Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some more baby pictures...

Here she is aged one month back in January...

And here's all three of us on a day out at Cork Zoo in April:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A new arrival

This morning, the 6 December 2009, at 7.17am, a beautiful girl arrived into our lives. Here's a picture taken a few minutes after she emerged into the world.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The March of the Dead - Halloween 2007

Big Buzzard Brass took to the ancient Roman Road which today heads north from Shoreditch and Hoxton to Dalston in East London, as part of the Strangeworks/Passing Clouds march. There was a band leading the march (the first one in the video above) while we brought up the rear, with Sousaphone, trombones and saxophones.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Commuter Jazz - James Alsop's "Fraud"

Was playing with my new toy (a Nokia N95 phone/camera/). I've been saying for a while that musicians (and performers of any knid) need to get over their traditional dislike of being recorded or filmed by 'unauthorised' people at performances, as one day, everyone and his dog will be carrying something in the palm of their hand which is capable of making broadcast quality video and audio. Well that day is getting ever closer. This phone, which is smaller than my hand, can record an hour of reasonable quality video and audio - and could, in theory, be uploading it simultaneously to a website somewhere. The films below were recorded on it last night at the South Bank.They were on maximum zoom, which further reduces the picture quality, but impressive for something so tiny, which Orange is giving away for free to contract customers who pay £35 a month.

Some superb playing from James Alsop on tenor, bass clarinet and baritone sax, in a band he fronts, with two drummers behind him, plus keyboard, guitar and assorted electronica. He has a gorgeous sound on all three horns - especially perhaps the bass clarinet.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Having lunch at the BFI with Aste, talking about various apocalyptic scenarios...

Here's a snatch of the Apocalypse Game Show:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

London Tap Jam

Last night I went down to the basement of the Digress Bar in Soho for the second time to experience the joy which is the London Tap Jam. It happens down there every two months, and has a regular cast of amazing young dancers, led by the formidably talented (and very musical) Junior Laniyan. Here's a random snatch of what was going on, with live accompaniment by the Dave Silk trio, with Phil Parnell on piano and Guy Silk on drums.

I got there quite late (after a meeting with London CoHousing). I was invited to join in, first with a singer (Kelly, I think), who performed a powerful version of 'Over the Rainbow'. Then a dancer asked if I would do an improvised duet with her. This was the top spot of the evening for me - for very selfish reasons. Somehow (despite the fact that my G# key was stuck firmly shut, changing much of what I was trying to play) a strange melody emerged, a cross between something slightly arabic sounding, and a gentle swing. I have a feeling I played a bit too much and didn't really give the dancer enough gaps to stretch out in, but something seemed to work.

I first came across a Tap Jam in October 2003 at the Showmans Lounge in Harlem (just opposite the 125th Street Subway station, if I remember correctly) where every Thursday the Hammond trio is joined by tap dancers around the world. I was stunned back in July this year when I descended into a heaving crowd in Soho (London). It would be great for a jazz jam session to attract as good a crowd as this.

I was delighted to be booked officially to be part of the band for the next session (rather than just sitting in) - so I'll be there for the whole night for the next show on 13 November. Come on down...


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Big Buzzard and The Organ Grinders

in haste...

Today was amazing. Yesterday I came to Maff's house, and together we finished writing a song which he'd already sketched out. It's called 'Live Life Then Give Life'. This morning, I wrote the horn parts and produced some lead sheets, and this afternoon we went into the Cold Room studios with a fantastic bunch of musicians, and an adhoc choir of family and friends and recorded it. You can hear the finished result over on our new Myspace page:

Here are some pictures of everyone involved.

We're hoping to release this to promote organ donation, and are going to donate the rights to the song to the charity Live Life Then Give Life.

Do let me know what you think of it.


Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm back

Sorry to have neglected this blog for so long. The past 10 days have been the most momentous, unimaginably amazing days of my life. And that's NO exaggeration.

On 6th August, a very great friend and I were both admitted to Guy's hospital. The next day, the amazing surgeons there removed one of his kidneys and put it into me. The 10 days since then have been a total whirlwhind. The basic news is that I feel 20 years younger, and full of life.

I'll post a diary I've been keeping of the whole thing here (I need to get a new power supply for my mac first!). But the highlights have been:
- Weds 8 - woke up feeling great
- Fri 10 - played saxophone, with Maff on piano (see videos below)
- Sat 11 - escaped from hospital for the evening, and had a great time with the guys and girls of Borough Market in the GInger Pig Butchers
- Sun 12 - urinary catheter removed (Aaaaaaaah!)
- Mon 13 - Discharged from hospital.
I'm now at 10 days after the transplant, and feeling better and better every day. I get tired quite quickly, especially as the energy I have makes me want to run about and do loads of stuff. But I'm taking it easy.

I've been getting messages from all corners offering good wishes. Thank you to everyone who's been thinking of us during this time. All your wishes have been felt - and I'm sure are why I seem to be recovering so well.

UPDATE: Thursday 23 August. I've transferred a diary I wrote in hospital into a bunch of backdated posts below.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Diary of a Kidney Transplant - 6

Saturday 11 August

In the morning, the lead doctor on the ward round (Mahmoud - Maff's surgeon) inspects my distended, discoloured bollocks. He pronounces it nothing to worry about - it's uncomfortable, but a normal consequence of being so fluid-overloaded. He suggests that the nurses sort me out with a jock strap - when they bring this the relief is amazing. I'm walking a little bow-legged, but comfortably.

Spend most of the afternoon catching up on some sleep. In the evening, the sun outside is too inviting. I put on my shorts, and boots over my surgical stockings, wash my hair for the first time this week, pull on a shirt and my boots, stash my 'urine tank' which is still attached via a catheter (where you'd rather there wasn't) into a shoulder bag I got Suzy to bring in for the purpose. I can just about pass as a mad tourist on the street I reckon. I walk out, and head along to London Bridge, where I'm still in time to stand in the glow of the setting sun. This feels indescribably gorgeous. I get a tourist who's taking pics of his friends with Tower Bridge in the background to take one of me with my phone. It's Friday evening, and I really want to talk to someone, so I make a couple calls, including to Aunt Kathleen, who's on her way to Katrena's hen night in Canterbury, dressed as Carmen Miranda. I head back to hospital, and meet Roberto Cacciola, my surgeon on his way out the door. He has a big smile on his face, which I hope is from satisfaction at a job well done. I ask him if he fancies a drink - sadly his family is waiting for him. I'm still in a sociable kind of mood, so I go back up to the ward, collect my laptop and head out again. I wander around Borough Market, laptop in hand, looking for a wifi signal. The place is teeming with people spilling out of every pub, in the wamr evening, and lounging in groups outside all the now closed market shope. Just as I get connected, a NZ girl rus over and says "Are you on Facebook? My friend Naomi wants you to be her friend." She then notices my accoutrements, and asks what I've been up to and where have I escaped from? I tell her the whole story, and she seems genuinely interested. I ask her to take me to meet her friend, which she does, introducing me to Naomi, who's sitting with a big bunch of large antipodean blokes outside The Ginger Pig butcher. I end up talking mostly to Hannah, the girl who grabbed me in the first place. She's lovely, and we share travelling and life stories. After a while the group moves into the Butcher shop, and I'm invited to join them. I nip off to by an alcoholic contribution to the proceedings. I have a momentary worry, about whether being in a butcher's shop with me compromised immune system is a good idea, but decide that I'll take the chance. I end up staying until about 10 - just before which, the butcher guys bring out a tray covered with absolutely delicious stuffed roasts - turkey I think. They carve these up, hand out some soft bread rolls, and we all feast.

