Is there anybody going to listen to my story? Frankly, I would not blame you if you didn’t and I cannot believe what started off as a bit if fun at the start of what was just another Chinese virus like swine ‘flu or chicken ‘flu has now run to an entry in double figures in a world that has been irrevocably changed since the back end of last year (Western, not Lunar obviously). Yes, this is Lock-down Diary #10 and that in itself astounds me but what amazes me even more is the fact that people are still reading this stuff.
At this point I’d like to thank everyone that keeps reading this but especially to my new readers in Taiwan and Iraq, yes really. I know it is probably a generational thing and young people today consider this quite normal but for a man born in the 1950’s as I was the fact that people from those distant and hugely interesting countries, both of which I’d love to visit incidentally, would even be looking at my idiocy here is something that takes me aback every time I look at my stats page. A global village the world most certainly is now and if you want to enter my latest little ramble round it, you know the drill, just click the “read more” button below and I’ll see you on “the dark side” as I believe the Star Wars scriptwriters had it.
Well, there you are again and thank you so much especially, as mentioned, to my new viewers but all are equally welcome here. I am genuinely not fishing for compliments or being falsely modest, I really do not understand how people from all over the world just drift in here.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining at all, rather I am just a little in awe of the whole process. I must have a look some day as to how many countries have “visited” my tiny little website here and compare it to how many I have visited. I know that in travelling terms I am nowhere near mates of mine like Sarah and Claus and DAO and Chris who all have oodles (yes, that is a technical term) of countries under their belt. I more or less stopped counting at about 40 because it was not that important to me but it might be fun to do now.
The major problem with ticking off countries is how do you count? Is the UK one country as it vaguely is politically or do you count England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales as as countries in their own right? What about the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man? I was in Czechoslovakia when it was still that and I have since been to the Czech Republic (whatever they are calling it now) and Slovakia. One country? Two? Three? Is Gibraltar a country or not, it’s official designation is British Overseas Territory? Most importantly, does it really matter?
I just know I have a whole lot more countries I still want to see even if my recent medical setbacks have forced me to seriously re-evaluate my travel options not to mention my travel insurance which is going to be obscene, I know.
That is the broad outlook and there will no doubt be bits and pieces drifting into this entry in due course but at the end of Diary #9 I had left you with me in Ward 3E of the Royal London Hospital with Doc. Harley, a Ph.D. physicist (sadly not a pyhsycian or we could have been the first self-sufficient ward in NHS history!) I had actually split one day into two as so much had happened and the entries were getting unwieldy.
We are still on the afternoon of the 5th of July, 2020 and it really does seem like such a long time ago now, like half a lifetime and yet it is less than a month. It is strange how time is such an elastic concept depending on where you are looking at it from. I was just about to say that time is an absolute concept but then I vaguely remembered something I had seen on one of those fascinating Open University documentaries I so love.
Apparently that very clever Herr Einstein worked out that time moved at marginally different speeds at the poles than at the Equator. Of course I may have got that completely wrong which would not surprise me in the slightest. It just seems to sound right but, as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I have a very, very little knowledge.
I told you in the last entry about Epoch time and working out angles for roof-mounted theatrical follow spots etc., and yes, it was getting just a little bit surreal. We had more or less run out of idiotic things to discuss and so I took a couple of images out of the rather grubby window, the best of which I reproduce here although it is not that brilliant. If you want to orientate yourself look at a map and you are in a third floor ward in a huge hospital tower just to the South of Stepney Way. You can’t miss it on the map as it is bloody huge.
I suppose the view shown here is not a bad skyline image over the East End of London an a fairly decent day but it represents in that one image a large proportion of my adult life. No that is not meant to sound wildly momentous or anything, it is merely a statement of fact.
Look at the image which I have deliberately kept quite large on the page so you can pick out the detail. You will see a tower block about a third of the way in from the left hand edge of the image and that is Winterton House. It used to be one of a pair of appalling 60’s eyesores which flanked Watney Market. The one on the other side was called Gelston Point which has long since been demolished at huge cost due to the amount of asbestos in the place. The land is re-used for “assisted dwellings” or whatever it is they call supervised places for old people these days.
I never had anything to do with Winterton but I did live for a while in Gelston on the 11th floor (which did nothing for my vertigo, I can tell you) with two nurses from the very hospital I took this image from and my mate Mark who was going out with the one I was not going out with, if that makes sense!
If you were to take a straight line through that tower block for about the same distance on the other side you would come more or less to the first place I ever lived in London all those years ago. If you move slightly to the right in the image, the large building in the nearer ground is John Harrison House, another place of which I have very fond memories, of which more in a moment.
The building I took the image from stands on the site of what was once Luckes House which was where the student nurses all lived so they could keep a good eye on them (or try to at least). It was a big old red brick Victorian pile and was named for Eva Luckes who was Matron of the Hospital from 1880 to 1919. She was a friend of Florence Nightingale and was Matron at the London when Edith Cavell trained there.
