The hospital took five phials of type A+ blood marked with brightly coloured labels. The doctor was nice - young, female and Polish - so I produced the few Polish words I knew to take my mind off the procedure. My nose was at her shapely bum height as I sat on the chair at 9.05 a.m. and uttered the greeting,

"Gin Dobri."

"Oh, you speak Polish?"

"No. I just fancy you."

She dazzled me in the morning light with a beautiful and natural smile.

"That's nice."


"You know it!"

"No, I just have half a dozen friends of Polish origin, all of whom also fancy you."

"In your dreams, Englishman."

Today, I have a small bruise.

They will have the results on Thursday, and I go back to the doctor's surgery on Friday to check my blood pressure, and to get the biochemical lowdown.

The chesty cold I've had is leaving me. I ran a couple of miles this morning. The leg rash is going. My concentration is OK. I'm still thinking, surely I cannot be that ill, or I would feel much worse...

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Fate of Romantics

"The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate
Something cynical and drunken, boring someone in some dark cafe.."

'The Last Time I Saw Richard' by Joni Mitchell

Behind every cynic is a disappointed romantic, is the often quoted adage. In my case, the romantic does not leave when the cynic enters. He lurks behind the sofa, ready to start a revolution with expensive cologne, rich, dark chocolate, and blood-red roses.

Cynicism is born of experience. I am cynical about doctors, and yet, I am romantic about healing.

Being cynical means being safe - I destroy false hope with the machinery of my clever mind. I also prevent myself from seeking help when I need it, which frankly, is just dumb. I know where the dumbness comes from - my childhood. I found it there in a doctor's surgery, being given stupid drugs I didn't need.

Now, though, my own revolution is upon me, the turning around of my sofa. I have managed to avoid confronting the issue of my deeper health whilst moderating my worst excesses in the romantic belief that since I am not that indulgent that much of the time, I should be ok. Actually, I have no idea how well or sick I am, but I am not entirely well. I went to the doctor yesterday. She looked at the strange bruising on my legs and asked me if I had HIV (I don't). She asked me how much alcohol I drink. I felt guilty about that one. She sent me off to hospital on Monday where my blood is being tested for practically everything you can imagine including lipids, diabetes, lymph, liver and kidney function, and a whole heap of extras.

I am making gallows humour remarks to everyone who cares. I am not quite in mortal fear, but I admit to being rattled. If the first doctor hadn't called in the second doctor.. if the doctor hadn't said, "Call me Thursday, and I'll tell you whether you have to come in immediately or not."

"Fuck!" I thought, as I left clutching the referral. And then again, "Shit!"

On the way home, I was pondering about whether this was my hedonistic past catching up with me, when I noticed an old associate of mine from 13 years back riding past on his bike, no lights, in the half-dark. I called, he stopped, we chatted. He used to be a drinker - not now, he's been dry 7 or 8 years, he told me matter of factly. As we caught up, I saw that in his battered face, there was a real spark of survival. I found myself recalling with amusement how he nearly electrocuted me once. He told me that those many years back, I had been a selfish bastard. I knew what he meant, but without any rancour, replied that I wasn't that bad. We chatted more, and told him about my visit to the surgery, and the reasons why, and that I might have a screwed up liver, and that despite my cheery demeanour, I was scared. "The liver can recover," he said, "but you have to let it."

Then he recounted the story of Chay Blythe, the famous yachtsman. He had been told he had Hodgkins Lymphoma and was given four years to live. He was offered "the mustard gas, the chemicals and everything.. but he said, well, if I've only four years to live, I've always wanted to row round the world, it will take me that long to do it. I think I'll do that rather than be crippled by the your medicine. He set off and achieved his goal. Four years later, still not dead, he set off on another mission. 30 years more he lived.."

I am not deeply religious, but I needed that positivity, and I thanked God for it. Bless Simon. Of course there is no mention of this fabulous bravery in any of the search engine references I can find. Apparently Sir Chay is alive and you can book him for a motivational lecture - maybe I should look into it... would certainly give me something to write about. The factual truth in this case is irrelevant - he was giving me clear guidance on my attitude, which I needed. It made me mindful of the wonderful Warren Zevon song, My Shit's Fucked Up which he wrote and recorded with the body failure that killed him.

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things."

Winston Churchill

When I was looking for the Joni Mitchell quote, I found this next to it. Neat, Winston, neat, especially from a man who smoked and drank all his life. I had planned to write on the subject of letters this month; instead I will devote Gibson to all things healthy.

Whatever Simon's kindness, optimism, I am about to be presented with facts about my biochemistry which is a fairly daunting prospect. I don't want to end up as the Ivan Noble of Funk. I am going to have to give my system its 50,000 mile service, which could even lead to yoga. Fuck! Better make that kundalini yoga.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005


Here we are, sitting comfortably in month eleven of a twelve month long year of writing. These months are funky months, which means they are liable to change at any time. Funky months can be any length, they can space out, push forward or sit back in the pocket. They have, as M pointed out, nothing to to with the sun or the moon, although they coincide in general with the conventional months of the year. Some of the months have been re-named during the process of writing - notably Mrs Whitfield - and so to begin this month, the penultimate month of 2005 (or 14035 in dog years) I have named it Gibson.

Gibson is frosts telling you autumn is deepening and winter approaching. It is the change of season when viruses celebrate their annual mutation. It is the panic time before all light is sucked down the rasping drain of midwinter, now less than 50 days hence. It is a time when you can say "hence", "whence" and "thither" without a trace of cynicism. It is the time when you most crave warm beaches and tropical fruit, and yet are least likely to get them.

Gibson is also the time when I feel most introspective and least like expounding anything. When I was younger I would fill exercise books with wistful poetry, compose sonnets in my head as I struggled up Grange Hill in the wind and rain carrying three school bags and a trombone. Now I am organising studio sessions and writing songs with a young singer. Before I commit myself to the month-long Gibson theme, I want you to closely study this picture of Les Paul, the designer of the famous guitar, and tell me what you see.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Not Enough

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