The Needle And The Damage Done


I make it a rule in life to give the medicos a wide berth. Get into their hands and you are on a conveyor belt that leads to either drug consumption for the rest of your mortal or lying on the operating table or both.

Of course, having an operation is not as traumatic as it was a couple of centuries ago when surgeons were rightly known as saw bones and the poor patient was literally biting the bullet to endure the pain. We like to think that the anaesthetist with their bag of drugs are sufficiently skilled to administer sufficient knockout drops to see us through our procedure.

I hold no truck with these local anaesthetic procedures. I don’t want to see my giblets rearranged, thank you very much, and I have no desire to see the inner workings of my body. There is a very good reason why it is encased in skin and my eyes point outwards! If there is any procedures or surgery required then I want to be out like  a light. There is something quite pleasant about the rapidity in which you lose consciousness, the profundity of your unconsciousness and the delight to be had in coming round.

Alas, my confidence in anaesthetics or, perhaps, the proficiency of those administering them has taken a bit of a knock when I read a synopsis of a study conducted by the Royal College of Anaesthetics – reading the whole report would, I fear, have done the job of a mild anaesthetic. The report has found that at least 150 and, possibly, as many as several thousand of us a year are conscious whilst undergoing surgery. The reason for the wide range in the estimates is that people are often reluctant to speak of their operating table experiences.

A common thread seems to be that the patients have been given a muscle-relaxing drug as well as an anaesthetic – the relaxant paralyses the patient making it difficult for operating staff to see that they are conscious. Around 10% of the cases were caused by drug errors. In some cases, patients had been given relaxants but not anaesthetics, meaning they were conscious throughout the whole procedure. The period of maximum danger is either at the start or the end of an operation. This phenomenon is most common during a caesarean or a heart procedure.

Not unsurprisingly, half of the victims were distressed by the experience and 41%, perhaps sensing a bit of compo on the horizon, claimed they had suffered long-term psychological harm. The sensations they felt included tugging, stitching, pain and choking and they reported feelings of dissociation, panic and a sense of entombment.

On the other hand, the blissed out section of the survey took comfort in the sense of detachment they felt from the whole process.

I suppose you pays your money and takes your choice. For me, though, I will continue to give the people in white coats a swerve.

The Streets Of London – Part Eight


Pye Corner, EC1A

When I was a youngster, every school child knew that the Great Fire of London of 1666 started in Pudding Lane – not sure that is the case these days. Pudding Lane was so-called not because it was the locale where tasty desserts were made but because of the puddings of entrails that fell off the carts as they made their way down the lane to the river to be disposed of. But very few children knew then – and, I suspect, hardly any do today – where the terrible conflagration finally stopped.

If you go to the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Street in the Smithfield area of London and look upwards, you will see a gilt cherub, known as the Golden Boy of Pye Corner. If you look directly below the statue you will see the inscription “This Boy is in Memory Put up for the late Fire of London, Ocassion’d by the Sin of Gluttony, 1666.” Pye Corner – this old name is no longer used – was just outside the ancient walls of London and close to St Bartholomew’s hospital. It was here that the fire was finally extinguished.

So terrifying and devastating was the fire that the citizenry of London were soon casting around for explanations for the conflagration. The Monument, erected on the site of the outbreak, bore an inscription which remained in situ until the Catholic emancipation in 1829 attributing it to the treachery and malice of the popish faction. Others sought a more peccatogenic explanation for it all. One rabble-rousing preacher opined that if the fire had been retribution for lewdness it would have started in Drury Lane (the haunt of actresses and the byword for licentiousness), for blasphemy Billingsgate (the haunt of fish merchants), untruthfulness, anywhere in the City (nothing has changed!) but as it started in Pudding Lane and ended in Pye Corner, its root cause must have been gluttony. And so convincing was the argument that the monument marking the final resting place of the conflagration bears the attribution to the sin of gluttony.