If you do not know of Nurse Cavell, look her up as it is a fascinating story. She was a nurse in World War One and assisted British and Belgian soldiers to escape across the Dutch border and thence to be transported onward to the UK. Despite the fact that she was not German, the German occupying authorities contrived to charge her with treason (how can you commit treason against a country not your own?) and she was executed by firing squad on 12/10/1915 @ 0700, an act which caused international outrage. After the war her remains were repatriated to UK where she was accorded a funeral service at Westminster Abbey before being finally laid to rest in Norwich Cathedral.
I have been to Nurse Cavell’s grave in Norwich and I used to regularly walk past her statue in St. Martin’s Place which is just beside Trafalgar Square in London as I worked just round the corner for a while. I also know that there was one of the famous blue plaques on the front wall of the old Royal London Hospital building commemorating her training there and I know it still exists even though the front wall is all that remains of the old hospital. They are not allowed to tear it down as it is a listed building (or facade at least) so now that they are converting the site into the new Town Hall and retaining the old frontage which is something I suppose.
It should be surprising that a Council with some of the highest levels of social deprivation in the country sees fit to spend so much on a nice new building for themselves but for long-term residents of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets it isn’t surprising at all as they have always been better at looking after Councillors than Council tax payers. How much is so much? Well, it was initially slated for £77 million but they obviously underestimated the bribes or whatever it is that hugely corrupt body spend money on and the latest estimate is £115 million as of September 2019 so who knows what it is now in July 2020?
I was looking up the London Air Ambulance, formerly the HEMS, as I remember it and I noted with interest that our current Mayor, the utterly appalling John Biggs railed against it and tried to have it shut down some years ago on the grounds of noise. It is now acknowledged as one of the finest such services in the world. People have such short memories when it comes to politicians and you should remember that Biggs is only in place because the last Mayor, the Bangladeshi Lutfur Rahman was kicked out in 2015. The reason? A British electoral Court determined that he was guilty of “corrupt or illegal practices, or both”.
This, sadly, is the politics of corruption and deceit brought to the heart of the capital of a country oft-quoted as being the “Mother of all democracies”. As always I’ll let the reader decide the rights and wrongs of it all. Strangely, Biggs just seems to dodge all his ridiculous sayings as clever politicians do. He continues his self-aggrandisement whilst people live in what is effectively a poverty trap of a Borough (thankfully I am comfortably enough off). I do hope your trappings of a grandeur you never earned sit well, Councillor. Again, sue me if you feel brave enough, I know you will have amassed enough money now to afford lawyers as devious and deceitful as yourself.
I am glad to see that Dear Matron Luckes (remember her from all those paragraphs ago?) is not quite forgotten as you can see above, even if it is only as one entrance to a building where once a Nurses home proudly bearing her name stood. Actually, that is the entrance I go in for some (not all, mind you) of my numerous and ever increasing list of medical appointments. I do not think there is a department in that hospital that hasn’t had a piece of me one way or another. It’s just a mercy that they are overwhelmingly pleasant about it and I have got my hospital “hurry up and wait” head firmly tuned in now.
Despite how it looks, that image was taken on a very early afternoon which was reasonably clear overhead and with decent light. They just decided to build over Stepney Way to link the two major tower blocks which makes the road here extremely gloomy.
I started all this telling you about JH as it is known, John Harrison House in the image above. When the Student Nurses “passed out” or “got badged” or whatever the nursing term is, they moved out of Luckes to make way for you new intake of young ladies, and they were overwhelmingly females in those days although it is much different now. If they had not moved into a place of their own, the chances were that they would move into JH and I could tell you some stories about wild nights in there but I am not of the “kiss and tell” persuasion. I will regale you with a slightly funny story although whether or not it is true I have no way of knowing. As you can see, there is a nice flat roof on the building and the nurses used to be fond of a bit of topless sunbathing there when the weather was fine.
In those days, the London Air Ambulance (called HEMS in those days and long before it’s sponsorship by Richard Branson aka Virgin was still in it’s infancy. The military didn’t fly much over London, perhaps the odd necessary Chinook flight which would have followed the line of the Thames when flying around the capital to and from places I know of but will obviously not name here. There was still another “whirlybird” (to use a very 70’s term) in the sky belonging to London’s finest, the boys in blue, the bobbies aka the London Metropolitan Police. Apparently, if the weather was any way pleasant the said helicopter would spend an inordinate amount of time over the roof of JH and the nurses understandably got a pit hacked off about it.
There has always been a very close bond between nurses and cops and I say this in the full knowledge that my very presence here writing this proves it. My paternal grandmother was a nurse and my paternal grandfather a policeman. QED. Apparently, the message went back through “discreet channels” that the girls were getting a bit annoyed by this and there came an edict from the “powers that be” somewhere issuing a flight exclusion zone over JH except for specific ops. That must have annoyed them a bit as there were some seriously attractive women in there, probably still are for all I know!
In the interest of fair reporting I suppose I should tell you who John Harrison was as I have told you about Matron Luckes. Harrison was the founder of the London Hospital and it’s first surgeon at the remarkably tender age of 22. I can only imagine what age he started training at.
