I don’t have a vote here in the USA. I live here, own a house here, pay property taxes and make a tax declaration every year, but I don’t have a vote. I have a green card entitling me to long-term residence but with no voting rights. Some might argue that it’s taxation without representation which is unconstitutional, but considering the current president has clearly never read and understood the American Constitution that argument isn’t going to take you very far. People have asked me why I haven’t applied for citizenship. I was going to, I really was, until just under four years ago. A friend of mine got citizenship and I saw a photo of him standing next to the Stars & Stripes holding his right hand up in a salute of allegiance with a framed photo of President Obama behind him. I would have been ok with that but things changed, and now the only way I could give that salute of allegiance would be to have three fingers on my right hand amputated leaving just the middle finger. I need those fingers to play the guitar and other instruments, so I remain a green card holder. This doesn’t stop me from having an opinion and taking a political stance. I’m really heartened to see that so many people have already voted. I hope that most of these votes are for Joe Biden. I know Biden might not be the ideal candidate or many people’s preferred preference but he’s what we’ve got at this point. A non-vote or a vote for another candidate who has no chance of winning is effectively a vote for Donald Trump. As we sang in Vote That Fucker Out: it’s the devil you can work with or the devil you hate… I should have become an American citizen but I’ve spent the past three and a half years wondering if I actually want to be a citizen of a country with such an abhorrent administration. And then I had Covid and an attendant heart attack, and then it was too late. So I’m still just a green card holder and I still don’t have a vote. Maybe you’re reading this and you haven’t voted and you’re thinking you’ll just stay home and not bother. Maybe you think there’s no point because whatever will be will be, or you think it makes no difference anyway - you’re wrong about that, it does make a difference, but only if you actually do it. So if you’re one of those you could do me a favour - on Tuesday take a walk to the voting station and vote for me.
All boat mechanics are called Mike. In fact anyone who has to do with the running of things in the boating community is called Mike. They have to be: there’s Mike who runs the Bliss Marina in Catskill where we park/moor/dock the boat (never sure of the correct term), there’s Mike the boat mechanic at the Hop O’Nose marina, and there’s Mike across the creek at the other marina. Then there’s Larry - he’s obviously the exception that proves the rule. But he’s down near Poughkeepsie where the rules are probably different. One day, when his time isn’t taken up with delivering the posh Closer-To-New-York-City boating crowd from disasters like having their floating gin palaces sink due to the batteries that drive their bilge pumps going flat in the wake of torrential rain storms, Larry is going to sell me a reconditioned Johnson Seahorse outboard. He just needs to find the time to recondition it. In the meantime Mike the mechanic twiddled with the motor last Friday resulting in a weekend of boat trips up and down the creek and out onto the utterly terrifying Hudson river. It was all quite wonderful but Monday evening came around and it became evident after thirty or so pulls on the starting cord that the Evinrude is settling in for a week off. I think the two stroke ratio is off. Everyone says 50:1 - that’s fifty parts gasoline to one part two stroke oil. If I was ploughing up the creek at a forty-five degree anglewith the motor on full throttle, terrifying myself and everyone else, the ratio would probably be fine, but I hardly ever push it above a steady five mile an hour chug so the plugs keep oiling up.
The guy I bought the motor from told me 100:1 is the correct ratio and there’s a sticker next to the fuel intake that says 100:1, but I bowed to the superior knowledge of men called Mike because the guy I bought it from was called Scott, so what would he know? I’m thinking Scott might be right. I took a can of gas down to the boat and diluted the mixture. The damned thing almost started up but it gave up and so did I. So it’s back to Mike the mechanic. He’s promised to drop by and have a look at it. I think he’s impressed by my tenacity. Amy and I went down and took a sedate row across the creek. As we paddled slowly alongside a large moored up yacht a man looked down at us: “Outboard not working eh? Which boat is yours?” I didn’t immediately understand what he meant but Amy caught his drift straight away. “This is it” she said, “we don’t have a real boat, just this.” He thought we were using it to row out to our own massive yacht. He looked slightly taken aback and went back to what he was doing, which was attending to a barbecue. Amy asked him what he was having for dinner. Hamburgers, he was grilling hamburgers. “Imagine,” I said, ‘having a boat large enough to grill hamburgers on.” We sloshed away in our tin tub with its defunct outboard hanging off the back. The dismal sound of the same four chords being played over and over on a ukelele wafted across the creek. It appeared to be coming from the house that until yesterday had a large banner hung off its balcony that said Get Aboard The Trump Train 2020. Today the banner is gone. Perhaps they watched the Republican Convention. Or heard our latest track:
I keep writing stuff and not posting any of it - vast tracts bemoaning the state of the world, the UK government, the horrific US administration, police and my interaction with them since the age of thirteen when I was a juvenile delinquent, being beaten up in police custody, racism, sexism, injustice, the virus... and I realize more and more that there are other people much better qualified than I am to write about these things in a way that might inspire people and bring about a change. All I’m going to do is preach to a small congregation of believers and bring people down.
I think about what we want to achieve and the conclusion I come to is that we want to see an end to basic human misery. Ok, it’s an impossible goal but I’d prefer to be part of the solution than part of the problem. I’m still in a fairly precarious state of health and I’m certainly not ready to man any barricades but people seem to be uplifted by my Instagram and Facebook posts about my exploits owning a small tin dinghy with a somewhat unreliable Evinrude outboard. So I’ve decided that for the most part I’m just going to write about that instead. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or that I’m oblivious, please don’t think that.