I head back up to the ward, just in time to take my evening pills, washing my boots on the way in, just in case I'm carrying some ground bourne infection into the ward.

A peaceful night's sleep, from around 12.30 - 4.30am, when I wake up with similar discomfort down below to the night before. Not again, I pray. Does this happen at 4am every night?


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Diary of a Kidney Transplant - 5


Maff and I escape from the ward for the first time, and head downstairs between 10 and 11. He's ahead of me and finds the piano in Atrium 1. I join him and sing some tunes, to the bemused glances of several onlookers.

We get back upstairs just in time for the morning ward round. They pronounce Maff fit to go home that afternoon, and decide that i will probably be able to go on Monday - at least a day earlier than expected, so something must be looking good.

Natasha arrives around 12 and stays till 1. She expresses her amazement at the whole experience, and decides that she'd like to write an article about it, to try and promote living donation as something great to do.

Suzy arrives at 1.30 with my sax - and Olivia - and we all head downstairs to the nice piano in Atrium 2 to play some tunes. We ignore the notice forbidding it being played between 9 - 5.30, and nobody seems to mind. It's a rather moving experience for me - it really does feel as if Maff and I are more attuned to what each other is doing. At one point in 'I wish I Knew' we both throw exactly the same lick in simultaneously - perhaps sharing a 'kidney' moment?

Maff's assistant surgeon Ben turns up with his sandwiches - apparently not realising it was us playing. He requests 'A train' which we play, very tenderly. In fact, my playing in general has a slightly more tender quality to it than usual. I mostly manage to resist the temptation towards the racous (to which I usually succumb). Maff is also playing better than I've ever heard him. Luckily Olivia has a camera with her, and shoots several long movies, so the event is preserrved for posterity.

Later on it's a busy afternoon - lots of visitors. I just have a hunch that I should try and catch the end of the PM programme, and I switch on at about 5.52 I think, just as Eddie Mair is reading out a few comments that people have left during the week - and someone is saying 'Thanks for following up the story about Maff and Andy - the interview of the year, especially after all the bad news from Iraq, and so on...". I'm sitting with my dinner on my lap with tears flowing - somehow hearing this comment from some stranger who heard us on the radio just captures the emotion of the whole week, and I sob quietly to myself - just overwhelmed by the feeling of love that it engenders. I take my laptop out and try to find a wifi spot in the hospital without success. I bump into my dialysis nurse as she's leaving her office at 7pm, and ask whether she might possibly know of a computer on the net. She takes me back in and we sit there for another 20 minutes or so, while I find the PM blog and post a comment there (see - and find "The Glass Box for Friday" 10 August).

Friday night is the most uncomfortable yet, around 11 - 1am anyway. The bowels are finally on the move again. When I sit on the loo, I'm horrified to see that my balls are the size of a grapefruit, and a dark purple colour all over. They've been heavy for a day or so, which I was told was normal, but this is a littel more scary. The shit when it comes produces one of the most excruciating pains in my penis I've ever felt. I shriek a bit. The relief afterwards is almost worth it.

And that brings me to now, at 4.34am - it's about time I had some sleep. The old bloke in the bed at the end, has been giving his nightly performance of groans, moans and pleading for the nurses. I really feel for him - he's obviously pretty uncomfortable. Though there's also a feeling of 'here we go again', as it seems to be some kind of habit. Perhaps that's unfair.

But sleep is impossible. From absolutely nowhere, comes a regular series, every 5-10 minutes of involuntary errections, each of which cause excruciating pain. No matter what deflatory image I conjure up, this seems to go on for ever - at least until after 6am. I must have slept eventually, as I wake up for breakfast around 7.30am.


Friday, August 10, 2007

3 days later

It's Friday, and they're letting Maff go home this afternoon. I checked with my surgeon on the morning ward round that I wouldn't rupture anything by having a blow, so I got Suzy to bring my sax into hospital, and we put it to the test. Here's what happened, caught on film by the wonderful Olivia (who has an ideosyncratic style!). One of Maff's surgeons happened to be walking by, and heard the music, so came in to eat his lunch in the atrium He was a little surprised when he saw who was playing. The shopping bag attached to my belt is discreetly containing the tank connected to my urinary catheter (no pressure allowed on my bladder yet, until the tube connecting the new kidney has healed).

Here's 'I Wish I Knew'. At about 2'30" we both improvise exactly the same phrase - a bit of kidney magic happening.

And here's a bit of Duke Ellington's Come Sunday.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Diary of a Kidney Transplant - 4


Maff is walking about, slowly - usually clutching his sore, distended belly - but in good spirits today.

Thursday afternoon, I finally get detached from the confining tubes next to the bed. This means I can get up and walk about. At 2.30 my neck line gets taken out, just in time for me to have half an hour lying flat (as instructed by the nurse) before the PM producer calls at 3 to interview us both on our mobiles.

This gets broadcast at 5.45 - with me, Maff and Ade listening in on my phone radio.

Diary of a Kidney Transplant - 3

Wednesday Aug 9th

When I wake up the next morning, and read the text I sent out, I'm horrified at what people must have thought. So I send another:
"Last night's message was reply to 26 texts when I was v groggy. Sorry so abrupt! Any replies VERY welcome. Sore but elated this am. TX working :) peas & luv Andy x

Then to a few other people who'd asked to be kept up to date: "Sore but elated this am. TX working :) Spoke to Maff last night - in fine fettle - singing when coming off anaesthetic apparently! I'm joining him any mo."

At around midday, I get taken up to the Richard Bright ward to be put in the bay next to Maff.

Spend the rest of Wednesday feeling incredible. Laughing and joking with everyone. We have some visitors - Mum and Suzy, Helen R later, Natasha and Justin. Ruth is around all day, and is a complete superstar. At around 1.30, I call the PM office, and speak first to Liz one of the producers. She wants to call us back at 3 for an interview. Unfortunately, Maff has had a bad reaction to an anti nausea drug he was given. He was pretty spaced out - on a bad trip - in the morning, and felt pretty rough the rest of the day. This made me feel really guilty for being so 'well'.

A pair of Physios come round acting a bit like Butlins red coats in the afternoon and get us both to get out of bed and to sit in a chair. The pharmacist comes round later and says that in 26 years in the job, he's never seen a TX patient out of bed so quickly. He seems to mean it.

Wednesday evening is where the discomfort really starts to set in. We both start regretting our big dinner on Monday. Both of us feel - and look - pretty pregnant. My belly is exploding. 4 or 5 times during the night I get up to gingerly sit on a comode beside my bed (I have lines into my wrist and neck, so moving anywhere more than a metre or two from the bed is impossible. Eventually, my (pretty mild) exertions produce several long and extremely satisfying almost musical farts. This is the beginning of a little bit of relief from the bloated feeling, but not much. This is all around 4 in the morning. Maff is awake in the next bed, and grunts a congratulation. I can hear lots of very short burps coming from his direction. Despite periodic, somewhat uncomfortable contractions all night, and the next morning, it's not until Thursday afternoon that my bowels finally come to life, and produce one of the most satisfying shits ever. That feat isn't repeated however, until 1.30am on Saturday morning. This time it's excruciatingly painful because of the catheter which is due to be sticking up into my bladder until Sunday.

