I see with inestimable sadness that ishmael smith [sic], author of the acerbic CALL ME ISHMAEL blog, has apparently popped his clogs and gone to join the Choir Invisibule. So to speak.
I have no idea how he died, although he was a serious Type 1 diabetic (see below).
He has left behind four books, all anthologies of his writings:
and Flush Test
I have no idea how to navigate his work — his blog was pretty much a stream-of-consciousness diatribe against all forms of authority, especially politicians, and all penned from his lair in the Orkney Islands.
I didn’t even know he’d died until I read the latest entry — which although purportedly written by his wife (mrs. ishmael), it reads suspiciously like it was written by him.
And therein lies the crux of this post: I have no idea whether he’s actually dead or not. The closest thing to this business is a parallel with the life of comedian Andy Kaufman, where you were never quite sure that what he was saying was the truth, or just another of his insane inventions. The biggest parallel is ishmael’s alter ego stanislaus the Polish plumber, under which name he wrote several savage comments on blogs such as Guido Fawkes’s order-order. (I should point out that a search of said blog shows no trace of either ishmael smith or stanislaus, thus adding to the mystery.)
That said, I am absolutely going to purchase all of the above books over the next couple of months, because there is no way I will let his writing disappear from my mind. Here’s what appears to be his last post:
Scotland: Drunkest part of England.
Orkney: Drunkest part of Scotland
The alcohol-related admissions rate to hospital in Scotland is 621.3 per 100,000.
Those Scottish drinkers are clearly not trying. Now, in Orkney, we really put our back into it. Kirkwall, the capital city, and surrounding area, has an admission rate of 760.5 people per 100,000.
Quoted in The Orcadian, Dr. Kirsty Cole said that health professionals were aware of the impact of emergency hospital alcohol-related admissions, putting individuals at risk of developing dependence, cancers, psychiatric and mental health problems and dementia. The same paper reported the “huge increase” in numbers of Orcadians experiencing severe mental health distress and needing to be transferred from the local hospital to the Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen, the specialist centre in the North East of Scotland for mental health problems.
Then there’s the appearances before the Sheriff’s Court. Week after week, The Orcadian’s Court pages report the painful and doomed love-lives of Orkney’s drunkards and their colourful, short-lived driving careers. Most cars in Orkney seem to be driven by women, with their banned partners sitting in the passenger seat.
Here’s this week’s examples:
a trial date has been set for a 27 year old man charged with repeatedly punching and biting his partner on her body, to her injury; a 41 year old man was caught driving with four times over the legal limit of alcohol at lunchtime after being refused service at Tesco where he tried to buy more alcohol – his car was impounded and sold on the order of the court and through his solicitor he said he was sorry and had reduced his alcohol consumption from two bottles of rum per day to two every week; a 22 year old man pleaded guilty to engaging in a drunken brawl; three men in their 20’s engaged in a car chase through Kirkwall’s town centre, overtook the other car and screeched to a stop, throwing plastic bottles at it and shouting at the driver to get out and fight them; a 76 year old man has had a trial date set for an incident in which he was driving 5 times over the legal limit, lost control of the car, which crashed through the fence and became airborne before landing in an adjacent field. Last week saw the trial of a 21 year old, charged with driving whilst incredibly drunk around the unpoliced island of Hoy, with his teenage friend, at 1.50 a.m., leaving the road, flying through the air over a ditch and an unclassified road before crashing into a garden wall where it became wedged between a shed and a polytunnel. The householder, pausing only to don his slippers, hurried to the scene, where he found the teenager taking a piss on his polytunnel. The Court found the teenager to have been the actual driver. I remember one young man, thwarted in love, his girlfriend having dashed into a wardrobe to escape his drunken embrace, who dealt with the situation by pushing over the wardrobe, to her injury.
And it gets worse after that as he discusses the NHS.
Here’s his earlier writing about his diabetes:
Me and Diabetes – 1987
I got diabetes once. Still have it actually. Like AIDS or Margaret Thatcher or the Queen Mother, diabetes is one of those things that’s always there. You just have to learn to live with it. What happens is your pancreas packs up and your body can’t process sugar. You wind up feeling like a dog’s breakfast. You have a raging thirst, sugar-loaded blood and you spend a lot of time urinating.
When I first had it I was weak as a kitten. I kept falling over all the time. People’d say to me take more water with it, or give me Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlets. I went to the doctor and said I keep falling over all the time. He said take more water with it. I said, no, seriously, have a look at all these bruises on my knees. He said there’s nothing wrong with you but take a few days off.
I would slump in an armchair all day watching Antipodean unemployed peoples’ programmes, feeling lousy. I figured I must be either having a mid-life crisis, or Mark, my stepincommonlaw-son was poisoning me. I’d sit in the chair thinking Oh God what’s wrong with me, drinking gallons of lemonade and eating giant-sized Mars Bars. Mark and his sister Mandy’d come home from school, survey the dozen flagons of pop and the chocolate bars and say, Oh good, can we have some? No, I’d snarl, there’s only enough for me. I’d go to bed at night, taking a few bottles of lemonade and lie there thinking Oh God what’s wrong with me. I’d be up every hour, drinking lemonade and going for a leak. Sometimes thirst and bursting bladder demanded attention simultaneously. I’d stand over the loo, passing a torrent of piss, thinking Oh God what’s wrong with me and drinking lemonade all at the same time. No mean feat.
My partner, Helen, a social worker, said I should go back to the doctor. She wasn’t getting any sleep and the lemonade and chocolate bars were costing a fortune, maybe we could get them on prescription. We’ve got diabetes, said doctor, when I told him about the lemonade and the chocolate. No I haven’t, Helen says I’m comfort-seeking; all the chocolate and pop are signs of a mid-life crisis, she says it’s the strain of a new relationship and commonlaw stepfatherhood. I’ll be alright when I get back to work. We’re diabetic, says doctor, Doctor knows best, but we’ll just check, before we go into hospital, ha ha. Give Sister a urine sample.