I bought the boat with the money I was going to spend on getting the transmission repaired on the car I use for touring, a 1997 Buick Le Sabre with an interior that smells like an old auntie and the best sound system of any car I’ve ever owned - Concert Sound System it says under the speakers. It doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere for a while so it’s got to go.
Here are a selection of random posts:
Lowering the tone at the difficult end of Catskill's most charmingly shabby marina. Now the Evinrude's working again other motorboat people actually wave at us which is something I'd prefer to discourage. A man with a yacht got very snippy when I pulled alongside to let him pass. "That's my berth" he said without moving his mouth. Really squire? I'm not a bleeding clairvoyant, and anyway I can't hear you over the noise this here motor's making...
But I did get a compliment on my rowing from a fellow motorboat-ist when the motor cut out and I couldn't be bothered to restart it to get the twenty yards or so to my own decidedly un-yacht-worthy berth at the unfashionable end of the slip near the portaloo.
August 5th I haven't been able to start the Evinrude for a couple of days but I went down and fiddled with it this evening and it started on the third pull. It must have heard me negotiating a trade-in for a rebuilt Johnson Seahorse.
I called Amy and she rushed down to the Bliss Marina. As soon as she came in sight the Evinrude stalled. I think it's bashful - it's not a natural performer. I gave it a minute and it restarted on one pull. We chugged up the creek, went under the bridge, turned around and chugged back down again. The water was a dark muddy brown after the recent torrential rain storm. There were no boats out on it which was strange because there was twice as much water as there normally is, so you'd think that people with boats would want to take advantage of that but it seems not. I imagine they were fearful that the post-storm muddiness might soil the pristine, semen-white finish of their expensive plastic pleasure craft.
We chugged and racketed our way past our mooring with the sun at our backs, past big green buoys on our right (did we go the wrong side of them?), past oyster-shucking diners at the Port O'Call restaurant on our left, and out into the vast waters of the mighty River Hudson. We became fearful, executed a U-turn and headed back into the safe familiarity of the Catskill Creek.
But for a moment we were intrepid.
I think I've discovered a trick to starting the Evinrude - take the lid off and let the air get to it for a few minutes. I stumbled on this idea because the catch that holds the lid on became loose and was in danger of vibrating off in mid-voyage and being lost at sea, or creek more likely, seeing as how we're usually too timid to venture further than the eddying and shapeless weirdness of the creek flowing into the Hudson.
I made the repair, secured the lid and started the motor with three pulls on the starting rope. I quickly untied and made a real hash of setting off from the dock. Fortunately I've moved to the far end of the slip where no one can see me making a spectacle of myself. The downside is that by the time I've walked from the gangway to this far flung outpost of patched up pontoons I often feel a little queasy with motion sickness and it's a relief to get into the comparative unwobblyness of the boat.
I puttered up the creek, performed a wide sweep and headed off towards the river past Mike, the owner of the Bliss Marina, who has a new found respect for me:
"You never told me you were a rock star..."
I mumbled something suitably British by way of a reply - "Um, well, yes...ah..."
"Guess it never came up eh?"
"Hmmm" I thought as I wobbled down the pontoons, "it must be pretty damned weird being me."
Seems he has a son who reads my posts.
If you're reading this one: hello Son of Mike - please don't laugh at my abberational boating skills!
It was a glorious afternoon and I made it all the way down to the Point which used to be an island belonging to native Americans who swapped it for a pile of blankets when Henry Hudson came sailing up the river in 1610 or whenever it was. I may have got my facts wrong there but history was never my strong suit - I'm almost better at boating than I am at history.
I chugged and puttered back up the creek and tried for an effortless berthing that went very wrong. I slammed the motor deftly into reverse and pulled it back into neutral, but something was off with my deftlyness and the boat never left forward gear leaving me sailing past the berth and on up the creek. I cut the motor and rather sheepishly rowed back to the mooring.
I had to rehearse with Karen Schoemer late of The Schoemer Formation for a show Karen and I are doing together in the socially distanced parking lot at TSL over in Hudson.
After the rehearsal I dragged Amy and Karen back to the boat and repeated the whole exercise, this time with a crew.
Amy drank wine while Karen gazed around in wonder.
It was overcast and humid and it had been raining half the day. The rain had stopped in the afternoon so by about seven o’clock I thought I should go and bale out the boat. I wobble-bounced along to the far end of the slip and sure enough there was almost a foot of water in the back of the boat. The half full gas tank was floating in it. I’d been clever this time with the bilge pump, made sure I’d left it on the dock side of the boat where I could reach it rather than having to lasso it with a mooring rope or climb into the boat to get it, ankle deep in cold rainwater.
It isn’t easy operating the manual bilge pump from outside the boat but for me it’s preferable to getting my feet wet. I’m afraid I'm not much of a mariner - I can’t stand cold water and I hate walking around with wet feet. If I’m not careful I end up slapping around in sodden footwear because taking my shoes off and then having to put them back on seems like too much of a project. So there’s something you know about me now - I’m not just unsuited to marine living, I’m lazy as well.
But not when it comes to the bilge pump - I had the boat pumped out in no time at all. I’d had the foresight to take the cover off the Evinrude so the air could get to it - I think it suffers from condensation. I got in the boat and primed the pump thinking I was probably wasting my time seeing as how damp it’s been, but I had to try. It started on the fourth pull.
I untied and probably because there was no one around to see, cast off perfectly. I chugged off up the creek into the sinking sunlight and had to steer a course around a large, white plastic yacht that suddenly appeared from behind the promontory. A woman and two small children were reclining on the prow. They gave me a joyful wave across twenty feet of open water, blissfully unaware of the near collision which had just taken place in my mind. I imagined a dad, masterful, authoritative and alone in the wheelhouse.
