Welcome to the cupboard of broken toys — Part 12


All of my life I have been prone to fits of forgetfulness. It was one of the reasons why I ducked out of school before taking any exams. I was sure I would mess up and go completely blank. It always caused a great deal of dismay to my family, my friends, my teachers and, later, my officers and sergeants.

During my army service this caused me no end of stress. I remember one time, on exercise, we were doing a unit assault on a defended position. Our officer broke us down into a number of sections and I was in charge of one. My instructions went something like this:

“Right, Lance Bombardier. On the first signal, you move your section as stealthily as possible to the right-hand edge of that grove of trees. Do not expose yourself. Once the other sections are in position I will make the second signal and you will then advance towards the target in broken-order as a feint, while other sections Blah, Blah, Blah…” This was the point I zoned-out, while still nodding gravely.

“Remember, Lance Bombardier Lamb, your feint is crucial to the success of the assault.” Feint? Were we doing a feint? When and how? Assault? What assault?

We moved into position to start the operation but I couldn’t remember anything about what I was supposed to be doing. My section followed me trustingly as we moved into some random cover. At the first signal I asked if anyone could remind me what it was we were supposed to be doing. A sea of blank faces. At the second signal I moved in a vaguely hopeful way down a line of trees while chaos broke out around us. We got tangled with two other sections and the assault was called off.

The de-briefing did not go well.

My doctors and therapists notice this distressing tendency and are concerned. For example, one time I am doing the tea trolley at the day centre and I forget to use tea bags and serve up a pot of hot water. I peer inside the pot in confusion. A small enough thing I suppose. On another occasion, I wander into someone else’s group meeting. They look surprised but not hostile. There are lots of little incidents like this.

They think it might be my meds and start changing them. If they had simply asked me I might have been able to reassure them on the point, but as always, I am kept in the dark. This does mean that I will occasionally revert to zombie-status as the new meds kick-in which, in itself, is a distressing thing.

They now consider I am no longer so vulnerable as to need constant staff escort. Other patients can now accompany me down town.

Sue Sullivan returns for another stay on Ward 10.

“What the Hell are you doing still here?” She demands in her refreshingly forthright way.

I tell her all about it. Coming out. Downgrading. How they keep changing my meds. She is as supportive as anyone could be and I greatly appreciate it. We start palling around. Shortly after this, Joe Crabbe returns to the Ward. He had been on extended leave but had become anxious and stressed, so they recalled him.

Sue tells him about My Big Revelation and he laughs.

“We knew you were gay from the first time we met you.” He tells me.

“Well, you could have said something,” I grumble moodily. “It seems like I’m the last person to find out anything around here. Anyway, don’t you mind?”

“Of course not. I’m gay.” How could he not be? I realise how much I value his friendship, his support and his gentle discretion. He respected my privacy when he could have been a pain. I forgive him all his annoyances. Until the next time he pisses me off, that is.

One Wednesday, after Ward Group, Sue gets day passes for us and we go into Woolwich. We are able to show them at the cinema for free admission. It feels like ages since I have been to the pictures.

As we take seats in the auditorium I find my mind wandering. I think my new meds must be affecting my concentration. The adverts finish and the credits roll. The film begins. I find it incredibly dull. The opening scene has a man in a lecture theatre droning on about something-or-other. I’m not really paying too much attention. Then, all of a sudden, his head explodes. For me, the next hour and a half is a procession of disjointed episodes of people dying in unexpected and exciting ways. By the middle of the film I have forgotten how it started and by the end of the film I have absolutely no idea what has been going on.

I stagger out onto the pavement feeling utterly mind-blasted. The film was called ‘Scanners’ by David Cronenberg. I later discover that it becomes a cult classic. At the time I was shocked, confused and almost prostrated in incomprehension. Sue and Joe take me to a pub, where I can sit down to recover. I have a pint of beer. The first for as long as I can remember. It is Young’s Ordinary. It is absolutely delicious but they won’t let me have another. They don’t want me getting in trouble with the Ward Sister. No one wants that.

When I return to the ward I have just about recovered from the film and the beer. It is only 6pm and I am completely exhausted. I really need to get off the meds.

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