Well, well, looks like my generally disorganised life has degenerated into complete madness again.
To try and make some sense of it I should explain that I started this piece some weeks ago in the lovely town of Morecambe on the Lancashire coast but so much has happened since then and I have not got round to updating the blog. There will be tales of all sorts of things, including a hospitalisation (yes, another one!), two canal boat / music festivals (one of which I was booked to play at), a five day canal trip and much else but I decided to leave the below entry as originally written on the principle, as always, that if I start jumping back to the present things will just become too disjointed and confusing. The portion of text in inverted commas is what was written all those weeks ago and then I shall carry on from there.
“I am am writing this in a bar in Chester awaiting the arrival of my friend to take me to play at a canal boat festival which I am really looking forward to.
Another friend has even offered me a lift back to London but not a lift in the conventional sense, it is not so much a “slow boat to China” but a slow boat, towing an unpowered butty back down South. I really am struggling to think how life could get any better. A weekend of playing music with some dear friends and then a canal trip home, perfect.
Anyway, here is the offering from two weeks ago and I shall continue it as and when, I need to watch my time as there is a very fine cheese shop here in Chester that I want to visit before I leave!
Hello again folks and welcome to the next edition of what is becoming a quite productive few days in Morecambe now that I seem to have got my writing mojo back. Again, thanks for all the lovely comments, I really thought everyone would have forgotten me after so long away. It is always much appreciated.
Back now to my trip to Broadstairs in August 2021 where Folk Week had ended and the usual post-Festival slump kicked in. Having been running on adrenaline and not a little cider for a week there is a personal “comedown” and indeed one in the whole town. There is a sort of “Festival hangover” and I suspect it was worse this year than before because of all the uncertainties which had kept people on their toes and having to adapt continually (see my previous entries for evidence of this).
As I mentioned in the last entry I was going nowhere and planning to stay put although hopefully in happier circumstances than 2019 when I ended up in hospital for a month. If you have not already read about that interesting little episode, you can do so here.
I should mention in passing a very sad sight I had seen during Folk Week and it is shown above. The Broadstairs Tandoori was a superb place and was around as long as I can ever remember during Folk Week although getting a table during the Festival was damn nigh impossible. It was absolutely first class but is now sadly shut,
Unlike most UK “Indian” restaurants which are all owned, cheffed and waited by Bangladeshis from Sylhet Province, this one was a little different in that it was owned and run by Nepalis. I believe the owner was an ex-Gurkha and this would make sense as there are quite a lot of them round this area of Kent because they had a UK base not far along the coast.
For many years prior to the virus, Folk Week used to employ a local security firm staffed by ex-Gurkhas and their families. I can tell you there was no trouble in or around the campsite. I have had the privilege of travelling in Nepal (many years ago) and you just don’t mess with those little brown men. I mean no disrespect at all by using that term because I have the utmost respect for them, it is merely an affectionate Forces term for the Gurkhas. They are amongst the fiercest and most loyal soldiers in the British Army and I think they are wonderful. Well, the Broadstairs Tandoori is gone and is going to be turned into flats, as if Broadstairs needed any more of those! What a shame.
So what to do? The answer is pretty simple, I just reverted to Broadstairs mode. Unlike many people who only ever visit the town for Folk Week, I am one of these odd buggers that actually visits off-season, I have even spent Christmas and New Year there but that is a story for another time.
I reverted to days of the George, the Crown and the Wrotham interspersed every Wednesday by the local Folk Club in the Tartar Frigate and every alternate Monday afternoon at the wonderful jam session in the Magnet. Yes, I know it sounds odd and I thought when I was first told of it that someone was pulling my leg but no. Every other Monday there is a jam session in that lovely pub, mostly blues and rock but anything goes, that is why it is called a jam! There is a whole long story behind how it started which I will not bore you with but it is brilliant.