But do those things have wheelhouses? More likely a seating area, high above the water, all white pleather and big beverage holders with a dial-encrusted panel and a chromium steering wheel as a centre piece. Not like my old river cruiser, the Desert Star - thirty-five feet of seasoned and rotting mahogany, adorned with leaded lights and Art Deco features, car tyres for fenders and a four cylinder Perkins diesel motor below. Now that had a wheelhouse.
I took a couple of turns up and down the creek and tied up with the sun going down. A family were fishing off a boat moored further back up the slip. A little girl caught a catfish. She looked thrilled and astonished. Her dad got the hook out of its mouth. She held it and just as another dad took a commemorative photo it slithered and jumped out of her hands back into the creek.
Amy’s daughter Hazel is here for the show at TSL - Hazel is the opening act, TBHQ. What better way to start the day than with a boat ride? It was already too hot by the time we got to the marina. Everyone got aboard while I set about starting the motor with all the confidence of a man who thinks he’s got it down with the Evinrude. I primed the pump, pulled out the choke, set the throttle and pulled the start cord until I was exhausted. I re-primed the pump, fiddled with the choke, verified the throttle setting, took the engine cover off to get some air into the thing, sprayed Quick Start Miracle Outboard Motor Starter Spray into the carburettor, pulled a few more times, put the cover back on, pulled again, and again, and again... and finally gave up. It was too hot out there anyway.
We did the show at TSL. They've built a stage outside the front door next to the parking lot with a big screen for projecting movies. The screen is actually big sheets of plywood supported by a wooden frame and painted white. It's all quite ramshackle and I'm in rapt admiration of their pioneering spirit. Chairs are arranged six feet apart in all directions on a grid, each chair placed on a yellow spray-painted X. The PA system is somewhat underpowered but it's a parking lot in the middle of a residential area so I'm happy to take what we're given.
Setting up and soundchecking in the heat of the blazing sun was a living hell that I could have done without but what can you do? Nothing's ideal, we have to work at it, do some reinventing. It was a fairly sparse turn-out - it would have been good to see some of the people who bemoan the lack of live music but I imagine they were at home watching a Zoom concert in air-conditioned luxury. The show went well and I'm glad we did it even though I was wiped out afterwards.
I tottered down the pontoons determined to bring the Evinrude back to life. It was a beautiful evening down there on the creek if a little hot and humid. Perfect weather to cruise up to the bridge and back. I took the cover off the motor to let the air circulate, tightened up the catch that holds the cover on, replaced the cover and took the neccessary steps to prepare the motor. It almost fired up on the first pull. Except it didn’t. I gave it several more pulls and there was the occasional splutter but mostly it was barren, impotent, infertile and thoroughly disappointing.
I gave up before I wore myself out and did a bit of rowing instead. But rowing isn't much of a thrill once you've experienced the open-throttled roar of the Evinrude, and anyway it was way too hot and I was tired so I rowed back, tied up and sat in the boat content to be bobbed about by the wake from the occasional homebound yacht. Two large white plastic pleasure cruisers were weaving up the creek. They appeared to be lashed together. The idiots on the boats had a police siren and were shouting abuse at other boaters through a megaphone. They shouted something at me that I couldn’t quite hear but I definitely caught the word asshole.
A mean looking man in a motorboat asked me if I knew them. I told him I didn’t and he said he was going to go after them because they’d been harassing him and he was going to mess them up. He roared off up the creek, a man on a mission. I was quite pleased about this but he needn’t have bothered because I have a truck in the area and the crew are already taking care of it.
Let me explain…
A few years ago I was booked to play at a wedding in Glasgow. The PA was being supplied by the Ceilidh band who were also supplying the disco - they were that kind of Ceilidh band: professional entertainment. They didn’t seem to care that I was also booked to play even though it had been agreed in advance that I’d be using their PA and would have certain requirements and stipulations of my own. They arrived late, set themselves up and then gave me no help whatsoever with the PA system except for a directive that I mustn’t change anything on the mixing desk and that I should use Kevin’s microphone to sing into.
Somehow I struggled through. Weddings are tough - the bride and groom usually love you and that’s why they’ve booked you, but it doesn’t really occur to them in the excitement of planning the thing that this is not going to be Great Aunt Muriel’s cup of tea. And why would it? It’s their special day after all. There are also brothers-in-law, best friends from school, best friends from uni, mates from the pub or the rugby club, and always a squadron of small boys being aeroplanes. And quite often a five year old in a party frock who’s just been sick, standing in front of you with her fingers in her ears wearing a just been sick expression and yelling at you to shut up.
There are variations on the theme but that’s generally about it. The best thing I could do in these situations is to somehow make Whole Wide World last for thirty-five minutes. That’s what Norman Greenbaum did with Spirit In the Sky - no one was interested in his other stuff so he just did Spirit In The Sky for forty-five minutes and then another five minutes for the encore. Spirit In The Sky lends itself to that kind of treatment, Whole Wide World unfortunately doesn’t. Wedding guests don’t want to hear songs about Sysco trucks, or songs with broken fridges and burned-out cigarettes in them, or songs that ask quite simply how the fucking hell did I get here? So I’m a bit stuck, but I do the best I can when these occasions come up, and at least the bride and groom are usually happy.
