Tag Archives: God

Against Finding Your Purpose in Life

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What’s the collective noun for ‘start-ups?’ Is it a glut?

I mean, those borne of a glint in the Founder’s eye that tells you they’ve found their purpose in life.

The ones with Alan Watts videos in their Youtube Favourites, who now know what really makes them tick.

Those catapulted out of bed every morning with the conviction they’ve found out why they were put on this earth: organic mole-hair baskets.

Ideally, work should feel worthwhile and rewarding- can’t argue with that.

But where does it say this has to be THE THING that boils you down into your essence?

The bastard working man’s answer to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfume?

Why does it have to be our driving force- our elevator pitch to God at the gates of Heaven?:

I AM the delivery of eco-friendly banking solutions / the knitter of artisanal rye-flavoured tea cosies/ the carer of LGBT animals. Trust me, the rest was musak.

Isn’t it occasionally possible to integrate these purposes into life without encumbering them with the need to bring home the bacon?

I’m being Devil’s Avocado, natch, to make a connection between something I keep noticing and something I want.

The first is the preponderance of busy little companies wopping a kooky name on their foreheads, and heading off to the internet with a red handkerchief tied on their stick.

‘About Us’ will tell you more about what gives them a dual personal/professional hard-on, than you feel comfortable knowing.

Not that it’s anything other than passion that makes a service good.

But there seem to be so many companies all getting very aroused about the same thing- with just a tiny tweak.

There’s a gap in the market and a market in the gap, but…

…here’s the second thing…

There’s probably a bigger market in bridging the gap between the market and the gap.

So, on the one hand you’ve got a maelstrom of information, services, gizmos, earnest reasons for being.

And on the other, the people who need, want, respond to them.

The eager start-ups are all wanting a slice of that giving pie.

I can offer what you offer. Only better. And with CEO after my name on LinkedIn, and my dietary preferences in the blurb.

Or curating it:

Look, see. I’ve aggregated your news/ house buying options/ washing machine costs, thereby cutting your time investment, and customizing your experience.

The point is this: What if I don’t know what news I’m interested in, or what kind of house I should live in, or what sort of washing machine would suit me best?

I’m not talking about trawling through Which? Guides and ‘Well, at first when I got the dustbuster home…’ reviews.

But the customizing, time-cutting bit that precedes the customizing time-cutting bit.

I’m talking Advanced Boolean pre-Google Searches.

Most service providers, and their middle-men, work on the assumption that we know what we want; we just need help finding it.

This is fine if you have a blocked drain, or know that you’re a family of 4 who want to stay in Cleethorpes, are who are in need of Wifi in order not to kill each other.

But some of the biggest decisions we make in life end up finger-in-the-air at best; based on stale ideas at worst.

Where to live; where to go on holiday; where to send our kids to school; what sort of alternative health route to pursue.

Or professional: what genre of marketing agency to commission; which wholesale fleece supplier to engage; what steel manufacturer to use.

What EXACTLY is it that we’re TRULY looking for?

The start-up glut is surely out there waiting by their passionate phones to give it to us.

However, in order to connect with the fruits of these passions, we need to know what ours are first.

I fancy more businesses operating on the dating game model, where likes and preferences are probed thoughtfully, and matches suggested.

Not jokey, ‘Which city should you really be living in? Berlin’, after 3 unrelated, multiple-choice questions.

But streamlined, meaningful questionnaires that cross-reference our subconscious desires with millions of variables, and tell us stuff we didn’t even know we should be investigating.

Old skool agent expertise, for the 21st Century.

For example: How do we choose holidays?

1. Pick Sun/ snow, Beach/Pool, Mountains/City

2. Bump into neighbour in the park

3. Cruise Owners Direct for somewhere pet unfriendly

Bang! You’re in France. Again. Bumping into your neighbour…

How about:

Q: What are your favourite moments of a holiday? Are aesthetics important to you? What’s your favourite view in a painting? What brand of chorizo do you like? Do you prefer perky or weird in a restaurant? Give an example. Do you like flying? Flying mice? Characterful churches? Germans? Have you got a gsoh? Are you allergic to English tourists? Flies? Intimate massages? Are you a tight arse? What sum is 1.5 times the amount of money you think you have to spend on accomms? Trinkets? Does tipping annoy you? And the wife? Does tipping annoy her? Does your wife annoy you? (That’s another website: click on this link.)

