Sunday, 19 June 2011

Christian Duty

Religious readers will be glad to hear that the christian duty to help the sick is alive and well. I have just heard of a little girl who, while at church with her mother, suddenly felt sick. Mother told her to go out quietly and find a secluded spot behind the church in which to throw up. The child went, but returned very quickly. 'But I thought you were going out to be sick?' said mother. 'Oh yes I was sick, but I didn't have to go out because in the church entrance I found a big box labelled "For the sick", so...'

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Limericks about animals

We haven't had one of those for a while, so here's the next one; we have reached 'O' I think.

‘Don’t expect me,’ said the Owl,
‘to mix with day-birds, cheek by jowl.
I come out at night;
Edward Lear was quite right:
the owl is an elegant  fowl.’

Totally Bonkers

Any of my readers (either of you) who has not yet realized I'm bonkers might like to read the following, originally published in the London Review of Books:

Keep me in!

The list of stories of unjust incarceration for insanity is long, as Susan Eilenberg suggests (LRB, 23 July). Does it still happen? Or have things gone in a completely different direction?
I have been in and out of NHS mental hospitals for more than forty years. The first, following a suicide attempt, was Bethlem Royal, the old Bedlam, by then moved to a huge semi-rural site near Beckenham. On arrival my first feeling was of immense relief; I was in a safe place and didn’t have to worry any more. One almost never saw a psychiatrist; ‘treatment’ consisted of tranquillisers that kept one calm and anti-depressants that did nothing at all; this was in the days before Prozac. But the nurses were friendly and spent all day with the patients, chatting, playing games (Scrabble with schizophrenics can be very entertaining), going for walks in the grounds, even cooking meals with us. The male wing had a full-size snooker table and the female a grand piano, though the eccentricities of women playing snooker and men the piano were tolerated. After the first week or two I could even go for unaccompanied walks in the grounds. It would have been a very nice place to stay if one weren’t mad.
The fact that discharge was never mentioned merely increased my feeling of safety; when after six months I felt ready to face the world again I had no idea how to arrange to be discharged and was a touch afraid that if I asked they might try to keep me in – ‘section’ me, as it’s called. So one day I just walked out. No one came after me.
Three or four years later I was in hospital again: this time at Broadgate, near Beverley in Yorkshire, a huge Victorian place with its own farm. Things were much the same as at Bethlem. Uniquely, I was privileged to see the chief consultant psychiatrist once a week, but that was because I played trumpet to his trombone at the Saturday dances. The nurses spent all day with the patients here too, the only difference – in retrospect an ominous one – being that they had to write brief daily reports on the patients. This duty was taken lightly; one report I saw said: ‘Patient rose at ten thirty and spent the rest of the day in a horizontal position.’ I came across a lot of people shuffling about the corridors who had been in the place many years: however they had come to be there, their only ‘madness’ now was that they were quite unfitted for life outside. Again, after six months I simply walked out.
Looking back, those two places did me a lot of good, in spite of the absence of real treatment. Merely being in a sheltered environment, protected from self-destruction for as long as I needed, was therapy enough. For many years I managed to avoid going into hospital, except for a year at the excellent, intensive, highly successful and soon closed down Paddington Day Hospital.
But about nine years ago I was close to suicide again and found myself being taken into another hospital. Things had changed. Now we had the policy of ‘care in the community’. All notion of protection, of asylum, had gone: a patient (or was it ‘client’?) information leaflet explained that one’s stay would be as brief as possible. Nurses no longer spent much time with patients: they were closeted together in an office filling in ‘care plans’, and could get quite cross if one knocked on the door to point out that a patient was smashing up the furniture or another patient. Usually, in fact, knocks on the door were ignored. True, we saw psychiatrists as often as once a week, but their concern was to see whether we were ready to be discharged. We lived in dread of being called before the psychiatrist: many, including myself, tried to seem madder than we were in the hope of delaying discharge. I managed to stay a month – twice as long as the ‘target’ period – before being ejected despite my vigorous protests.
I was soon back. Returning to the same hospital I expected the nurses to be surprised and disappointed to see me again; they batted not an eyelid. Soon I noticed familiar faces among the other patients; people who had been discharged during my earlier stay and who were back again. Nine years later I have lost count of how many times the NHS has ‘cured’ me of severe depression. Clearly the new policy is statistically – and that’s what counts – very successful. It must have cost them far more than one long stay, but they’ve had half a dozen cures instead of one.
At present, two kinds of people are admitted to NHS mental hospitals: those bonkers enough to be a social inconvenience and those depressed enough to be ready to do away with themselves. If one’s desperate enough to want to get in, the magic word ‘suicide’ whispered in a suitably shamefaced sepulchral tone will do the trick. But mad or sad, one will be out again in two weeks. And back again in another two.
Simon Darragh
Walmer, Kent