At this particular wedding the Ceilidh band didn’t even wait for me to pack up before they were back onstage. One of them made an announcement: And Now Back To The Entertainment! And they were off, dashing the white sergeant and stripping the willow, kicking up a regular penny whistle din while I crawled around their feet gathering up my cables. I saw a set of Irish bagpipes laying on the floor waiting to be deployed into some sort of shrieking hell, and it occured to me that I could fuck this lot up very nicely with a can of expanding foam.
I resolved to always travel with a can of the stuff. Just a squirt here and there…
Flutes: no problem!
Exhaust pipes of the promoter’s car: sorted!
Hotel plumbing: fuck you!
I could run riot with this stuff.
I went to have a look at a house that some friends were considering buying. The owner had a foam insulation company and every timber in the attic and basement was covered in layers of the stuff. I’d already decided I was going to buy a twenty-four can contractor pack but when I saw those timbers that idea fell by the wayside. What I needed was a truck, a foam insulation truck with a tank of the stuff on the back and a hose that could be unrolled and shoved through the letterbox or catflap of - let’s say - the headquarters of a particularly odious record company. Fill the building with expanding foam, that’ll fix 'em!
Then I thought well why stop at that? What I need is a fleet of these vehicle - don’t fuck with me or I’ll send a truck…
So if anyone pisses me off that’s just what I do. In my mind I have an expanding foam insulation business with a large fleet of trucks. Anyone upsets a friend of mine I say: "Don’t worry, I’ve got a truck operating in the area…"
I’d send my trucks down to Washington DC to attend to a certain address there but it’s not a practical proposition so Amy and I have made a record instead. A troll has already berated Amy about it on Facebook before anyone has even heard it. He called it a juvenile rant. We know you’re going to love it. Here’s what we need to do:
I’ve always thought chasing behind an ambulance as a way of getting through traffic was in poor taste - socially acceptable in fact. But lying there with my feet facing the rear doors, watching the world fold away and disappear behind me at a steady sixty five or seventy miles an hour I could see that I was wrong. I saw cars pulled over to the side wearing expressions of deference mixed with concern (in so much that is as a motor vehicle can wear an expression - you must bear in mind at this point I was coming out of a near death experience). But other cars, belligerent looking blighters, shot into the spaces that opened up and glued themselves to the back of the ambulance
I was in safe hands with the improbably named paramedics, Shane and Duane. Duane sat on the bench besides me. A brief chat about fishing fizzled out, mostly because I don’t know anything about fishing and I was feeling a little…distracted, so Duane was left to field both sides of the conversation. I may have dozed off.
We arrived at the hospital, Albany Med, and the action started up all over again. Shane and Duane got me out of the ambulance, wheeled me across a concourse and through a set of doors where another team of excited medical professionals were ready to take over. We crashed through a reception area in a blur with someone shouting out my personal details, symptoms and latest vitals. It was like a TV show.
They told me they were going to prepare me for the radiology suite. They had to put me on a different trolley / bed / gurney or whatever those things are called. I didn’t have to do anything. They got round me and grabbed hold of the undersheet, counted to three and lifted me clean onto the other bed. I felt like the star of some twisted showgirl routine.
We were on the move again, speeding along corridors and up in an elevator. I got to see a lot of ceilings and light fittings. and then we were in the radiology suite - I wouldn’t neccessarilly have known this if someone hadn’t told me. A doctor explained that they were going to inject me with a dye so that they could see a map of my arteries on a big screen. I told them that if it was all the same to him I wouldn’t look. He said they were going to sedate me.
Someone said they’d go in either through the groin or somewhere else. I didn’t like where this was going, my vote was for the somewhere else. I may have voiced the opinion. A nurse reached in with a Phillips Phillishave and mowed off a patch of pubic hair, just in case. ‘Oh fuck!’ I said, ‘that’s going to itch when it grows back.’
People were working all round me. Electrodes were being stuck all over me - I wish I’d been able to take a selfie. A doctor leaned in and asked in a clear voice:
‘How are you feeling now?’
‘I feel like a racing car in a pit stop.’
They sedated me - they must have done because I was in a grey nether world. I could feel the blood pressure thing around my arm. It tightened periodically to check my blood pressure. It was my friend in this strange grey place somewhere between worlds, a reassuring grip on my arm - it’s ok buddy, everything is going to be ok…
I was in a room and something was beeping, one beep, then a space, then two beeps together… The blood pressure thing was still there - tightening, just to the point of too tight, holding it then slackening off. I discovered I had something electrical taped around my left index finger. It glowed red which I thought might be handy if I needed to find my finger in the dark.
The ceiling was those polystyrene looking tiles supported on an aluminium lattice. There was a sprinkler directly above my head. I hoped the building wouldn’t catch fire. I didn’t want to get wet. I started to make an inventry of the ceiling tiles, how many were unviolated by light fixtures, vents, sprinklers etc. It was an impossible task, I kept losing track and having to start again.
A masked face was looking at me from behind a clear plastic visor.
‘The doctor will be in to see you in a minute. You’ve had three stents put in your heart.’
I felt vaguely as though I could just get up, walk out, go home. But I knew that wasn’t a good idea. I couldn’t be bothered anyway. And I was tethered to too much stuff, and now I’d got them to turn down the beeping I was quite content to stay where I was, a prisoner of the electrodes.
The doctor came in. ‘I’m sure I’ve seen you before somewhere,’ I said. He laughed - ‘I hope you’re feeling a bit less like a racing car at a pit stop!’
