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Wednesday 14th April 2010

This morning I went to Charing Cross Road where a portly man with a beard asked me to take off my top, lie down facing away from him, whilst he fiddled with something with one hand and reached his other arm around me and smeared some opaque and sticky and unnaturally cold unguent into my chest, I couldn't see where the unguent was coming from but it was copious and his belly was pressing against my back as he did it. Strange gurgling sounds were happening behind me, but he told me not to worry as that just meant everything was working properly.
He didn't put anything up my bottom though.
And I suppose that is the difference between private medical companies and the NHS. If I wasn't prepared to pay any money I had to give something in return.
Although I was being mainly light-hearted yesterday, in reality I had had a bit of a nasty shock. I had been on the ECG machine and the nice nurse lady had been monitoring my heart beat in prone and seated positions. She then nonchalantly told me that she had to show the scans to the doctor before I got on the exercise bike for the proper test. I sat there alone in the room, watching my heart beating on the screen in front of me, thinking, "Well at least that proves I am alive." It looked steady and healthy and consistent to me. I had really come to have a medical for reassurance because I knew I was healthy. Aside from a cracked rib and some benign positional vertigo I had never had any real medical issue in my life. All previous scans and proddings had revealed that I was healthy (if overweight) and I was confident that my heart was going to keep beating for another 30 years without any issue. But the doctor and nurse were taking some time to return. I wasn't concerned though. I just sat there, wired up to a computer, watching my heartbeat and feeling calm.
But then the medical staff came in, holding charts and both had the same look of veiled panic that I had last seen in the eyes of the stewardess in the plane I had been in that had to make an emergency landing. And rather than the doctor saying to me, "Of course, you're fine, there's nothing to worry about," she was pointing at the chart and telling me that my heart beat had inverted T waves and was thus beating abnormally and in conjunction with the chest pain she could not let me go on the exercise bike. My mind spun a little bit in panic. This wasn't in the script. Both of them said it might well be nothing to worry about, but their eyes said something different and I was told that I would have to see a cardiologist as soon as possible.
I wondered afterwards if the doctor had only stuck her finger up my arse because she knew I was a doomed man and she wanted to provide me with one last moment of pleasure before I popped my clogs.
It was a pity finger.
So I had had quite an unpleasant evening, worrying more about my mortality, wondering if all the hard work I have put in had resulted in me somehow damaging my heart. Was I going to die for comedy? Had it killed me? Last time I had met Charlie Brooker he had been concerned about the amount of work I was taking on (and coming from him this is quite something) and told me about some American writer (I think the guy who did the Twilight Zone) who had worked himself to death. Had all the stress of touring and writing AIOTM and blogs and being on the radio done me in. Had you killed me? Yes you. Was this your fault?
Tellingly, as scared I was of my heart not working properly, I was actually more concerned that I might be told I had to stop working. I was more worried about not being able to do Edinburgh and the second series of AIOTM than I was of dying. This made me realise how fucked up my life is, but without trying to compare myself to him comedically (but if I have to then I would say I am much better) I couldn't stop thinking about Bill Hicks who discovered he was dying of cancer just as he was on the cusp of success. He was frustrated and angry about that and I would have been as well.
On the plus side, death conferred a cult status on him and I reckoned that if I died now then the sales of my book and next DVD would probably go up and I might well manage to get into that Channel 4's top 100 comedians list if I had died tragically almost young. Probably at about number 83. But still. It was something.
And it would probably be the main story on Chortle. Steve Bennett will be delighted to hear that I was more concerned about his reaction to my death than I was to my family's or girlfriend's.
I am totally fucked up. Like a less mercenary Ebeneezer Scrooge. I have probably invested too much of my life and hopes and dreams in my career. But given that I have, it would be foolish to pull out now and waste all of that.
So I had a slightly unsettled night, whilst largely thinking that I would probably be OK, because I definitely will never die, because I can't imagine being absent from the world, so it just can't happen. The pain in my chest got worse, of course, because now it was all I could think about.