The cherub, made of wood and gilt, was supposed to be unfeasibly fat but to modern eyes looks about five Big Macs short of being obese. It was originally fixed on to the Fortune of War pub which stood on the site – it was pulled down in 1910. The pub itself had an interesting history. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries bodysnatching was rife to feed the desire of aspiring medical students to have human bodies to improve their understanding of human anatomy and upon which to practise their surgical skills. The fear that a recently deceased’s body would be stolen for this purpose was such that churches – for example, the nearby St Sepulchre’s – had a watchhouse built to deter bodysnatchers.

The Fortune of War, because of its proximity to St Bart’s, was a centre of the bodysnatching trade. The landlord made available a room with benches all around the walls. There the cadavers were laid out, each carefully labelled with the names of the resurrectionists (as the bodysnatchers were known). The medicos from St Bart’s would then come and inspect them, selecting those that were most suitable for dissection.

An area with a fascinating history, to be sure.

Cyclops In The Room


I blame Donna Tartt but I can’t stand in front of a Dutch Master these days without the anticipation of a devastating explosion. Fortunately, at the National Gallery’s fantastic exhibition, Rembrandt : The Late Works the only explosion was that caused by sensory overload after gazing on 91 examples of Rembrandt’s work from the period running from the early 1650s to his death, at the age of 63, in 1669. A blast, though, might have been helpful in clearing the crowds, although as the majority of the attendees – it was only the eighth day into the show when I attended – were on the short side my view was on the whole uninterrupted.

The exhibition contains a fine range of sketches in pen and ink and etchings, all demonstrating a high proficiency in draughtsmanship and providing an interesting insight into what caught Rembrandt’s fancy and how he developed his compositions. But they are overwhelmed and overpowered by the sheer grandeur and brilliance of the paintings which spread over seven rooms in the Sainsbury Wing draw you in. As well as the sheer size of the canvasses – and some of the works had been cut down in size by some of the ingrates who got their hands on them when they could easily have built a bigger room – there is an overwhelming feeling that whilst his colour range is quite limited – brown in all its shades is the dominant hue – his mastery of shade, tone and light is second to none. So used are you to brown on a dark background that a splash of red almost affronts the senses.


The 17th century Dutch were a gloomy race, their strong sense of Protestantism meaning that the men wore big hats and black and white, their furniture was dark and heavy and their propensity to tax on the basis of the amount of land a house occupied, thus encouraging narrow tall buildings, must have meant that they were surrounded by darkness. Whilst Rembrandt continues with the theme of darkness and gloom in his background you can only imagine that his use of tone and light just enhanced the visual impact of his pictures in their original hangings.


The picture I was most looking forward to seeing was Rembrandt’s (then) controversial The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, featuring a massive full-frontal representation of the eponymous one-eyed rebel leader and it didn’t disappoint in its power. The burghers of Amsterdam, who had commissioned the painting for their new town hall, took it down almost immediately and what we see today is just part of the original.

The first room presents the viewer with a number of self-portraits, all revealing subtle (and no so subtle) changes in his appearance as the years wore on. There are so many highlights – the The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, the suicide of Lucretia and, probably his last work, Simeon with the infant Christ at the temple – but, for me, the most striking, partly because I was least familiar with it, was the fire-damaged The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Joan Deyman where the corpse has an almost religious and iconic feel about it, the sensation heightened by the fact that you only see the anatomists’ hands hovering above the cadaver’s head.


There was so much to see and enjoy that a brief synopsis like this can’t possibly do it justice. Art exhibitions have become the new rock and roll and London this autumn is full of must-see shows but if you had to choose just one, this is the one to go for. After all, it is about a master at the height of his technical and creative powers.

Charitable Hangover


It’s that time of year when the charity fascists come out from under their rocks and tell us how to live our lives.

Macmillan Cancer Support, a charity that doubtless does much good work to ease the sufferings of those battling with cancer, is posturing as the new Prohibitionists. On the back of some research that claims that the average Brit spends 315 days of their lives nursing the effects of hangovers after a session on the electric sauce, they have launched a Go Sober for October campaign.

Anyone who likes a drop of alcohol knows that a thumping head and, possibly, a dicky stomach is the natural consequence of a spot of over-indulgence. But one person’s hangover is another person’s mild bonce-ache and I can’t help thinking that many occasional topers like to play the sympathy card when they feel a bit below par. If you can’t stand the pain don’t pour so much down your throat or, to put it another way, if you wake up with a hangover you know your day is only going to get better.

