Monthly Archives: June 2011

Sorted

You’re not going to believe what didn’t happen to me last night.

I couldn’t sleep and I’m fed up with that so I rummaged around in the dark for a sleeping tablet, swallowed it and went back to bed.

Half an hour later I was just completely wide awake and extra fed up because I’d deployed my back-up plan, clearly to no avail.

Half an hour after this I started to feel a bit unusual until, wait a minute, the running-through of my send-anyone-to-sleep shopping list was accompanied by some suspiciously pleasant blood currents.

I turned over on my back and realised I was smiling and ohmygod, are you kidding me? I’d only gone and dropped an ecstasy pill by mistake.

I did a bit of silent chortling and head-shaking at the preposterousness of the situation before investing in a few minutes to consider what I should do next.

There aren’t a lot of these sleeping-pill-esque fellows tucked deep inside my jewellery box, which is to say there aren’t any so it must have been very, very old.

Still doing it’s stuff though: ‘Quite impressive,’ said I to the imaginary supplier, who was gratified by the praise.

All the same, don’t think I need to tip up at A & E.

Also don’t think I fancy creeping around downstairs with Frank Sinatra on volume 1 (he’s what’s in the record player).

I’m just going to have to find me some action, thought I.

Not wanting to disturb the family, I groped around for some clothes (I know- you would have thought I’d learnt the value of lighting by now!) and left the house ready to party.

I did not look hot.

I wanted to run down the street but the Acton police are always on the look out for that sort of thing so instead I took big sideways steps, occasionally turning around, like in football practice; it felt good.

I wasn’t sure where I was heading but the bus is so goddam convenient right at the end of the road, it seemed churlish not to wait.

There was an ordinary lady there looking at me strangely (I was swinging around the bus stop but I kept catching my head on the timetable).

‘LOVE this jumper,’ I said, tugging on her sleeve. ‘Where’s it from?’

‘Germany,’ she said, which I thought was weird, even under the circumstances.

Once on the bus I scanned the Askew Road to see what was going down: not an enormous deal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Lebanese flatbread, but C’mon! Where are the youth?!

We stopped outside Bruno’s school and for a moment I thought it was Winter and early in the morning and I’d left him at home. ‘Phew!’ I said to the drunk next to me. ‘Now THAT would have been irresponsible’.

Soon we were in Hammersmith. It’s not Party Central but it’s quite densely populated and recently they’ve renovated the Lyric Theatre rooftop and put wicker and grasses up there so check it out before you judge.

I leapt off the bus, trying to land on the most fun piece of pavement I could see and skipped down King Street, listening out for some tunes.

I’m going to cut a long, huge-pupilled story short here because I didn’t really find anything.

But I did chat a while to some Korean students. I said I was practising my English on them and kept asking if I could plait the girl’s hair. They both had great auras.

I also took a turn around McDonald’s. I enjoyed the green in there and slurped a milkshake, sitting in a Big Brother chair watching the staff ask all the ‘small or large’ questions. There’s not that many places where the staff is an overwhelmingly superior species to the customers and I don’t think you have to be high to realise it.

I knew the methylenedioxymethamphetamine was wearing off when I felt disappointed the post office was closed and I couldn’t get ahead of the game by posting off a birthday card so I thought, well, it’s been a good evening, maybe I should call it a night.

It was a mellow meander I had back up the road at 4.30 a.m. on a Thursday morning.

I felt benevolent and would have appreciated sitting in one of those massage chairs at airports, set on vigorous vibrate.

I let myself back in, ate a tube of smarties and snuggled back into bed, resuming that list, adding, ‘sweet potatoes’ to it at the end.

Then I felt sleep washing over me with time for just one last thought: What are you like, you silly old 80’s bint?!

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Desmond

This is the story of my discovery of a secret schizophrenic uncle, at the age of 15.

Just as you learn that yellow and blue make green, I knew when I was growing up that my mother was an only child.

She said the same whenever siblings were discussed and often referred wistfully to her late teens as sole provider for her widowed mother.

So never any reason to smell a rat.

Aside from two incidents (to assume rodent-odour retrospectively).

