Thursday, 21 April 2011

Sin... the glow in the attic...

The light in the attic was noticeably different - it had a strange pink hue.

I remember it even now. It glowed with a faint pulse and there was a low hum that accompanied the glimmering.

I think I was around 8 years old at the time. I was the worn-down brunt of my father's jokes. The steady stream of strangers that came and went through the back door were often entertained by his playful banter at my expense and his rough'n'ready prodding. They never saw the bruises from the prodding - verbal or physical. They just laughed as they ruffled my hair. I tried to ignore it all, just as I tried to ignore the pricking at the corners of my eyes.

I'd never let my father see me cry. Only Joy, my sister, ever saw that. And she understood. She had it too, in her own way.

I was never allowed in the attic, though I never actually wanted to go up there. It was dark. It was dusty. Dad told me that monsters slept in the shadows and, if you put a step wrong, your foot would go through the ceiling and you'd be trapped. Then the monsters could feed on you as they wished. They'd chew on your fat and gnaw on your bones until all that remained was your eyes - they left them until last so you could watch them eat you.

I stayed away.

The odd creaks and muffled voiced that I heard from up there only served to confirm what Dad said.

At night I would listen to the sounds. I'd imagine the monsters staring at me from hidden holes, shuffling around with their stomachs growling, desperate to dine on 8 year old boy.

Then the light up there changed. It had always been yellowy-orange. Whenever Dad went into the attic with a bag of clothes or old toys - moaning that they should be taken to the tip rather than be shoved up there where they'll be forgotten about until the next owners moved in - he'd pull the cord for the light. It would be 'light' coloured. The same way my bedside lamp was. The same way the bulb in the living room was.

But then it changed. It became pinkish. And the hum started. And the strangers visited.

On the day of my ninth birthday, Dad wasn't there. Mum told us, my sister and I, that he'd been eaten by the monsters that hid in the shadows, and that we should listen to what Dad had said - NEVER go up there. Not that we would.

Dad wasn't there for a long time. I cried, then. He always treated me like he hated me. He always acted as if I embarrassed him. But he was always, still, my dad. Then he came back.

He hadn't been eaten by the monsters. That was just a joke my mother had said. He'd been staying in a hotel that was so safe they put bars on the windows.

The pink glow had gone. So had the monsters, Dad said. But we should still never go up in the attic.

Just in case they ever came back...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sin... sharp sand...

"Sharp sand."

Two words that once meant nothing, but now instil fear into the hearts of the unwary.

Teri, whom everyone thought was a Terry due to the oversized everything she wore that hung on her small frame like a marquee on a flagpole, short cropped hair and voice that was low and, well, ambiguous. She wasn't androgynous, and once you knew, you KNEW, but you weren't sure... not to begin with. And, as she (not he) shied away from any contact, you couldn't MAKE sure either.

At first, and for a long time, if you even walked past her, she would shrink back - becoming almost visibly smaller. Her clothing, way too big, was like her protective shield and she retreated into it in times of threat - which, to her, was almost constant. Because of this, it was impossible to get to know her. Impossible to get anything other than a shaky, guttural "Go away", hissed through clenched teeth, from her.

She was teased. By orderlies and patients alike. They'd poke her, taunt her, walk just close enough to be on the edge of the personal space bubble without quite bursting it. The patients I could sort out. A quiet word here, a veiled threat there. They listened to me. I was either saner or crazier than most and I was, in most cases, a friend.

The orderlies were another matter. I could do nothing to stop them having their fun. I tried talking, they ignored me. I tried asking Jeremy to intervene, he did, they ignored him. I had nothing to threaten them with. Yes, I had my... talents... but they were uncontrolled and were liable to be the tornado from the butterfly wing. I was here to NOT use them. I was here to HIDE, to SUBDUE them. I wasn't here to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of Sin, either metaphorically or metaphysically.

So Teri was kept, pretty much intentionally, terrified.

But what of? What had happened to her that made her so afraid?

Yes, there were those who didn't tell. There were those who kept their stories close and quiet and only let them out to haunt at night. Those that preferred the pain, because then they could feel. Because it would remind them that it wasn't - or it was - their fault. They were the ones with the distant eyes, who would speak to you but would look past you as if you, the wall, the institute and the world weren't there and they were gazing into the dark past of their personal purgatory.

But they weren't in the majority. And even they would give little hints - tasters of the delicacies that made their lives and their minds so sick.

Teri didn't. I don't think she even kept herself to herself. I think she gave that part of her she feared, loathed and everso slightly needed to someone else. Someone who didn't exist anywhere but in Teri's head, but someone who would hold onto that hateful piece and keep it hidden. Then Teri herself wouldn't need to look at it. She wouldn't need to bring it out at night, unwrap it from the blanket of guilt and play with it - turning it in her hands and her mind, building it into something more than it was originally until it took on a life of its own and devoured her.