The first time I turned up to play there I was expecting everyone to laugh at me with the guitar and say “Gotcha” as if it was some sort of elaborate practical joke but no, it was for real and I could not even get a seat in the admittedly tiny pub. It was packed and there were about six guys knocking out some very acceptable blues and rock.
Before I got into full-on Broadstairs mode there was something I needed to do when I was told about it. For as long as I have been playing Broadstairs Folk Week, one of the constants of the event was a guy called Davey Slater, a superb DADGAD (a type of detuning of the more usual classical EADGBE) and a great singer. He played in various bands including Pavanne and Phoenix which was a duo with my dear friend Krista on fiddle. Indeed it was Krista who had organised this entire gig.
The gig was held in a Scout Hut of all places in the middle of the wilds of Kent, I have no idea where exactly as I was driven there by my friends Phil and Amy. It was an excellent afternoon with heaps of very tasty food and a succession of brilliant musicians all there to show their respect for “one of us”. Krista had asked me to play and I had the guitar but, in the event I dipped out. There was already a superb line-up, some of which you can see here, here and here and I didn’t trust myself not to crack up halfway through a number. It was a very emotional day and I have been known to lose it onstage in such circumstances which is pretty embarrassing.
At one point I was outside for a smoke and I heard, in the distance, a set of bagpipes being played and obviously the drones tuned up. Now I do not know how many of my readers have ever been up close to a set of highland pipes but they are extremely loud. An entire band of them would make your ears bleed, it is like being at a Sammy Hagar concert. I once heard a remark that the definition of a gentleman was someone who can play the bagpipes – and doesn’t! Personally, I love them. With my Scottish surname (Campbell) I suppose it must be genetically inherited or something.
Broadstairs just drifted on as it tends to do and I would happily have stayed there longer but I had to return to London for some medical appointments. Yes, I know it will sound crazy to Britons reading but I actually had to meet some clinicians face to face.
It is over two years now since I actually spoke to my GP in person as opposed to over the telephone under the concept of the “new normal” which is just an excuse for the NHS to make it easier on themselves. For all I know I could be talking to my GP who is sitting at home in his pyjamas! I do dislike the “new normal” phrase as it is anything but. It is abnormal and flies totally in the face of everything the NHS stands for. It is not normal at all, it is completely abnormal so why think up these pathetic euphemisms?
I am a great believer in honesty and in the same way as I insist on calling Covid-19 the Chinese Virus (which it is) and “lockdown” house arrest (which it was) I shall call the “new normal” what it is, the current abnormal.
On the upside of the NHS, for which I am hugely appreciative as they have saved my life twice in the last three years, I should mention an incident that happened on 24/08/2021. My leg had been getting progressively worse to the point where walking was becoming very difficult so I thought I had better get it checked out.
No need to get an ambulance as I only had to hobble across the road from my digs and get on a bus which literally dropped me at the front door of the QEQM hospital who had looked after me so well before two years previously. You can read about it here.
My mate Jack, who happens to be on the Committee of Folk Week, is a paramedic. The tales he tells me of the number of calls they have to deal with, most of them serious but sadly too many of them not requiring an ambulance at all, is frightening. I wasn’t going to tie them up further when there was no need and so I got the bus to A&E (the ER for my North American readers). I wish more people would think before calling 999 (911 elsewhere) and tying up guys like Jack and his mates.
I had taken the precaution of loading my daysac with a couple of good books and my computer. Firstly, I know that waits in A&E are lengthy and it would not be the first time I had been admitted to hospital when I didn’t expect to be. Best to be prepared.
I was eventually seen and told I required some sort of scan and that I was lucky as they had a spare slot at 1630 that day. Lucky? It was now about 1300 but this was not a problem for me. My local knowledge of the area was sufficient to know that there was a great little pub called Lester’s literally 100 yards from the front entrance to the hospital. I suppose you can guess what happened next. Lester’s it was for a couple of pints which is not, I suppose, the proper preparation for being in hospital but I could not see it doing too much harm.