The first was the naming of my new stuffed donkey, aged 6.

A king amongst toys, he had crinkly material in his ears and velvet hooves: Holy Mary Mother of God would have broken the eighth commandment for a ride.

The sun pinged off the gleaming teeth of Family Price, as its youngest member frolicked with the new Cuddly. And there was joy and laughter and orange juice for breakfast.

Until, unaccountably, I introduced the new beloved as ‘Dezzie’.

Ma took to the news as to a cup of cold, mulish sick; much as if I’d called him Fuckface, a cloud hung in the air whenever I called for the animal (he never came).

For some unfathomable reason, I had made a donkey-naming misdemeanour.

The second came a few years later when I told Mum a joke (punchline, ‘I’m a schizophrenic’, ‘So am I’).

Far from clutching her ribs, Mum hit the roof, proclaiming it an anger-inducing travesty.

Thus for unfathomable reason number two (though ‘Stand-up’ was now placed after ‘Astronaut’) schizophrenia jokes were off-menu.

Clock forward to my 15th year and half term, which, in the absence of my parents, I was spending with my big sister.

Idly snooping around, I stumbled across a package marked ‘D.Moore’. Strange, thought I (wearing the quizzical face of someone on the verge of a Plot-Revealer),  Moore is Mum’s maiden name but her parents are dead.

When confronted, sis wore the Plot-Revealed face and sat me down seriously in the tidy part of the living room to tell me The News.

The package was a birthday present for Mum’s brother, Desmond, a man in his fifties, who had been living since he was a youth in Sussex County Lunatic Asylum.

A seismic revelation was this, begging numerous questions: the kind concerned with Mum and her family and how they all coped?

Or the more solipsistic reaction of a teenager already convinced of her own exclusion from family matters?: Why wasn’t I told? How long have you known? Would anyone have told me if I hadn’t found out?

Ashamedly, the latter: it seemed to me the concrete proof that I was always the last to know about anything and I felt betrayed.

But I was not the star of this unglamorous show.

Happy as a boy in Australia, on moving to England at 14 Dez showed signs of unusual behaviour.

He would disappear for long stretches after school or forget things- the episodes growing in number and severity until his 18th year when my tiny French grandmother (also dealing with her husband’s Japanese prisoner-of-war post-traumatic stress) could no longer cope.

After an unsuccessful spell in a private home he was reluctantly placed in St Francis’ psychiatric hospital, where he still resided.

I made Mum party to my edification with a drumroll but she denied me the drama I felt owed; in those ‘children shouldn’t see or hear’ days, a bonkers relative didn’t feel like appropriate fodder and I was simply still more child than my sisters.

Not long after we went to visit.

It’s funny, because there’s a Facebook page dedicated to the place (now luxurious apartments), where staff are trading glorious memories of their working years.

To me it was the stuff of nightmares.

Opened in 1859, it was built to a corridor design, with the wards flanking out from an administrative central block. This allowed for the segregation of the sexes and aided in the ease of communication throughout the asylum.

In reality, it felt like prison.

At an all-girl boarding school, I thought I knew institutions. But this was something other.

A Victorian enshrinement of society’s embarrassments, it was predicated on the ironing out of its inmates’ wild individualisms, in order to create more manageable flattened units: breakfast at 7, lunch at 12, tea at 3, every day, every day, no deviation.

Desmond had been on heavy medication for years so that it was hard to tell where his illness ended and the legacy of his pill-popping began.

He was a crumpled, question-mark-of-a-man with a Monty-Python walk- legs first, arms folded behind his back. He had thinning hair, mental brown polyester clothes and teeth and spectacles held together with plasters; in facial features, a male version of Mum.

Mild-mannered and softly spoken, he annunciated every word of his old-fashioned lexicon beautifully, lending a sad nobleness to his activities: ‘There was a craft-making afternoon with the ladies from the adjacent wing.’ ‘They were kind enough to allow us fifty pence pieces on our excursion to Haywards Heath.’

He would pause before and after each recollection, often making eye contact with a pained expression, through his smudged lenses.