He explained the stents and how it all was. I’d had quite a heart attack, I’d probably been having it for a few days. I’ve never felt so utterly British - I’m feeling a bit under the weather -still, must press on…
I asked how they got the stents in there and he told me they went in through my right arm just below the elbow. That explained the big bulge of sticking plaster with the large bruise spreading out from it. I’m imagining it was much the same as a chimney sweep sticking a brush up a chimney and screwing poles on until the brush pops out of the top of the chimney, but in miniature. And hopefully a lot cleaner. Something like that - unlike the president I don’t have a feel for this stuff.
They were going to keep me in for a couple of days. I felt a lot better than I had - exhausted, and a bit giddy at having survived the ordeal, and a bit freaked-out at being hooked up to all this stuff. Euphoria gave way the next day to a kind of melancholia. I didn’t lie there feeling sorry for myself but I felt beaten for a while. The heart attack was brought about by the Covid-19 virus. My lung power was substantially decreased which meant blood wasn’t being oxygenated, so it started to clot. Lack of oxygen and subsequent thickening of the blood puts a huge strain on the heart. It’s a vicious circle. Before this I was fit and healthy. I spoke to a friend in England who remembered walking around Cromer with me just last February. He said he could barely keep up with me. I started to feel angry How could this have been allowed to get so out of control?
I’d been subtly warned about the food by some of the staff. I was given menus to fill in. I could tell how it was going to be as soon as I looked at them. Ordering was a matter of damage limitation. Pasta with marinara sauce - I thought that couldn’t be so bad but I was wrong. I was wrong too about meusli, fresh fruit, yoghurt, orange juice… It was all trash, full of additives, high fructose corn syrup,white sugar and all the other stuff any qualified medical professional would surely tell someone in my position to steer clear of. Meusli translated to a packet of Cocoa Pops, fresh fruit came in a festering sealed container steeped in its own sweated juice, yoghurt was a chemical substitute with pink colouring and flavourings - first ingredient on the list: high fructose corn syrup. The soggy overcooked pasta came with a tub of violent red sludge that contrasted perfectly with the green of the mushy pile of overcooked French beans.
On the one hand you have the science, the technology, the skill and professional dedication that can turn a dying man into a functioning human being, and then you have the business. And where they intersect you see the cynical cost-cutting measures. Someone is running all this with an eye to the profits.
But I don’t want to dwell on negatives right now. The staff at the Albany Med cardiac unit have my undying gratitude, I thought they did a fantastic job and they did it all with kindness and care. My Covid re-test result came back negative so I was moved out of isolation and onto the main cardiac ward. I said goodbye to the bed that had been home for twenty-four hours and I was happy about that. At some point somebody had written the word pain on the framework with an indelible pen and it was evident that no no amount of scrubbing had been able to erase it. I hope that person’s pain proved less enduring.
They took me off the big heart monitor and put me on a battery powered remote thing that slipped into a special pocket on the pretty patterened gown they gave me. I got a pair of pants too, big pyjama trousers in a contrasting pattern - you could have got four of me in them and it took some ingenuity to tie them up so they didn’t fall down. A nurse got me a pair of padded socks to wear so I could walk around the ward. They were bright yellow, I cut quite a dash. She told me not to go through any doors into the rest of the hospital.
Her colleague expressed doubt: ‘Wait, are you sure he’s not going to wander off?’
I laughed. ‘Yeah right - look at the fucking state of me! I’d go out clubbing but I don’t think I’m going to get lucky in this outfit, do you?’
He looked embarrassed - I think he thought I’d been referred from a psychiatric ward - it’s the English accent, it confuses them.
Different people kept wheeling in equipment and conducting tests. I could hardly keep up with it. A guy even woke me up at five o’clock in the morning - he stuck a load of electrode things over my chest and took readings. He was very apologetic but I really didn’t mind because I was on hospital time and anything was a welcome break from the tedium. The only contact I had with the outside world was a few phone calls and a care package from Amy. There were no visitors allowed because of the lockdown. It was quite lonely at times.
The final test was an ultrasound. The ultrasoundist (I’m sure she had an official job description but I can’t remember what it was so ultrasoundist will have to do) was a woman in her late forties perhaps. I asked her if she did anything else.
‘Nope, just this, I take ultrasounds of peoples hearts. Been doing it twenty three years. I love my job and I’m really good at it.’
Somehow we got on to the subject of retirement. She gave a dry laugh: ‘Huh - I can’t afford to retire, I’m in the medical profession. I’ll be doing this until I keel over.’
I retrieved my clothes and got dressed. The nurses teased me that they were going to send me off with with the gown and pants outfit. One of them gave me a comb so I could look presentable for Amy who was coming to pick me up. I was trolleyed to the front door in a wheelchair even though I was more than capable of walking. Amy said she was expecting a crumpled and broken man but when I got out of the weelchair and walked through the door apparently I looked as though I’d spent the weekend at a health spa.
Not exactly, I felt exhausted - I still do, but a whole lot better than I had a few days before. If I’m honest I sometimes feel vaguely traumatised at the thought of it all, especially that I was offered the services of a chaplain which makes me wonder how close I may have been to popping my clogs. People say it must have been a terrifying experience but I never once felt frightened while it was all going on. I think that’s down to the people who cared for me in the hospital. I can’t thank them enough.
Now I’m out and about again I’m sick and tired of seeing big macho men and fools strutting around without face masks, and of being sneered at by bare-faced people. Maybe they think they’re tougher than Covid-19, or that they’re nature’s chosen, the naturally immune, but some of them are going to find out that they aren’t. They’ll be deeply sorry if they get it like I have. I want to tell them, to warn them, but I learned a long time ago that you can’t tell people what they don’t want to know. If stupid people want to die an unpleasant death I suppose that’s up to them. The sad thing is that in the dying they’ll put other people at risk.