A: Pulau Seliron. Small town on the north coast of Brunei. Wasn’t in this week-end’s Sunday supplement. Your neighbour’s never heard of it. Plenty of tapas restaurants with trinket boutiques attached. Clientele of German comedians. Now bugger off and cruise Owners Direct.

What am I asking for?

– To discover more about my preferences than I have ever bothered to probe.

– To have the world of information brought to my time-poor, self-knowledge poor, fingertips.

– To marry more of all that stuff out there, with all the stuff I now realise I want.

Full-on risk-assessment, pyschological-profiling, aspiration-hunting, dream-burrowing, passion-sniffing, intelligent questions, to help put as big a bespoke life-is-short-smile as possible on my miserable, high-expectations, greedy little face.

Those are my needs.

Now, whose purpose in life is it to meet them?



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Confessions of a ‘Fattie’

Last week I found this email I sent in 2004 when living in Seattle.

It was in reply to a Craigslist posting entitled ‘Confessions of a ‘Fattie”* by a woman who said she was struggling with over-eating.

(* I think I might have added the inverted commas in an attempt to flag up the labeling.)

Fattie, I found your posting sad but positive that you see you have a problem in your life- it’s the first step to sorting it out.

You already know about exercise and eating better food and cutting down so here is my tip, which I thought of in the car today after I bought a cake:

You have to realize that- in this country at least- hunger is a desire rather than a need. Just because you feel you would like more ice-cream doesn’t mean you have to actually go and eat it any more than you think you would like to go on vacation to the Bahamas and find yourself at the airport buying a ticket.

Instead, you have to remind yourself that the need to lose weight and re-gain self-esteem, health, a love life etc. is a real need and not just a desire.

Then you have to ask yourself if it makes sense in any way to prioritize a desire over a need.

The answer is no.

And as soon as you get hold of that concept and do something brave with it you can start giving in to some of that desire again, only this time in more moderation.

Good luck.

From which these observations:

1. I’m struck by how much I sound like me even though my perception is that 9 years ago I was a different me in a number of substantial ways.

Over time, we tend to change fundamentally the way we see things far more than we change things about our fundamental selves. I think I think.

2. I can acknowledge that my Advice Tourettes is at least in part a semi-conscious coping strategy for myself developed in response to a historically anxious disposition.

This could make it a screwy proposition but mostly doesn’t (I’d protest defensively) because services offered by those personally invested in them are, on the whole, better.

3. Can you offer a genuinely valuable opinion on a personal situation of which you have had no real experience?

I think yes, if it contains some truth that might resonate…

… but that it might resonate better if it is a truth that has originated from experience.

(Based on an amalgamation of answers 1. and 2., the nirvana of reaching out to others helpfully should be, therefore, at the Venn diagram intersection of Advice Tourettes and Personal Experience.)

4. The American spellings and references take me back to the acclimatisation/ acclimating issues of living in another country from which your homeland is divided by the same language.

Come the 75th time you say ‘glass’ as ‘glarse’, and no-one understands (or knowing you have been living in America for a while imagines you are trying and failing to be charming by persisting in repeating a word you know no-one will understand), do you relent and try a mutoid ‘gllasse’?

I lost chunks of teenage time to Mum and Dad’s serial debate over the pronunciation of my Cumbrian school Casterton, with Mum sticking to the Southern vowels and Dad going the ‘When in Rome’ route.

Mum would exhibit signs of escalating irritation on each occasion, before shouting at a volume which should be reserved by rights for the discovery of a fire somewhere other than a fireplace: ‘You don’t say Casstor sugar, do you, FOR GOD’S SAKE?’

(… from which the sub-observation that recurring points of contention on minor issues in a relationship are de facto absurd and so funny.)

It’s the old ‘Paris, Paree’ conundrum that never seems to go away.

5. Was the cake mentioning a good move? Presumably it was ‘Hey, I know cake love, I’m like you’ but might have jarred in the same way as a note to a heroin addict that opens, ‘I thought of this while shooting up yesterday…’

6. Does desire originate in need or are they polar opposites? Does desire become a need and if so, when? Is desire more urgent than a need because it is about wanting rather than fulfillment- demand rather than supply? Is desire always greedy? Is desire in moderation still desire? Is it worthwhile? Shouldn’t it wear its colours authentically, with the buttons pinging off its blouse?

7. Craigslist is brilliant in a small city because everyone’s recommending chiropractors who live in your apartment block, and selling stuff you can just trot around the corner to pick up.

