‘The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.’

Michelangelo

 

I met Fong today, gatekeeper to the office of Mountain Cloud and Green Dragon.

Well, she’s an office PA but has that oriental serenity that made me double take her as a mannequin when I first arrived.

So inscrutable and mysterious until I glanced across to see her studiously picking a large chunk of sandwich out of her teeth.

It came on the back of overhearing one of the directors chatting to a female member of staff.

‘That’s a nice blue dress you’re wearing.”

“Thank you.”

“You look like a Smurf.” He than roars with laughter and adds:.” “Actually you look more like a Smurfette.”

She does an about turn without speaking. Brow furrowed with a mental note to give him a swift sharp knee to the balls when they next meet. A lady’s man through and through.

 

‘First time in human’ (FTIH) drug trials are an easy way to make some cash if you don’t mind being used as a guinea pig to test pipeline pharmaceuticals.

In David Cameron’s Britain you have to hustle to make a living which is why I found myself at a screening appointment to be a potential lab rat for SRT 3025.

I was cheered to read that SRT 3025 has been successfully tested on dogs and rats with side effects that could include abdominal hair loss, mucoid stools, red urine and weight loss.

All sounds bearable enough if you ignore the caveat a few lines down which says that ‘we cannot rule out the possibility that an unknown side-effect may be life threatening.’

SRT 3025 is an experimental drug for tackling diabetes which is poetically described as a: randomised, placebo controlled, single bind, dose-escalation, first-time-in human study to assess the safety and pharmacokenetics of single and repeat doses of SRT3025 in normal health volunteers.

Righto. Strap me, in dose me up and I’ll pick my cheque on the return trip from Alpha Centuri.

Not so quick, sonny. We don’t test on any old blood polluters.

First, you have to get through a rigorous four-hour screening which includes numerous forms to fill in, body measurements, blood tests, an ECG, urine sample, insufferable amounts of waiting, more form filling and a watery cup of cordial and digestive biscuit at the end of it.

So, here I am with a group of other sheepish ‘cohorts’ signing on the dotted line in a secure unit on the top floor of a hospital.

The NHS has yet to master the subtleties of central heating meaning you alternately freeze or swelter depending on where you are in the building. Then there’s the squeaky linoleum floor, sound of distant coughing and all pervading smell of over-cooked food that feels like its seeping into your bones. If you aren’t sick when you go in, there is a good change you will be when you get out.

The unit’s seventh floor windows quiver and rattle under a grey June sky as I lie topless and shivering hooked up to a heart monitor while answering the ministrations of some dour Eastern Bloc nurse.

Have you taken any recreational drugs recently? How much alcohol do you drink in a week? Do you smoke? How much do you exercise? And, my favourite, are you Spanish? Yo soy Ingles y yo no hablo espanol.

Eight of us are going through the motions in a line of cubicles. It’s the usual suspects. Students, the unemployed, the unemployable and some old pro who tells me this is eighth outing. It doesn’t look like it’s done him any harm although I note he hasn’t got any hair.

Cohorts who take part in FTIH studies – you can forget being referred to as a person once you enter the machine – are blind dosed with increasing amounts of a trial drug to see its effects on the body and how it is metabolised and excreted over several days or weeks.

Neither patient or doctor know who has been dosed or the amount they receive including a couple of patients who receive placebos.

I find out next week whether I’ve been successful in taking part in the trial. They have some dinky restrictions if you do get the green light including no consumption of Seville oranges or exotic citrus seven days prior to dosing along with no poppy seeds, alcohol, strenuous exercise or nicotine.

I could do with a drink just thinking about it.

 

Crank up the Chariots of Fire theme tune and break out the bunting. I somehow managed to win the  local running club’s annual handicap race.

Handicap being the operative word with the slowest of us given a head start over the better runners based on previous times.

The gods played into my hands on this one as my last race – a loose description – was nothing short of shameful.

It seems fate favours the slow, sometimes, although I had to fight off a sprint finish from a sprightly 50 something. There’s life in the old carcass yet. All hail the king.

 

Stiff upper lip on the bus this morning. The little one says she feels ill and the next minute throws up down the front of my shirt. Unfortunately, a flick of it hits the back of the guy’s head sitting in front of us. Not sure if he notices he’s got some vomit detritus in his hair but just stares straight ahead without flinching. Very British! The little one douses me a couple of more times before we get off. She nods off in the buggy and I have to wheel us five miles home in a puke soaked shirt at 10am in the morning. Must have been a hell of a night.

 

Nothing like a wet Friday afternoon in the hospital grounds in dampen the spirits. Rain pouring down the windows. Lost soul in the secure unit stares mournfully out of the window. The clock’s stopped and the rot’s set in.

 

Whose next for A&E? The man sitting opposite me in the cafe today wearing the loud South Park tie and big belly. Fag in one hand, bacon roll in the other. A cup of black coffee with a spoon at full mast.

Ring up Mr D. Another one heading for the boneyard.

 

It doesn’t pay to take a dump in the boss’s toilet as police detective Alois Mabhunu discovered after pinching a loaf in the presidential toilet during a trade fair in Zimbabwe.

President Robert Mugabe is not a man to cross at the best of times and Mabhuna has spend the past three weeks in custody awaiting sentencing.

 

No-one does huge semi-derelict hospital sites like the National Health Service. It’s like being on the set of an end-of-the world film.

The local cafe gets in on the act with customers who look like they’ve wandered in from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Some elderly Chinese gent tries to drink my cup of tea while someone else is engaged in a busy conversation (with themselves) in the corner. Another day in paradise.

 

The Welcome Institute’s latest exhibition is a bit of a mess but that’s hardly surprising given its subject matter.

Dirt charts our relationship with everything from soil and air pollution to household refuse, hospital bugs and excrement.

This, like so many of the institute’s previous offerings, could have been something special but comes across as messy and throwaway as its topic.

There’s even some pointlessly pretentious performance art thrown in the shape of drum majorettes twirling their batons in a deserted warehouse and a loop tape of someone washing their hands thrown in to wow! us chimps into thinking we’re missing something. However, Dirt does has its moments.

The Untouchables of India charged with cleaning out public latrines and drains – often with their bare hands -  and the Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island which is so big it can be seen from space are among the highlights.

A better bet is to head upstairs to the permanent exhibition of the museum’s namesake Henry Wellcome.

Wellcome, who founded one of the first pharmaceutical dynasties, collected a treasure trove of accumulated artefacts and oddities from a lifetime of kicking around the globe.

It is impossible to show all 125,000 items in his original collection but what is on show is a curio shop of the weird and wonderful guaranteed to slake the curiosity of even the most fervent voyeur.

There is a Chinese torture chair guaranteed to make your eyes water, a mummified Andean corpse, a box of 17th century Japanese sex aids and Charles Darwin’s rather groovy skull headed walking stick.

Other cabinets include a fine selection of prosthetic limbs, an assortment of surgical knives and bone saws and an early advertising board for a dentist which consists of a mobile of customers’ former teeth dangling from pieces of string.

A fine way to wile away a couple of hours if you can dodge the school trips and tourists.

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