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How German Polly Trope went from Britain into a US mental home and wrote her autobio-novel “Cured Meat”

Yesterday, I talked to writer Polly Trope in Berlin via Skype about her book Cured Meat – Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway. It is dedicated:

To those I left behind

She crowdfunded the book. The pitch is still on YouTube.

“Is it a novel or an autobiography?” I asked.

“I always find it amazing that some people actually manage to make up stuff,” she told me. “The things that are interesting in the book are the things that happened rather than the person. But some of them didn’t happen. What I really wanted to do with my book was to characterise lots of people I’ve met. I wanted to write about many many people, not just myself. And, even when I was writing about myself, I was trying to write about how things happened rather than myself. I was interested in capturing what happened like it was some sort of movie: an outside description of things. Some people say an autobiography has to be about the person writing it, but it’s also about lots of other people. Obviously some things are not completely accurate. I’ve tried to pick out things I heard about or happened which I thought were worth writing about.”

“Why didn’t you want to publish a straight autobiography?” I asked.

“The book is based on The Odyssey.”

“The book is based on The Odyssey.”

“People only want to read the autobiographies of celebrities,” said Polly. “I am not famous.”

“How did you decide on the nom de plume Polly Trope?” I asked.

“Brainstorming names. Greek mythological characters whose names could be turned into English. Polytropos was an adjective Homer applied to Odysseus. So Polly Trope.”

Polytropos actually means “having many forms” i.e. having different personalities – or “twisting and turning” i.e. versatile and capable of manoeuvring through a stormy sea.

“The whole book is based on The Odyssey a little bit,” explained Polly, “because that’s what I did for my degree – Ancient Greek & Latin Literature at King’s College, London. I went to London when I was 18.”

“And then you went on to get a PhD in Classics?” I asked.

“I started one,” said Polly. “I didn’t finish it. I went to America to do it.”

“And I know you checked into a mental hospital just two months after arriving,” I said. “Did something happen?”

“No,” said Polly. “I was already a bit depressed when I went there and I expected it would be really exciting to go to America and I would be magically happier when I got there.”

The woman called Polly Trope in her Groucho Marx disguise (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

The woman called Polly Trope in her Groucho Marx disguise (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“Was this New York?”

“Connecticut.”

“So was it just depression?” I asked.

“Pretty much. I just felt really out of place; I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know anyone there. I tried the therapist and that was a really bad idea because then I went to the mental hospital and then it just really got very difficult.”

“Did they drug you up?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” said Polly. “It just blew everything out of proportion. It became almost unthinkable to stop.”

“I was in a mental hospital when I was 18,” I said. “The first thing they do, of course, is just give you drugs.”

“All the time,” said Polly. “All the time. All the time.”

On YouTube, there is a song Numb Enough written by Polly (with a video shot by her). Her lyrics include the lines:

And are you numb enough, and is your life on hold,
And did you feel the shock when it all fell apart?

“You were in and out of mental hospital for three years,” I said.

“Yes,” said Polly. “I constantly told my psychiatrist I wanted to stop taking the drugs and he would always say: Well, if you can’t understand how much you need them, then I must put you into the hospital so you know how to take your drugs. That’s a simplified version of what happened, but it was me trying to stop taking tablets and the guy telling me: You must.”

“You were still doing your academic stuff through all this?” I asked.

“I was trying to,” said Polly. “I had to go on leave of absence after a couple of years. Eventually I left for six months, then another six months and, at that point, I didn’t want to see psychiatrists any more and, after that, I just went back to Europe.”

Polly Trope: "It started with the psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.”

Polly Trope: “It started with psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.”

“When you became addicted to drugs,” I asked, “was that medicinal drugs or heroin or…?”

“Both,” said Polly. “One after the other. It started with the psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.

“I was prescribed sleeping tablets and benzedrines and those are also sometimes used as recreational drugs and I had those on prescription and then it just kind of moved from there into prescription painkillers and then to completely illegal opium stuff and heroin and… Yeah… And then, at the same time, I moved from America back to London and… Yeah… That was the transition. We’re talking about 2009 here.”

“And then,” I said, “as far as I understand it, you met a guy in a London casino one night. He was involved with brothels; he took you to one, asked you if you wanted to work there and you said Yes.”

“I had really big money problems,” said Polly.

“Did you do it out of desperation or interest or…”

“Both,” said Polly. “Interest not so much. I was never particularly against prostitution. I don’t think I was especially interested in trying it. But it wasn’t something I was particularly scared of or that I thought could be the worst thing that could happen to someone.”

“Were you still supporting a drug habit at that point?”

“Not quite. But it was very fragile. I had only been clean for about a couple of weeks or so. Everything was quite new. I was feeling quite good, but I was also broke. In a house. I had many many problems. It was difficult.”

“So you were sort-of on an up,” I said. “But this would have taken you down?”

“Yeah. Yes. Yes. That’s right.”

“How long did you do the prostitution for?”

Polly Trope

Polly in London: “Then I thought it would be good if…” (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“April to December of one year. At first, he took all my money. After about three weeks. I kicked him out of the way. He was terrible. I’d been ripped off. I needed the money even more. Many of the women I met didn’t want to do it in the first place then, later, they got organised and stayed in the job because they were already there and it is quite a lot of money. It was a bit like that with me as well, although I didn’t feel I wanted to stay there longer than necessary. I was not trying to make lots of money. I just wanted to fix a few financial problems.”

“I was once told by an ex-criminal,” I said, “that most robbers have no financial target they want to reach, therefore they don’t know at what point they have reached a place they can stop doing it. So it ends badly. Maybe prostitution is like that?”

“And also,” said Polly, “people get used to more money and they increase their standards. I just had a bit of debt which I wanted to pay off.”

“So is that why you came out of it?” I asked. “You paid the debt and that was it?”

“It was only about £3,000,” said Polly. “But that was the beginning. Then I thought it would be good if I could save up for a deposit and some rent and, once you start paying rent, you have to do it every month, so… Then I thought I’m gonna start looking for a job immediately and, as soon as I find a new job I will take it... And that dragged on forever.”

“What sort of job were you looking for?” I asked.