Being told how different I look already - colour in face and lips, sparkle in eyes. I'm not sure whether it's just adrenaline, or what, but after only about 4 hours sleep the night before, I feel wide awake all day, and don't end up sleeping till well after midnight. Maff and I begin our first game of scrabble.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Diary of a Kidney Transplant - 2

Tuesday - K Day

No breakfast.

Meet the anaesthetist. She's surporised to see my CPAP machine - no mention of it in my notes (or she didn't spot the bits from the sleep disorder dept.) As a result of this, she marks my notes - "No benze...." in the allergy section - to remove a tranqiliser drug that's normally given as a premed. She also decides that they'll need to make sure they have space in the ITU for me to spend the night there after the op. A momentary panic for me that no space there means no operation.

When the notes come back with the nurses, written up for the premed drugs, there's a full list of 'what we normally prescribe'. It takes a fair bit of cajoling to get them to understand the anaesthetist's note, and when they do, the 'Tamazepan' on the first line is scrubbed out.

Maff off first around 9am. At about 12.30, I was taken down to the 'holding area'. I'm sharing this with a bloke who looks like a water bed - his whole body is bloated and looks full of fluid.

After what seems like forever, I see Maff asleep in his bed being wheeled past the door. A few minutes later, Roberto pops his head around the door, and looks happy.

A while later I get wheeled into the aneasthetist's room, where she knocks me out.

The next thing I remember is being in the 'Critical Care Unit' (next one down from ITU, where you still get extremely close attention all night from a dedicated nurse - heart and breathing monitors constantly on the go) with mum and suzy coming in to say good night. One of them must have brought me my phone, as it means I can give Maff a call - he's up on the regular ward. He seems to be in good form. I decide it's a good idea to send a text message to the 26 people who've all texted me during the day with best wishes. This takes a while, as I keep falling asleep between texts. I can't remember exactly what I wrote - something like the transplant had happened and was successful. I stupidly included the phrase 'Please don't reply to this' - main reason was that I knew it would fill up my phone, and I'd have to spend ages deleting the texts, when really I wanted to keep them.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Diary of a Kidney Transplant - 1

Diary of a Kidney Transplant

Monday 6 August

Met mum with Suzy at Kings X - 12.20 or so. Headed down to London Bridge - ate upstairs in the Market Porter (fish and chips for me - the first in many months)

2.30 - met Maff (my donor) and his wife in Guys Reception. Went to Richard Bright ward. Not ready for us there, so to Renal outpatients for final blood tests with Madeleine Wood standing in for Isobel Gordon (tx coordinator). Then back to

Meet Surgeon - Roberto Cacciola, a lovely Italian guy (I feel in safe hands) and sign the final consent form for the operation. He scribbles on my belly (below right) and Maff's surgeon, Nizam Mahmoud does a similar scrawl (below left)showing which kidney they're planning to extract.
Out to dinner with mum, sister, Maff & his wife at the bar at Pont de la Tour by Tower Bridge. Maff and I have the Belted Galloway steaks - and some very good Rioja. This turns out later to be a choice with severe repercussions, despite the fact that we'd been told we could eat normally until midnight. Here we all are...


Thursday, July 19, 2007

On the radio again

Yesterday. Maff and I got interviewed by Eddie Mair. Here's how it happened...

After the reports on Tuesday about the Government Chief Medical Officer recommending that the organ donor register be made opt-out, I posted something here on the PM blog about it. In another thread here a lot of people got hot under the collar about this proposal.

On Wednesday morning, someone from the PM production office called to ask whether I, and my donor, would be prepared to be interviewed about living donation. I tried to track down Maff, to be told by his office that he was in Birmingham then Milton Keynes. But anything is possible! I texted him, and got one back. I sent him the PM office number. He got the person who met him at the station to make a detour via the BBC in Birmingham on the way to the conference where he was speaking. Meanwhile, I got on my bike and rode to Broadcasting House in central London. Just after mid day, I was shown into a tiny studio, and told to put on the headphones and wait. A few minutes later, Maff and Eddie Mair were in my ears, and wwe were having a three-way conversation. There's a link to the whole thing here. A slightly shorter version was broadcast at about 5.45pm.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Moral Maze - we need a new economics

The Moral Maze on Radio 4 this evening was interesting - see

The first witness, Canon Peter Challen, articulated something I've thought about and read about exceptionally clearly - at least to me. It was very disappionting that the team (Melanie Phillips, Claire Fox, Michael Portillo, Clifford Longley) seemed not to really engage at all with what he said.

He talked about how the current capitalist system where banks are able to create fictitious money by magic, by lending it to people, who then need to earn real money plus interest to pay it back. This seems to be to be what's at the root of the apparent 'essential requirement' for all economies to grow, in order to thrive. From the growth comes the interest - if I've understood it correctly. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, all 'real' money has to come from some physical thing being produced or grown and then sold or rented. Where that thing is grown or produced in a sustainable way where the source is continually replenished, then perhaps that's fine but so much of the 'stuff' which is sold in this world is mined, or fished or sucked out of the earth from finite sources. If something isn't being replaced, then eventually it runs out.

I'm no economist, and I don't claim that these are original conclusions on my part - more that the more I learn about our current economic system, the more it appears to lead inevitably to unavoidable collapse and catastrophe, whether tomorrow, next year, or in 100 years time. It seems to me that we're currently heading towards the end of an economic cycle which began in the era of global exploration and the land grab which followed (in particular, the settling of the USA). Yet, economic coverage in our media today, seems to assume that we live in a society whose economic backbone is a solid, well established thing, which has been through sufficient cycles for us to be able to assume that it will continue forever like this.

Peter Challen said something which if true is profoundly disturbing - "I've been 48 years listening to people in the economy as an industrial chaplain and what I've heard time and time again is this terrible dichotomy with the aspirations for humanity that people talk about when they trust you - takes a long time to earn that position - and the institutional imperatives which compel them to be complicit with a system they know to be wrong". For a long time I've assumed that this must be so, though I've never felt in a position of sufficient knowledge to be able to make a persuasive case that this is so. Unfortunately, not one of the panelists on the Moral Maze saw fit to probe this point any further. Who are these industrialists, and economists (and politicians?) who know the truth of this statment, but are unwilling to say it in public, and are content to continue playing the game?


Saturday, July 07, 2007

'Pataphysics and Kerouac's 'Pull My Daisy'

When I was a student, in my long overcoat from Oxfam, and even longer scarf, I used to fancy that I was into surrealism. I wasn't quite sure what I liked about it - its general craziness I suppose. Perhaps it was the whole 'emperor's new clothes' thing, in that I secretly felt like the whole thing was just a piss take of over-intellectual pomposity. At least that was the spirit in which I had a go at creating some of my own, when I had the job of authoring the CDROM of 'Index to Theses' back in 1990, and inserted an abstract for a non-existant PhD by Slim Gaillard. I can't remember much about it, other than that sparrows were involved. Anyway, the catalogue of 'Atlas Press' caught my undergraduate eye in some ad, and I ordered 'The Immaculate Conception' by Andre Breton, to grace my college bookshelves. I'm sure I tried to read it, though I don't think the paperback's spine ever really got broken. There was something beautiful about it.

