A perfect sunny day:
Monday (the 21st of Sept) was a perfect Indian summer day.
It started cool and crystal blue and became warm and sunny. A gentle breeze drifted off the first pale autumn leaves from the birch, like slow confetti. I was on the ranch by nine. Realising that this was probably the year’s last sunny day, I made the most of it, alternating maximum vit D boosting with gentle pottering: watering; harvesting; emptying the horse muck and seed collecting. I even made a cup of hand-ground coffee and read a bit. I had a sense of profound gratitude to have such a beautiful place. A magical piece of wild hill with the most stunning view. A microcosm. A micro-climate with some inbuilt resistance to extremes of climate. A micro eco-system. For years I’ve said that incorporating clean food growing into ordinary everyday life will once again became the way forward. They did it in the war. Now it’s here again and it will increase and increase. City life will lose meaning and people will flock to rural areas – they already are.
This is my last post – at least from this series. When I wrote the book, it was a Eureka idea: to write prospectively from birthday to birthday using the annual cycle of the ranch for a framework in which to pepper anecdotes about punk bands, doctoring and so on. Not quite an auto-biography but certainly autobiographical. It was also an exercise in DIY, side-stepping the conventional publishing industry. I ended up completely re-writing the initial draft.
This year, I’ve done it again but no cheating – in the shape of a regular blog, with pictures and links. Strictly prospective. Of the moment. The cool kids say that about four hundred words is right for a blog, but once I start, I can bang out three times that amount in no time. Will it become a second book? I’m not sure. It’s certainly served its purpose though as a simple exercise in developing the discipline of writing. I’ve succeeded. I can write quickly about anything anytime – no such thing as writer’s block. I have found my style and stride and I’m sticking with it.
I read a quote the other day by Stephen King:
‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’
Bollocks. I can understand how that applies to most writers but not to me. I deliberately don’t read much. I have enough to write about to last me the rest of my life. I could sit down and write every day and still not get it down: characters and stories from my dad’s generation; stories of music; stories from medicine; stories of organic gardening. I also have a lot of extremely raunchy steamy stories and I might have to use a pseudonym for those.
I don’t have an editor or a publisher or an agent for guidance, so it’s just me and the trees as usual, which is fine. I read the winds, the seasons and the moods and I get my guidance elsewhere.
I heard a series on Woman’s Hour about Gertrude Stein and Hemingway (alas Jane and Jenni are going – the end of another era). Hemingway is writing for a newspaper in Toronto. Stein advises him to stop and concentrate solely on his own writing. It applies to me. I have to slow down the blog to concentrate on another project, although I must continue in some shape or form, simply to document the incredible unfolding real life story.
I have a few novels in my head which run around taking shape in crisp detail during sleepless nights. One runs around more than others so I’m going with that.
It’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another and I must summarise – observations of the unfolding situation around the world, COVID, Rock & Roll and of course gardening.
Ranch-wise, it’s been a good year.
There’s now a functioning greenhouse which just needs the automatic irrigation system finishing off. When Gwen and I visited the organic farm near Clapham, I realised that greenhouses and poly-tunnels are essential to grow commercially round here. As with most of my projects, it has its characteristic buffoonery element. I deliberately made it two-storey so that the top floor gets no shade at all, but it’s not high enough to stand up in so I’m constantly smacking my head on the rafters and sharp metal support struts.
I’ve grown more than ever before and the infrastructure has improved in readiness for even larger-scale growing next season. We even managed to sell a few bits and pieces and more and more people are saying they’ll buy stuff. We’ll start by just selling at the bottom of the track. Local innit.
As with every year, some things do better than others but the stalwarts usually win through: beetroot; spuds; onions; garlic; peas; runner beans; courgettes; gherkins. Others are creeping up the charts, thanks in part to the long-awaited arrival of the g’house: tomatoes; basil; chillies; peppers.
Then there’s the figs. Figs in Burnley? You’re shitting me. Sweet. Luscious. Fresh figs are nothing like dried figs. They’re a metaphor. Something improbably exotic and oriental in grey scruff town. Don’t underestimate us. People are intrigued and mildly surprised. Figs? Really? I’ve had so many this year, that I’ve been driven to cooking (steady on boy – don’t get ahead of yourself). I was inspired by my favourite childhood biscuit on earth – the fig roll. I studied a few recipes and tried to make some but they were shite. I then made a brace of fig tarts which were even worse. I discussed it with Eimhear and she suggested caramelising them with sugar and butter. Apo at work loves fresh figs and he’s kindly said that he’ll bring me some proper olive oil and oregano from his grandma’s farm in Greece. Now that’s cool. A trade between Greece and Burnley via an emergency department in Greater Manchester. Fuck off brexit.