For myself I’m happy to fantasize about full facial nudity…
Things took rather a sinister turn last week - I had a heart attack and spent the weekend before my birthday in intensive care.
I felt good when I got out of quarantine. A few days later I suddenly didn’t - we went for a walk and I got very out of breath - I had to sit down. It kept happening and it kept coming and going. Other virus sufferers told me they had exactly the same experience - the recovery is long and drawn out. I kept reading about the comet tail - recovery from the virus can be slow and fraught with setbacks.
Apart from being short of breath, on occasions I started to feel quite nauseous. And then the chest pains started. High up, either side of my shoulders. Then they'd subside and I’d feel tired. I’d curse the virus and try to get on with things.
Obviously it was going to get better. Except that it didn’t. I had a day when I felt pretty crappy just about all day. The following day I got up and felt vaguely well. I sat and drank peppermint tea and enjoyed Amy’s latest homemade granola experiment. I felt tired - maybe I just needed to lay down for a while... I went up the stairs and felt the pain, an acute discomfort, grip me. I lay down and after a while it was a little better so I got up, got ready and went out with Amy in her car to run a few errands.
We were up north of Hudson where some friends have a farm. It was good to be out in the country, in the sunlight enjoying a socially distanced conversation.
I felt unwell. I had to excuse myself and get back in the car.
We set off to go home and I started to feel really unwell. Amy suggested we stop off at the hospital but that seemed to me like a drastic step, an admission that something was seriously not right. And that’s the last thing I wanted to admit to.
Amy said ‘I hope you’re not having a heart attack,’ and I laughed it off and said ‘No, that would be completely different to this.’ It couldn’t be - everybody knows a heart attack is when there’s something like a fist gripping a large stone in the middle of your chest and you get tingles and sometimes a shooting pain down your left arm. I didn’t have any of that so it couldn’t be a heart attack. And anyway, me and a heart attack? It’s not possible, it’s a bad fit. Heart attacks happen to other people and possibly to me in some dim and distant future when I’m very old.
I was quietly freaking out and trying to keep a lid on it because I didn’t want Amy to be upset. My head had turned into a hot, fuzzy mush, my rib cage was squeezing itself inwards, I had a fairly excrutiating pain each side of my chest and my arms had turned into nonsense. It became imperative that we get to the hospital. I’ve never seen Amy drive so fast.
We skidded into the ER parking lot where there was a barrier and one car ahead of us. Amy jumped out leaving the door open and the engine running. Everything was blurring by this point. I saw an exchange taken place but didn’t know what Amy was saying. I found out later it was ‘My husband’s having a heart attack.’
There was a team running across the concourse and I was in a chair being wheeled through. I think I told them I’d had the virus.
Yeah, room seven.’
We crashed through to the back of the hospital and into a room containing a whole team of medical workers. They dumped me onto a bed, clustered around, fired questions at me - allergies, medications, date of birth… A nurse who said his name was Scott told me I was going to be ok and he was going to give me an injection. They gave me pills to swallow, tore off my shirt and stuck a whole bunch of electrodes on me. They put a tube in my arm, gave me the injection and siphoned half a gallon of blood out of me.
Scott asked if I wanted a chaplain.
‘That’s the last bloody thing I want!’
A woman in a lab coat bustled in with some apparatus and announced that she was going to test me for Covid-19. The apparatus looked like something you might use to artificially inseminate a goat - two small wiry looking probes - I tried not to look too closely. She plunged them deep into my nose and I could feel them in my throat. It was unpleasant but it was over very quickly.
They gave me oxygen tubes and I began to feel a lot less alarmingly like I was about to die. I had four over-riding concerns:
I wanted to someone to go and tell Amy how I was - they gave me my phone and I called her. I had no recollection of this until later. It went something like: everything’s ok here - apparently I’m having a heart attack.
I wanted to pee really badly - why didn’t I have the sense to go before all this happened?
I mustn’t die because tomorrow was the second anniversary of the death of my daughter Luci’s mother, and I really didn’t want to bring this on her. The timing was not good and at the very least I could hear her saying: why are you making this all about you? And quite right too.
I was three days from my sixty sixth birthday and I didn’t want to spend it in isolation in a hospital.
Bit by bit I was divested of all my clothes apart from my socks - I went through the ensuing twenty four hours wearing my socks - how quintessentially English - he died with his socks on… They put me in a flowery robe that didn’t button up at the back and it occurred to me that they weren’t planning on letting me walk around anywhere for a while, not in that garment, and anyway I was hooked up to too much machinery.
I was going to be transferred to Albany by ambulance. I was introduced to the paramedics who were going to take me there, two large and baggy looking men in black satin bomber jackets. They were called Duane and Shane. They seemed quite proud of the comedy aspect of their pairing.
They swaddled me in blankets, strapped me down to the trolley, loaded me into the ambulance and off we went with the siren wailing, Shane at the wheel, Duane busied himself with a few things then sat with me in the back.
‘So, what do you get up to in your spare time? Are you into huntin’ and fishin’?’
It was going to be a long ride to Albany.
There's obviously more to come but it's a long and twisted tale. Look back in a day or two for the next installment.
My blog post about being diagnosed with the virus went viral. I was inundated with messages of support and assurances that prayers were being offered up and positive vibes were being beamed in my direction. I was very moved by the response, moved and taken aback. And I felt guilty because when all this came along I was having a fairly good day, I spent hours replying to these kind messages - don’t worry about me, I’m fine - I resisted the temptation to cut and paste.