Then a couple weeks ago, I was invited to a book launch by some author's agent friends, at the Boogaloo pub in Highgate, where I found myself at a table next to Alistair, the founder and publisher of the Atlas Press. Today, at the Bookartbookshop in Hoxton, they celebrated their 25th anniversary - and the shop its 5th. Apart from an amazing cake,

the highlight of the evening was Stanley Chapman, President of the London Institute of 'Pataphysics, reading some poetry from his new translation of "The Deliquescences of Adoré Floupette".

The whole thing reminded me of other wonderfully eccentric characters I have known, like Patrick the Plasterer, and David Amram - who I met at the Cork Jazz Festival a few years ago. He told some great stories of his days with the Beat poets, Ginsberg, Kerouac and so on. They did some of the original Jazz and Poetry gigs back in the 50s, and made a film called 'Pull My Daisy' in 1959. I'd always meant to try and track it down, but had never bothered, until tonight - and here it is.

It all seems to be the right thing to be doing at the end of George Melly's last week among us.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Kirstie's wedding

Spent the week last week in Morzine, where my sister Kirstie got married to Stéphane. Here's a little bit of what happened that day


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sax on a rope...

Yesterday, I abseiled off of Guy's Hospital tower, near London Bridge. At 450 feet (about 150m) it's the highest 'civilian' abseil in the UK, or so they claim. This was to raise money for Kidney Research - if anyone would like to contribute, even post-hoc, just head over to


Friday, June 01, 2007

Eddie Mair interviews Andy Williamson on Radio 4's PM

On Tuesday this week, the news was full of shocked reports about a Dutch TV show where a terminally ill woman is due to choose between three possible recipients of one of her kidneys.

I sent off an email to the Radio 4 newsroom, about how (regardless of its tastefulness) the programme highlights the shortage of donor organs. Within minutes the editor of PM was on the phone. Five and a half hours later I was sitting in the PM studio across the table from Eddie Mair, with Charlotte Green on my right, being interviewed. Listen to the interview (opens an MP3 file in a different window).

They took a picture of me doing a dialysis 'exchange' in the studio, and put it on the PM blog here.

I can't believe how unclear I am during this interview. I missed so many opportunities to more clearly promote the cause of living donation. Ah well - another time. in particular, Eddie took me by surprise by asking what a transplant would mean to me. I mumbled something which gave the impression that it wouldn't be that big a deal. Sorry Eddie - that was a lie. Some of the real answers are here, along with other answers to the same question from some of the members of the KPG forum.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mark Thomas is a genius

I've been following his protests at the idiocy of part of the SOCPA legislation for some time. Listen to this and weep for the state of teh law in the UK.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Apocalypse Game Show

I'm involved in putting together a new 'game show' designed to be put on in theatres and at festivals next year. We're doing a final preview, in a secret location in London this friday evening. Get in touch (or leave a comment) if you'd like to be put on the guest list.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Websites I have owned

A couple days ago I noticed that the second domain which I used to own, but let lapse, has been picked up and used by someone else. In the midst of dotcom venture capital frenzy I registered with the idea of turning it into "textbooks online" where university lecturers could publish reading lists for their students, publishers would make the relevant texts available electronically, and the days of the university library shelf being bare would be over (and someone would pay handsomely for all this to happen). I even went as far as writing it all up and presenting it to my new 'New Media' employers as very definitely my own idea, and not a piece of IP created on their shilling.

I also recently let lapse - seems it's been taken over by a bunch of hairy fellow Californians.

Mayan Calendar predicted dollar "crash"...

On 11 May this year, I was in an audience of 50-60 people listening to Carl Johan Calleman speak at the Be The Change event about the Mayan calendar. At one point, almost as an aside (iirc), he mentioned that on 24 November 2006, the Mayan calendar predicts that the dollar will collapse (I think those were pretty much his words). Well, according to The Guardian on Saturday 25th, Friday saw "Frantic day's trading sends dollar into freefall"

I can't say I'm an avid reader of the financial pages, so I don't know whether there's an even chance that on any Friday, I might have found a similar story. Or perhaps there are enough devotees of the Mayan calendar around the world with control of sufficent funds for this to become a self-fulfiling prophesy. I don't think it needs a modern day Nostradamus to predict that the dollar's days are numbered as the world's favourite hard currency. Seems like an interesting cooincidence for Mr Calleman to pick this date six months ago.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Complaints Choir of Helsinki

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Ruby Wedding, 69th birthday and a 13th tx anniversary

dkjhfkdjhkdjfh oijsoaishjdf

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Hello Blog. It's me. Yes me. Sorry to neglect you for so long. I've spent most of the time since we last met either cooking, or driving to enormous shops (Booker, Makro, etc) and filling up an ancient camper van with stuff that other people can cook. So much filling up of the van that it finally gave up and died approximately here. It's now here where it's going to stay until I can find someone to take it away.

Just done some cooking of my own, and made the best veggie instant soup, with the scraps in the cupboards. If you feel the urge, here's how:
One small onion
two spring onions
2 sticks of celery
one potato

Chop it all up and chuch it in a pot with some hot olive oil. Add some pepper and some chilli and lemon seasoning (that's what I happen to have here). Fry it for a while. Add a fistful of red lentils (or Masoor Polished) as the bag I have calls them), then fill up the pot with boiling water.

Dice I large courgette

and add that to the pot. I also threw in a handful of fresh basil.

20-30 minutes later, after it's all been bubbling away, I poured a large bowlful into another pot, got out the hand blender and zizzed it up, then added a quick pour of natural yoghurt, and that's that.

Instant Soul Food (well almost).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Transpennine Express

It's Sunday afternoon, I'm sitting on a train out of Manchester Piccadily
towards Darlington, and wishing I'd thought of buying a newspaper and a
bottle of water on the way to the station. I'm trying to distract the tickle
in my throat and the craving for a Sunday paper fix by writing a blog post
for the first time in ages.