I’ve changed tack. I’ve tried concentrating on one project at once and it just doesn’t work. Like nature, it has to be fluid and changing, so I’m back to working simultaneously on several projects at once: concrete plinths; compost bins; the paths at the bottom; a poly-tunnel; unfinished demi-sheds; security (we had a spate of break-ins a couple of weeks ago) and so on.
One little project snuck in. I took the best camping cooker out of the cellar to replace the knackered old one. It’s wider, meaning a new stand. I read an article in a Sunday paper about the rise in popularity of al fresco cooking and the availability of outdoor twat-cooking gear. Before I knew it, I’d made a complete kitchenette affair – somewhere dry and insect & spider proof.
I’ve got some new people on one of my bottom allotments. They’re old friends – I’ve known them years. They’re keen and they get the organic permaculture thing. As usual I don’t charge rent – just labour to help me keep on top of mine. Alex, Phil, Elias, Dewy and Gwen still help out, so we have a neat little farming thing going on – ‘plot to plate for dicktards and mavericks.’
The other ranch:
The other ranch is tight. The other ranch is neat. The other ranch is cool as fuck.
We look after people from the ENTIRE human spectrum and we do it well.
We get the shit end of every single stick and we take it in our stride.
We now have front door streaming (at last!) so that people from Sale with paper cuts don’t take up precious emergency resources.
There’s a lot of (tough) love. Especially from us battered battle-hardened twenty-year club veterans.
Would you like to tell us that Covid is a hoax? Just come a bit closer. I have a sharp stick in my pocket.
One section of the spectrum that has always fascinated me is the travelling community. I have a vague link via the hillside. People who keep horses generally have some connection with travellers. I bought my field off Monty who’s from Southern Ireland. He’s always been a horse man. He goes to Appleby every year.
I’m astonished by the racism shown towards them, especially in healthcare environments. It would be unthinkable to use the ‘P’ word when talking about someone of Asian heritage. It would be unthinkable to use the ‘N’ word when talking about someone of Afro-Caribbean heritage, yet the equivalent ‘P’ word for travellers is still used freely. Don’t forget that it wasn’t just the jews that the Nazis rounded up and murdered.
They are a passionate breed with a bad reputation which isn’t entirely deserved. I have a soft spot for any underdog – especially resourceful ones who sneak between the cracks like me. If one of theirs is injured or dies, they will descend in droves to the emergency department. Often there is rage (there’s sometimes in-fighting) but at the heart of it is a deep sense of family love and loyalty. They look after each other and they look out for each other.
I don’t know why, but we have lots of Irish doctors and nurses at our place and I’m glad. I secretly wish I was Irish and I so want to go to Ireland. I don’t care if it rains. It rains in Burnley and Salford too.
Recently, we had a fairly big incident requiring a lot of tact, which impacted quite heavily on the department. I suggested sending someone Irish out to talk to them – sounds patronising, but Erin and Tony suggested it too.
Afterwards, we talked at length about travellers and it was fascinating to learn more, from an Irish perspective. Tony went into details about some of the customs and the importance of family being around at the time of death – the passing round of candles and so on.
Erin told a moving story of a lad who became head boy at his school and she remarked how her brother had objected to the use of the ‘P’ word in one of his conversations. He too is a Rock & Roll doc – far more successful than me – touring Canada and featuring in top tens.
The recruitment film did very well in the end. I got a report from my social media colleague and it got thousands of views.
I’ve already told the story in detail of how I ended up making it – it had to be Twitterable, so I was limited to just over two minutes. You would imagine that a project like that would involve a team of people but in the end it was just me. Every time I canvassed opinion I just got comments like ‘You’re the director’.
I didn’t know where to start, but I knew where not to start. No way was it going to be spectacularly dull like all the other hospital recruitment videos that I studied. Nor was it going to be like the BBC documentary that had been recently been filmed in our department.
I don’t like programmes about Emergency Departments, because NONE of them come close to capturing the essence.
The first bit was the hardest. I felt excruciatingly uncomfortable carrying round a camera on a tripod like a dick. Once I started, it got easier. I decided early on not to use interviews and my original plan was for Erin to narrate it – she’d already done one at Liverpool and she has the perfect voice. I then decided to write an instrumental backing track for it (although that gorgeous Northern Irish lilt gets a brief cameo right at the end).
I came up with a Northern soulish/Booker T & the MGsish ascending guitar riff – I wanted it to be upbeat and happy. I did a guide version to a click track, then put on all the other instruments.
