Uptight & Personal Diary Entry Week Commencing Sept 6th, 2009

12 09 2009

Sunday 6th

Pull finger out and actually get research application off by 9am! Ta da! This would involve my going on a research vessel around the Hebrides and studying the whales in that area. So, finger’s crossed. Watch this space for updates.

Shocking revelation in that I have sold my Manolos on eBay to pay for the pirate party. Greater love for her friends hath no woman. Aurore seemed more upset than I was at this move but I did point out that a) I had only worn them twice, b) they were unsuitable for a pirate party and c) Manolo Blahnik continues to manufacture shoes at a great rate and should my fortunes change I am pretty confident a replacement pair in a slightly different style can be found.

Have blown proceeds on pirate booty for party – pirate bunting, pirate table cloth, pirate drinking cups, pirate eye patches and party hats for those who don’t come dressed as pirates but want to accessorise-up, a CD of pirate songs, and most importantly – a pirate sword – 99p! Rest of doubloons will go on pirate victuals and rum.

Monday 7th

My friend Luke Mitchell has written a book entitled ‘Mind Bomb’ – book one of what is to be the Landmine Chronicles – which I predict will be the next indie breakthrough movie for some lucky unknowns – mark my words, three years from now we’ll all be sitting in our cinema seats, choking on our popcorn as we follow the misdeeds of Angus and Hamish. Basically the premise is this: You sit on an unexploded landmine. You have seconds to live. Then – someone else’s life flashes before your eyes. There is one scene in the book from many which really stands out and I made the mistake of reading it on the bus on my way home and that is the ‘Shag Cushion’. I won’t reveal too much here as I’d like the curious to go buy the book but suffice to say the Shag Cushion and its fallout is quite probably the funniest thing I’ve encountered since the duelling gnome interview scene in The Full Monty. I was laughing so hard my fellow passengers started to move to other parts of the bus convinced they were on board with an escaped lunatic.

However, events of today made me realise that secrets are the landmines of our lives. They sit buried until we step on them and then they detonate and blow apart lives. There’s various reasons for keeping secrets of course. They can be something we’re ashamed of and will lead to trouble for ourselves if they get out – governments, corporations and politicians seem to specialise in those kinds of secrets. And then there’s the other kind – the secrets we keep to spare other people pain. The latter are often the more devastating. And despite our intentions to keep them under wraps, very often take on a life of their own, detonating when you least expect them to with devastating consequences for both their keeper and the one they sought to protect.

Today I couldn’t keep someone I cared about from stepping on the landmine. I thought I’d buried it where it wouldn’t ever need to be dug up. But here’s the thing – often secrets involve third parties and usually the secret revolves around that third party, and while you think you can control the secret and its explosive capability, you can’t control them.

When landmines and secrets explode, it’s not just the person who steps on them whose life gets blown apart. It’s everyone who cares about them. And like having to go through life with missing limbs, you know parts of their lives – like their hopes, dreams and their ability to trust, may never be the same again.

Ghastly horrible upsetting day. I hope I never have another one like it.

Tuesday 8th

Hardly sleep and after dozing fitfully turn off the alarm at 4.50am. Feel as if I have been kicked by an entire train of extremely bad-tempered mules and every time I try to swallow a mouthful of toast it sticks like a Redwood down a log slide.

Wander around house like one of Dr. Frankenstein’s earlier attempts. Manage to have a nap after lunch which goes some way to making me feel less tired but attempts at exertion result in dizzy spells. Resign myself to a day spent on the sofa catching up on my Kabbalah study. Worse, I’ve got the nervous tick back I had immediately after the hostage situation. I need a vacation.

Wednesday 9th

Sign up another new author.

Austin and I decide we will run a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels type scam when he moves to the South of France. He’ll be Michael Caine, I will of course be Janet the Jackal and we decide to take Matt along with us as Ruprecht. I send Matt an email to inform him of our plans but point out that we are not going to buy him any new pots. He texts me back with ‘Oklahoma! Oklahoma! Oklahoma!’

Still have nervous tick. Decide Gin may be the cure.