In fact, the reason I decided to do this was a wish to write down a url
somewhere so that I might remember to look it up sometime. This is a
business card which says "Salsa" on one side, and on the
other. Is it a band, a DJ, a club, a directory, an online magazine...? I
have no idea. If I write it here, perhaps the vanity that makes you go to
the web just to see one's own prose immortalized (ish) in cyberspace will
prompt me to follow the link and see who it is. Sitting here on the train, I
started going through my wallet trying to get rid of the junk that's making
it bulge too much to fit in my pocket - scraps of paper with a name and an
email address, but nothing to give a clue as to where or when I met that
person, and why taking a note of how to contact them seemed like a good

What's happened since the last time I wrote anything here? Well assuming
there's anyone who's interested (is there? Do feed my vanity and leave me a
comment ;) the last few months have been pretty hectic. I spent a couple
months doing Haemodialysis at Guys hospital. This means turning up there at
the appointed time on either Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday,
Thursday and Saturday to be hooked up via a 'neck line' (a plastic Y-shaped
tube sticking out just below my collar bone, permanently plumbed into my
jugular vein) to a machine, which spends four hours cleaning your blood. In
that time, you see 91 litres of blood flow out of one tube, drip through
various filters and back in the other. In some ways it's a relaxing 4 hours,
when you can either just pretend it's not happening and continue working
normally, or just relax, snooze and wake up feeling a bit light-headed but
refreshed. I managed to run up my biggest ever phone bills in there as using
the Orange data connection was the only way I could get online. My only
complaint about the NHS is its complete unwillingness, or ignorance about
how to use basic technology to make its inhabitants' lives (both staff and
patients) a tiny bit more bearable at pretty low cost. Someone spends a
fortune putting big plastic screens (TV, radio, phone) next to every bed,
that cost so much to use that I can't imagine many people bothering. But the
simple thing of adding a WiFi transmitter to the local network is too much
to ask. Anyway, it seems to be changing. I complained about this, and in
response, there's a new dialysis unit in New Cross (South East London) with
Wifi installed. Hope someone is using it.

As soon as I could, I changed from haemodialysis to peritoneal dialysis.
This involved having another tube plumbed into my lower abdomen. After six
weeks or so, it was ready to use, and I now do a mix of APD and CAPD. The
first is 'automated' which involves being attached by a tube to a machine
beside the bed every night. This automates the insertion and extraction of
12 litres of fluid while I sleep, in 2 litre doses, leaving each one in for
an hour or so. It sounds pretty invasive described like that, but in fact
it's extremely ignorable. That leaves one more 2 litre fluid exchange to do
during the day. This is where the CAPD (or Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal
Dialysis) comes in. It takes 20-30 minutes, and so far I've managed to do it
under a tree in Battersea park, on a bus, on a train, waiting for a train
and in various restaurants, I hope without putting off my fellow diners in
the process.

So that's how life is now. It's a bit of a hassle, but better than the
prison-like sentence of having to go to hospital for three days a week. It
means being a bit more organised than is perhaps my natural inclination, but
maybe that's no bad thing. Lugging up to 14 litres of fluid, plus packaging
per day is a tad strenuous, but as anyone who knows me of late will know,
that's not that different from normal! Crucially, it means I can travel -
I'm writing this in the middle of my first trip away with the APD machine,
which comes in its own big black wheelie flight case.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Barenboim's Reith Lectures

Last Friday was the first of this year's Reith Lectures on Radio 4. Daniel Barenboim is talking about music, and how it affects people. A great question from Julian Joseph in the audience prompted him to state that "improvisation is the higest form of art" (or something like that - I'm sure there's a transcript that could appear here.

I was reminded about this by the Front Row newslettter, which is asking people to keep a diary for 24 hours of all the music they hear (whether they choose it or not). If you fancy filling it in before next Wednesday, go here. This is in connection with the second lecture where Barenboim says something about how "Too often, he argues, our ears are exposed to what's commonly known as Muzak, when on the phone, when out shopping, eating or drinking." That's next Friday morning I think.

Do you use 'Myspace'?

I've been playing with that today. I now look after three 'sites' on Myspace:

Big Buzzard for my own stuff and the Big Buzzard Boogie Band.

Flat Five Records for the record label I run with the Potts brothers.

Coro Choir for a choir I've been singing with recently.

if you use Myspace, feel free to add any or all of these as your 'friends' and I'll return the favour.

I know Myspace is perhaps yesterday's news - especially now that Rupert Murdoch owns it. But I still like the idea of it, and it seems to have retained it's original ethos. There's loads of great original music to be found there.

Piano pledge hits the news

The BBC has put me in the same story as Tony Blair, in a report about the 'tune a piano' pledge (on Pledgebank and on this page).

The rule that any news story that you know something about will contain at least one major inaccuracy applies! The final paragraph quotes me as saying "And it turns out that they have taken the piano away to be tuned anyway - so that part of the pledge was a little bit irrelevant" - which is not true. After I contacted the hospital, they decided to tune the piano themselves, without taking it anywhere - which is quite different! I checked it yesterday, and it sounds much better.

Monday, April 10, 2006

We are all free thinking individuals...(not for long)

For a while I've been subscribed to the peopleincommon email list, populated by the organisers of the weekly 'picnic' in Parliament Square every Sunday at 1pm. They also protest against the new SOCPA act which greatly proscribes the ability of orginary people to protest within the area around the Houses of Parliament, among other things.

Thought provoking things come through regularly on this list - here's one, an article from last week's Guardian.,,1747669,00.html

from which: "The government is briskly and fundamentally reshaping the relationship of the individual to the state, of the Lords to the Commons, and of MPs to ministers. The ID cards bill will allow the authorities unprecedented surveillance of our lives, and the power to curtail our ordinary activities by withdrawing that card. The legislative and regulatory reform bill, now entering its final stages, will let ministers alter laws by order, rather than having to argue their case in parliament."

Do you agree with this?

Do you feel uneasy about saying, in public that you agree with any/some/all of this article? That, I fear, is the direction we're heading in (as ever, just a few years behind America).

Do leave a comment - signed or anonymous - and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A london evening

Woke up this morning at Maff's house in deepest Oxfordshire, after a night of fine conversation, top roast chicken, and the best three bottles we could find in Wine Rack for under a tenner. There was hardly time for a quick stroll in the countryside in the spring sunshine before legging it to the motorway to just miss an Oxford Tube (seems that happens with every bus I try to get at the moment). Back to London to be hooked up to the dialysis machine for what seemed like most of the day. When I finished, had a really strong urge to be in what was left of the evening sunshine (this was about 7pm), so wandered across London bridge, before heading off to Tottenham Court Road to try and find a charger for a sony camcorder. Too late, everything shut. Apart from the sunshine, it felt like one of those days.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Madness Wedding...

We haven't been playing at that many weddings recently. For a few years, it seemed like almost every Saturday we'd be setting up the band in some marquee or country house, hoping that we'd be given something decent to eat, rather than dry sandwiches, which for some reason people seem to think are musicians' favourites. Of late, calls from someone who wants a band for a wedding have been sufficiently spread apart that each one seems like a great excuse to get some of my favourite musicians together to do a gig where we have some fun. There's one coming up this Saturday which looks like being exactly that, as it's an excuse to get the great Mitch Hiller to come and sing with us, for the first time on a proper gig. While musing on this, while attached to the dialysis machine, the mobile rang (so far having it on in the hospital doesn't seem to have caused anyone's life support machine to tune to Radio 3, or any other such catastrophe). A vaguely familar voice said "Is that the Big Buzzard band? You might remember me, it's Suggs here" - and it was indeed that Camden ska singer who kept us all going through the 80s with some of the best pop songs ever. We did some gigs with him a few years ago at the Soho Ball organised by his mum! Well it looks like we might get to meet some more of the family, as he'd remembered us, and wondered whether we might be up for playing at his sister's wedding! I think we might...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Edinburgh Food Festival

Lots of things to catch up on around here, like 'Flesh Happening', TerraFolk, the grand opening of Momma Cherri's Big House and a meal at the Gold Coast (that's South Norwood, not West Africa, though you almost imagine the latter).