It had to be different. It had to be at least a bit radical. The semi-naked bloke on the tractor at the end was initially a joke, but everyone said ‘keep it in’.
I fully expected the final cut to be banned, but it made it past the censors – there are cryptic tributes in there to Derry (we have our own Derry Girls); Notsensibles and Frantic Elevators (who are mentioned in the book – Thomo had heard of them which was the omen leading me to take a job there).
Once I’d decided on a musical backing track, I could tell people that the sound on the filming wouldn’t be used. I ended up with a huge amount of unused footage with some utterly hilarious dialogue on it (including the odd rude word!)
I used two fairly cheap DSLR cameras ( a Canon 550D and a Panasonic Lumix G7). The best footage ended up being with the Canon, hand-held and hand-focused, using a 50mm 1:1.4 ‘prime’ lenses.
I didn’t just want it to be about us consultants – I wanted it to reflect the genuine set-up, so I got clips of everyone – nurses, doctors, support workers, advanced practitioners and so on. I ended up with a huge amount of unused footage which is accidentally fly on the wall, because of the background unintended dialogue.
Now I have the notion to make a little documentary of the making of the film with Erin interviewing me about it – it would be a shame to waste all that footage.
Rock & Roll:
is food for the soul.
During lock-down I was kind of shell-shocked – scared and uncertain. I lost all desire to play music and hardly touched my guitar. A few Fridays ago we started having little music gatherings and I’m going to continue – mainly just me Gaz and Tyler recording songs and making videos. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the mood or not. It’s a discipline to counter despondency. One thing that Covid has taken away is human joy and companionship. No one can estimate the damage to the long-term collective psyche. We’ve had a 200% increase in mental health related attendances at our place. Doing creative stuff is desperately important for mental well-being. No bloated Colombian marching powder cunt is going to tell me what I can and can’t do in my own house. They can all fuck off. I believe I have the means and experience to objectively assess the risks, which brings me to …..
COVID (and how to start a revolution with just six people).
This is my truth, experience and opinion. No-one else’s.
I was watching closely: China and Italy.
I knew it was coming to us.
We’re a good hospital and our preparations at all levels were good. We were (and still are) well-prepared. Intensive care increased its capacity.
I was genuinely scared – there were a lot of unknowns.
For a start, I live with someone in the second most vulnerable category. I knew that I would be working in a Covid mist including exposure to a high viral load. I had a difficult decision to make. I seriously considered living on the ranch but I needed access to a shower etc to be able to go to work.
In the end, Louise and Rachel moved up to Lesley’s. They were bitterly resentful and didn’t agree.
Louise is coruscatingly down to earth. Sometimes hilariously so, sometimes romance-shatteringly so. I will often joke ‘Ah, I see you’re rehearsing for the tactlessness of the century awards’.
She’s also sweetly child-like. Like a little girl. She still has all her dollies.
She has the most perceptive eye and I sometimes call her ‘The Finder’. When the kids were small and Cartman-like, she would find their lost stuff. ‘Merm – find my fucking underpants and find them now’. She’s a bargain finder – houses, large improbable architectural objects but most of all clothes and unlikely pretty and interesting objects that can be made into jewels.
She’s like a funny little snuffling animal burrowing and hunting in shoppies. Any shoppies, but especially charity shops, where she is queen.
She is so very well put together – more or less a different outfit every day – bright, outrageous and perfectly accessorised and balanced. She’s in Vivienne Westwood territory but far better.
So many times, I’ve said to her that she could make a living out of clothes and jewellery but she’s not interested. She wants to keep it all. I want to downsize and she wants to upsize. ‘My wife and I live quite frugally. I like beer and she likes tea …..’
Living on my own was surreal, and at first a novelty. I just went to work and to the ranch which was utterly gorgeous in the spring and summer – a soothing balm.
The hardest thing was going home on my own to an empty house and I ended up drinking too much and getting depressed. The weeks became months. I have images of standing apart at the doorway and her crying. She’s back now and it’s OK.
As for Covid, like most, I am weary.
First of all let’s talk about ‘the government’.
Long before Covid, I’ve talked about their utter and absolute corruption and how they don’t give a shit about ordinary people. I’ve also talked about the astonishing indifference of the pudgy stodgy quasi-bourgeois English.
The crisis has played into the government’s hands and their corruption increases blatantly and publicly on a day-to-day basis – astonishingly so.
They have engineered a situation whereby the UK is part of a super-state along with the US and others, having lost all its social protection from Europe.