Sister looked like she’d done her SRN in the torture chambers of the KGB, built like Sylvester Stallone with the charm of a hippopotamus. Not a Florence Nightingale type. Pee in the bottle, she growled. When I brought it back she dropped something into it and the pee started bubbling like a witches’ cauldron. Hmm, she says, you could sweeten your tea with this stuff. How long have we been diabetic? I was scared to mention my mid-life crisis so I said I’m not diabetic I’m just a bit run down, that’s all. Saturated! She shouts gleefully to Doctorbastard in the next room. Grinning,
Doctor said We’ll have to go into hospital to be stabilised, I’ll just arrange a bed. But we’re not, I mean I’m not unstable, I protested, a bit eccentric maybe, perhaps a shade idiosyncratic, but not unstable, well not for a long time now anyway. No-no-no-no-no, not like that, he says, shaking his head at me like I was a four year old. We have to get your blood sugar stabilised, just you leave it to me, Doctor knows best.
An hour later I was lying in Casualty, wearing one of those stupid gowns that are supposed to tie up at the back but never do, with this really glamorous, blonde student Doctor, aged about 18 years old, examining me. She looked in my throat, my ears and my eyes, she held her fingers up for me to count, she tickled my feet, bashed my knees with a rubber hammer, listened to my chest, jabbed her fingers into my stomach and said there’s nothing wrong with you. You mean I’m not diabetic, can I go now? Diabetic? She said, nobody said anything about diabetes to me, we haven’t covered diabetes yet. Just then Big Cheese arrived, with lots of little cheeses following behind him, laughing at his jokes, gushing, stammering and offering him their stethoscopes. Have we done his blood? He says to Blondie. No? Well I think we should, don’t you? (By we he clearly meant you but that’s how they speak in hospitals.) Blondie, humbled, produces a giant hypodermic. Have you covered blood samples yet? I enquired fearfully. Anyway, a bit later, Big Cheese returns and says, triumphantly, blood sample shows Diabetes, no question about it. Still, he booms cheerily, no reason you don’t lead a normal life, eh? I think it’s a bit late for that, I said. I beg your pardon? says Cheese.
After a few days in hospital getting stabilised by being woken up every time I got off to sleep, I came home. I’d learned to inject myself with insulin by practising on an orange, how to test my blood and count my carbohydrates. The last of these was painless, if confusing, but the first two involved sticking needles in myself with painful frequency. C’mere, says Helen one time when I was timorously attempting to prick my thumb for a blood test, not like that, I’ll do it. She’s like most social workers, reads a leaflet and she’s an expert; goes on a course and she’s an Authority. Racism Awareness was the worst; tore through the kids’ cupboards, burning the gollywogs and ripping up the Enid Blyton books. Anyway, she rammed this horrible sharp thing into my thumb bone, pulled it out and a geyser of my life’s blood went up the curtains. I was too busy stemming the fountain to catch her. Mark was laughing like a drain. You’re just a diseased old hippy, he said, too many rock festivals, too much marijuana. You’re gonna die, ha ha ha. The girls were kinder. Eleven year old Rebecca said Dad, I think I’m diabetic too. Listen, Daughter, this is very touching, but you’re not diabetic. She kept on about being diabetic until I suggested Helen test her blood – then she made a dramatic recovery. (There was no way she’d be diabetic anyway, her mother, my ex-wife, bless her pointed little head, would get an injunction to prevent it.) Mandy was fascinated by the actual injection. You know how kids are with horror movies – curl up tight in a ball and peek through their fingers. Mandy looked on me as her personal horror film. Told her friends that her mum was shacked up with a junky and brought them round to watch me injecting.
After a while everybody got used to it. Everybody except me. I’ve been in dozens of road accidents, several brawls, a couple of muggings, I’ve been stabbed, run over, scalded, poisoned and blinded; I’ve fallen off horses, ladders, ships, cranes, trees and motorbikes; I’ve been divorced, bereaved, sued, locked up, slandered, libelled and misunderstood; I’ve had eye problems, kidney problems, back problems, lung problems, drug problems, booze problems, money problems and sex problems. I went to have my skull x-rayed once. The radiographer shook his head as he looked at the plates. I’ve never seen anything like this, your skull’s a frigging jigsaw puzzle. Buy a crash helmet and wear it all the time – in the bath, in bed, everywhere. I became an instant celebrity. He called all his mates over. Come and have a look at these x-rays. And the guy’s still walking around. This is him here.
So in my humble opinion I’d had my share of calamity and the diabetes was wholly unnecessary. Right out of order.
But the worst was yet to come. It wasn’t the injections or the blood tests. It wasn’t the fact that my feet are liable to drop off and that I’m likely to go blind; odds-on favourite for a heart attack. Nor was it the Hypos – which happen when you’ve messed up your food and insulin juggling act, turned into a gibbering wreck and people have to tip boxes of icing sugar down your throat to bring you round – a thirty-seven year old shaking like a jelly moaning Sugar, Sugar. I learned to live with these tribulations. Except the one no-one mentioned in the hospital. The one side effect of diabetes guaranteed to drive me insane. Harry Secombe.
You develop an incurable disease, you tell your friends about it, and the first thing they say is Harry Secombe, he’s got that, hasn’t he? It doesn’t matter who they are. It’s like a Pavlovian response. They all say it. Go on, admit it. You probably do it yourself. Nobody says Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. They all say Yeah, Harry Secombe and start making Goon noises. Bastards.