Teri didn't. She remained silent. She stayed afraid. Until one day.

I don't know what changed. Her level of torment hadn't altered. The other residents had eased off and it was now only people like Terrence, who would tease for the sake of it, in a pulling the legs of spiders kind of way, that still prodded the jangling nerves. The orderlies regularly had their fun. Well, they needed something to relieve the boredom, bless 'em.

Something did change, though. Perhaps it was the person inside the person - the keeper of the secret - that had decided to hand in their notice and go spend their days on a beach sipping cocktails and dipping non-existent toes in the deep blue consciousness. Perhaps Teri had decided to take out her little bundle of psychosis and let it romp around in her cell until it grew tired and irritable and had turned around and snapped at her ankles.

Whatever it was... I was sitting in a chair. You alternate the chairs you sit in daily. Some know exactly where they've plonked their behinds every day for the last month. I don't. It doesn't bother me that much. But I do tend to - not necessarily try to - sit somewhere I have for the past few days. It puts a ripple in the monotony.

Teri sat down beside me, the spider to my Miss Muffet.

It wasn't much of a conversation. She wasn't much of a conversationalist. Her self-imposed silence had diluted her communication skills to the point that you could tell each sentence was forced, pushed out from within with every word taking a supreme effort.

"Sharp sand." Simple and succinct. Said as if the two words were laden with all the meaning necessary for me to understand their import.

I'm not simple. I'm fairly, I think, intelligent. But I didn't get it.

"OK," I said quietly.

The ensuing exchange was both meaningful and meaningless. She made random comments regarding the weather, the colour of the screws holding the chairs to the floor and the way an unseen assailant had forced sand into her throat when she refused to hand over her purse and mobile phone when she was walking home along a beach one summer holiday abroad. At one point I didn't know if grey referred to the colour of the food or the colour of the attackers eyes. She jumped from subject to object with a coherence that wavered between cobweb and candyfloss. But I grasped the meat from the mire. I realised in the end.

After her attack, three other shadows had continued what the first had begun. But they didn't want money or mobile. They only wanted her. They came as a group and left as a searing scar on her soul. And all the while she had choked on the sharp sand.

It was why she didn't speak properly. Why I had so much trouble understanding. What was left of her throat and her vocal cords after the three had mimiced the one couldn't properly form the words.

She told me she was going to show me. I said no, that was fine. She insisted so I told her ok.

She told me to open my mouth. When you're a lunatic amongst the loonies, you tend to trust your own. So I did.

Where she managed to get the glass, I have no idea. How she managed to break it into such tiny pieces and hold them in her small hands without the blood from the cuts dripping on to the pure white floor and being noticed, I have no idea.

How long it was before I could speak again, before my throat had healed, before I could eat solids once more, I really have no idea.

I don't know what happened to Teri after that. I didn't see her again, and I didn't really want to ask.

But I've gone off beaches for some reason.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Sin... nothing...

Nothing comes from nothing.


If you don't work hard you don't get anything back. If you don't pay the Reaper you wander in Limbo. If you don't run for the bus, you walk into Cleethorpes for your night on the lash. Or ring a taxi, which is more expensive.

Hold on... Cleethorpes... Limbo... Damn...

In fact... Cleethorpes... Limbo... the asylum...

Would you recognise the Reaper if he came tapping on your shoulder, swinging his scythe, beckoning his long gnarly finger? Well, the long, black hooded cloak might give it away. As might the skeletal face with the hollow sockets where eyes should be. But what if he didn't look like that? What if Grim had dropped his deathly duds in favour of a pair of combats, a nice fitted shirt, some hiking boots and a pocket knife? What if a touch of foundation and some shades disguised the fleshless face and eyeless eyes? What then?

If he tapped you on the shoulder and beckoned you then, you'd probably tell him where to go. And you probably wouldn't be polite about it, especially as he'd likely be persistent.

I wonder if the Grim Reaper has ever been given an injunction to never set foot within a mile of someone. If that were the case, then I think MY Final Destination would be a nice beach somewhere. Maybe Bali. Or Skegness.

Anywhere other than here.

Anyway. "Nothing comes from Nothing." That's what Dad used to say. His sole inspirational. educational, motivational comment. His entry into the Dad of the Year award. What a guy. It was good to see him following his own advice. Not. It was good to see that he wasn't a complete waste of space.

Well, no-one can be a COMPLETE waste of space... can they?