Mum laughed and made jolly- through his tales of stolen cigarettes (which he would smoke right down to the very butt, inhaling with deep purpose, burning his lips); his vexations over the non-visits of his (deceased) mother; his requests to visit our family home.

For much of the visit he would stare into his lap, as a person who cannot quite comprehend his situation but the moment the clock struck for tea, rise Pavlovian to his feet, a distracted farewell waved over the shoulder.

On the whole, he seemed well cared for but with an immeasurable intensity of loneliness- a man outlined by the cosmic inexplicability of chasing his sister around a Eucalyptus tree one day, pacing the tiled hallways of confinement for all the rest.

It raised a wry smile to think my appearance, aged 15, would seem to him another hole in his intellect when, of course, this was not the case.

His male co-habitees missed their slot on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: bewildered, demented, head-banging. Or playing cards wearing pearls and a twinset. Funny ha-ha. Funny peculiar. Utterly disturbing.

The journey home was quiet: the leaving behind, the strong taste of a life wasted. And yet, what?, home to the usefulness of working, shopping? Our lives more worthwhile? Less pathetic?

Dez spent his last two years in a private home, when, in 1995, St. Francis’ closed its doors for the final time.

Though the result was good, it was a period of fear and confusion for him, which my mother and medically-qualified sister guided him through as gently as they could.

Desmond spent over 40 lost years at the hospital.

My father spent 30 of them driving my mother to see him without ever once going in himself- a reflection more of his strength than his weakness because he knows what he’s good at and what he ‘aint.

This post is for you, Uncle Dezzie, a gentleman.

You are remembered.

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My Corrections

I am finally reading Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.

I also went to my parents’ for some of half term.

The two met half-way over dinner one night.

Dad: So I suppose you realise I have Christmas on my mind now, Darling.

Me: Gosh, really, Dad? It’s the first of June.

Dad: Yes, well, I made the Christmas pudding in February.

I don’t know what your plans are but I want you to know that you shouldn’t host it.

Me: Why not?

Mum comes back from the kitchen.

Mum: Anyway, Aunty Jenny kept the bungalow dreadfully. It totally let down her side of the cul-de-sac.

Dad: Because you hosted it last year. And once you’ve done it two years in a row, you’re down to do the bugger every year, believe me.

Mum: For example, in the bathroom she had this old towel at the window in place of a curtain. Why you would want to do that I have no idea. Although I suppose it was a bathroom.

But it was just hanging in these threadbare, willowy strips. Can you imagine?

Me: No, it’s fine, Dad. It’s a Christmassy house.

Dad: Well, that’s true, to an extent. But we should have it here, even though Mole* said I’ve become an old fart and can’t cope with it- not exactly but in so many words.

Mum: So I said to her housekeeper, ‘Get her to take down that old towel. It looks terrible.’ And she said, ‘No. Jenny is very insistent that everything stays exactly as it is.’

Me:  Thanks, Dad, we’ll see.

Mum: And I said to her, ‘Oh, just take the bloody thing down. She’s blind anyway. She won’t even know.’

Me: Mum!

Mum: Well, she was. Almost deaf too.

By the way, the people who do the worst plastic bags are Sainsbury’s; the best: Morrisons. That’s why I save Morrisons’ for when you come down because of all the rubbish you create.

Dad: Well, I’ve said my piece. It’s up to you.

Bruno (very still): Can anyone guess which part of my body is moving? No? No? My toes.

Later, I sat on their top floor balcony in the hot evening. It is booby-trapped for pigeons, which keep swerving in to poo on it, driving the Folks doolally.

There were miniature, tinfoil windmills poking into my back and blobs of bleach dotted around the place and when it was very peaceful and I was meditating on the tops of the swaying trees, Dad lunged out of the door and shouted, ‘Dadadadadadadada’ in a very deep voice, to deter an approaching grey visitor.

Dad: Bastard birds. It’s either them or the shite-hawks.** We bought netting today. It’s the only option left.

If you haven’t read The Corrections, it’s so good.

If you haven’t met my family, they’re available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

If you are my family, I’m going to ask for 10% of any bookings which result from the above.

* one of my sisters

** seagulls

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