2 December 2014

Lunatics


In those far off days they kept thousands of people in mental hospitals on the edges of villages, mostly far away from cities. We thought of them as lunatic asylums and we called their residents loonies. They were forbidding places surrounded by trees with big iron railings and local legends to protect them from prying eyes.

There was a small one on the edge of the next village - Brandesburton. Sometimes the loonies got loose and the police had to hunt them down. Once a loony stole my Hercules bicycle from outside our house. It was my pride and joy - a surprise present on my ninth birthday. It had maroon paint and was never designed to be ridden by a grown man. I rode it everywhere until the loony stole it. He pedalled all the way to Hull on it which is where the bobbies found it. They brought it back and the loony was locked up once more.

One summer the local youth club leader took a bunch of us to Brandesburton Hospital to play cricket with a team of loonies. We weren't too keen. I mean, perhaps being a loony was infectious. We didn't want to become loonies ourselves. I remember that one big, strapping loony climbed up on the pavilion roof. A couple of nurses were yelling at him to come down but he took out his willy and urinated on them. You don't see this kind of thing at Lord's or even at The Gabba in Brisbane, Australia.

When I was eleven I was a choirboy with an angelic voice. Every Sunday I sang in Holy Trinity Church where I had been christened in the year of my birth. It was the tradition that the best choir boy got to start The Christmas Eve Service with a solo rendition of the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City" before leading the choir down from the vestry and along the aisle to the front of the church. So in 1964 it was my turn.

Once in royal David's city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed...

I was standing at the top of the steps in my white surplice over a black cassock feeling a little shaky. Even before I had reached the word "shed", the loonies were turning round to ogle at me with lolling tongues, pallid cheeks and rolling eyes. They had been bussed in as usual from the mental hospital to fill the rear pews. And I can tell you it is not easy for a nervous choirboy to sing a solo like that when he has aroused the special interest of twenty or thirty loonies.

In the carol it says that Jesus lived on earth with "the poor, and mean, and lowly" but it doesn't say anything about loonies. And I doubt that when Jesus was a carpenter's apprentice he had to sing a solo to a full church. He might have been God's only begotten son born of a virgin but he would not have felt so smug and holy if he'd seen a loony pissing from a cricket pavilion roof.

Forgive me for I am rambling on. What made me post about lunatics today? Well, now that the mental hospital sites have been turned into exclusive housing estates for the middle classes, the loonies have been let loose within the wider community. I saw several this morning as I drove to and from Hillsborough - close to another massive mental hospital of yesteryear called Middlewood.

There was a woman driver sitting alone in a Ford Focus, nattering away to herself and even laughing. I swear it's true! I was next to her at some traffic lights. There was nobody else in the car! She must have been a loony. And there was a pedestrian. I had my window wound down and he was walking along with an earpiece in his lughole talking to himself about Christmas shopping and what his dad had said. He also must have been a loony.

I left my car at the "Seat" dealership and wandered round the back of Sheffield Wednesday's football stadium. I counted fourteen pedestrians glued to their mobile phones - checking texts, checking the weather, checking their Facebook pages. Now they just have to be loonies too. Normal people wouldn't do stuff like that. And there was another fellow marching along, grinning inanely while he rabbited on about some imaginary business deal. He kept saying "yeah, yeah, yeah" like a loony at the back of a village church in the early sixties.

And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

28 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this so much that I almost wet myself. At least the loony had the wit to get his willy out.
    If they were to put locks on the Houses of Parliament that would sort a good percentage of the loonies out.

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    1. Now that is one loony bin the authorities forgot to shut down!

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  2. Your story reminded me of a time when Bob was asked to bring chickens and speak before a class of kids in a city school. He did this a lot for the 4-H club. At once school they brought in a class of special ed kids, too. As a parent sitting in the back of the room, my heart sank. But the kid pulled it off. One little girl would not stay seated, she stood at his side and jabbered. He appointed her as an assistant and gave her a chicken to hold while he continued speaking. What a kid!

    I agree that all the tech addicts nowdays seem totally crazy, but what I've found is they form groups of friends and relatives who are much better in touch with each other than my generation used to be. I was only allowed one 5-minute phone call a night when I was a teenager. My kid paid for his own phone and talked to his friends a lot. If one of them needs help, the others are there as soon as they can get free (from work, from school).

    I have observed that when you're the only sober person at a party, everyone else looks pretty stupid. I think when you're an outsider to technology the effect is the same.

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    1. I like the wisdom of the final paragraph Jan but I trust you realise that in poking fun at these technophiles my tongue was lodged firmly in my cheek. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

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  3. And then out of the blue the loony is let out of his padded cell to write another (questionably provocative/funny) blogpost. I think you are wasting your talents in this space YP ~ surely this is material worthy of the Daily Mail?