Thursday 10th

Interesting extract from a book by one of my prospective authors about a visit he made to Seaworld on the Gold Coast many years ago. This comes from a chapter entitled ‘Great Minds’.

‘It was the pending marriage to Colleen that took me to Australia. We had figured to live and work in New Zealand, so it was only right to marry over there. A few days before the wedding we took a trip up the Gold Coast. We did all the touristy things, saw the sights and met the various friends and relatives. Partly as compensation for the friends and relatives but mostly out of interest in all things marine, we dropped in to look around Sea World, then the largest Aquatic Park in the Southern Hemisphere. Animal rights groups had not yet lined it up in their gun sights, no one thought performing dolphins and orcas were being exploited and the charges for everything from shows to food had not yet become exorbitant. It was wonderful.

The only downside was the heat and the numbers visiting. Everywhere we went we were hemmed in by shoulder to shoulder hordes of hot, tired Australians, each one accompanied by a pet herd of domesticated blowflies. There were long queues to get into any show or exhibit and an interminable wait for refreshments at any of the food stalls and restaurants. Knowing a crowd that size would contain a fair percentage of people descended from pickpockets, I kept a tight grip on my wallet.

We were walking along, almost suffocating when I distinctly felt someone looking at me. I instantly gazed round; thinking an acquaintance from New Zealand might have been visiting, recognised me and be trying to catch my attention. There was no one I recognised. We walked on. I could still feel the eyes boring into me. I mentioned it to Colleen and we stopped, turned round and both searched the crowd. Neither one of us could see anyone we knew. After a few seconds we recommenced walking. Again I could feel the concentrated stare, stronger than before and compelling in its intensity.

This time I determined to find its source and holding Colleen’s hand began to wrestle through the crowd in the general direction from which the stare was coming. We pushed on, recognising no-one, yet feeling the stare stronger and stronger the further we proceeded. Four hundred metres further on we reached the edge of the crowd, but the feeling of being watched was more intense than ever. Straight down its line we walked, past the oceanarium with its huge sharks and stingrays, past some sort of office block and into view of a giant tower with a circular steel stairway up its outside. The intensity of the stare was now like a physical assault. I do not mean it felt dangerous or menacing, just overwhelming. Up the stairway we went, ascending the tower slowly, circling around it as we followed the winding external steps.

Part way up the tower and in line with where I had first felt the stare, we came across a ship’s port hole. We could not see into it at first because of the curve of the tower. It was about as big as a man’s head and screwed into place with the usual arrangement of big brass rings and giant bolts. As we came alongside we almost fell off the stairway in surprise, for there, pressed against the inside of the glass was a huge staring eye. Leaving Colleen to match stares I raced to the top of the tower and looked over the open top. The tower was full of water and hanging in the water, head downward, suspended by the gentle movement of its fins and tail was a massive orca. I did not doubt then, and I do not doubt now, the orca had deliberately singled me out and attracted my attention.

The only question was why? It did not appear to be injured or upset. Its gaze was unclouded and the expression in its eye was one of good humoured amusement. I’m no expert, and I’m sure those who are will now get in touch and tell me how impossible it was and I was obviously mistaken. But I was not mistaken as my girlfriend of the time, now my wife, can testify. I’m a tall man and therefore easy enough to isolate in a crowd. I think the orca was bored, found the port hole by accident and recognised the potential. It then set out to have a bit of fun and see whether it could influence the actions of any of the gawks that seemed to be forever passing by, however far below. Why me? Apart from height and random choice, one would have to say my being the only non Australian there, no one else had a mind sharp enough for the orca to connect with; despite Dame Edna Everidge using Madge to intimate the opposite.’

Obviously, I was fascinated by this account but there is literally more to this story than meets the eye. The author, Bob Bridge has one of the most harrowing and inspiring life-stories that I have ever encountered which we are hoping to publish (the above anecdote comes from another book he has submitted to us for consideration). In brief,  Bob grew up with a violent and abusive father and on one terrible, traumatic night when he was sixteen, shot his two sisters dead as he felt at that point ‘ the whole family would be better off dead’.