But right now I'm rushing around trying to get to Euston in time for the night train to Edinburgh to begin sorting out The Edinburgh Food Festival which is very exciting...

Must run.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Pledge success!

I'm astounded! 5 people have signed up to the pledge I initiated here last week. That means I need to do something about it. Watch this space.Now I'm worried I might have been overly optimistic about finding an altruistic piano tuner, or even that the piano there is too past it to be worth the effort. But we'll see - watch this space.

Perhaps we should make it an 'alternative commuter jazz' one Friday when there's nothing on at the QEH in the months ahead. It could be a perfect alternative venue for that - not too far away, and right beside a huge commuter station. Do let me know what you think.

Another conversation

Yesterday we had our second 'Kitchen Conversation'. A little bit less general agreement than the first one, but a fine way to spend a few hours in the afternoon. There were some passionate outbursts! The next one is on 29 April (not 1 April, as previously planned). Let me know if you fancy coming along. That will be a bit of a larger affair, and we hoping to organise a meal of local food afterwards from Bea's fabulous Venezuelan kitchen.


Just listening to the Food Programme discussing coffee.

Interesting interview with American cardiology scientist Professor Robert Superko, talking about the specific effects of drinking caffinated or decaffinated coffee. He says the two drinks are very different, coming from different beans. He says that drinking decaff can increase your cholesterol level, whereas 6 cups a day of caffinated stuff can increase your blood pressure by 8-10 points.

One of the things that's really been made clear to me over the past two weeks, is that the prolonged high blood pressure that I've had for most of my adult life, has hastened my reduction in kidney function - basically high blood pressure damages kidneys. I've always been a fan of strong coffee - and spent most of my twenties perfecting the art of making espresso at home. I was always reluctant to take drugs to reduce BP, feeling that I didn't want to be taking some chemical for the rest of my life, and that *obviously* I'd reduce my BP by losing some weight and getting fitter. Well, the road to hell was paved many times over, with that intention, and it never really happened, so I suppose I should have swallowed my pride - and the pills!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Not Celts but Vikings

It must be true, it was just on Radio 4. It seems Sandi Toksvig is a member of the same Scottish clan as our family, the Gunn clan. Some expert in such things wrote to her and said that this is the only clan that is not Celtic, but Viking in origin. That's no surprise really, as my father's family hail from the island of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetlands. These islands were once part of Norway, but as some kind of dawry arrangement, were handed over to Scotland by the king of Norway in lieu of cash when he was a bit short of readies.

It seems my great grandfather (William) left the Shetlands in the late nineteenth century got married and had a son, William Thomas in 1901. William died in his 30s, and the boy and his mother went back to live with William's father (also William Thomas) on Unst. WT (senior) died in 1914, and my grandfather left Unst for the last time as a early teenager, and came to Glasgow, where my dad and his brothers all grew up.

I grew up knowing vageuly that we had some connection with the Shetlands, but we had no relatives up there, and nobody in the family had ever been back. I thought we should put this right, and in Novermber 2002, my dad and I spent a week driving around the Shetlands. It's a stunning place. We went back there in January 2004 for 'Up Helly Aa', which celebrates the Viking heritage. It happens on the last Tuesday of January, and starts down in Lerwick Harbour at 7am, with the reading of the proclamation by the Guiser Jarl, surrounded by his 'squad' dressed in full viking regalia (complete with the best collection of beards I've ever seen). In the evening, the town's street lights are turned off, and nearly 1000 guys in various costumes, stage a flaming torchlit procession. Absolutely inbredible. This kicks off a night of debaouchery as 40-odd 'squads' of men in fancy dress travel around a dozen 'halls' where they perform, and eat the victuals provided by the women. I started the night as a spectator, but got dragged into playing sax with one of the squads, then joining them for the rest of the night, as they drove around the icy streets, in a lorry adapted for carrying people (just strap a container to the back, add some ropes to the sides to hang on to, a few benches, and large amounts of beer and whiskey!). The final gig was at 8am, followed by breakfast and another day's drinking, ending up in The Lounge for an afternoon music session. There are a few pics on my website - one day I'll get round to putting the rest up there.

If you're trying to find your Shetland ancestors, then I can highly recommend visiting Bayanne House, either online or in person. Their database is excellent (though navigating it takes a bit of getting used to).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

a mystery gig

I'm writing this as I sit waiting in the QEH - for a mystery concert. I have no idea who's avout to come on to the stage. I'm here at the behest of Steve who had a spare ticket - though he's teaching so not here yet. He did say who was playing, though I've never heard of them. An Oud was mentioned, so I'm expecting something possibly a bit North African. The stage is full of guitars and a drum kit, and a guy has just come on and is making very world music sounding names. I'd better fold this laptop up and listen...

Well it, turned out to be an amazing Turkish guitarist Erkan Ogur with Ilkin Deniz on bass and Turgut Alp Bekoglu on drums. A stunning concert promoted by Kazum who look like they do some interesting stuff in London. Something like an oud was indeed produced for the final number, an Anatolean lullaby. We ended up in a great turkish restaurant Ishtar after the gig with the band and their entourage. A great crowd.

Quorn & Soya

Went shopping and found myself in front of the Quorn. It's supposed to be better for me-low potassium or something. my main instruction right now is to lay off the dairy, so i thought i'd try Soya milk. Hmm.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

musical reclamation - "I'm A Believer"

pic: Russell Herron

A couple weeks ago I was asked to do one of the strangest jobs I can remember. Iranian artist Reza Aramesh got my number from someone and asked if I could put a small band together for two performances in Trafalgar Square. We met up at the ICA (sponsors/organisers of the event) and he told me he wanted to use music from Nazi Germany, specifically some of the military music that was played during the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. He gave me a copy of a DVD of 'The Triumph of The Will' by Leni Riefenstahl, and he chose three extracts. I spent a few days transcribing these and arranging them for tuba, trombone, two trumpets, tenor sax and drums. In the final performances, the music was pretty incidental - the main body of the work was 32 guys (mostly 2nd generation immigrants) in black suits, basically doing the 'Changing if the Guard' routine, as done by the household cavalry outside Buckingham Palace. I don't know what most of the audience thought of it - I suspect very few had a clue what was going on, but it was thought-provoking stuff which had something to say on many levels.

I was very happy to be able to take music that had been put alongside something grotesque in 1934, and give it new resonances. We played three pieces - two fairly standard oom-pah marches, but the middle one was a simple slow beautiful thing that was reminiscent of Nimrod in Elgar's Enigma Variations.

pic: Russell Herron

Monday, March 13, 2006

Theatre 503

Went to Theatre 503 (used to be the Latchmere) in Battersea to see Subverse, with Steve Lawson guesting in the second half. Looked like we might not get in, as it was sold out, then at the last minute, Steve asked me to sit in with him, so they couldn't very well turn us away, and we stood at the back. It's all powerful stuff - fantastic to get a laugh out of some of the things they tackle (Iraq, civil liberties, environmental campaigners, etc). Highly recommended. Looks like they're organising a North London appearance in May, for those of you with in-built geographical aversions to anything with an S in the post code. Steve was playing his unique brand of solobassistry behind three different poems, and got me to duet with Jethro on "The Peace Police". At the last minute, he asked me to come on from behind the audience, meaning I left my pint of water backstage, and then proceeded to completely dry out, and practically come to a spluttering halt. Managed to moisten the reed just enough to coax the last note out. I thought that was it, then he called me on for the last tune, after I'd put away my horn, so had to run through the pub kitchen to put it together again in time to play. Great to get on stage and do a bit of proper playing for the first time since D-day. The sax sling rubs on the catheter that's sticking out a hole in my neck a bit - perhaps that's why it's a bit achy now.