I felt uncomfortable getting all that attention. People have told me to get over it, to just accept the fact that I’m famous. I don't really think of myself as famous, not on a day to day basis. I'm an artist and entertainer and I've done a couple of things that people have heard of. I don’t even know how you measure fame. While I’ve been laying around I’ve been thinking about it all a lot. Around the end of the nineties when I was starting to write A Dysfunctional Success I thought it’d be a good idea to assemble the press cuttings from my brush with fame back in the late seventies. I didn’t have anything. I mentioned it to my mother who produced a large scrapbook filled with everything that had ever been written about me.
‘I made it my business to collect everything’ she explained. ‘Well, I knew you wouldn’t - it didn’t seem to matter to you, it wasn’t what you were in it for.’
And I suppose that’s true. I never imagined when I made my first record that I’d be an overnight sensation. I really wanted to do it but it all seemed so ludicrous that I couldn’t take it altogether seriously. I was terribly shy and I had an alias to hide behind and all the booze in the world to cover for my insecurities. I wanted to sell records and fill concert halls and so on - it was the rest of it that I couldn't handle. I couldn’t bear to read the things people said about me, good or bad, it made no difference. I couldn’t take the insults, the indignities of being treated like an object.I fucked it all up with the help of a couple of record labels and managers. Then I ran away and crept back in as an underground artist.
During the eighties I seemed to meet a lot of young musicians who were hoping to be as lucky as they thought I’d been. They’d tell me how they wanted to make it. My response would be: and then what are you going to do? When I was starting out I thought it’d be great to be in a band because girls would find me attractive. Though it wasn’t by any means my primary motivation the idea was definitely a bonus, but when it started to happen it made me quite cross - they only like me because I’m in a band… And a lot of the time I assumed they probably found the bass player or drummer more interesting anyway.
But I’ve been figuring it out a bit more - there’s a difference between fame, notoriety and celebrity. Celebrity doesn’t interest me - I’ve never been impressed with someone because they’re famous, only for the thing they do. When I go out to play shows I like to be treated with respect, but not deference. Sure, it’s a laugh to be treated like a VIP occasionally - the limousine from the airport, the five star hotel… Those kind of things have really only happened to me a couple of times.
I went to Los Angeles a few years ago to do a highly lucrative private show in Beverly Hills. I was supplied with a car and driver for the duration of my stay. The driver, wearing a smartly tailored black suit that contrasted quite radically with my scruffy jeans, t shirt and jacket, picked me up at the airport. He showed me into the back of a sleek, black limousine - endless bottled water, cocktail bar - the works. He asked was there anywhere I’d like to go or would I just like to go to the hotel after my long flight. I wanted an espresso so I told him where to go and off we went. He dropped me off and said he’d be right there waiting in the parking lot when I returned. I had my espresso, came back to the car, and there he was with a paper cup from Starbucks. We discussed it - he was a nice guy - and I insisted he came back to the cafe with me and allow me to buy him a good cup of coffee. I ended up riding around in the front with him, he showed me photos of his wife and kids, I told him all about my wife, daughter and grandkids and we were like the odd couple in a buddy film. I’m not cut out for stardom.
If you need a break from reading this drivel here's a tune:
The virus is a rollercoaster - unpredictable and tenacious - so I felt ironically better about the attention I was receiving when I felt unwell again.
I first went down with it around March 15th. I’d been feeling unwell on and off from some time in mid-January but my symptoms didn’t correspond with the known symptoms at the time of this new virus. I’d been working hard fixing up an apartment in England. I had to demolish a partition wall - there was a lot of dust involved and even though I’d worn a mask I put feeling under par down to that.
I arrived back in New York on February 28th. I landed at JFK. Passport control and immigration is a nightmare there at the best of times. It’s been worse in the last couple of years and I think a large part of the reason is due to the introduction of a new semi-automated system - machines with greasy screens that everyone has to dab at to answer the questions - are you bringing plants or soil into America, have you been hanging out on a farm, all that stuff. I believe the owner of the company that supplied these disgusting, insanitary machines is an associate of the odious president of the United States. This is what I’m told.
The machines often don’t work. You dab at the screen to select your choice of language and follow the instructions. You hold your passport or green card in a slot provided. After a few seconds the screen tells you to take the passport or green card out, put it in the correct way around and start again. After a further wait the screen informs you that it’s having trouble reading your document and tells you to wait for an official who will come and guide you through the process.
Meanwhile you’re surrounded by impatient fellow travellers, all breathing on you…
The official bustles up, takes your passport or green card off you, looks at it closely as he or she shouts at a few people to back up, inserts a key, dabs at the screen a few times and finally reads the passport or green card. Then the machine requires fingerprints. There’s a perspex plate with a green light behind it. You have to put four fingers of your right hand on the screen and hold them there for up to a minute while the thing takes a reading. I’m often surprised the thing can do this because the screen is usually smeared with grease and who knows what else from thousands and thousands of right hand fingers.
Then you dab at the relevent yes/no boxes in answer to a series of questions about farming and commercial goods. When all this is done and you’ve sworn that the information you have given is correct - by dabbing at the screen a couple more times - the machine takes your photo. You have to position everything by manipulating the on-screen image with your fingers, then dab at the on-screen button and brace yourself as the machine takes the worst photo of you that you’ll ever see in your life. The machine then prints out a document with the photo on it that you have to take and present to a border guard.