The researchers acting on behalf of Macmillan bothered 2,000 British adults and discovered that one in 14 of us – based upon extrapolations upon extrapolations – will have more than 3,000 hangovers during their life. Women suffer longer with their hangovers – nine hours on average compared with men’s seven hours – and 22% of our friends in the North are likely to have four or more hangovers a month compared with 15% down sarf. Bizarrely, one in 13 admitted that a hangover caused them to miss a job interview or a first date. Methinks that they got pissed to avoid the appointment in the first place, not the other way round.

So, assuming you think that this is a terrible state of affairs, what’s the answer. Easy, say the good folks from Macmillan, sign the pledge, enrol in the Go Sober for October and get your friends and colleagues to sponsor you.

When you have done with that you are just in time to grow a moustache in support of Movember, a prostate awareness campaign. And then don’t forget to tip a bucket of iced water over your head – so irritating has this craze become that I have ditched Facebook – and then those nauseating career resurrectionists from Comic Relief will pop up to exhort us to wear a red nose.

Where will it end? And what rights do charities have to put us under moral pressure to change our lifestyles, even for a relatively small period of time?
I’m not against charities per se and charitable donations – they are increasingly necessary as our government seems to have abrogated any responsibility for maintaining a civilised society in which to live – but I am against them using fascistic methods to bring their cause to the fore. If I want to give to charity I will do it in my own way in my own time to my selected charity, thank you very much.

If you see me with the shakes from alcohol withdrawal, moustachioed, with a red nose and a sopping wet shirt you will know I have caved in! Cheers!

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Twelve


William Radam

The latest practitioner of quackery to come under our microscope, William Radam, was born in Prussia in the middle of the 19th century and emigrated, like so many, to Austin in Texas where he set up and ran a gardening and nursery store. He contracted malaria and despite taking many of the then alleged cures for the malaise, was unable to make a full recovery.

Radam seems to have been an early adopter of today’s bane of all medicos, the self-diagnoser. He read medical journals voraciously and his interest was piqued by microbes and the link that scientists such as Pasteur and Koch had made between these micro-organisms and disease. Our hero developed the idea that killing microbes in the body would be similar to killing garden pests and after a period of experimentation produced a liquid which he claimed was a universal and non-poisonous antiseptic, which he dubbed the Microbe Killer.

He claimed that his elixir was “pure water permeated with gases which are essential to the nourishment of the system and in which micro-organisms cannot live”. Drinking it like water over a period of six months, he claimed, would clear your body of all disease.

Radam started off giving his miracle cure away discreetly and those who consumed it, proclaimed its miracle properties. Soon the news spread by word of mouth and people flocked to Austin to get their hands on the potion and so busy did Radam become that his nursery started to get overrun with weeds, persuading him to take up quackery full-time.

Our hero started selling the potion by the jug full, applying for a patent in September 1886. In 1887 he had developed a trademark – a young be-suited man swinging a club in the direction of a scythe carrying skeleton who was crumpled at his feet. This elixir would defeat death!

So successful did the Microbe Killer become that Radam was able to up-sticks and move to the Big Apple and his pharmaceutical empire boasted seventeen factories across the land. And it became available internationally – a factory in London produced Microbe Killer jugs for the Brits and the Melbourne Glassworks did the same for the Australians.

Inevitably, such success brought sceptics out of the woodwork, no more tenacious an opponent than R.G.Eccles. Eccles claimed that the potion was little more than water with a splash of red wine to give it its distinctive pink colouration mixed with, worryingly, traces of hydrochloric and sulphuric acid. The two clashed in court and although Radam won the first encounter, he couldn’t shake his opponent off. Radam realised, though, that whilst Eccles was dissing his product in the medical press, no one outside of the medical and pharmaceutical professions read them and so continued to advertise in the popular press which everyone read. Business continued to boom even after his death in 1902.

In 1912 the Sherley Amendment was passed which put teeth into the anti-quackery movement and the Microbe Killer was the first to be targeted. Its days were numbered from that point on.