London Craigslist is like going outside your front door and shouting, ‘Anyone in the London area know where I can buy a good washing machine?’

The combination of this blunderbuss targeting with a gigantic and eclectic pool of humanity makes the Missed Connections section, in particular, scintillating and weird.

Here are two examples from today’s:

Looking for that woman who gave me a handjob today in 259 bus- m4w-27 (N15)

If u see this please reply because I really want to finish what you started:) I hope you see it because I can’t get u out of my head


Gorgeous Girl Walking in Enfield 02/11/13 Around 13.50- m4w-24 (Enfield)

Gorgeous Girl Walking In Enfield I Was In My Black Car And Turned To Se You We Made Eye Contact
I Was Wearing A White Shirt.

You Were Wearing All Black And Holding An Black Umbrella

If You Read This Send Me Your Photo And I You Are That Certain Girl I Will Send My Details


I need to get out more. Or start making eye contact with men everywhere I go, then racing home to see if someone who starts each word with a capital letter wants to track me down online for a long-term intimate relationship.

8. Where is Fattie? Who is Fattie? How did Fattie feel about this response? Has Fattie wrapped herself around more or less than 1,000 cakes in the last 9 years? (a bit more than 2 a week)

Is Fattie Thinnie now?

Or is Fattie on a cloud catching bites of mist promising she’ll spend the rest of Eternity giving God lovebites if only he’ll let her return to Washington State for just one afternoon; to dash around saying, ‘Hi, hi’ breathlessly to family but basically to sit down for one last mesmerising 3-hour session with a fresh cinnamon bun.


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Happiness vs. Joy

If Lloyd Grossman cared to leaf through my study bookshelf asking who lives in a house like this, he might suppose a sad clown.

The Meaning of Life, The Happiness Hypothesis, Everything Is Going To Be OK and one I can’t find that had a title like How To Mend Your Shit Life (the cause of some marital alarm when I brought it back from a Book Fair)- all are conspicuous by their presence.

Perhaps I thought it better to cut to the chase and work back rather than sully myself with hobby middlemen like needlepoint, only to discover the formula for smiles is yarn-free.

Now, if you’re motivated to buy self-help books you’re predisposed to letting them help you, and along the way there have been nuggets.

Whether Buddhism for Sheep delivering bite-sized wisdom in ponderous aphorisms or affirmations’ practical boosts, the heart of these little tricks and truisms is in the right place.

They’re also gratis, accessible and an alternative to substance abuse.

But they do have a tendency to treat symptoms rather than cause (‘don’t dwell, think positively’) or from case studies to weave manifesto (‘x is a behaviour of happy people.’ ‘Bully for them. If I were a happy person I’d also be x-ing ’till the frickin’ cows came home’).

Given that none of them has ever furnished the cure I’m wondering if How can I be happy? is the right question- not because it’s wrong to strive for a preferable state but is the preferable state preferable?

Maybe happiness as a descriptor is where we’re erring because really it’s about joy.

To split hairs, let’s goose-step through semantics to suckle at the English language teat: happiness is often described in relation to good fortune, joy as being a cause of keen pleasure.

We search for the former when we would be better to source the latter.

There are only 3 basic states: good times, bad times and the times inbetween.

We’re used to thinking that the challenging times are challenging; this isn’t true.

Challenging times are a doddle. Drama is unambivalent; it demands a response. It forces us into an active mode of fight or flight. We might mess up and suffer and wish we were on a party boat going down the Thames instead but essentially we are engaged; we’re dealing with it.

Happiness is the twin in the mirror. It is a state of active engagement- the lining up of events in a fortuitous fashion. It’s the world conforming to pleasing effect, or the cheesy grin of the A-Team’s Hannibal as his van is transformed into an uber-vehicle of emancipation: ‘I love it when a plan comes together.’

Joy is an intervention to the passive. It is a choice- the deliberate poking of a cheerful nose into the space where mind wanders and turns in on itself. It is the decision to notice the shine on the turd, digging as deep as hell when it’s easier, more habitual, less lonely, to bemoan the turdiness of the turd.

Joy doesn’t shine the turd; it is not a smile on sadness. It doesn’t turn around grief with a hopeful slap of the thigh.

It is an effortful meditation; the derivation of beauty from the apparently unbeautiful; a recognition of that which would normally be overlooked; a celebration on nobody’s birthday.