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    1. Carol - I am not sure if should take your comment as a compliment because "The Daily Mail" is a newspaper that thinking people in England never read because it is the home of conservative prejudice, celebrity nonsense and jingoism.

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    2. I think we understand each other perfectly YP.

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  4. I have first hand experience of working in an asylum
    I was , as you know a student nurse at the old deva hospital in chester in 1983
    It was the end of the old system ....
    In my experience the patients were well cared for
    Ok the care was regimented somewhat, but even the oldest nurses ( and when I say oldest I mean institutionalized) cared for their patients
    The surroundings were grim
    But compared to community care nowadays, the patients had structure, friendship, mentor ship and a cheap pint in the social club until 8 pm!

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    1. I always suspected that "care in the community" was just another way of saying "saving money". You will know this much better than me John but I think that the majority of residents of these asylums benefited from being there. Of course there was a significant minority who deserved a better way - in the outside world - Down's people for example.

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    2. YP
      Most of the long stay patients benefitted as they had time in the community too.....
      There is a great deal to be said for company

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  5. I do get your point but if you were an American blogger a huge portion of society (the politically correct portion) would descend upon you to deplore your slurs against the poor unfortunate mentally challenged segment of the population. The media would hound you for comments to include in their nightly newscasts to prove what an ignorant racist (yes, racist) you are and persuade their vast viewing public to shun you in perpetuity.

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    1. Racist? I am just telling you how it was back then. The unfortunates who inhabited those hospitals were not a separate race. They were the impaired and unlucky rejects from my own race.

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    2. But it was the conservative savior, Ronald Reagan, who started the trend of turning mental patients into the streets when he was governor of California. I guess it IS cheaper to point fingers at each other than to actually do anything about a problem. Except we all know (because Fox "News" tell us) that the people on the streets are just lazy.

      I have known two families that were unfortunate to have sons that are mentally disabled, bad enough that they would have been institutionalized before. One ended up shooting himself and the other is 35 and still living with his now very frail parents. He'll be out on the streets when they're gone. But you know, we can't be supporting those damaged people because we have drones to buy, to protect ourselves from crazy foreigners.

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  6. 'Tis true...so true. They're all running loose and wild these days. Hey! Even I have learned how to dodge the guys in the white jackets. They've not managed to catch me...yet!

    As stuff political-correctness....it's well past its use-by date...and it has been and is being over-used!

    I'm off to play some looney tunes!

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    1. Beware of vans circling your neighbourhood Lee. Somebody might have reported you!

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  7. I dress up as a tree when I see a van circling, Yorky...I'm in camouflage...as long as I don't start walking about, I fool them every time!

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    1. Your secret is safe with me Lee. Please keep this tidbit of knowledge secret too - I am also a raving loony!

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  8. Nowadays, it is all about inclusion. All children, regardless of their physical or mental (dis)abilities, are to attend the same schools here in Germany. This has caused a big public discussion; some of the parents of handicapped (that word is not allowed in German anymore!) children admit that their children are far better off at schools where the teachers understand their special needs, but others insist on the inclusion. Trouble is that there simply is no "one for all" solution; it must be decided individually what a child would benefit from more; specialised education or the company of children who do not have the same condition.

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    1. We are living in parallel universes Miss Arian. As a teacher I came to view "inclusion" as a term about which I had numerous concerns.. Throwing "included" children into a big teaching group created a drain on my time and attention that I could have dome without. What about the "normal" children?

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    2. The education of the many is bring sacrificed for the inclusion of the few and stress levels of teachers are soaring.

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    3. YP, although I am not a parent and therefore have no real stake in the matter, my concern are the "normal" children and the teachers, too. I am neither totally for or against inclusion. I just think there is no "one fits all" solution, but parents must decide what is best for their child individually, helped by the sound advice from their child's doctor.

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  9. I am impressed by your having been a boy soprano and a good enough one to be chosen to do "Once In Royal David's City"...Bravo! But you were wearing a surplice, not a surplus (a Freudian slip?)

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    1. Ha! Ha! Well spotted Uncle Bob. I will change it.

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  10. Just one small positive point about people with their faces permanently stuck to phones, ipads, etc, you can ask anybody over 8 years old to fix your computer and it will be done in a jiffy. They might not be able to do basic maths or English or hold a conversation eyeball to eyeball, but hey ho.

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    1. Actually most of them do basic math pretty well because their phones have calculators. English, not so much.

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    2. Mobile phones can make great door stops but to me their best use is as torches - or what our American cousins call flashlights. Very handy when you are in a dark spot.

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  11. I read this post and all the comments yesterday but didn't have a chance to comment. It raises so many interesting issues and I really felt that I wanted to make some serious contribution. Then I realised that I, too, was one of these loonies and therefore had a biased outlook which is never a good place from which to comment. Now I shall have to forego reading more posts to catch up because I've been told by Calmac that I have a place on the ferry leaving (hopefully) from Ullapool this evening, Whoopeeeeee.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.