Talking of civil liberties, take a look at - I am becoming increasingly concerned at the direction this government is going with its legislation. This is worth a few minutes of everyone's time. Go to to send an instant letter to your MP. Talking of daft legislation, it seems like the predicted chickens are coming home to roost after the licensing bill came into force last November. I've already heard from Keith Harrison-Broninski down in Nunney, Somerset, that new regulations have pretty much stopped the wonderful Nunney Jazz Cafe that has been a monthly thing in the village hall there on a Sunday afternoon. Now it looks like the gypsy jazz festival L'Esprit Manouche - which I've never seen, but sounds beautiful, is another victim. The organiser Dave Alexander has just written:

"And to help matters along theres the new licensing laws - our entertainments licence used to cost around £350 - new regs mean that it could end up costing in excess of £2000 now! The licensing departments want you to employ solicitors to apply for a licence because its such a mess that no one, (even the people at the licencing department), knows how or what it means!!!!! (If you want music to be allowed in the UK you all better get complaining to your MP etc about this licencing bill!)"

I'm waiting to hear whether the new regs mean that anyone who wants to book a band for a party in their garden needs an entertainments licence. If so, it might be a long dry summer on the work front.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Session No 2

Went back for more today. Back to creaking mode - as there was a queue of people ahead of me waiting for a machine. They haven't worked out my 'target' weight yet. When your kidneys don't work, you retain fluid, so part of the dialysis process removes it (part of the reason for the magic weight loss the other day!). Today it was set a bit high - something over a litre - and all of a sudden, I started feeling really hot, light-headed and generally spaced out. I thought I was about to pass out. Two or three nurses rushed over and rectified the situation, by lying me down and pumping saline solution into me. Seems my BP dropped to 80/40. A bit of a fright, but now I know how it feels.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Shamanic Chanting

This morning I woke up in the hospital ward. Obviously I was surrounded by people who weren't in the best of health. I was aware that the feeling of being sick is in itself infectious. The anaesthetic in my shoulder and chest where they inserted the tube had all worn off, so that felt pretty rough every time I moved, especially lifting my head to sit up or get up. I got dressed and went out into the street to buy a paper (and a bottle of Tabasco sauce) - this felt like a huge act of rebellion, and extremely therapeutic.

They let me out. I celebrated by driving to Bill Lewington's workshop near Southend to collect my newly rebuilt horn. Took it to a Shamanic Healing Ceremony I'd been invited to, where about 35 of us walked in circles, hummed, sang, danced, beat on drums, shook rain sticks, and directed energy towards 'Alan', a very fragile looking old chap, who lay on a bed in the middle being ministered to by half a dozen white-clad women (the rest of the group was mixed). Was a beautiful ritual.

Kidney dialysis - instant weight loss!

It's been a long day. Arrived at Guys hospital at 9am this morning, for a CT scan. The dye that they use for these risked destroying what was left of my kidney function, so there was a fair bit of toing and froing between departments and doctors to make sure it was the best course of action. On the grounds that if a transplant becomes possible, they would need to put me on dialysis anyway, and they were keen to get this started as soon as possible - I went ahead.

As hospitals go, Guys & St Thomas's here by London Bridge is pretty good - comfortable and well designed, with one big exception, NAMES! Whoever came up with the names for the various bits of the building should be admitted to the psychiatric unit. There are three main bits of the building: Thomas Guy House, New Guy's House and Guy's Tower. Each one has many floors, and there are two huge atriums with 'bridges' going through each. Remembering which floor on which building you're supposed to be on is a nightmare, especially as the people who work here tend to abbreviate them inconsistently. Then I end up being put in 'Patience' ward.

Had a long plastic tube inserted into a hole in my neck (specially made for the purpose by a young doctor) this afternoon. This is going to be a permanent fixture it seems, for the next few weeks anyway. Into this go two tubes - one for blood to go in, the other out. This was demonstrated this evening, with two hours attached to a dialysis machine. A little bizarre at first, for one's body to become extended by this pile of tin, lights, dials and a mess of clear tubes. I didn't really feel anything though, apart from a gradually increasing ache in the shoulder.

Went for a wander this evening and found a grand piano in each atrium - one of which is a bit battered and out of tune, but which would probably tune up nicely (I'll do a pledge on offering to do a free gig if a tuner will come and give it the once over). The other is a beautiful Yamaha, that sounded lovely. I thought there was nobody around, until this old bloke appeared out of the shadows and started talking at me - non stop, in a rambling stream-of-concsiousness then offering to sing for me. His first offering was 'My Way' in the style of Shirley Bassey, and by that I mean he was trying to impersonate her. Bizarre - but musical. Then we moved on to Lennon-McCartney (Penny Lane, Long and Winding Road, Yesterday), Neil Diamond (Love on the Rocks) and Gilbert O'Sullivan (Clair). I tried to keep up, and it was a strangely moving beautiful experience. He then whistled a tune to me that he 'wrote'. He asked if I could write it down for him - and as I had some paper there, and it was pretty simple, I made
something out of it. It starts out sounding a bit like 'Almost like being in love' but disappears into a slightly Spanish sounding phrase, that he seemed to like.

Time to take some drugs and get some sleep.

Oh yes, the weight loss bit! Yesterday (and for almost as long as I can remember) 94Kg. Today 88kg. Result!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Oh yes, the 'taste' part

The previous post makes it sound a bit like I'm at death's door. That would seem not to be the case (though I wasn't so sure on Monday night!). I feel pretty normal, and this whole bizarre situation doesn't really seem to be happening. It must be real, as a 'pre dialysis nurse' spent half an hour on the phone with me this afternoon telling me my latest blood test results and asking me to come in tomorrow morning. Apparently they want to do an MRI scan which involves ingesting some sort of dye, to investigate some unknown dark spot that appeared in the ultrasound scans last time. This dye will let them see my kidneys in much more detail, but may have the side effect of finishing them off once and for all, so I may need to stay there and start dialysis straight away. Is a bit of a pain, since my SO and I were planning to head for the French Alps this weekend for some winter sports.

The main thing that does make me feel like my body isn't the one I've got so familiar with over the last 38 years is the fact that things taste really strange. It seems to get worse as the day goes on - by evening, things have a decidedly 'off' taste. The worst thing is probably that alcohol just isn't an attractive prospect anymore. I've been to the pub after choir rehearsals recently, and not been able to face drinking a pint of beer. At first I put it down to the Sam Smiths brew in the choir local - but it would seem that this is a well known effect of kidney failure. I was in Momo the other night, and couldn't drink more than a sip of Chateau Musar, one of my favourite wines. It's the same with all kinds of food. I also went through a phase a couple months ago, where my SO developed a very strange taste - I was beginning to think I was developing some kind of allergy to her. Luckily that seems to have disappeared.

