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  • Writer's pictureAustin Birks

Blood Clot MAAANNN......Rastafari

When I was a young punk, living in Birmingham in 1977, I would regularly go to gigs in the city centre. Watching the likes of The Clash (who I saw live 23 times in total), at venues like Bingley Hall (now the home of the International Convention Centre ), or The Odeon in New Street. Not a week seemed to go by when I was out with my ripped up T-shirt, my leather jacket festooned with badges, and my hair suitably spiked. I did not know it then, but we were being spoilt rotten, as the bands touring the circuits were full of energy and anger in equal measure. Some bands were good, many were awful, but every trip out was a great laugh and an adventure in its own right. Many of the bands that I saw went on to become legends: The Stranglers, The Sex Pistols who I saw once in Wolverhampton, before the Coventry skin heads turned up, looking for fisticuffs, which they found very quickly, so the gig was ended somewhat early, not before Sid Vicious left the stage to join in the melee. The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ian Drury and the Blockheads, and of course Brums very own UB40, who performed as recently as at the closing ceremony of the excellent Commonwealth games in front of a TV audience worldwide of over 1 billion. And to think UB40 started their career 40 plus years ago at the iconic Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, Brum, the very same pub where I started my lack of career as a stand-up comedian. Little did I know in those halcyon, salad days of youth, that one day I would join the cancer club, but back then that joy was in a galaxy, far, far away. My main concern on those punk gig adventures was where exactly could we under-age punks get served beer, in the City centre pubs? We soon found out, as the Windsor, in Needles Alley, (which is still there) became the pub of choice, where the landlord was happy enough on quiet mid-week nights to serve us 2 or 3 pre-gig pints of Harp lager. Before we all meandered off for a night of pogoing in built-up areas, usually a hot sweaty experience that wore off the beer calories (bonus ball, as Alan Partridge would later say). The other pub of choice was "The Old Contemptibles,” which is also still standing, here there was a cellar bar that had the best punk duke box in town and acted as a magnet for us young Contemptibles, one of the best things about the punk era was that it was all about equality, no one cared who you were, or where you came from. Indeed, support for the Anti Nazi league was a right of passage, and we wore our ANL badges with pride. Looking back, punk was originally the voice of disaffected youth from working class backgrounds. Which looking back got hijacked by upper middle class grammar school boys and girls, called Nigel and Felicity etc, but who cared. Anyway, one of the guys who I got to know was a Rastaman whose nickname was Bong, not out of any great affection for Big Ben, the clock, but, because a bong is of course a water-laden receptacle that allows you to snort whatever hallucinating drug you wish to pop inside it. Bong, unsurprisingly, was almost permanently in a state of drug-induced euphoria. As a result, he had a somewhat limited vocabulary. Indeed, I struggled to understand most of what he said. However, there was one stock expression that he used in response to 80% of any questions asked.

His regular greeting was: “Ayre….Bloooood Cloooottt, Maaan ……” It was deemed bad form as a young white punk to respond in similar Patois, so my usual response would be “Hello Bong how are you doing my good man?” Clearly, a clash of cultures but he was a good guy and fun to be around. So, fast forward to May 2022, there I am in a rather swanky private clinic in the affluent Edgbaston part of Birmingham, where a doctor is surveying my upper left thigh with what looks like a microphone, except it’s not. It is a camera that is hooked up to a large screen. He started off by putting a load of gel all over the affected area, in what was actually an ultrasound procedure. The plan was simple enough: my physiotherapist Martin had referred me to this doctor after a dozen or so treatments, to help what we all thought since October was a tendon injury, this had resulted in ever increasing pain in my upper left leg. And, even worse less and less flexibility so affecting my ability to teach Karate. So, Martin and I had worked on a programme that had helped short term with fitness and flexibility but was not a cure by any means. So, he suggested I meet with this doctor who was a specialist in musculoskeletal radiology so that he could have a good old look and then possibly offer an injection of some sort that would help my mobility. So, after I parted with £240 of her majesty's finest beer tokens, there I was watching the doc do his stuff, when to my surprise he said “Oh well, I was not expecting that”. Now this is not exactly what you want to hear when you are in your underpants covered in a cold gel. "Look at this", he said. "You have a rather huge blood clot in your left thigh”. Now, if honest, my first thought was to laugh as I vividly recall my mate Bong, greeting me with his signature welcome, yes, he said it is very clear, he then moved his screen so that I could see it clearly there was a large shadow that he explained was located in the anterior vein. That is a thrombosis that is 25 centimetres long. At this point I know that I should have been doing two things, one is listening, and two is panicking, but all I could think of was Bong, and his Jamaican welcome. Sniggering was frankly not far away, which I knew would not be well-received by the good doctor. I finally managed to tune in again to hear him say, I will give a letter explain my findings and a disc which shows the clot clearly. You need to contact your oncologist immediately, and take this straight over to the team looking after you. You do realise how dangerous these clots are, do not you? If any of it breaks off and goes into your heart of lungs you will die, and not know anything about it. Bong still would not vacate my brain, so I thanked him for his time, rang the cancer ward and went straight over, where, as ever the wonderful team were waiting for me. Within two hours I had been given 50 syringes that I was told needed to be injected into my stomach twice a day. The plan was to thin the blood over time and break down the clots. Fast forward to late August, and I’m still injecting my stomach twice a day, as I hope and pray that my blood clot friend kindly leaves the building, as Elvis once said. But, as ever my friends the journey with cancer is never straight forward and it has now thrown me a new curveball, but more on that later. As for now, my mobility has steadily declined , some days I walk with a bad limp, other days I can do 5 hours of challenging gardening and activity at the gym, just depends on my leg and how it is feeling. Honestly, cancer, you can’t make it up, can you? But as ever, whatever the challenge, meet it head on. Get knocked down 7 times, get back up 8, it is as simple as that. Off now for a treat: clotted cream, jam, and scones, although on reflection, I have enough clots, so jam and scones it is then!

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