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Schmoozy Schlepper

Someone of the above name has posted a comment which I have received by e-mail. I tried to reply directly but this silly blog site wouldn't let me, so here's the reply I wrote, copied and pasted in:

Cheers. What an unusual name you have. I suspect a pseudonym. The formatting difficulty you're probably talking about concerned a book I'd just written, using microsoft word, in which I had included not just footnotes but footnotes-to-the-footnotes, also marginal notes (as in Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancyent Mariner' if you know it) and when copied and pasted into the blog it all got jumbled. My long-term plan is to scan all my printed publications and put them in the blog, as no-one ever buys my books and I'd rather they were read free than not read at all. But that must wait until I'm back in Greece, where I have a scanner and a computer that can turn word documents into pdf files.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Bully

It’s a cliché – and like most clichés true – that the bully is a coward.
The archetypal bully – the one we all, or at least all who have ever been their victims, remember – is the playground one. Stocky, ugly, slightly overweight, surrounded by his[1] jeering cronies, he goes for the direct attack, first verbal, then, if that doesn’t seem to his limited perception to have hit home, physical. I mean violent.
I said ‘Direct attack’ and ‘Limited perception’ but a striking (!) feature of the bully is the uncanny intuitive precision of his attack: just where it will hurt most, physically or emotionally. Uncanny, intuitive: he hasn’t intellectually worked out the precise point on his target; some more primitive force is at work: something like a vile perversion of the instinct that makes the lion go for the belly of the wildebeest.
There is also a less easily identifiable kind of bully: one met more often in ‘adult’ life than on the playground. This is the sort whom it would occur to almost nobody to call a bully. Quiet, respectable, unassuming; a nowhere man. He pays his bills promptly and always puts his rubbish out on the right day, properly sorted into the right recycling bins. An unremarkable job in an office; ideally somewhere like the council or the DHSS with its wide opportunities for his joyful pastime.
If, as I believe one can but perhaps shouldn’t, one divides people in general into those whose existence is a net gain and those whose existence is a net loss – and I am still hopeful enough for humanity to think that the former group is far larger than the latter – then this second type of bully is on the debit side. Not individually a vast bank-breaking loss like Hitler or Thatcher; just a nagging discrepancy in the petty cash account. He has never done anything really wicked, but then nor has he ever done anything really good. He has just lived quietly, absorbing what he wants from the world, giving nothing back. He has never loved anyone, and probably never been loved. No-one notices him.
But, distasteful as it will be, one ought to notice him: there’s a good chance he’s one of these closet bullies.
His modus operandi is to lie low and say nothing, just wait, watchfully, possibly for years. Perhaps waiting for a victim to swim into his bottom-feeding fishy gaze, perhaps patiently watching an already-chosen victim. Then he darts out and attacks, retreating at once to his previous impassive position. It is by the uncanny, unerring, instinctive pin-point precision and timing of his attack that one recognizes him as a bully.
Usually no-one notices the attack: not the victim – at least not at once – not the onlooker, and very often not even, consciously, the bully himself. If and when the victim does notice, he rarely retaliates or complains: this meekness is one of the factors in the bully’s choice of victim. If, however, the victim (or more likely some concerned third party to whom the victim has complained) tries to hold the bully to account, he will hold his hands out in a Pilate-like gesture of innocence and say ‘But all I did was… And indeed he has been careful to leave no obvious mark. Just a deep, invisible, unhealable psychic wound.
A thorough psychological study of the Bully Character would be valuable; perhaps someone is writing one or has already done so. An inquiry into what goes wrong in infantile development, at what stage it is arrested, that turns someone into a bully.  

[1] The usages ‘His/her’, ‘She/he’ etc. are inelegant and not a solution to the perceived sexism of what we once knew as ‘The inclusive he’, which I continue to use. There are of course as many female as male bullies; victims too.