It is an extraction, an extrusion, an enfleurage process that in the place of the fragrant compounds of plants captures the essence of grace. Sustained investigation, applied imagination; these are its demands.

It’s a Broadway Whodunnit to happiness’ Moulin Rouge spectacle, and the reason that there are tetraplegics whose hearts sing, while Victoria Beckham looks like Eeyore in a pencil skirt.

Our capacity for joy is not our high point; it is our mean state. It’s how we cope standing in the queue at Tesco, not how fabulous we feel in high heels.

Happiness is about enjoying the good times- or tautology in a playsuit. Any fool, after all, can ace a party.

It’s a default emotion no more helpful as a measure of equilibrium than is sadness around death- one that is destined to leave us vulnerable and unprepared when the heel breaks or the carriage turns into a pumpkin.

To seek happiness is to ask for reassurance. It’s the ego’s affirmation; the enshrinement of delusion; a relief from the withdrawal of bad times, like a cigarette.

To ask to be happy is to ask, How can I not suffer?

The answer is, When suffering is not required.

If you feel and you love and you engage, you will know ecstasy and you will suffer.

Suffering is not to be feared. Like happy, unhappy takes care of itself.

Neutral is the dupe that needs addressing: the misery in the mundane; the non-special running through your Aquafresh toothpaste twice a day, day after boring day.

Positive thinking, the counting of blessings, gratitude, the half-full glass… how can these hurt? They all skip around in the same food group giving each other high fives and sherbert dib-dabs. They are a story, a nod of acknowledgement that our perception of things amounts to their existence.

But they are still broad brushstrokes compared to the minute attention of joy, a meta-text to the bliss inherent in our world if only we can be open to it.

Our work, we come to understand, is not to seek happiness but rather to cultivate joy- a come-down-free, omnipresent, renewable source that’s unreliant on self-gratification. My God, it’s all lined up for us! It’s practically Happiness!

And what of the joy to be found in crises?

One step at a time, Pleasure Seekers.

ps. Incidentally, it hasn’t escaped my attention that Mumbo has gone up its own jacksy, that it’s not clever, and it certainly isn’t funny, and there are better egg sucking teachers. It’ll pass.


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The Boyfriend

Awwww, look at you in your knitted sweater. It is lovely to be dating, isn’t it?

You’re still out in the wild. At the same time, you’ve got someone with soft flesh to agree you’re great. You get sexy sex on tap while your sad married mates are dealing with dishwasher hate notes. You can stop checking out who winked at you on Match.com. Those cute little messages on Facebook about ‘my gorgeous girl’– they’re yours.

You even get to keep simultaneous contact with two of your own shirts while walking hand-in-hand down Guildford High Street, ’cause she’s wearing one of them.

You’re in love, not domestic bondage. And it’s adorable; I don’t want to upset you.

So run along now- she wants a foot rub/ milky drink/ reassurance.

Because the news is- bummer- you’re unpopular. With everyone. Even her. Especially her.

Your bachelor friends hate you, because you don’t want to throw up with them anymore. Ditto your married friends, for the reasons you think you’re happy. Other boyfriends feel uncomfortable around you, like maybe you met before in group therapy.

Your boss used to think you were a creep. Now he thinks you’re a smug creep.

To her older brother you’re a cad; to the younger a sicko, for liking girls. You’re a source of ridicule for her older sis; in the younger you stir adolescent pangs.

Half her friends don’t think you’re good enough. The other half do and and want to know why you’re not with them.

Her mother’s eaten up you don’t fancy her. Or maybe you do, in which case The Bible hates you too.

Her Dad knows you’re using his little girl as a notch in the bedpost (he was a boyfriend once.) Or you’re a bad smell and not making an honest woman of her. Or destined to become the husband and he’ll have to spend the rest of his life giving you man hugs at Christmas.

Your Dad resents you playing the field. And your mother, oh boy, your mother.

Cousins are ambivalent because you spread the coverage of grandparent interaction at family occasions. Grandparents too, because they’re senile.

Well they can all go to hell, says you, because your gal’s head over, lying on your bed in lace underwear, waiting to breathe your air.


Or could it be that you don’t do that thing her ex did with Skittles?

Do you laugh enough at tarty girls? Bitch collaboratively? Put the right number of kisses at the end of texts?

When you last had a cold, why could you hear her gay friend laughing so much at the end of the phone?

And you know when she said she doesn’t need a piece of paper for you to prove your love to one another? She was lying.