They have a vice-like grip on their increasing billionaire assets, whilst profiting mercilessly from ordinary people. Their handling of Covid (and Brexit) has been astoundingly and panoramically inept (let’s release thousands of drunk people onto the streets at precisely 10pm and see what happens?) I trust NOTHING that they say. Their use of propaganda via their billionaire-owned press and social media is unprecedented. People are polarised and subtly brainwashed by insidious algorithms. Talking about revolting on social media you moron prick? They know EVERYTHING about you. They can pick you off any time.
My impressions of Covid are formed by:
a: working in it. b: researching the science. c: researching the activities and conflicts of interest of the government and their puppet-masters.
1. It is real and deadly. It predominately targets certain groups (overweight older blokes; diabetics; those with compromised immune systems, BAME people), however there have been many completely fit people killed and debilitated by it.
2. Likening it to flu is nonsense – around 4000 vs >40 000 deaths.
3. More than 600 front-line UK workers have died from it, attempting to protect and help others.
4. Outside of in-hospital diagnostics, testing is ambivalent – it is run by a corrupt private company with grotesque conflict-of-interest profiteering links to the government. No-one knows the sensitivity or specificity of the tests. There are many anecdotes of false positives. Of course the numbers of cases will increase if testing is increased. This doesn’t correlate with morbidity and mortality.
5. Since August, Gov.uk deaths have been recorded as anyone dying within 28 days of a positive test. You could test positive, be completely asymptomatic and die of something else. You would still be in the figures. It would be far more accurate to record the deaths of those fulfilling Covid diagnostic criteria (of which a +ve test is just one).
6. Masks have been worn by surgeons for decades for very good reason, as a single aspect of an encompassing armoury of sterile aseptic technique. The evidence of their efficacy in Covid is sporadic but that’s not the point. If we wear them constantly for hours on end as part of our efforts to protect you, then it’s basic manners to wear them when you’re buying your fucking toilet roll at Aldi. If you go into a shop without a mask then abuse the staff, please don’t be disappointed if you get an ultimate pricktard award when you come out..
7. Is there a second wave? It’s difficult to tell. All-cause deaths go up in autumn and winter: Flu; pneumonia; COPD; Ischaemic heart disease etc. As Covid is currently endemic, of course related deaths go up. At the moment I estimate it’s approximately fifteen-fold less than at the peak. I’m still watching and waiting, Yes there will be a second wave, but will it be as bad as the first one? I really don’t know. Personally, I don’t think so, but I am quite prepared to hold up my hand if I am proved wrong. Does it justify the widespread loss of livelihood and destruction of human social cohesion? I don’t think so.
8. The rule of six. Of all the condescending patronising shite that the government has thrust on us, this takes the biscuit. It’s like a red rag to a bull. Especially when it comes from the coke-spittling mouth of the odious prick who is even more grotesque than his puppet. My fiery Scottish friend interprets it as ‘which six of the cunts shall we take out first?’ He advocates a Scottish broadsword to the back of the neck followed by a variation of the Scottish stick and ball game. The heads are placed on an up-scaled tee and batted into the audience with a giant club. The audience comprises the rest of them, including their puppet-masters. They’re fenced in and have nowhere to hide. Wherever the head lands, the next six are picked out and so on. Sounds a bit grim, but it somehow surreally reflects the collective rage that is boiling under.
9. Will people revolt? Can people revolt in their bubbles? Hmm – not sure – too busy on Facebook. The police are just people and they’re are as weary and pissed-off with the government as the rest of us. Do you seriously think they are going to come out if aunt Nelly has ten people round for her 90th? One of the biggest increases in the (under-resourced, under-funded) police’s workload has been dealing with mental health problems.
10. How to revolt? The first thing is to switch off phones and computers and get away from them (car sat-navs are included) – otherwise they will map every move. The second thing is to un-subscribe intelligently from as many of their corporations as possible. This means lots of small word-of-mouth grass roots organisations and supporting local family business. Research previous oppositions in this country. There are many and they’ve worked. Demonstrations? Hmm tricky. At least wear masks and social distance otherwise you’ll just alienate lots of potential allies. Above all, put friends and family first and assess the risks to the vulnerable and act with respect accordingly. Research. Question EVERYTHING. Finally, the biggest revolution is to grow your own food from open-pollinated seed and distribute it locally. Dewy and I are launching a new project called Common Ground, where we teach people how to do it from scratch, no matter what their circumstances or the space available to them. It also includes all the other threads that I’ve been working on for years such as ‘make your own record’. ‘start a band’ ‘How to cook your home-grown produce’ ‘mend your own car’ ‘Medicine – a modern insight’. I might give it a go.
I was born in Tod. Esme and I are walking there to have our tea at The Golden Lion on this particular eve. Ciao for now.