I got down to the doctor's surgery half an hour before it opened and found myself an unbelievable 12th in the queue for appointments. Ten minutes after opening all the morning's appointments were gone. I wondered if the NHS was a bit fucked. God help you if you fall ill at 8.15 in the morning.
But I only had to wait another 45 minutes to be seen and I was dealt with quickly and efficiently by a lovely doctor, who gave me a letter and told me to go straight down to the Charing Cross Hospital cardiology department. Although I didn't like the urgency, I was impressed by the efficiency, though disappointed there was no time for her to just give my arsehole a quick check to see if there had been any developments since yesterday.
No one would even give my arsehole a sniff today, which suggests that the NHS don't quite know what they're up to (or maybe care less about customer satisfaction).
I was meant to be getting a train to York at 1.30 and I was a bit worried that my abnormal heart might lead to me having to cancel this already once postponed gig again. I didn't want to let York City down and if necessary I vowed to run from the hospital, my bum flashing out of my gown like Homer Simpson and get there by hook or by crook.
By 9.30 I was hooked up to another ECG machine and then quickly seen by a cardiologist who confirmed I had an abnormal heart beat, but assured me that this was normal for some people and was only a worry if I was a normal person with an abnormal heart beat and that for others abnormal was normal. So if I had an abnormal heart beat usually then having a normal one might be more of a worry than what we were seeing.
You understand?
He reassured me after some questioning and the realisation that my chest pain got worse when I was breathing, that that meant it was unconnected to my heart (although why it hurts remains a mystery - he could only tell me about my heart), but he wanted to make sure that there were no issues with blood flow or valves working incorrectly so sent me to have an "echo" scan where sound waves (I think) are used to give an image of the heart that can be checked for defects.
I had quite a long wait for this as some inconsiderate person had had a major incident and urgently needed treatment. Looking around me I was starting to feel a bit of a fraud. I was a good twenty years younger than anyone else in the waiting area, most of whom looked ill and delicate. Aside from a little chest pain I felt good and I worried I was wasting resources that were needed by genuinely ill people. But the brilliant staff at the hospital were taking my case seriously and working diligently to ensure I was OK.
Finally I got to have my echo, which was where the portly gentleman with the beard (who looked very like Dr Marvin Monroe from the Simpsons) smeared me with unguents. I wonder just how much medical procedure is just about the staff getting their jollies. At this point I started thinking maybe Collings had a point about homeopathy. At least they only make you swallow sugar pills. You don't get probed and shaved and stroked by them.
But to be honest I was grateful for everyone's hard work and if that meant one "doctor" pretending he could see your heart with sound waves and rubbing his spunk into my body then that is a small price to pay. He is only human. I am hard to resist.
It turned out that my heart was fine, which was a massive relief of course, although the worst case scenario had now seemed unlikely for some time. Just to be super-certain they then put me on a running machine and wired me up to another ECG machine and made me exercise to check the abnormal heartbeat remained consistent. Which thankfully it did. It appears that like the rest of me my heart is just abnormal and that is normal for me, so I don't have to worry about conking out just yet.
All this waiting around had meant I would miss the train I had booked for York, but that seemed a small price to pay. I felt elated and alive and glad of this second chance. I was going to take this warning and get healthy but live my life to the full from now.
Yesterday I had promised to believe in Jesus if he ensured I was saved (and out of fear and deference had even capitalised the H of He back then), but there's no way of telling if he had anything to do with this. Maybe I would have been OK anyway. If Jesus did anything he really should come down and take credit for it. Maybe appearing at the hospital bedside with his thumbs up saying, "Hey! No problem. Just doing my job," like the metaphysical Fonz that he is. But he just stays quiet and there's no way of knowing what is his work and what's the work of chance. So until he comes and tells me it was him, or at least gives me a ring I am going to have to renege on my promise.