All this can only be good for my wasteline :)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bubbly pee and a funny taste...

I may need to change the title of this blog, as one thing is looking like dominating my life for the forseeable future. When I was around 20, my mother was diagnosed with an hereditary condition called "Polycystic Kidneys". After a while she went onto kidney dialysis, and then had a transplant. At the time, it was suggested that her kids were checked out, to see whether we also had the condition. So I wandered up the road to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, and was injected with some kind of dye, and given a scan. Lo and behold, there they were - little dots in my kidneys, which were actually small cysts.

That was that. Something over a year ago, I noticed that my pee was getting very 'bubbly' and went to the Doc. (Incidentally, at last summer's Edinburgh Fringe, I remember feeling that beer just didn't seem inviting anymore - more about that later.) That kicked into motion a somewhat gradual, creaking, process, which ended up with me being referred to the urology and then the renal unit at Guys and St Thomas's Hospital, and being given blood tests. These show a creatinine level of 916 (normal is 80-122), and Urea of 36.1 (2.5-7.5). Apparently these are some kind of proteins (the cause of the frothy urine, perhaps?). After I saw these results, I dug around on the web, and found a 'kidney function calculator' which suggested that with this values, I was well into 'end stage renal failure' and that immediate expert intervention was required.*

Well since then, it would seem that the system has been liberally greased, as it ain't creaky any more! Various people have sprung into action, and have been getting in touch, organising appointments and trying to prepare me for the fact that i need to start kidney dialysis myself - perhaps tomorrow!

When I got home on Monday night, I felt very tight chested, and generally feeling not great. Sleeping was difficult, not least because I kept having to get up and go to the loo, with a mouth like a desert rat's lair (dry and horrible). When I woke up at 6am, it was just as bad, if not worse, and my worried girlfriend called for help. A pair of paramedics arrived, and decided that I should be checked out, so it was into the back of an ambulance, and off to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. After being fed pure oxygen, and given drugs to reduce my blood pressure, I felt great - but was kept in all day in the cardiac unit, in the cardiac unit. Eventually they worked out that I hadn't had a heart attack - not even a mild one - and that organ (at least) was given a clean bill of health.

There's obviously a great deal more to come in this little saga. It's looking like I'm going to have to be attached to a dialysis machine for 4 hours, 3 times a week, very soon, perhaps starting tomorrow - so there should be plenty of time to write!

* I've gone into so much detail here, in the hope that it might be useful to someone, somewhere, sometime! When I searched the web for reasons for 'bubbly urine' I didn't find very much. A bit of early warning would have been useful!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ivor Cutler - RIP

One of the funniest, most eccentric, maverick of individuals it has ever been my pleasure to know, is finally with us no more (Guardian obituary).

I first saw Ivor at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1985, at the Assembly Rooms. It was my huge priviledge to get to know him during 1991/2, when we would frequently meet at the lunchtime concerts at the Royal Festival Hall (in the company of the Jazzshark). He would turn up on his bike wearing his plus fours, and a hat topped with a huge sunflower. He would often hand out sticky labels bearing slogans like "Funny Smell" or even short poems.

Despite his well known aversion to loud noise (including loud music), Ivor would come and watch us perform as The Honkin' Hep Cats - I believe he even admitted to enjoying our gigs at the RFH, though his preferred vantage point was from one of the highest balconies, as far away from the stage as possible. I think some of our songs were up his street (e.g. 'You Stole My Wife You Horse Thief' and 'When Banana Skins are falling I'll come sliding on home to you', or even 'I Want A Big Fat Mama With The Meat Shakin' on the Bone').

Jazzshark has a great memory of Ivor: "...a funny story he once told me. apparently he used to get so pissed off with dog shit on the pavements in Camden that he went round for weeks and months drawing cartoons around the offending items in chalk. As a consequence of this the problem attracted huge publicity in local and national newspapers and Camden council changed
its bylaws in order to fine offenders, and started a massive dog shit clean up campaign!"

Sadly Ivor has been unwell for some time, suffering from a dementia which meant that he didn't recognise his friends. So I hope his death is a welcome release from life's frustrations.

Ivor, I hope we meet again somewhere. Will miss you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Kitchen Conversation Cafés

On Saturday, we had the first Kitchen Conversation - see It was a great way to spend a couple of hours. We talked about freedom - including the freedom to voice opinions that go against what seems to be 'general' view, based on who's shouting loudest, which in the UK often seems to be people writing in the Daily Mail or The Sun, deliberately trying to wind people up. We also talked about the morality of operating in countries where speech is very expicitly not free.

I just came across this, which looks like a good idea.

Support Adopt a Blog Thanks to for that link - her title went scrolling by as I was logging into Blogger - she's taken some gorgeous pictures in China.

Friday, February 17, 2006

This is not my...

Some cool, wacky, eco-friendly goings on here, by the look of it:

No cavil 'ere

In everyday reading, I don't often come across totally unfamiliar words. T'other day, I found a new one - Charles Clarke in the Observer kept talking about having warned Gordon Brown about appearing to 'cavil' his cabinet colleagues. After spending my life without ever knowingly come across this word, I then found it again last night in How Mumbo Jumbo conquered the World by Francis Wheen, somewhere in chapter 4 'The Demolition Merchants of Reality'.

This is a profound chapter of an enormously entertaining book. It's all about the intellectual myth which is 'post modernism' and how it masquerades as serious philosophy. In reading it, I realise that when I was an undergraduate in the late 80s, I allowed myself to believe that somehow I must be wanting in the grey matter department, because whenever I stumbled
across any of this stuff, by the likes of Derrida or Foucault, I found it utterly incomprehensible. Maybe I'm not so dumb after all. It covers an hilarious 'hoax' on a (supposedly) academic journal by physicist Alan Sokal. I think he may have just become my second favourite physicist after Richard Feynman.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Caracass Sincronica

Just discovered a new venue in London - the Bolivar Hall, 54 Grafton Way. It's owned by the Embassy of Venezuela, and its 300ish seats were full of very cool looking south american tipos this evening, there to see the Venezuelan Quartet They were absolutely stunning. The drummer in particular, with his cajon doubling as bass drum, playing mostly with brushes or splash sticks - making a drum kit really work as an acoustic chamber music instrument; gorgeous stuff. They performed a group from Manchester (I think) - - 3 very 'classical' guys, on vibes, clarinet and guitar. I'm afraid the swing factor on stage dropped through the floor when these guys joined in - and after loads of great chat from the Venezuelans about how pleased they were to be there, not a word from any of the British musicians - two of them had faces like they were playing at the worst kind of 'function' where nobody gives a shit that you're there - barely a glance at the audience, never mind a smile. The encore was a relief - back to the Sincronica for some more Caracassonian flair, so we left feeling happy.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

One of life's paradoxes

If you're in a vey loud situation, at a gig, or a heaving party, and want to have a conversation - just whisper in the other person's ear. I guarantee they'll hear you better than if you SHOUT TO MAKE YOURSELF HEARD!

They'll also thank you for not deafening them. I wish I'd learned this years ago.