“Stuff to do with writing and books. Things like editorial work or proofreading or translation. I didn’t realise it was not the right thing to look for. I had a degree but not much work experience. Nobody wanted to employ me. I eventually got a job through the Job Centre. I worked in a call centre for about a year and then I came back to Berlin.”

“In your dreams, when you were 14,” I asked, “did you want to be a writer?”

“Yeah,” said Polly. “I think I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t think it was a real job; I thought it was something you did on the side and still had to earn money some other way.”

“Sadly, you might be right,” I said. “And now you are…?”

Polly Trope reads her book Cured Meat

Polly: short stories which turned into a novel

“I’m writing little projects,” said Polly. “But I’m not sure yet. Probably something similar. Short stories which turn into a novel if you read them one after the other.”

“Basically,” I said, “your book is a series of chapters which are self-contained short stories but, when you read them one after another, they become a novel.”

“Pretty much that,” said Polly. “I’ve always been really keen on this idea that you could even read it backwards or you could read it in any order. I was really keen on the book being like that. The plot is just the way things happened. Some readers find it reassuring to know one thing comes before another and another thing comes later and they can remember it all. But some readers just want to know what’s going on now.”

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

“I have to get X-rays,” said Polly. “I have a very bad knee which may be broken.”

On YouTube, there is a song Fucking Princess written by Polly (with a video shot and edited by her).

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Filed under Books, Drugs, Mental health, Sex

Why comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith committed suicide by jumping off a cliff

A fortnight ago, I blogged about the death of music and comedy act The Amazing Mr Smith. And followed it up with comedian Martin Soan’s memories of him in a second blog. His friend and former manager Joe Stead now tells me: “His state of mind the last nine months had actually been very good. He had a wonderful new girl friend. I popped down to Dorset regularly after his wife Viva died in 2009 to keep an eye on him. I was last there (twice) in November when he was in good spirits except for toothache.

“He had undergone tooth surgery in Hungary in July. Yes! Only Derek would choose Hungary over Guy’s Hospital in London and things were not quite right. He went back to Hungary for further remedial treatment in September and had been in pain on and off since then. The specialist he saw in Dorchester (private) hospital advised him there was nothing wrong, he was simply chewing incorrectly. Apparently if he chewed up and down like normal people – and not sideways like cows – his pain would disappear in a couple of weeks.”

Now Joe Stead has posted memories of an Amazing man in his own online blog: The Ramblings of an old Codgerwhich I reprint with his permission below:

* * * * *

Joe Stead, an old codger, remembers...

Joe Stead, an old codger, remembers…

Derek (The Amazing Mr) Smith was born a genius on the 1st April 1948.  Now whether you believe in astrology or not you have to admit that out of the 366 days in which Derek could have chosen to be born that year, he chose the 1st of April. A pretty toxic mix don’t you think?

He had an IQ of over 160 and history is littered with people of equal or near intelligence all of whom walked the fine line of normality as they knew it.

 Spike Milligan was another hyper intelligent man who had spasms of deep depression that plagued him throughout his life.  There was a time in the sixties when Milligan was living with his then wife near me in a house in Blackheath, London. Spike lived upstairs, his wife lived downstairs. They weren’t really talking to each other. But Spike would phone her up every time he wanted a cup of tea.

 Educated at a grammar school in South East London, Derek went on to Bristol University graduating sometime in the late 1960s with an honours degree. 

He went to work at Burroughs Wellcome in Beckenham (later to become GlaxoSmithKline) as one of their top scientists specializing in heart diseases. 

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith, in a recent Vimeo mini-documentary

He stayed in that employment until 1994 when he and his wife Viva bought the house down in Loders, Dorset. One of the first things he did, to fill his spare time when he arrived, was to take Pure Maths at University Degree level. He took two exams and got 95 and 99 percent marks. He was genuinely annoyed he didn’t get 100 in both exams because he couldn’t see anywhere, in his reasoning, where he had gone wrong.

He was, of course, an inventor par excellence. And most were quite simple inventions that you and I would never dream of. The condom bagpipes being just one example.

I remember one time, before he moved to Dorset, visiting him at his house in Bromley. He had taken a standard dining chair, sawn the back off it, drilled holes up each leg and he had it hanging from the ceiling as a lamp shade.

I actually first met Derek around about 1970. It might have been a little later; I can’t remember the exact year. Derek had appeared on the folk scene in South East London performing as the guitarist in the group Wild Oats.

Wild Oats’ album cover with Mr Smith (extreme left) and future wife Viva

Wild Oats’ album with Mr Smith (left) & his future wife Viva

Viva was lead singer. Ray Tassie played mandolin, with Mike Flood on bass. Ray tells me that apparently Derek, not Viva, worked out the four part harmonies for the group and he did them all at the same time. Note by note. He was never wrong. He was able to work on four harmonies at the same time note by note – and the bloke couldn’t even sing!

Derek and I became the closest of friends and we did many crazy things together.  All instigated by Derek of course.

In January of 1982, Derek came to my flat in Greenwich to ask me if I would be his best man.

I said” “Certainly. When are you getting married?”

He said: “I don’t know. I’ve not asked Viva yet”

At the time I was his manager, so I said: “Right, look. You’ve got three weeks in May when you don’t have any work. If you marry Viva on May 9th (a Saturday) I’ll get you an American tour between May 13h and May 30th.”

He said “Right” and apparently went home, woke Viva up and said: “Joe says we can get married on May 9th and go to America on May 13h. He’ll get me some gigs there.”

Viva apparently said “Yes,” and went back to sleep.

A slightly off-the-wall marriage proposal I suppose. But, with Derek, I guess you would expect nothing less. And so it was, as his best man, I got him to the church on time – and only just, if I’m honest, as we couldn’t find the church.

I’ll tell you about some of the crazy things.

Mr Smith’s audition  in 1987

Mr Smith’s 1987 audition for Jonathan Ross

There was the time he showed up at my house just before Christmas one year to go out for a Christmas drink. In those days, Derek was always super untidy. When I opened the door, he was in full evening dress – bow tie, the lot – and carrying a parcel which apparently was my Christmas present. I was really very embarrassed that I had not thought of buying him a Christmas present until he explained it was my present to him

When he entered the house, I suddenly realised that his evening jacket was rent at the back, down the middle, from collar to hem. In fact, it was only the collar holding it together. It sort of flowed open at the back showing his white shirt. Apparently we were off to Welling on a pub crawl and I was to give him my present when we were in the first pub. At the pub, Derek dashed off to the bar to get the drinks, making sure at least half the occupants saw his jacket, while I sat at a table with the parcel. Not knowing what was in it. When he came back, he enthused really quite loudly that I had bought him a present. He opened up the parcel and therein was the most hideous jacket you could ever imagine any American wearing to church on a Sunday morning. 

Derek was, of course, delighted with it and he swapped jacket immediately putting the dinner jacket with the rent back straight back into the brown paper parcel. Thus we made our way to the next pub and the whole procedure was acted out again in reverse. We did that all night going round at least eight, maybe ten, pubs drinking half pints to try to stay as sober possible. This was an impossibility in Derek’s case because, in those days, it only took a pint or maybe two to get him completely pissed.

A bit childish you might think. Not for Derek. He was in his element. He had a great need to entertain people.

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

A rather shy, gentle man with a propeller on his nose

I remember a time in Northolt High Street when he proceeded to water lamp posts, telegraph poles and phone boxes with a kettle he had filled in a friend’s kitchen. When he got to the bus stop, the queue all backed away from him by about three feet. And this was years and years before anybody tried making a TV programme like this.

One hot summer Sunday lunchtime in early May, we stopped off at Teignmouth for a drink at a pub by the dockside where workmen were laying huge pipes about 2 feet in diameter by about 45 feet long on the other side of the bridge. The pipes were stacked up on the dockside about 30 yards from the pub. A lot of people were drinking outside. Derek disappeared, ostensibly to go to the bathroom, but instead he appeared alongside the piping. Bending down, he sung into the pipework: “Day-o; Day-o, Daylight come and I want to go home” very loudly.  He then ran the 45 feet or so to the end of the pipe, cupping his hand to his ear to hear the sound come out the other end.

He did this at least half a dozen times, always from the same end, much to the amusement of the people drinking on the dockside, not to mention the workmen who were all totally non-plussed.

I heard somebody nearby murmour: “The lunatic must be drunk”. 

I turned and said: “No, it’s just a man with an IQ over 160 acting quite normally”.

His humour camouflaged a creative, sensitive, vulnerable man who, with careful artistry, consistently challenged his own inventiveness and put everyone, including himself, outside of their comfort zones.

He never ceased to amaze.

SO WHY DID THE AMAZING MR SMITH COMMIT SUICIDE?

East Cliff, West Bay, Bridport in Dorset

Mr Smith died on beach at foot of East Cliff, Bridport, Dorset

Derek was being treated by his doctor for a number of problems which included either severe toothache or severe pain in the jaw.

Despite being assured by a specialist at Dorchester Hospital only 48 hours before his death that he had nothing wrong with him, he was convinced he had a poisoned bone which antibiotics could not touch.

His doctor had prescribed Seroxat.  Which he had taken for precisely two nights.

The NHS describe Seroxat thus………

Some people who take Seroxat may find that it intensifies depression and suicidal feelings in the early stages of treatment.  These people have an increased risk of self-harm or suicide in the early stages of taking Seroxat. As Seroxat starts to work these risks decrease.

The drug Paroxetine is sold under the name Seroxat

The drug Paroxetine is sold under the name Seroxat

If you are taking Seroxat, or you care for someone who is taking Seroxat, you need to look out for changes in behaviour that could be linked to self-harm or suicide.

If you notice any of these changes or are worried about how Seroxat is affecting you or someone you care for, you should contact your prescriber, a mental health professional or NHS Direct as soon as possible.

It is important that you discuss with your prescriber how long it will take before you can expect to feel any benefits from taking Seroxat.

Do not share your medicine with other people. It may not be suitable for them and may harm them.

I therefore have to wonder why Derek Smith (a genius but, like so many geniuses, a manic depressive) was prescribed a drug that the doctor knew might cause him to commit suicide.

Seroxat, by the way, is supplied by GlaxoSmithKline UK. The very company for whom Derek had worked as a heart specialist.

I would like to thank those of you who wrote expressing their amazement and horror at the awful events that occurred in West Bay, Bridport in the early hours of Sunday December 8th.

* * * * *

There is a 7-minute mini-documentary about The Amazing Mr Smith on Vimeo

…and snippets of his various acts on YouTube.

BBC TV’s current affairs series Panorama transmitted a programme on the dangers of Seroxat in 2002. The transcript is HERE.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Mental health, Suicide

Surrealist comedy performer Martin Soan goes into an Essex mental asylum

Another comedian not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year

Martin Soan, creator of highly original comic ideas…

When I was newly 18, I went voluntarily into a mental asylum as an in-patient because I tried to kill myself. The doctors thought it required treatment; I thought it was a sensible life-choice.

When performer Martin Soan was 17, he voluntarily went into a mental asylum as a member of staff: to work as a porter.

He has been staying with me for the last couple of days.

“When I was 15, my parents won the Football Pools,” he told me and my eternally-un-named friend last night over dinner. “We moved from the East End of London to a village called Earls Colne near Colchester in Essex and I went off the rails. I had been doing really well in the East End – I took pride in my schoolwork; I wasn’t top of the class, but I enjoyed endeavouring. Within months of moving out to Essex, I drifted into odd behaviour, taking drugs and getting into trouble with the police.”

“You left school at 16?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin, “but, by then, aged 15, I’d moved into a squat in Colchester and I’d got made a ward of court because I got caught stealing…”

“Stealing what?” I asked.

“Carpet from a doctor’s office.”

“Was it open?” I asked.

“It was night time,” said Martin. “I got made a ward of court, went home for a matter of weeks, got a night job working for Courtaulds for a few months – weaving things. Water jet looms. Then I got the job at the mental hospital – Severalls Hospital, just outside Colchester in Essex. It was a huge hospital – 300 acres – It was a couple of miles away from Turners Village, a children’s psychiatric hospital which eventually got done for child abuse, neglect, cruelty to patients, everything.”