I was eventually seen and scanned and told that I would be referred back to the Royal London Hospital which, in the event, never happened (again). Despite the multi millions of pounds that have been spent on the NHS infrastructure they still do not seem to be able to communicate internally. It has happened to me time and time again.
I headed back to London and apparently little of note happened as I didn’t take a single image for nearly a month but I had something on the horizon.
Readers of the earliest part of this series will know that I am composing this in the North of England (the excellent King’s Arms in Morecambe to be precise) after having attended the wonderful Virtual Tourist Euromeet 2022 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne organised by my dear friend Sarah. Back in September of 2021 she had arranged a small meet in Newcastle, not the full Euromeet but it was still going to be fun.
Conscious of my increasing mobility problems with a) my leg and b) my increasing breathlessness I was taking no chances. The Newcastle train leaves from King’s Cross which is a straight run from my local Tube Station but there is no lift nor escalator there so I decided to play safe and ordered a cab. I was delivered in very good time, as I had planned, collected my ticket and thought I would have a pint.
There is a decent little bar in King’s Cross called the Parcel Yard although it is obscenely overpriced, even by central London standards. I went there, even though I only had a very small and relatively light suitcase, by the lift and returned the same way. Despite all these precautions I had become very breathless and a little dizzy after about ten steps. Fortunately, there was a bench nearby me and so I sat down. I rested myself and breathed deeply until I felt able to carry on. I stood up from the bench and this is where it all went horribly wrong.
I got myself halfway up and then just kept going forward. It is said that in moments of danger like imminent car crashes or whatever, that time slows and it certainly did for me. In the fraction of a second it took me to hit the deck, I knew I was going to go down,m I knew I did not have time to get my hands down to break my fall and I knew I was going to hit my head, which is exactly what happened.
Having played a lot of rugby in my younger days I knew exactly what was going to happen as soon as I hit the deck. Scalp wounds bleed profusely and look horrendous when they are effectively nothing. Such was the case here. I went head first, made contact just over my right eye and, due to the inherent bleeding capacity of scalp wounds, exacerbated by my being on anti-coagulants, it was like a fountain. The concourse of King’s Cross soon looked like a bad day in the slaughterhouse.
I am often scathing about the British rail system and for, I believe, valid reasons but I have to say that the station staff in King’s Cross that day were excellent. Within a couple of minutes there were two of them with a well-stocked medical kit attending to me. To be honest, my overwhelming feeling was one of complete embarrassment at causing such a fuss. I had tried to staunch the blood flow with the tissues I had in my pocket but they produced all the requisite kit to do it and appeared to have a decent grasp of first aid, they were most solicitous.
All this took a while and my train departure was getting ever closer. I explained my situation to them and they were excellent, praise where it is due. Whilst the female member of staff continued to attend to me, the male member took my ticket and returned shortly thereafter with a chit allowing me to travel on the next train which should have cost me a fortune as I was on a departure specific ticket (much cheaper and I recommend them).
From where I was it was a very short walk to my platform but it was over a footbridge. That should have been no problem but it was. Even with the platform assistant carrying my small suitcase for me, I got to the bridge and literally could not breathe, I honestly thought I was dying. The lovely staff assisted me back down the stairs, sat me down in a staff only area and said they were calling an ambulance. I would normally have argued that I did not need one but in truth I doubt I could have made it home myself on public transport and I hate tying up ambulance crews but there really was no option.
The ambulance turned up and I spent a long time in the back of it being checked and tested and all sorts of things. I was actually amazed at the range of kit they have in ambulances these days. They even did some sort of ECG on me, it was incredible and again, praise where it is due, the ambulance crew were superb but, then again, they always are, those guys are proper heroes even if the word is much overused but it certainly applies to them. Way back in the way back when ambulances were just a means of moving casualties from wherever to hospital (look at any 70’s TV show) but now they are effectively mobile surgeries staffed by people who are near as dammit doctors, brilliant.