I suppose it is going to be almost inevitable that anything I write about the London, as I still call it, is going to be a reminiscence and for good reasons as I hope I have explained. I used to spend the odd Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon getting patched up for various rugby injuries and I always knew it had a reasonable reputation but I never really, even in those mad days, expected to end up in there as ill as I was now in 2020. I suppose this is how the world works.
Oh dear, digression has piled upon digression yet again and I wanted to tell you about the Doc’s wife (Doc. Harley, not the brilliantly eccentric sporran-clad Greek or even the precocious Dr. Harrison).
The Doc wanted to send an e-mail or something to his good lady wife and asked me if it was OK if he sent an image to Kayleigh. What? Kayleigh? I looked at him as if he had uttered some sort of primeval spell word and spelled K-A-Y-L-E-I-G–H. He obviously replied in the affirmative and this was now getting into the realms of the completely insane. I was wondering yet again if I had been given some mind-altering drugs in the huge amounts of IV nonsense I was having but no, he confirmed that his wife was called Kayleigh.
I had already worked out roughly what year he was born and so I had to venture the suggestion, “Ah, so her parents were Marillion fans then”? “Yes”. That was it, game on in the most intense fashion. His wife was called Kayleigh and early Marillion are probably my favourite band ever, this was getting just a bit trippy. No, it was actually getting beyond that, this was now heading somewhere out the far door of madness and I had a very brief notion that I was sliding down some sort of mad rabbit hole.
It is strange how your mind works in such situations. Well, it is strange for me for my mind to work at all but that is another story. I knew I was sitting up which would not have been allowed if I was in danger of falling, I knew that I was unencumbered by IV stands and so I knew that I therefore couldn’t be “stoned” on medication unless it was one of the pills they threw into me at very frequent intervals but I felt fine.
I pulled up my rather unflattering hospital pyjama top and showed him the “Fish” tattoo on my upper left arm which I had done some years ago by a very good biker tattooist called Tasso (Anastassos) in Larnaca in Cyprus. I shall publish a not very good image of it here taken with the said hospital gown, don’t you just love the design? I do have some much better ones, including getting it done but it was all I could find at present and it is contemporary with the story. If you are not aware, Fish happens to be an acquaintance of mine as well as being one of my all time musical favourites.
Kayleigh seemed pleased with the image, which I had sent via the Doc and asked if she could send it to her Mum and Dad as they were indeed huge fans. Of course she could, I have nothing to hide and the Doc and I were getting on like a house on fire by this point. Naturally the conversation turned to other things relating to Fish and Marillion and I am not being unkind but I am not sure how much the Doc actually knew about the band. I suspect it was not his musical scene, no problem there. Chacun a son gout as the French have it.
Of course the “Fish” tattoo led on to a further third party discussion about the music, mostly I feel instituted on behalf of her parents and I could not resist digging out the bove image of the Big Man and I at a party on his farm a few years ago. I told her I had done some photography for Fish’s website and also for some photography on one of his XXXX CD booklets and this seemed to excite a lot of interest. It was so unbelievable a coincidence I was actually probably in shock, although that would undoubtedly have shown up on my obs. readings!
I should just clear up the whole Kayleigh name mystery here. It is the title of arguably Marillion’s most commercially successful single issued in 1985 as a cut form the wonderful Misplaced Childhood album. The name was invented by Fish, who wrote the lyrics, and was a conflation of the two forenames of a previous girlfriend which were Kay and Leigh (Lee?). He has always guarded her full identity closely as she went on to another life long before the record. Before 1985 apparently there was no example of the name Kayleigh being registered for births in the UK and after it there was a massive surge in people calling their daughters by the new name that was initially invented for a prog rock track!
I have never met the lovely Kayleigh and I do feel sorry for her. Again, I am not breaking any confidences here, the Doc. told me I could write about their situation.
Neither of these brilliant young people are from London with the Doc, as previously stated, from the Kingdom of Fife and Kayleigh from in or about Newcastle, a place I know and love so I cannot wait to discuss it with her. They had lived for a while in a completely different part of London and moved to the East End just about the time the British Government woke up to the Chinese virus and instituted house arrest aka lockdown.
The Doc got ill shortly after and so there was poor Kayleigh in a new flat (apartment), knowing nobody and unable to meet anyone, whilst her constantly available point of reference in this huge city, her hubby, was stuck listening to my nonsense in a hospital ward. We were easy walking distance away from their new home but obviously she could not visit. I am sure Kayleigh has many friends but had no way of meeting them. E-mail and Skype really aren’t the same, are they? Hard times indeed.
The day proceeded ever so well and the dinner lady even managed to bring me a couple of meals that would not have left a sparrow hungry. Monday is beef lasagne day and it isn’t too bad. The soup as always was great, it is the best thing in there. Not much else to report for this day which is hardly surprising after two full Diary entries for one day.
Mark and I both did our thing, chatted a bit although we didn’t seem to solve any more of the physical mysteries of the world that evening. As is the way in hospital, everyone else turned in and I sat up most of the night watching documentaries and reading a bit and I managed a couple of hours kip before the whole daily round of hospital life started all over again.
If you want to know what happened on Tuesday then stay tuned and spread the word.