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Meanwhile, Back at the Dark Castle…


I’m walking through town and catch my reflection in a shop window, black coat, Breton jumper, black cap. Hollow cheeks and a wooden cane – I’m like a Jean Paul-Gaultier incarnation of Death – I smile at that. Scroll back a week and a sprightlier self had been pounding the same streets.


I stop in at Empire Records for Record Store Day and pick up the 7” by The Wingmen featuring covers of The Model and I Got a Right. Back at home I eagerly open up my little vintage record deck and drop the needle on to the cool clear vinyl – righteous garage-rockin’ ensues, cool, sweet and groovy - my mood is fine!

I got tomorrow on my mind – Skull Puppets afternoon show at Camden’s legendary Dublin Castle supporting the great RnB sounds of King Joe & The Atlantics. I haven’t played The Dublin Castle in quite some years and looking forward to it. Looking forward to meeting up at The Spread Eagle (one of my dear Uncle John’s favourite pubs), popping by Rock ‘n’ Roll Rescue – the fab charity shop run by our old mate Knox, just having a suitably old school garage-punk kinda Sunday.

I get a reasonably early night ahead of the boisterous day ahead.


5.30am I awake to intense pain on either side of my chest. I know this feeling; I’ve been here before and it doesn’t bode well. I head downstairs and make myself a chamomile tea, curl up on the little sofa out back and steel myself for the coming ordeal. This condition from which I suffer on occasion has still yet to be named by any medical professional despite the multitude of tests and scans over the last two years – IBS and Acid Reflux doesn’t cut it.

There is medication that seems to help, my trial-and-error journey of identifying the multitude of food types to which I appear intolerant, consultation periods with two nutritionists to try and maintain a healthy intake amidst the enforced abstinence, yet still it persists on turning up when least expected. In the early days, scanning the net for folks with similar experience I’d read quotes from Kurt Cobain on his stomach ailments, and I thought – hey maybe it’s our cardigans!

Now I know that these attacks usually last about seven to eight hours before they begin to dissipate so for a short while I wonder if I can still make the gig. We are due on stage at 2.15pm, so in theory it seems kinda possible – right? An hour or so later and that hope has faded, who am I kidding? Making it into London and performing after one of these mothers is just crazy – I set about sending texts to let folks know – the show is off.

It's around 11am that I start to get really worried. On past occasions there is a certain cycle of change that offers some light at the end of the tunnel. The pain starts high in the chest, sometimes centralised, sometimes more all-encompassing, then it moves down towards the abdomen before becoming very much stomach focused. From there it begins – ever so slightly and slowly – to fade, until with the aid of codeine and Panadol you feel you might just be able to lie down, close your eyes and sleep the last bit out.

Today though, feels different. The pain has spread to encompass both abdomen and chest but the intensity remains set on WTF – it’s getting a bit scary.  I chat it over with Justine and we decide, that with very few options at hand, a trip over to the Dark Castle of Watford General Hospital is the only sensible course of action.

I guess we arrive there about 1pm, and as I stumble dizzily towards A&E, I turn momentarily to one side and throw up.

A&E is of course packed, but we find a couple of seats and anticipate the tedious wait for Check in. I’m guessing it was about 50 minutes – I was feeling pretty spaced out. The check-in nurse was sweet and efficient, I figured I’d given all the relevant information, so it was on to wait for triage assessment. She had also given me the obligatory ‘pee into this’ container, which I obligingly filled and handed in.

About another hour, occasional sips of water, just trying to hold it together, and I was called in. Groundhog Day moment as I’m led to the same booth in the same room where this had all started some two years earlier, following that first scary attack and an ambulance ride in to be assured that I was in no danger of a heart attack and would need to go speak to my GP as I had patently experienced a particularly nasty gastric complaint. The Triage guy was nice enough and seemed sympathetic to my predicament – basic tests and a few more questions before finally making it through to A&E proper.

The next 4 hours consisted of shuffling uncomfortably from ECG department to Blood Department to X-Ray Department interspersed with long periods of waiting room seating, miserably holding my agonised torso – I think I may have had a brief experience of astral projection in the X-Ray Department or it could have been an hallucination, I’m not too sure. My reward for this entire afternoon in the Dark Castle was a cocktail of codeine, Omeprazole and paracetamol (all of which I had at home) along with the fact that apart from a few minor abnormalities (that would be passed on to my GP), there was nothing of consequence to be found and no further procedures that could be recommended – though I should of course check in with my GP at my earliest convenience. Groundhog Day indeed – I felt frustrated and honestly a bit annoyed – Kurt would understand. The cocktail and passage of time however had at least begun to loosen the grip of pain, so homeward bound we headed.

I lay on the sofa as Justine charged the log burner, weak, mildly delirious but finally relieved of the intense pain that had ensued what felt like an age ago, before long I began to nod off.


Slowly manoeuvring myself out of bed, I feel like I’ve gone the distance with Mike Tyson. I ache everywhere, my head, my eyes, my arms and of course my whole torso. I groan with every tentative step as I make my way to the bathroom. My pee is the colour of strong tea, reflecting the lack of hydration in the last 30 hours. Checking my reflection, I look pallid, worn, shaky, fatigued, battle scarred. I don’t sense a speedy recuperation.


Pretty much the same. Muster energy to call in for an emergency GP phone appointment. The Doc agrees I should stick with doubled medication for a while. Having had so many tests and scans over last couple of years, it’s difficult to know where to go other than maybe looking at revisiting some of those.


In the afternoon, I manage to make it, cane aided, over to the Corner shop and back – which feels like a genuine achievement.


Finally feel like I am on the mend a little. I make it all the way to Morrisons and back (still cane aided) – cancelling most things in the diary over the next few days though – just need serious chill.

I have become, it seems, a sickly old harbinger of the garage-blues, troubadour of the dead, somehow still walking, catch me while you still can – the volcano sleeps again, for now.

‘Every bad situation is a blues song waiting to happen’.

Amy Winehouse

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