Of all the things Dad used to say ("Sin-Sin-siree, there's no place for thee," was my own personal favourite) that was about the only one that made any sense. I don't know if it was because of that snippet of sense that I tried to be a decent guy, that I tried to work hard. It may have been because I wanted to be better than him. To be something instead of nothing.

But... Did he mean that he was Nothing? Did he mean that, coming from him, I was Nothing too?

What I'd taken as motivational could have been degradational. That'd suit him. Put himself down to have a go at me. Whatever the cost, don't give his own son ANYTHING to feel good about or aspire to.

Well, Dad.

Shove it. OK? I may be in an asylum. I may be kept company by the cries of those that have died because of me. I may, at times, hate myself. But if someone comes to me, as they often do in here, I'll offer a word, or a shoulder, or an arm. I'll offer solace or humour, whichever befits the situation. Whether Benny is Bending or Mickey is swimming in his steady stream of mucous, I can't help but be... whatever I need to be. And I DO need to be... whatever that is.

Friend? Yes. I need to be their friend. I need to bring smiles to placate the cries that nobody can hear but me. I need to raise a spirit for those I've laid waste. I need to be more than my father.

Nothing comes from nothing. Maybe that's true. I'm no philosopher. There's those in here that believe they are - one, in fact, who thinks he is Socrates himself. But not me. Nothing may well come from nothing, but I'm Something. I am.

I have to believe that.

Otherwise, what's the point?

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sin... read all about it...

They let us have the newspapers here - one week out of date and after they've cut out all the interesting bits. Have you tried reading a newspaper with big holes in it? It's full of adverts for cars, holidays and pizza deliveries. You get a photo of a duck on a car roof, the television guide (wonderful since we can't control the television) and something about a little old lady who ran around a boating lake with only her walking frame for support, all in aid of charity. The meaty stuff is hacked out with all the finesse of a tyrannosaur chowing down on Ugg the Neanderthal.

Yes, I know Rexy-boy and Mr Caveman 10,000 BC missed each other by a couple of million years or so, but you get my drift.

Some pages are barely held together by the thin strips of paper grimly hanging on to each other, not wanting to part company purely on the say so of some scissor happy orderly who is more closely related to Ugg than he really should be. Voids exist where news should be and often the only thing to actually read is your horoscope. And, trust me, Friday is not going to be my lucky day, and I will not fall in love in June. Or is it WITH June?

I forget.

The level of censorship wobbles between vindictive and spiteful. Why would we want to know that you can stay in a caravan in Great Yarmouth for only �10 a week if you collect a bunch of tokens when the only holiday we get is when we go to the toilet unsupervised? Why would we want to know that you can get two pieces of chicken, a large fries and a regular soft drink for only �1.99 when our diet consists of slop with a side dish of slop? And why would we want to know about the end of season sale at Next when our entire wardrobe consists of scraps of cloth that wish they were hospital scrubs and jackets that tie up the back?

It's not news. Not really. It's the leftovers. The vegetables and pie crusts that are forgotten about when the main meal of murders, celebrity splits and ASBO breaches have been digested.

What do they think we'll do with the information? Are we going to riot at the thought of a how the latest teen pop sensation has come out as a homosexual? Or that her off the TV - the blond one who is on that morning show - is pregnant again? How about the news that the dictator of a country thousands of miles away is being pressured into stepping down? Are we going to tear the bolted chairs from the floors and throw them at the window, television or orderlies? Or even at each other? Will the asylum be filled with the woeful cries of patients, breaking down because their favourite singer was photographed in a blue top instead of a red one?

Well, in the case of Selina, that's probably not far from the truth - she loves all things celebrity and can be extremely vocal at times on their dress sense and relationships. If any of them were ever in need of some advice (not necessarily GOOD advice, but advice nonetheless) they could always drop by for a chat with Selina. Granted, she'd probably hyper-ventilate herself into the morgue at the thought, but she'd have plenty to say whilst drawing those final gasps.

Otherwise, no-one would really care. We'd have something to talk about. We'd have something to think about.

Ah... I just answered my own question. That's why they do it. Because we would THINK.

Animals in the pen are not supposed to think. They're only meant to eat, sleep and defecate. And if they can't do any of those? Well, there's a very nice drug that'll help with that.


Apparently you can order a Dominoes pizza online and pay for it with Paypal. Cool. Oh, and the solution to last week's Missing Word competition was 'Envelope' and was won by...

Ah... Mr Rex has eaten that bit.

Oh well.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Sin... innie or outie...

Is your belly button an innie or an outie? Do you, in fact, even have one. Was it Hitchcock who was reported to not have the dimple in the middle of his belly? How is that possible? It's where the umbilical cord was attached during your time in the womb, and, as everyone served their sentence of Life in the womb, surely he must have had one.