“Why did you decide to work in a mental home?” I asked.

A recent photo of Severalls Hospital , which closed in 1997

A recent photo of Severalls Hospital, which closed in 1997

“Because I had a fear of people with mental health problems,” he explained. “I grew up with my cousin who was mentally and physically handicapped; he was maybe two years older than me. He had a droopy mouth and a strange walk. He used to clomp along. He was lovely and we used to play together, but he used to get me in these strangleholds and embraces – it was out of love, I suppose. He used to terrify me; he used to half-strangle me. I was always terrified I was going to get really, really hurt by him.

“He was not doing it viciously or vindictively at all. He was just clumsy and didn’t know his own strength. He was incredibly strong.”

“When I was at college,” I said, “I went and interviewed a psychiatrist at the mental hospital where I had been a patient and, sitting in the corridor waiting to see him, I could tell which people passing me were patients and which were staff. The patients walked slower, because they had been drugged so heavily and had no life left in them.”

“Drugs are the straitjacket now,” said Martin. “They used to lock ‘em up and put ‘em in straitjackets because people were frightened of  ’em. Now drugs do exactly the same thing. It stops them being a problem.”

“Were some people in there for life?” I asked.

“There was Albert,” replied Martin. “He had these huge, huge, Denis Healey type eyebrows and a huge belly. He was ancient and used to help me do the laundry and go round the wards with me on these electric vehicles.

“When he was younger, Albert had wounded someone in a field with a shotgun. Accidentally. He didn’t mean to shoot them; he had not intended to kill them and he just wounded them. It was a mistake.”

“Was he simple?” I asked.

“By the time I met him,” Martin explained, “he had a wonderful logic about him, but he had been completely institutionalised and drugged out of his head; he was a drugged, dribbling idiot, basically.

“There was another guy who had a limp. You just had to say the name of one football team to him. I would say West Ham and he would say West Ham 3 Chelsea 2 – Newcastle United 2 Hull City 2 and he would do the latest scores each week. He would walk down the corridors saying the football scores.

“My job being a porter was to do the laundry, take meals and drugs to the wards and all that. There was a morgue there and I had to label the bodies and put them on the things you slid them into the fridges on.”

“You did that by yourself?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

Martin with my eternally-un-named friend yesterday

Martin Soan with my eternally-un-named friend yesterday

“Most of them were thin and weighed less than a sack of potatoes,” explained Martin.

“How often did people die?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“Severalls Hospital was big. An average ward held about 40, so I would guess it had an absolute minimum of about 800 people in it… It had its own bank and shops. There were wards in the main hospital and then in the grounds were satellite wards like army barracks around this huge complex – secure wards and medical wards because there was a lot of self-mutilation and health problems.”

“So every week someone would die?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“Oh yeah,” Martin replied immediately. “There was a mixture of people there. A lot of ordinary Alzheimer’s cases. Just old people and some very ordinary people who shouldn’t have been there at all. Like Albert, who made a mistake and wounded someone with a shotgun and they put him in a mental hospital.

“But there were some characters who were completely bonkers. I was walking to one of the outside wards and suddenly this old woman comes out of the forest completely stark bonkers naked and just throws herself on me so I’m on the ground with her screaming something about me not bringing the ring to the wedding.”

“Things like that must have really done-in your 17 or 18 year-old brain,” I suggested.

“I think I just needed to confront my fears,” said Martin. “The problem was my physical fear of my cousin and I had mixed it up in my mind with being frightened of all mad people or very extrovert type people. But, very quickly, I realised it wasn’t them I was frightened of. It was my own mental state. As soon as I sussed that, I just ended up with another set of problems.”

“What mental state?” I asked.

“My mental state,” said Martin.

Martin Soan got high with B.A.

Martin Soan, accomplished surrealist

“Why?” I asked. “Because you were close to the brink yourself? I understand that feeling.”

“Yes, that,” he replied. “And Martin, just stop worrying about stuff. Stop worrying about your petty fears. There are people out there with far worse problems. It normalised what’s going on in your own head. At the time, I was taking lots of LSD. I used to take it at weekends. On the rota, you had almost four days off between your work, so you could take a load of drugs and sober up and go back in. But, one Sunday afternoon, when there was a skeleton staff and no authority figures in, I went in completely high on acid.”

“Were you hallucinating?”  I asked.

“Some of the time, yeah. But I’d been taking so much it had become the norm. You acclimatise to it. So I knew I could go off into little reveries of surreal imagery by focussing on the minutiae of the world around me and then, if something happened, I could snap myself out of it.”

“But,” I said, “if you’d been high on acid when some naked woman had leapt out of the woods onto you, that would have REALLY done your head in.”

“I suppose so,” said Martin. “But it all becomes the norm. It’s just mundane in the end. I realised what I had to be careful of was my own brain, not other people’s.”

“Were you interested in performing comedy before you worked in the mental asylum?” I asked.

“I was doing Punch & Judy shows all the way through this,” said Martin, “but my comedy was always a bit weird. I used to do surreal puppetry when I was about 16.”

“People being mad and people being creative is very similar,” I said, “because their minds are going off at wild tangents. If you do surreal humour, you know you are being surreal, whereas mad people don’t know they’re being surreal. Maybe comedy performers are controlling their interesting lateral thinking and mad people are not.”

“With the surreal puppetry,” said Martin, “I thought I can’t do that sort of stuff, because no-one’s going to understand me. So I ended up doing Punch & Judy shows but, within that, I started bending, perverting the story of Punch & Judy.”

Martin’s Punch & Judy shows were called The Greatest Show On Legs.

“Did you always do adult Punch & Judy?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin, “but it wasn’t aimed at adults. “It was just my interpretation of Punch & Judy.”

“I thought it was rude?” I asked.

The Greatest Show on Legs in their prime

The Greatest Show on Legs in a later incarnation (from left) Malcolm Hardee, Steve Bowdidge, Martin Soan

“It did start getting rude,” agreed Martin, “and, when Malcolm Hardee joined The Greatest Show On Legs it was fully-fledged and took off as a rude Punch & Judy show.”

“And, at Severalls,” I prompted, “you did lots of different things as a porter…”

“We rotated all the jobs,” said Martin. “One of them was to escort patients up to the ECT ward.”

“I didn’t know they still did ECT – electro-convulsive therapy – in those days,” I said.

“I was disturbed they were still doing it,” replied Martin.

“Around which year was this?” I asked.

“1970. Even though it was the Seventies, it was very Victorian in all sorts of ways. They hadn’t moved on very much. When you dropped them off for ECT, even though they were troubled, they were animated – they had life. Even if they were paranoid. Paranoia takes up a lot of energy. But, after they had had ECT, they were lethargic, uncommunicative. It had just robbed them of the life, really. They couldn’t remember what they were upset about but they still had this Oh fuck, there’s something wrong with me feeling. From what I saw, it didn’t do any good.

“There was a girl patient I found attractive. She had dark hair and stunning eyes. I wasn’t being anything other than friendly. Nothing sexual. She was just a lovely person; very friendly. I had this motor bike and there was this rock concert nearby. I took her off to the concert; we had a couple of beers and might have smoked a joint, then I dropped her off back at the ward.

“The Unit Administrator had me up and told me: There’s no way you socialise with the patients and I thought Well, that’s a bit heavy. Yes, it was unprofessional, but I was only a porter, not a doctor. I wasn’t trying to take advantage of her. I was young and didn’t understand the consequences, the trouble I could be getting myself into.

“I don’t know if it was connected, but shortly afterwards I was sent to pick up the girl and take her to the ECT ward. And that was a killer because afterwards… to see this lovely girl with her soul ripped out of her basically. It was horrible.”

“Why did you leave Severalls Hospital?” I asked.

“After what happened to that girl,” said Martin, “I suppose I started turning psychotic myself so, in the end, I walked out. I didn’t want to work there any more.  I was conscientious, I think I did my job well, but the Head Porter kept having a go at me.”

“How did your bosses react to you wanting to leave?” I asked.

“They were all worried and freaked out,” said Martin. “No-one had walked out before. All the porters were either young like me or had been there forever. Those jobs were for life. There had been a few incidents of staff becoming patients. I used to have my dinner and tea breaks in the patients’ canteen because I found the staff canteen very stuffy because they had behavioural norms. There was a formality about it and I got… not panic attacks as such, but… In the patients’ canteen, it was like the bar in Star Wars. I just sat down and they loved me and I liked being there; I could have a laugh with them because, like I said, a lot of them shouldn’t have been in there.”

“Anyone who thinks differently,” I said, “risks getting labelled as mad.”

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Comedians, ‘madness’ and psychiatrists

(From left) Juliette Burton, Jorrick Mol, Laura Levites

(From left) Juliette Burton, Jorrick Mol, Laura Levites (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the second show, I talked to comedians Juliette Burton, Laura Levites and Jorick Mol.

All of us had experience of being in mental homes.

This is a short extract from the chat:

____________________________________________

JOHN: Laura, you were telling me last night that you had been really happy at the Fringe this year. Surely that’s bad creatively? Performers need to be troubled to be creative.

LAURA: No! I’ve spent my entire life being troubled. Why would I continue wanting to be troubled?

JOHN: You won’t have a show next year if you’re not troubled.

LAURA: That’s not true! That’s not true at all. I’ll find trouble anyway but if I’m not troubled, it doesn’t mean I have to have a life without experiences. You don’t have to be miserable to be creative.

JORICK: I’d like to pick up that idea that performers and mental illness are, in some form, related. I think that’s complete nonsense. It’s only when people actually do have mental health problems and are performers that that conversation will very quickly start. Although performers and writers and creative people are maybe more willing to play with the spaces in their mind and go places people wouldn’t normally go. They won’t go for the easy answers.

JOHN: Isn’t there a point that creative people, in order to create something new and different, are thinking laterally and, in order to think differently from other people, you have to be different?

JULIETTE: The experiences I’ve had – the psychoses and stuff – forced my brain outside a certain box and I feel like it’s a gift in a way, although it fucked up my education. But I have had experiences that were outside the normal way of thinking. And to try and make any sense of that… I kind of think that the world’s crazy anyway, but… to not laugh at it all… The fact that I heard voices and I saw weird things that weren’t there…

LAURA: Oh my god! I’m so jealous!

JULIETTE: Yeah?

LAURA: You did?

JULIETTE: Yeah, totally. I saw God and the Devil and…

LAURA: You saw God?

JULIETTE: I time-travelled.

LAURA: You time-travelled? I don’t have that. I’m so upset. What’s your diagnosis?

JULIETTE: It was a while ago. It was 11 years ago I had a psychosis as a result of anorexia. I don’t have that now.

LAURA: You stopped eating?

JULIETTE: No, I… I have been told not to take any drugs because it might happen again. If you have those weird experiences and try to make sense of those experiences… For me it just means that anyone who’s doing a normal job in a normal office, it’s like…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a psychiatric social worker. My work is to sit talking to people like you with two medical doctors and to argue your case. And it’s really hard.

JOHN: Why is it hard?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: They say That person is completely off-the-wall. They have to be hospitalised. The last sectioning I had to take part in – luckily I didn’t sign the paper – the patient was saying I feel this love for this person and the psychiatrists wanted to section them because they were having this wonderful overwhelming feeling of love. They couldn’t understand…

What you are talking about is really interesting, because you’re talking about being in a certain world and having certain ‘mystical’ experiences that a lot of mystics and spiritual people have had. But, because ‘spiritual stuff’ is so alien to the medical model…

I’m interested in the spiritual emergency that comes from these experiences, that pushes people through into something else – the medical model isn’t looking at that. They’re saying This person needs medication in order to be ‘managed’ either by a family unit or by society in general, because they’re ‘dangerous’.

JULIETTE: With me, I was sectioned for anorexia and then I had this experience – seeing all this stuff – and then they got me on all the pills and got me away from seeing all these things and hearing all these things and then they carried on treating the anorexia. But they didn’t treat what I saw and all the theological implications of that.

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More injured and bloody comedians cause chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe

Casual Violence - concentrated comedy

Casual Violence – injured minds, bloody strange, very funny

James Hamilton of comedy sketch group Casual Violence has been nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award in two consecutive years for his bizarre writing. This year, Casual Violence are performing not one but two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

When I first saw one of Casual Violence’s shows, I wrote of  James: “I think he might need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. There’s something very original in there – I just don’t know what the fuck it is”

My opinion has not changed.

Yesterday afternoon, I was heading to see the new Casual Violence show House of Nostril at the Pleasance Courtyard when a tall young man handed me a flyer for Alexander Bennett’s Afraid of the Dark with Jorik Mol.

For some reason, I asked: “Are you Jorik Mol?”

“Yes, John,” he replied.

“People keep telling me I should meet you,” I said.

“We met a couple of years ago,” Jorik said.

“I have a shit memory,” I told him, “Where have you been?”

“I was in Amsterdam for a year,” said Jorik.

“I’m not surprised,” I said, “You’re Dutch.”

Jorik Mol up against a wall at The Pleasance

Jorik Mol – very pleasant at The Pleasance yesterday

“I was convalescing from clinical depression,” continued Jorik, “I basically spent a year in a haulage container doing voices to myself.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because what else is there to do in a haulage container? I also read Tolstoy’s War & Peace.”

“You mean the big metal containers they transport on ships?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You need money to afford a haulage container,” I suggested.

“You don’t,” said Jorik. “I was given one. I was a student at the University of Amsterdam and they give them out to people who either live very far away from Amsterdam or who are strange. The containers have all been turned into flats. There’s a window at the front and a window at the back.”

“When did you stop living in a container?” I asked.

“I’m still officially living in a container in Amsterdam,” Jorik told me. “But I’m moving to London next month, going back on the comedy circuit and starting to study a Masters in Comparative Literature at University College, London.”

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

Jeremy Bentham sits, stuffed, at UCL

“Is that where Jeremy Bentham sits stuffed?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Jorik.

“And you’ll be gigging on the side?” I asked. “Comedy is difficult.”

“No,” said Jorik. “People say comedy is easy but, when you’ve been through severe clinical depression and hospitalisation, maybe everything is easy.”

“Ah…” I said. “Stand-up comedians and mental hospitals…”

“Mental hospitals are great,” said Jorik. “I was punched in a mental hospital. People in the mental hospital really fucking hated me.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because,” said Jorik, “I’m young, I can speak and I can read novels. There was a guy in the mental hospital who was like the alpha male – he was like a white van man. He thought I was threatening his position in the ward. There were seven completely inert people there, three of whom had regular ECT treatment. So there wasn’t a lot of pride to rule over as the Lion King he thought himself to be.

“One day I woke up late, because I was on a lot of medication, and I was about five minutes late for finger painting or whatever I was supposed to do and the guy just came up to me and just knocked me out.

“I am pretty proud that I am so viscerally annoying that I annoyed someone out of severe inert depression.”

“It sounds like good training for playing comedy to British audiences,” I said.

“Absolutely,” said Jorik.

It turned out he and I were both at the Pleasance to see Casual Violence’s House of Nostril, as was uber-mindreader Doug Segal (he, of course, already knew in advance that we were going to bump into each other).

It was a full house as, indeed was Casual Violence’s other show – Om Nom Nominous at the Voodoo Rooms. It is their ‘greatest hits’ show which I also saw yesterday and, inevitably, it was very weird, very funny, strangely dark, strangely melancholic and the full house pissed themselves laughing.

PekkaStrangeboneComedyShowpiece

Pekka & Strangebone’s accident-prone Fringe show

I also saw Pekka & Strangebone’s Comedy Showpiece at the Voodoo Rooms – another odd sketch show with a dash of darkness added to basic (this is a good thing) silliness. There were three cast members. One had twisted his ankle – the bone had popped out then popped back in again. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day. Another of the trio had fallen onto a piece of broken glass in the Meadows and gouged a great bloody hole in his hand. He had had to go to A&E earlier in the day.

When I came out of their show, I told them they should try to get publicity on the basis of being the most accident-prone show in town – or the show with most accidents soonest. Then (this is true) I checked my iPhone for e-mails and there was one from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It was headed:

PLEASE, NO MORE INJURED AND BLOODIED COMEDIANS…

I thought I started to hear the theme music from The Twilight Zone.

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards disasters

The increasingly medically challenged Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show

Then I opened another message. It told me that Miss Behave – who broke her heel in Dublin a few weeks ago and is compere of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August… is NOT.

The message read:

“Not possible for me to stay without cutting my foot off and clubbing myself to death with it.”

Miss Behave, rightly, is going back to London to recuperate rather than continuing to damage herself by leaping around Fringe shows in Edinburgh.

I asked Janey Godley – the comedienne who can handle any situation – if she could compere the Malcolm Hardee show instead. She said Yes. Yippee!

Then I opened another e-mail…

It was from Andy Dunlop, the President of the World Egg Throwing Federation. He will be supervising the Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August. Except that he will not be…

The e-mail said:

Andy Dunlop in happier days

President Andy Dunlop in happier days

I am meant to be in Australia right now but I am not…..

My wife is unwell and starts Iodine 131 radiotherapy on Friday. Currently she is exhausted, can’t sleep, faints a lot, is over heated and very very grumpy.

As from this Friday she will also be radioactive for some considerable time and in quarantine at home for at least 14 days. This prevents her from being left alone, cuddling cats or sleeping with husband. She is upset about item 2.

My suggestion that I bugger off to Edinburgh for a few days may lead to suffering from a beating and probably divorce although it would reduce my risk of cross contamination by gamma and beta emitters.

I am unable to predict her recovery and thus am unlikely to make it for the 23rd but John Deptford, our World Vice President, is available due to his Russian Visa not coming through.  He is better than I at compering. Can he crash at yours?

I said Yes.

But it is going to be a crowded night in my Edinburgh flat on Friday 23rd August.

There will be me, John Deptford, Martin Soan, Mr Methane.

Four men and one bed.

It could be a Richard Curtis comedy.

If Mr Methane farts, he may die.

Perhaps all of us will.

So it goes.

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The British comedian who battled anorexia and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act – and what God said

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

“Someone recently told me,” I said to comedian/actress Juliette Burton yesterday, “about a 26-year-old female comedian who was turned down by two major agents because she was too old. They wanted younger, inexperienced comedians who could be moulded by them. My reaction was: What does an 18 year-old know about except homework and things they’ve read in books?

“Most comedians I’ve met,” agreed Juliette, “need to have experienced the extremities of the experiences of life to have a slightly different take on things. I think anyone who’s been through some darkness in their lives… the only way you can come out the other side is to find comedy in some way. You have to have darkness to appreciate the light.

“For me, at the really dark times in my life, I discovered Monty Python and other things like The Muppets and Richard Curtis’ The Vicar of Dibley.”

On Saturday, I saw a preview of Juliette’s happy, life-enhancing Edinburgh Fringe show When I Grow Up in Stowmarket, Suffolk. Tonight, she performs the first of three previews at the Brighton Fringe.

Yesterday, I chatted to her as she passed through London on her way to Brighton.

“So you were sectioned under the Mental Health Act,” I said.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’d been in and out of clinics most of my teenage years. The first time I was sent to a clinic, I went in voluntarily… but, when I say voluntarily, it was because my parents wanted me to and I was very young. I was fifteen – my GCSE year. And then the next time I went into a clinic I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which was involuntary. They turned up in an ambulance and took me away.”

“I went into a mental home when I had just newly turned eighteen,” I told Juliette. “They seemed to think it was a bad idea that I had tried to commit suicide. So going into a mental home was suggested as a good idea. I had taken an overdose, which was a silly idea because I had always been very bad at chemistry in school… What did they say was wrong with you?”

“They said I was a month away from dying,” Juliette told me. “It was anorexia… To be sectioned, you have to have five people who agree you are ‘a danger unto yourself or others’. And I was a danger unto myself.”

“I’ve seen your show,” I said. “You’re a danger unto others.”

“In a positive way,” Juliette laughed, “ I hope I’m dangerously fun now!… But my mother had to agree to me being sectioned. Definitely my doctor and then some other medical people and people close to me. Then, after a couple of weeks in that clinic, I had a psychotic episode.”

“What’s a psychotic episode?” I asked.

“I’m sure you know,” said Juliette. “but it’s kind of similar to schizophrenia and it can vary for different people. For me, it wasn’t brought about by drugs or induced in any other way, it was just down to the mental and physical stress that my body was under.

“I personally feel that I was so underweight and the stress of going into hospital and losing all control over my life and the stress of that… basically my mind decided to give up and I went off into various different experiences mentally, so I wasn’t really aware I was in the place I was in.”

“You were hallucinating?” I asked.

“It was… Yes…” said Juliette. “It’s really tricky, because the people I’ve met who have had similar experiences… It’s so… It’s difficult because obviously your body is present in that room in the hospital, but mentally you are elsewhere. It’s a bit philosophical, but who’s to say what’s actually going on? I had experiences of seeing things that weren’t there.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Such as I saw God,” said Juliette. “And the Devil. And I saw angels.”

“What did God look like?” I asked.

Juliette was surrounded by white light

Juliette: a bright white light from God surrounded her

“I say I saw God because language is really limited,” explained Juliette. “Mentally, the way I processed it was I saw God. What I actually experienced was an intensely bright white light enveloping me, 360 degrees around me, and an overwhelming feeling of being unconditionally loved, like I’d been searching for all my life. Being completely safe and completely held. And I was aware of a figure but not aware of a face or anything distinct.

“I’m not saying this actually happened. It could be medically explained with chemicals. But my experience was that I remember asking God what the meaning of life was. And I remember being very disappointed with his answer, because I was expecting something deep and meaningful… I only got two words back – BE NICE – but, then, I think that is what all the major religions boil down to. And it’s the best moral code to live by.”

“I remember,” I said, “in the 1960s or 1970s someone took an LSD trip and saw God and realised what the meaning of life was, but he couldn’t remember what it was when he came down from his trip. So he decided next time he’d have a notepad and pen near him. He took another trip, saw God and again realised the meaning of life and wrote it down. When he came down again, he looked at the notepad and he had written: The smell of methylated spirits permeates the air…. What was the Devil like?”

“That appeared to me in shadows,” said Juliette. “I was aware I was in the room I was actually in but, in the shadows, there was some menacing form that was coming to get me… There was a time during that psychotic episode when I felt I was God. I thought I was in charge of the world. There was also a time when I thought that everyone in the hospital was talking about me, so that was more paranoia than anything.”

“Sounds more like what most performers hope for at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I was hearing voices,” continued Juliette, “telling me what to do. And that was also part of the psychosis. It only lasted three weeks, but I had an amazing adventure…”

“Definitely like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I thought I was time travelling,” said Juliette. “I went back to the Victorian age, I was a little girl and I was aware of a father not being there and I was crying. Then I was in another time when women ruled the world. I could see very bright flowers and it was lush and green and I was a High Priestess and I remember lots of people turning to me for advice, which was lovely. Then another part of it was when I saw aliens, which was exciting.”

“And they looked like…?” I asked.

“Again, it’s the limitations of language,” said Juliette. “I saw blackness and there was a red laser and it was trying to communicate with me and I understood that to mean that an alien communicated with me. But all of that sounds completely mad and it was over ten years ago…”

“When I was in the mental home,” I said, “they gave me happy drugs. Did they drug you every night?”

“Every day when they could get me to take them.”

“Did they not force you?” I asked.

“I think they must have had to sometimes. But I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening.”

“They gave me drugs,” I said. “The drugs made me feel happy without wanting to be happy.”

“I was put on Prozac when I was sixteen,” said Juliette. “It was really too heavy for me. I felt like a zombie. Yes, you don’t have any major lows; but you also don’t have any highs whatsoever. So what’s the point of being alive if that’s all there is?

“Lots of the anti-anxiety medication that I’ve been given over the years I’ve found actually made me more anxious. The drugs I had at the time I was having the psychosis I think did bring me back down to earth but there were a few weeks where, although I knew who I was and where I was, the paranoia was still strong.

