Welcome to the cupboard of broken toys — Part 7

In which my life starts coming back together. And then falls apart in a different way.

The Ward Sister calls my name.

“Bombardier Lamb,” she says, “Go with the steward for your things.”

I have no idea what she is talking about. I really don’t, but I follow the steward. We go down to the Quartermaster’s store. The Stores Clerk checks his manifest sheet and opens one of the side rooms. On the bench is a packing crate with my name and number printed on the side. It is my possessions. Finally arrived from Germany. My clothes, my records, my books. My BOOKS!! Hooray! I am so pleased I almost burst into tears. My books.

I am allowed to collect three changes of clothes, two pairs of shoes, a jacket and a knitted jersey. I select one pair of jeans, a pair of bottle-green cords and a pair of smart trousers. I get three shirts, almost at random. I get my brown tweed sports jacket, two ties, my flat cap and some spare socks, pants and tee-shirts. I dig out my suede desert-boots and a pair of plain black shoes. I also get my track-suit. It has the Regimental logo on the badge.

I can have as many of my books as I can carry. I am very, very pleased.

When I get back to the ward I am confronted by Mulholland.

“What’s all this?” He demands, “You’re smiling. You never smile. It’s what makes you you.”

I can’t stop smiling. I have my own clothes and I have my books. I can’t stop smiling.

It is Thursday morning and the bus has arrived to take us over to the Day Centre. This will be my first time over and I am unexpectedly excited. It will be the first time of leaving the hospital since my parents visited all those months ago. We are driven around the outskirts of the Common and into the driveway of an old Victorian building. Someone tells me it used to be an Officer’s Mess 100 years ago.

I see Sue Sullivan and Joe Crabbe when I arrive. They have walked across the Common and arrived before the rest of us.

“You’re looking very handsome,” Says Sue.

I grin stupidly. I am wearing my cords and a cream shirt. Since I have lost so much weight they are too big on me. I have to tie my trousers up with a pyjama cord. I probably need to make a start on getting fit again.

They opt to show me around. There are rooms for doing crafts, rooms for painting, rooms for small group sessions, rooms for social-skill training. The Occupational Therapist and Mulholland have cooked up a schedule for me, so there is no sitting quietly to read. My first session this morning is a small group with five other people.

We are all lads about the same age. The Nurse tells us we are going to discuss families. This makes me a bit nervous. I don’t much like my relationship with my family. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to leave home and join the army in the first place. But I am prepared to participate. We have to write five words down on a piece of paper that describe what we think about Family.

I write:


1. Parents

2. Brothers

3. Sister

4. Love

5. Hatred

Another lad copies what I have written. The nurse takes his paper and gives him a clean piece to write his own words.

We then spend half-an-hour discussing what we think the words we have written mean. One thing I notice is that two married lads talk about their wives and children, while us single lads talk about parents and brothers and sisters. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that I might be suffering from some sort of arrested development. I don’t know what this means for the moment.

After coffee I am scheduled for ‘painting-therapy’. Me and three other patients have to paint what we think of about love. I am suddenly confronted with two horrible realities. 1. I don’t know anything about ‘Love’ and, 2. Despite all my artistic sensibilities and cultural pretensions, I am actually no good at painting. I am hopeless at painting pictures. I can’t paint. In fact, I am useless at any kind of art. I can read or go to theatre or concerts but I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I really don’t know anything about art.

I am trying to paint a couple in an embrace but they look more like a spider and a Christmas tree engaged in a shin-kicking contest.

I am rubbish at painting.

When it is time to return to hospital for lunch Mulholland insists I get the coach.

“You’re looking characteristically glum. How did it go this morning?” he asks.

“I can’t paint.” I confess mournfully.

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