He was then sentenced to incarceration at Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital. This was in the 1950’s when concepts like ‘patients rights’ did not exist. However, for a bright and articulate boy such as Bob, the hospital library was to prove a God-send and his ultimate salvation.

My life was full and complete. To me, the asylum was paradise”.

Here is the Reader’s Report of Bob’s story.

It is when he tries to defend a fellow patient from a cruel and violent nurse that he becomes shockingly aware of just how powerless and lacking in basic human rights he is. As a certified lunatic he has no civil rights and is utterly at the mercy the staff…some of whom have no mercy at all and are, in fact, vicious bullies who delight in taunting and abusing the patients.

The shock of this realisation is cataclysmic and leads to an escape attempt, but in a country as small as New Zealand there was never much hope that Bob and his fellow escapee could evade detection for long.

On recapture he is sent to Oakley Psychiatric Hospital and becomes a patient on Male Three, the refractory ward, where he is detained amongst ”the most violent and incorrigible of New Zealand’s criminal and lunatic populations”. At the age of seventeen he is unlikely ever to be released and is incarcerated in solitary confinement in this desolate place.

”knowledge in itself is power. Each morning I gathered knowledge”. It is during his time in solitary confinement that Bob develops a coping strategy. He uses his natural intelligence and his amazing powers of concentration and self discipline to get him through the long months of loneliness and deprivation. The conditions are truly awful, enough to test the hardiest of psyches. It  is an  indicator of the boy’s qualities that he is able to find a way to survive with his intellect and his personality intact. He embarks on a self- imposed regime of intense physical activity and rigorous mental exercise, using all his mental powers to keep himself from descending into a pit of despair. His studies are dictated by memory, reaccessing old school lessons in his head, doing mental arithmetic, reciting poetry, re learning old lessons.

Through the observation port in his cell he watches the comings and going in the ward. Bob is confident in his ability, he knows that he has a good brain and he uses mental activity to stave off insanity. With no paper, pencil or books he has only his prodigious memory and his regime of physical activity with which to fill the long hours. He is utterly powerless and at the mercy of the hospital staff. He watches and waits, is never confrontational, always amenable….it’s a good game plan for a lifetime in captivity, a life without autonomy, a life lived at the behest of others, a life with absolutely no self- determination. I don’t know where this boy got the inner strength from but get it he did.  It was the start of an existence he could never have imagined as a child and one that was to test his qualities and strengths to the limit.

Once out of solitary Bob starts to rebuild his life within the limits of his circumstances. His talents and abilities are used for the benefit of all and he is able to make the very best of his life. There is much to fear in his environment, some of the patients are violent and intractable, some members of staff equally so. There is a pecking order based on ruthless exploitation of strength.  Brutality is the order of the day for many of the patients and quite a number of the staff too. Not all is doom and gloom though; there are good people among the staff as well as bad, many of the patients are intelligent, friendly and good company.

Bob is able to develop both his mind and his body although his sense of fair play sometimes leads him into danger and he has to be careful not to antagonise the nurses who have absolute power over him. Despite the difficulties and constraints on his life he is never subsumed into the despairing pit of hopelessness which swallows some of the other inmates.

Bob is a writer, an artist, an intellectual, and he grows to manhood in a place where these qualities are essential for his survival as a fully functioning individual. He is fighting for his sanity in a place where that very sanity is questioned every moment. He has no rights, no redress against abuse and no hope of ever getting out.

One of the most chilling episodes in the book is the one describing the use and abuse of electro convulsive therapy; this most controversial of treatments for mental illness was used as a punishment, and indeed inflicted without anaesthesia. Where were the restraints against such abuse of power? Where was the common human decency, the respect for the humanity of the patients? There were times during the reading of this book when I felt so angry that I had to get up, walk around and calm down! The power of the writing and the poignancy of the story was deeply affecting.

The book covers the ten years of Bob’s incarceration. It is one of the most powerful pieces of work I have ever read and at times it reduced me to tears. The author writes with a clarity and simplicity which makes his story all the more effective. The book is a terrible indictment of the juvenile penal system and the psychiatric services of a civilised country. One can only hope that things have improved.