The airport staff in charge of herding people through immigration seemed quite jittery. Some were wearing masks, cheap ones from the DIY store, the sort you might wear to sand down a plank or spray paint a car bodywork repair.
There’s always a long line for the border guard bit. The border guards themselves seem bored and pissed off, like sulky teenagers, permanently on the edge of going on a break that keeps getting delayed. I can’t say I blame them - checking on miles and miles of jet-lagged travellers, asking the same old questions, it must be utterly soul-sucking:
Where have you been? How long were you in the UK? Where did you go in the UK?
And because this is a special time:
Have you visited China or any other Asian countries on this trip?
I answered no to the last question and the guy was fine with that though he didn’t check the stamps in my passport so there didn’t seem much point.
Maybe, just maybe I picked up the virus at the airport. Or perhaps I flew it across the Atlantic. I have no idea. But if I didn’t get it from using one of those machines in immigration I damned sure someone else did.
Some bright spark is going to tell me to apply for the Global Entry Permit. I know - I had an appointment but it coincided with a blizzard so it was cancelled and I haven’t had time since to do anything about it.
I came home, I felt fine. I got on with a few things and on March 13th I had a show to play in upstate New York - the Argyle Brewing Company in Cambridge, New York. I was fully prepared for the show to be cancelled but it went ahead. A lot of advance ticket had been sold but a lot of people stayed away which was probably just as well because everyone was spread out around the room. This was pre social distancing but people were being careful. It was a good show. I’ve had moments since when I’ve thought if that was to be my last public performances I’d be happy enough with it.
I felt like I had a cold coming on. I went for a walk out in the forest. I got halfway up an incline and realized I was completely out of breath which isn’t at all like me - I keep myself fit if not always in shape. When I’m home I go to the gym as often as I can and run on the treadmill - it nearly kills me some days but I don’t get puffed out walking up a slight slope. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t feeling very well. All I seemed capable of was sleeping. I didn’t have a fever - I never had a fever so I didn’t immediately think it was Covid because fever was being touted as the main symptom. I developed a dry cough and started having pains in my upper chest and back so I phoned the medical centre.
I spoke to a doctor who didn’t seem over-concerned. He said it didn’t sound as though I needed to come in and get tested but I could go to the emergency room to have the chest pains checked out in case I was having a heart attack and in the meantime I should just stay home, rest and take Tylenol or Paracetamol. We’ve come a long way since mid March.
So, apart from driving out to some remote areas where I could walk without meeting anybody, I stayed home, slept a lot, took zinc, echinacea, vitamin C, vitamin D, and drank water by the gallon. I got better. After three weeks I felt fine, ready to rejoin the human race and everything. It lasted a few days but suddenly I went down again, and this time it was worse. Still no fever, just insidious debilitation. It felt like an effort to breathe sometimes and sometimes I felt like I really couldn’t be bothered trying anymore. I’d wake up in the morning feeling vaguely ok, but by the time I was up and dressed and ready to face the day I’d have to lay down for an hour or two. And that’s when I got tested and the test came back positive.
I’m out of quarantine now. It wasn’t so bad - I got to know the back yard quite well - all one third of an acre of it - I swear I went to bits of it I’ve never been to before. Then suddenly the day came that i was out of quarantine, free to roam. I was feeling better but I’d learned not to trust it so I haven’t exactly been gallivanting around, not that there is anywhere to gallivant. But if you see me acting weirder than usual in a supermarket it’s ok, I’m just gallivanting.
I‘ve been feeling well for over a week now, hoping maybe this thing is gone. Yesterday I put vocals on a couple of tracks - nothing strenuous, not a high full voice thing, just easy stuff right in the middle of my range. It all went well and I was happy that I was back to my old self but I was suddenly overcome with tiredness and had to lay down. I had a rest and we decided to go for a walk. After a couple of hundred yards I had to sit down - I felt dreadful, as though I’d run a half-marathon with no training. So no gallivanting for me. I hope I’m not back at square one. I can take the isolation, the distancing, the quarantine, but not being held hostage to this fucking virus. I think it’s just damage though hopefully not permanent.
It made me very sad to see a photo of a protester against the lockdown holding up a banner that read: Get America Back To Work - Sacrifice The Weak. The Covid virus makes you weak so if that person catches it - and there’s a high likelihood that they will - I wonder how they’d like to be sacrificed. On a funeral pyre? Gasping for a dying breath while health care workers who risk their lives every minute of their working day do what they can to minimize the pain and discomfort of the ultimate sacrifice?
If you haven’t had it you’ll probably get it, and though it might not affect you badly you’ll probably pass it on to someone else who will be. It’s not a time to take the virus lightly. This is no time for bowling, going to the beach, getting a neck tattoo, or enjoying brunch with friends while a server wearing a mask waits on you. I’ve had it with lunkheads who shrug it of with their it is what it is crap and refuse to wear a mask. I’m appalled at people who baulk at wearing a mask in a supermarket - the staff are wearing masks the whole time they’re working in there. Surely it counts as basic human decency to not put their lives at risk more than is absolutely neccesary.
But on a positive note - a mask does wonders for a double chin.
I'd like to thank everybody for the support and kindness - letters, postcards, emails, care packages, text messages, grocery runs, deliveries... The list goes on and on. I love you all. I'll reply to everyone eventually... Wear a mask when you're out and about, don't forget to breathe, and steer clear of tanning salons.
Here's a track I recorded while we were in quarantine. It's a John Wesley Harding / Wesley Stace song. Wes asked me to do it for his Community Coronation Covers series. I subverted the song to my personal Corona hell: