Archive for October, 2010

Four Faces

October 30, 2010

Wild Dogs in the Mountains

October 30, 2010

The desert wind
Blows in from the West
Through the veranda doors
White curtains flying inwards

Like ghosts. And some
Poltergeist sweeps a vase
Of porcelain off a shelf
Onto the floor

Glass crystals and petals
Strewn across the carpet
I peer out of each window
And I close every one

And when I sleep I dream
Of wild dogs in the mountains

Cuts (Attention Seeking?)

October 30, 2010

The cuts reveal what an atomised society we have become.  The press is filled with special pleading and identity politics.  And then there is the oft repeated line: ‘We’re all in this together.’  A less ladylike person than me would reply, ‘Are we f*ck?’  But then I think ‘How dare you suggest I am in anything with anyone.’  I’m a misanthrope.  (aka a misery guts).  I walk alone. Thank you very much.

But even the temperature of my usually ice cold heart was lifted briefly when I heard Boris Johnson’s words yesterday (My usual reaction to Boris is ‘oh, isn’t he cute?  Don’t you just want to reach out and pinch his ruddy cheeks?  Or maybe not.)  He has said that he would not accept “Kosovo-style social cleansing” in London.  ‘Not on my watch.’ Naturally, I winced at the hyperbole.  And then I thought ‘Go Boris, Boris rocks, Boris is the coolest’ (I’d just taken my sleep meds). I awoke this morning to read that up to forty per cent of landlords in our nation’s capital are contemplating lowering their rents to accommodate the changes in housing benefit. Which must have meant that they were grossly overcharging their tenants in the first place. Don’t you just love the law of unintended consequences?

Satin Skirt

October 29, 2010

I walk alone
My head filled
With new and revolutionary
Concepts. They trouble me.
My comrades
Have flown
Home before me
No one can question my loyalty
Glory and beauty
Are gone now

There is, I feel,
A universal need
To be needed
And the intensity
Of my hopes
Is oppressive
And the sky
Is dark and dull and clouded
I am dressed in black
For I buried myself today

And, deep within, I yearn
For a long, red, swinging, satin skirt

The Bucolic in Its Purest Form

October 27, 2010

We are untutored serfs
On some great estate
The orchard is replete
With soft, summer fruit
And the pulp seeps
From a hill of ripe peaches
The villagers live
In ancient stone cottages
This is the bucolic
In its purest form

The fattened calf
Makes a sumptuous feast
It catches the hungry,
Glittering eye
Of the virgin bride
A slum hospital
Delivers fodder
For future canon
And the mother country
Gives birth to colonies

And we are not fit
To utter the names
Of dead generals


October 26, 2010

A final, burning denunciation
Immense wisdom versus
A militant and muscular resistance
A song ascends the valley wall
Singing of afternoons spent in seclusion
In the chapel garden. In the morning
And in the evening phantom gypsies cry
Sending sorrowful messages
Into a smoke-choked sky
This is a war without end

And the unformed ones they speak,
They write correctly
Everything is standardised
Until the sudden, shocking
Rush of blood. Negotiations falter
The radio crackles and beeps
And the girl won’t stop screaming
Long haired and mired in mud
The soldiers stand idly by
And casually they watch her die

This is the natural order
And these are the facts


October 26, 2010

A multitude of articles have been written about bullying.  Countless studies have been conducted.  Less explored and rarely acknowledged are the long term effects school bullying can have on adults.  The repercussions can last a life time.  They are helping people who are currently being bullied but little thought is given to those who have suffered in the past and are forced to live with the consequences.

We tend to be wary of labelling people ‘victims’ because it could affect the way in which they see themselves.  It is said that people can be incapacitated by that label.  Indeed the very word ‘victim’ can be used as an insult and frequently is.  Acknowledging one’s pain is necessary to enable people to move on but many people get stuck in that stage and never progress beyond it.

I am in that stage and I wish I knew how to move on.  I have built walls around myself.  I can’t get out and no one else can get in.  And I’m sure there are many others like me.

What consequences does bullying (particularly school bullying) have for society as a whole? How much potential has been lost?  How much talent wasted?  How many people fail to fulfil their academic potential?  How many people wind up on psychiatric wards or resort to self harm?  How many people are unable to hold down a job?  All because of bullying.

Unacknowledged pain is the worst kind of pain and many people are reluctant to admit they were bullied.  They are ashamed.  ‘There must be something wrong with me,’ they tell themselves.  ‘or they wouldn’t have done it.’  The ‘bullies’ must have had their reasons is the rationale.