Bob was released at the age of twenty seven, after ten years in the hospital. Towards the end of his stay he was in charge of a concert put on by the inmates and staff. This chapter of the book is heartbreaking, all that talent, all that potential, all of it lost to the world at large. Bob was able to help put on a show that gave the patients involved a chance to shine, to demonstrate what they might have been capable of in other circumstances. When the hospital is relocated Bob is released and is able to rebuild his life and to have a family of his own.

Reading this book has been a privilege. It is rare that I am so deeply affected by what I read in the course of my work for Melrose but this book will stay with me for a long time. The author has a talent that shines throughout the work and his writing is a delight to read even though the subject matter is, at times, very upsetting. The characters in the book are so well described that I could visualise each and every one of them.

Robert Bridge has written about his experiences in a terrible place and manages throughout the book to remain detached enough to give the reader a clear picture of the events and personalities he is telling us about. He is a brave and honourable man. A man who has triumphed over tragedy and gone on to have a life that has benefited the society he is a part of.

Bob has very kindly given me permission to share his experiences with the orca and also extracts of his life story, in this blog. There is little doubt in my mind that the orca did indeed specifically choose Bob whose experiences have most likely made him more open to psychic impressions and also honed his compassion and indeed, his courage. Also, I find it fascinating that Bob watches the world through the observation port in his cell door – exactly as the orca was doing. Did it sense someone who would empathise with its incarceration? A fellow prisoner? I think it highly likely. His story is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Bob is an inspiration to us all and I feel privileged to call him a friend.

Austin tells me that I spend far too much time obsessing over my wobbly bits. Their relative size, location and propensity to jiggle, whether they are expanding or contracting. Their ability to influence the tides. And these are just the wobbly bits I can keep an eye on such as the boobies or the stomach and thighs. Not the ones that may be sneaking up behind me and in pairs like the buttocks. After all, he’s a man, a rock God and also stick thin. What would he know?

Mitch comes in and we say good-bye as he’s off to Reading University in a week to train to be a teacher. Then Austin and I have to say good-bye. I thought I had another day with him and this coming after emotional land-mines, Mitch’s departure and difficult edits of the week is all too much and I burst into tears.

I get home and discover someone has stolen our blue wheelie bin. I suspect my mortal enemy – the Fat Bitch at #24 but have no proof (ie: my wheelie bin in her front yard). It’s moments like these for which Gin was invented. Thank God Mitch left some in the fridge on his last visit.

Friday 11th

So, here’s the game. If your life were a movie, what movie would you be? You can’t nominate your own – you have to get someone else to do it and then you have to think of what movie they would be. I start thinking about my friends – Aurore is Amelie. Imelda is Calendar Girls. Annette is Jet Lag. Mitch is Hairspray. And I get fabulous responses. La Dolce Vita, Moulon Rouge, Whale Rider (I was expecting that one!), Map of the Human Heart – fabulous, sensual, wonderful films. That is, until I get Matt’s response which is – Office Space. I double take. Office Space? He thinks I’m Lumbergh? I text him back to that effect. No, no, he assures me. He thinks I’m Peter. Can it get any worse? At least Milton made off with the money! So in Matt’s eyes I’m a nerdy underachiever. I send him a text back saying that I had half a mind to say his life movie is The 40 Year Old Virgin when I had actually picked Real Genius.

If a man thinks you’re Office Space you will never be anything more to him than the human equivalent of a souless suburban business park from which everyone is trying to escape. Great end to a crappy week. I feel so much better now.

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2 responses

12 09 2009
LUKE

Hi Helen, thanks for the positive comments on Mind Bomb. Yes if, when, it happens it will be a wonderful movie. Who knows, may well spark yet another sixties revival. Wouldn’t that be far out and groovy, man? Thing is, as a wise movie director said to me the other day, it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll. And I do.

9 10 2009
BloggerDude

I don’t know If I said it already but …This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

A definite great read….

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