She was lying so hard the words tasted acrid in her post-pleasuring mouth when she said them. (And believe me, it WAS the words).

Is it because you’re too cheap to buy a ring? Are you looking for a cheap ring? OMG, do you think she’s cheap?

The saddest thing of all is that one day you’ll realise you hate yourself.

It won’t be snuggled up on the sofa watching a Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin movie. Or smiling at a panda in Clinton’s on Valentine’s Day.

It won’t even be when you’re watching porn and thinking about Vicky Pryce.

It’ll be when you’re in Zara or Top Shop or Whistles.

You’ll be standing waiting at the changing rooms entrance- waiting. Like you’ve forgotten how to kill a bear or barbeque spare ribs or watch the beginning of Up without crying.

You’ll be illuminated from the front by a glow of strip lighting- an overgrown, beleaguered version of Elliott in E.T, searching in vain for signs you haven’t been castrated or mistakenly cast in an ad for tampons.

And instead of your Beloved popping out in an LBD she’s popping out of, you’ll catch sight of your own mush in the mirror: stripped of sarcasm, boy band drippy, accessorized by a woman’s handbag and expectations.

And you’re gonna f.r.e.a.k o.u.t, drop everything and dump her.


Six months later she’ll have a new boyfriend who cheats on her and races cars, while you’re moping around being a miserable bastard.

And one by one, all your friends and family and work colleagues will start to remember your boyfriend time as golden, while all her friends and family and the family dog will spend entire evenings hunched over chicken kievs saying, ‘God, we loved him, he was perfect‘..

Before you know where you are Meryl’s back on, in Mama Mia, and nailing it.

Promise just one thing?

Never, EVER revisit the shopping thing.


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Towing the line of faithful bosses
Bishop to Archbishop to ascend
For himself the collar
Dogma as a pet

His Divinity made form 
In thrall to bells and prayers
Cross- referencing the Bible 
With behaviour

Not hard to mock his frock
Gift him the zeal of wars
At Noah's pairs a sneer 
While hurling condoms at the Pope

Be not more attached than he 
To Corinthians and liturgy
Beyond the harped-up angels 
He is wholer than thou 

His wise men Yaakov, Shakti, you
His very heart a Mecca
Living Glasto guru's Oneness 
As a given

Writing large the Yes
The Hope too often floundering in mithering
His Book a resource
Not a stick

Pulling crackers with the lonely
Mindful of our peace
Even as the brunch cutlery 
Rattles on 

Gentle acts of generation 
Freed of genuflection
Using but one box of tools
For souls to mould a meaning 

'God is Love'- for some the CV of
A bearded bogeyman
For him the richer gem that 
Love is God


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The Rich on Holiday

As if things weren’t going pretty well for you before you draped yourself in a pashmina and slurped champagne from a plastic flute, you feel entitled to mooch around extra-slowly under palm trees too.

Decked out in Cruise Collections, your shiny toenails peeking out from sandals whose single leather thongs still cost more than you’re paying the Phillipino couple to keep the home fires burning.

Removing your floppy hat to paw at silky highlights and fat earrings, bikini held together by costume jewellery.

Sparkly bits on everything that isn’t the enormous gold beach tote housing one tiny tube of SPF750 Karl Lagerfeld lip balm.

Sunglasses conspicuously folded on the table, hot fourth finger bulging in its platinum boa constrictor.

Your other half in creased linens, George Hamilton tan, sweaty wrist weighted by Successful Watch.

Chasing around thirty dollar salad leaves under stylish ceiling fans whirring in well-maintained unison.

Your long-limbed kids sulky in white shorts and head phones, fresh from the stupidly-shaped pool, hair so blond it hurts.

When just down the road, you could be getting a pina colada with a cocktail-speared glace cherry.

Joking with the bar staff, making the acquaintance of a family of four from Spalding (one boy, one girl).

Getting comfy on a wicker chair, swaying to some steel drum popular covers.

Thanking God you’re not at the extreme end of the beach with the tightly-packed floral brollies and scorched non-tightly packed flesh.

Being sold a big shell or a trip on an inflatable chair going really fast behind a speedboat.

The sand is better where you are because the locals tread it like it’s yours and the tourists are busy in the local market stuffing clothes-staining souvenirs into shoulder bags.

But watch out for the sun.

Nothing makes it feel more exclusive than zapping a botoxed brow.

And there’s no greater leveler than a burnt nose.


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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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