And having to get an later train to York seemed a small price to pay for this reassurance (although obviously there is something wrong with my chest, but hopefully it's something that will sort itself out - it certainly started hurting a lot less when I realised it wasn't my heart). However on getting to the station I discovered that the ticket I had spent £37 on was now totally useless (even though I had been in hospital) and I would have to pay another £87 for a new one. Which is a bit of a rip-off to say the least. Yes, I had bought a seat on the 1.30 train and I was an hour late, but it seems greedy and slightly immoral to charge so much for a replacement. I guess if someone came to one of my shows with a ticket for the previous performance they might not get in. But if there were seats or standing room I think I would do my best to accommodate them - especially if there were performances every half an hour. But I suppose I had got a cheap ticket because I had agreed to be on a particular train. But I'd rather give that £87 to the NHS staff than the train companies. Not all of them got to give me a reach around after all.
I arrived in York in super fast time though and headed towards the football ground for my gig. The city looked beautiful in the Spring evening sunshine and for the moment I was enjoying every heart beat and every breath of my second chance at life. I walked up a cobbled street, lined with quaint fudge shops near the minster and a busker was playing a guitar melodically in a shop doorway. It was great to be alive. The busker saw me, laughed to himself and muttered something about my moustache. I just smiled at him. When I was ten metres further up the road he suddenly began to sing, even though he had been purely instrumental up to then, "How come comedians today are so crap? They don't make jokes like they used to." And with that he was back to picking away at his guitar without abusive lyrics. I had been heckled through the medium of song and in what seemed an unnecessarily unpleasant way, but I still laughed anyway. It was only a few minutes later that I realised I should have responded, "How come buskers today are so crap? They don't sing "Streets of London" like they used to." Or just gone back to him, punched him in the face and smashed his guitar on the cobbles.
I hoped he wasn't coming to the gig. It's pretty difficult to give a good comeback to a man singing melodically with a guitar and amp.
As it was the York City gig was a lot of fun and we raised a good amount of cash for the Youth team. There were some issues with the microphone and the sound system, but we were well looked after and Justin Moorhouse and Danny Deegan provided solid support and I was awarded with a signed photo of the squad holding up a banner saying "York City are Magic" in reference to the Fist of Fun sketch we wrote about them having necromancical powers. I wasn't heckled by music (maybe a little bit by feedback) and was only slightly upstaged by the raffle.
And I wasn't dead or dying (any more than usual) which was a bonus. But I only had one beer and had eaten a pasta salad for dinner rather than the pork pies on offer in the dressing room.
And don't forget everyone, Friday this week is Charlie Chaplin's 121st birthday and the first every "Charlie Chaplin Day for Democracy". I am hoping that some of you might join me and wear a real or false toothbrush moustache for the day (or at least part of it) in order to remind people of the importance of our vote and to help fight fascism and the BNP. I see this very much as an underground movement and there will be no official publicity for it (feel free to plug the idea if you have an outlet to do so). I want to see if we can make this grow organically. It would be great and appropriate if it became
a yearly fixture, but it would still be something if it only happened once. If you want to use it as an opportunity to raise money for charity (SCOPE perhaps) then that is up to you, but I would be very grateful if you marked the occasion in some way. Even if that was only by drawing a moustache on a poster or putting one on a statue or whatever you think would help (don't cause damage to anything of any actual value of course). After all these months of being almost the only idiot with this ludicrous face furniture, it would be good to know that a handful of other fools had joined me.
Send me a photo if you do anything fun, and if you give me the permission to use the photo without expectation of payment then I will stick some up on the website and also put them on the Hitler Moustache DVD. This also goes for any photos you might already have taken and sent to me. But if you want them to be used on the DVD etc please send them to me again with express permission to do so and an assertion that you own the image you are sending to me. My email address is herring1967@googlemail.com
Your photo will be there for thousands of people to see and admire (though not quite as many as if I had died of a heart attack - sorry about that).
Please join in with this. It would be terrific if it worked!

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