I told people what was happening to me at school but they either wouldn’t believe me or seemed to think it was my fault.  I was chastised for having the audacity to complain. They told me it was all a part of growing up.  They made me doubt myself and my own perception of the world.   And decades on I am still paying the price.


October 24, 2010

We were drawn together
Inhabitants of the underbelly
Of this great city. We witness
And perpetrate cruelty
In all its forms. Eyes narrowed
We look back once again
The stench assaults the senses
It is a silent death threat
We gather to confess
To a multitude of addictions
Withdrawal sets in

You sing of sweeter times
To me, the woman with no name
And no shame. We are
The afflicted and the powerless,
Estranged from the world
We have fallen through the cracks
Hands numbed, shivering,
In tumbledown shacks
It is a desolate scene
And the language we utter
Is quite obscene

Oppressed by the Underclass

October 24, 2010

You don’t have to be an amnesiac to read The Spectator but it helps. Or so it seems for one of its former columnists, the medical correspondent Theodore Dalrymple has been writing the same thing over and over again for the last two decades. I have almost completed the task of reading his entire oeuvre and despite my reservations I had quite a good time doing it. For Dalrymple is witty and frequently cruel and his prose is little short of sublime. And it’s dressed up as satire so what the hell?

I’ve always thought psychiatrists were a peculiar breed and Dalrymple is more peculiar than most. I’ve never encountered a psychiatrist who despises his patients as much as he does. His ‘Dispatches From the Front Line of the NHS were first published in The Spectator in the early ’90s and were reproduced in book form: two slim volumes entitled If Symptoms Persist and If Symptoms Still Persist.

Although he worked in separate institutions, each designed to serve very different sections of society: a psychiatric hospital and a prison he fails to acknowledge this and often conflates the two. In neither collection of biographical vignettes does he refer to a single case of bona fide mental illness. Illnesses that often necessitate admissions to psychiatric hospitals such as bipolar affective disorder or schizophrenia are notable for their absence. He also avoids making explicit his own medical specialisms: he was a consultant psychiatrist in the hospital and a general practitioner in the prison.

So what is his agenda? It is tempting to dismiss him as a ruthless, relentless, one-man right wing propaganda merchant. Yet the man himself, in recordings made for the internet, comes across as charming, kindly and avuncular. His soft voice and gentle manner lead one to believe that he’d make quite a good confidante. So you confide in him and the next day he is sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with the entire readership of The Spectator.

His patients are portrayed as cardboard cut-outs, devoid of any redeeming features. With a nod and a wink Dalrymple is telling his readership ‘They’re not like you and I. They’re not as human as you and I. In fact, they’re barely human.’  He was that tour guide in Bedlam.

There is a war going on, if Dalrymple is to be believed, between doctor and patient. He takes great delight in denying his patients medication. He also takes pleasure in forcing medications upon them, (‘I got my revenge. I had her injected in the buttock’- If Symptoms Still Persist). And if, despite his ministrations, the patients failed to recover then it was their fault, not his. It couldn’t possibly be that Dalrymple was an ineffectual doctor.

According to Dalrymple all of his patients are members of the so-called ‘underclass’. Are these people poor because they are mentally ill or mentally ill because they are poor? It is a question Dalrymple declines to address. And anyway 99.9% of his patients are malingerers. (Does that not sound statistically unlikely?)

I feel compelled to ask if the good doctor was born with a jaundiced eye. I get the feeling he probably was. Are sour old cynics (like me) born or are they made? And why do such people choose psychiatry as their medical specialism and then express astonishment when their patients turn out to be mentally ill? His former patients have my deepest sympathy.

Off To Sea

October 23, 2010

Courtship is a chore for you
You do not care for the chase
Why are you still unmarried, they say
It does not occur to them
That you prefer it that way

For you are so strikingly handsome
But this is your narrative
This is your history
You declare you are off to sea
You are to join the merchant navy

And you determine that it will be
A momentous voyage of discovery
And your future is sacrificed
To this single objective
You are enslaved to wanderlust

And although romance does not appeal
You are pursued by the harlot, the strumpet,
The shrew. Willingly devoid of a sweetheart
You poke at the embers of a dying fire
And, even in sleep they torment you

Those silent shadows stalk you
From sunup to sundown
Will they ever leave you be?
And, at the moment of your departure
They step silently out of the frame

A smiling sailor sends pictures home
The rigging forms a membrane
And the fierce sea shelters you
And at each hiss, at each roar
Your spirit swells, your spirit soars

The ragged rocks of nightmare
Only serve to strengthen your resolve
For you have comrades now
And together you thrive, you strive
To keep the chaos at bay

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