“I remember once being out in Marks & Spencer’s in Chelmsford and I suddenly had an attack where it was like picking up on frequencies and thinking everything everyone was saying was about me and about what I was doing and they were judging me.”

“The Edinburgh Fringe again,” I said.

VanillaSky_poster_Wikipedia

Never watch if having a psychotic attack

“Never watch the movie Vanilla Sky if you are in the middle of a psychotic episode,” advised Juliette, “On one of my weekends out of the clinic when I was past the worst of it but not quite fully grounded, I was allowed back to my parents and we watched Vanilla Sky, which really screwed me up and set me two steps back.”

“Chinese medicine,” I said, “tries to cure the cause, whereas Western medicine tries to hide the symptoms, like papering over the top of the cracks but not filling them in. Giving people drugs just papers over the cracks, doesn’t it? So have you just papered over the cracks?”

“I’m not on any medication at the moment,” said Juliette. “I think the NHS has improved a lot but, for me, the answer is almost never medication. You have to deal with the root cause which, for me, is anxiety and being able to accept the things I can’t change.

“When I was fifteen, I was under-eating, at seventeen, I was very under-eating. At nineteen, something changed. Within three months of my 19th birthday, I doubled my body weight and, within six months, I’d gone from a size 4 to a size 20.”

“What are you now?” I asked.

“I’m a size 8 so, if anyone would like to send me any dresses, particularly any French Connection dresses…

“Back then, it went from food being, in my mind, something I wasn’t allowed to touch to being something I over-indulged in. And that was all about control. Anorexia for me was about trying to retain control. And the compulsive over-eating was about me trying to avoid taking responsibility for life by losing control.”

“How old were you when you were sectioned?” I asked.

“I was seventeen. I spent my eighteenth birthday in the clinic.”

“And with you, why was your anxiety all about eating disorders?” I asked.

“Food is one of the few things in your life,” explained Juliette, “that you can have total autonomy over. For a long time, I used food as a solution – because, if you focus on the details of life, then you avoid the bigger picture. For me, at that time, I wasn’t ready to deal with the bigger picture. Over-eating and under-eating are just flip sides of the same coin. Different symptoms of the same core problem. All the psychological problems I’ve had have stemmed from anxiety.”

“And yet your show When I Grow Up” I said. “is jolly and enthusiastic and life-celebrating.”

Juliette Burton: happy and positive

Juliette Burton: happy & positive show

“Well,” said Juliette, “I hope it’s a positive, fun, uplifting show about me trying to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a child. So, in the last year, I’ve gone off and tried to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a kid – ballerina, baker, princess, pop star, artist, farmer and Muppet.

“I would really love people to see the show and feel positive. A lot of the stuff I’ve just spoken to you about is really dark and I have spent a long time turning into who I am now, but who I am now is somebody who desperately wants to make other people feel happy and connected and not alone. The only way I feel I can do that is though comedy and storytelling and taking people on a little escapist journey and come out the other side feeling Wow! I feel better about life.

“And people will go out with a smile on their face,” I said.

“Did you go out with a smile on your face, John?” asked Juliette.

“I did.”

“Awesome,” said Juliette.

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A mental patient meets UK politician Michael Heseltine in the woods

After yesterday’s blog about Broadmoor, Anna Smith – the So It Goes blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – shared these three memories:

________________________________________________________________

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna Smith remembers the good old days

One time a few years ago I was visiting a club in Vancouver for mental patients. At the time, it was known as The Mental Patients’ Association – The M.P.A.

It was and is a drop-in centre and resource for mental patients in Vancouver with activity rooms, a pool table, access to computers, free coffee all day, shower facilities and inexpensive meals.

One of the habitués back then was an Iranian who had made a deal to supply the place with free cigarettes. He had persuaded a cigarette company that the M.P.A. was a ‘special’ club – The Members of Parliament Association.

So they got free cigarettes.

A Kazak friend of mine – a big, stupid young kid – was working on a building site near the Mental Patients’ Association. He used to get annoyed because the mental patients would wander over and leave their coffee mugs littered around the alleyway near where he was working.

They would get their free coffee and then wander out of their building, all buzzed, leaving coffee mugs on top of mailboxes and all around the neighbourhood.

So the building site’s foreman said to him: “Fyodor, tell those bums not to leave their mugs all over the street; it’s a hazard.”

Next time he saw a mental patient set his mug down beside the dumpster, Fyodor ran towards him, howling, waving his arms, successfully scaring the guy away.

The foreman had to have another word with him: “Fyodor, I said to tell them. I didn’t say to scare them. One of those bums could get a heart attack. Be nice to them. One of them might be a Kazak.”

“No,” said Fyodor. “They are not Kazak. All the Kazak bums, they stay in Kazak.”

The Mental Patients’ Association was and is a very interesting place to have a conversation.

There was an English mental patient who attended the club. He was an ordinary-looking bloke and we never exchanged more than pleasantries, except on one occasion, when the subject of Margaret Thatcher came up. We both agreed that we did not like her – or her cronies.

“The one who really frightened me,” said the English mental patient. “was Michael Heseltine,”

I agreed with him.

Yes, former Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine was indeed a frightening character.

The English mental patient told me: “I met him in the woods one time.”

How, I wondered, had this forlorn, nondescript little man encountered one of the most infamous and reviled politicians of 1980s Britain?

“Why were you meeting him in the woods?” I asked warily.

“I didn’t intend to meet him,” the English mental patient told me. “I was just going for a walk in the countryside and he suddenly appeared in front of me on the path. I was so shocked. All I could say was You are Michael Heseltine!… What are you doing here?

“He answered: Yes I am Michael Heseltine and this is private property. What are you doing on my land?

“I told him I was just going for a walk and that I had no idea that it was his land.

This is my property, he told me, and you had better get off it at once. He was not very nice about it. I never liked him after that,” the English mental patient told me.

I have happy memories of the Mental Patients’ Association club, which has now changed its name to the more politically-correct Motivation Power and Achievement club.

It still does good work, but it no longer doles out free cigarettes.

Times change.

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