After I had been poked and prodded for some time the paramedic said they were taking me to hospital. OK, I knew something was wrong but I just did not know what. I was duly admitted to UCL Hospital in Euston where I was poked and prodded some more and asked the same questions by about half a dozen different people and ended up in a sort of “halfway house” adjacent to the A&E Department. It was not a proper ward but the sign on the wall denoted it as the Same Day Emergency Department. I had never heard of such a thing before but I suppose it makes sense. People that they just want to keep in overnight for observations can be housed here and not take up a bed in a mainstream ward.
My kit lay tidily packed away. looking forlorn and useless as I lay there with a canula in my wrist, my friends about three hundred miles away and me with no way to get to them waiting for some medico to tell me what the Hell had gone wrong with me this time. Yes, I was annoyed and frustrated but I wasn’t particularly angry or resentful, cursing my lot. I know I have lived, loved and partied hard and now it is payback time. Remember this, dear readers, and I do not wish to be over philosophical about it but, to use a law of physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is the reaction to all my years of wildness so I cannot complain, nor will I.
It was comfortable enough and a single room which was OK although, being effectively part of A&E it was noisy all night as those places tend to be but I wasn’t in much mood for sleeping. The food was pretty sketchy as well but not a problem. The problem was that instead of being with some dear friends who I had not seen for years in the wonderful Centurion Bar in Newcastle, I was lying in a hospital bed in central London and wondering exactly what the Hell was wrong with me now, I thought they had diagnosed all my ailments but apparently not.
After a sleepless night and a slice of toast and cup of coffee (the sandwich pictured came at about 0300!) which constituted breakfast I was visited by a charming nurse who informed me she was a respiratory specialist. What? I already knew my gastro-intestinal system and vascular system were shot, surely not my respiratory system as well. Apparently so. She told me I was suffering from COPD and explained that I may know it better as emphysema (apparently I look old enough to have it thus explained to me). I must admit that I thought that was a disease suffered by coal miners in the last century due to inhaling coal dust and that is true but it seems that there are other ways of contracting it, smoking being the most common.
I am not going to bemoan my fate as the fault is entirely mine. I have been smoking for over 50 years now, heavily for most of that period and it has taken it’s inevitable toll. The upshot of the whole incident was that I was discharged the next morning with an inhaler and told to carry it with me at all times which I do although fortunately I do not need to use it too often. I was told I would be referred back to my GP for an appointment to discuss the situation. Almost needless to say with my local surgery, I am still waiting for that appointment nearly ten months later and I am not holding my breath, even if I could hold my breath for more than about three seconds now.
The upshot of the whole thing is that my health is fairly well shot which is no surprise. I have lived a very dissolute life, made choices regarding alcohol and nicotine (I never did drugs) that are impacting me now but I cannot complain, nor will I. I made my choices and I shall live (and inevitably die) by them. I remember a while back someone said to me, in the common parlance of this millennium, “Fergy, get a life”. I cannot remember the exact circumstances, they are not important but I replied, “Why? I have lived three already” and it is true. Yes, I am paying for it now but there is always a price to pay, that is the way of the world.
On that slightly philosophical note I think this might be a good time to break as this has gone on long enough now, I feel. I know I promised you festivals, narrowboat trips etc. but they will wait for another time. Dear reader, if you have made it thus far I applaud your tenacity and thank you. Without too much of a spoiler, I did eventually meet my friends in Newcastle but that is probably a couple of entries down the line. I am in a mood for writing now so if you want to know what happens to my increasingly crocked old carcass next, stay tuned!
Since writing this piece I have sadly learned of the death of my friend Jeff Matthews, one of the founders and stalwart members of the jam at the Magnet which I mention in this post. I played with him last September, as I had done for years and he was a great bass player, we had many a good jam together. Last time I played with him, his illness prevented him from speaking but we communicated by hand signals and it worked. I knew he was ill but it still comes as a shock to find out that an old playing buddy has died. Rest easy, my friend.
For the little that it is worth, I dedicate this piece to my mate Jeff with fond memories and it just won’t be the same without you.