Maybe Hitchcock was delivered by the stork or was downloaded as an attachment to an email. Nah, they didn't have email in those days. Perhaps it was a telegram. Hey, what if he had his belly button on his foot?

Are you left handed or right? Or both? Ambidextrous sounds like a medicine for a Glucose deficiency. I'm right, but it's not wrong to be left. Once upon a Daisy-Duke, you were thought to be in league with the devil if you were left handed. It was a sign that you were evil and should be condemned to death - or perpetual repeats of Eastenders. The result was the same. I'm sure that, at some point in time and place, it was probably thought that you boogied with Beelzebub if your belly button poked in, or poked out, or shook it all about! And if it WERE on your foot, you could dance with the devil until dawn.

I wonder if Hitler was left handed, or if he con-caved or vexed.

It doesn't matter either way, does it? Not really. Whether you write right or not doesn't automatically turn you into an agent of Satan, putting catalogues through letterboxes advertising holidays in the real Down Under if you only fancied being a LITTLE bit naughty.

Take me. People die around me. I hear their cries every second whether I'm awake or asleep or press my hands so tightly to my ears I could push them right through each other, my ears swapping sides like teams in a football match. I'm right handed, have an innie and can step inside a church without a bolt of lightning striking me down. I'm not evil. I'm, essentially, a nice guy.

Granted I bet Hitler, Ghengis and Bundy thought they were decent guys, following their cause, fighting the good fight. It depends on your point of view. But me - the deaths don't make me bad. The horrors don't mean I'm hateful. I'm just an Ordinary Joe, even though my name isn't Joe - it's Sin.

Sin by name, sin by action, but not so by nature. Is it possible to kill but not be a killer? I don't know.

You. Are you an innie or an outie, a leftie or a rightie? It doesn't matter, of course.

I just wondered.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Sin... if i must...

"Love me, if you must."

My sister told me that once. I didn't get what she meant. Loving a sibling or a parent - even ours - was just something that was inbuilt, wasn't it? You loved by default, didn't you? You could choose your friends but your family had their claws into you until the day you died? Even if you had a big falling out and didn't speak for years, wasn't it true that blood was thicker than water?

I know many families had spilled blood, so surely they would know.

She'd been crying. Joy, that is. I tried to comfort her, as I always did. She was prone to bouts of tears. I always thought she was hormonal. That it was a woman thing. I'm a man. That's how we think. Women's thing are women's thing's - a NO-MAN's land of mood swings so big you'd feel you were on a bungee cord and strange stocks of things-with-wings in the bathroom cabinet. They have PMT, we have man-flu - equally debilitating in their own way.

It wasn't until much later, long after I'd read her letter, long after she had killed herself, that I understood why. Many rivers had flowed under the bridge of life, with us as pooh-sticks floating along, dipping and bobbing with the current, since that day. When I finally realised, it was too late.

But back then, on that day, when my sister was had tears streaming down her cheeks and her eyes were puffy and red, I had no idea of the wave that threatened to wash her, and myself, away. No idea of the immensity of what she faced and what I soon would.

I always felt good around my sister. Everyone did. At the time, when she would be crying, I would wonder why she could be sad when she seemed so happy and popular. Bit of a no-brainer now, after her letter and suicide, and after my own experiences. Back then, however, the world was normal. The world spun on its axis and we were clinging on hoping not to get thrown off. Same shift, different dilemma.

I'd asked her what was wrong, she, as ever, told me nothing. I used to say that I knew that wasn't true, but over time I simply put my arm around her and waited for the tears to stop. Occasionally they wouldn't for a long time.

This time seemed different somehow. We hadn't seen each other for a while. A good few weeks. She was leading her life, I was vegetating in mine. She was 'in the area.' I didn't know she'd been out of it.

She'd been distant, something Joy could never be accused of usually. She was sitting on my sofa, oblivious to the cup of tea - one sugar and a hint of milk - burning her fingers. The television was on, but Joy was not. She'd been paused and I could see the II mark on her brow as it furrowed.

The tears started on their own. The was no sobbing, no wretched weeping, just silent tears tip-toeing down her cheeks.

"Can I do anything?" I asked her.

"Love me, if you must," she said.

I told her that of course I would, she was my sister. It went with the job.

She didn't smile. She didn't say a word. The tears slowed, but she didn't wipe them away. She simply drank her tea, gave me a hug and and left. It was the last time I saw her.

It's a grey day today. The sky outside the window is overcast. The mood in the recreation room is too. Even my thoughts are cloudy with a hint of rain. It's days like this when your mind rides the ripples of the sea of melancholy and you end up feeling sea sick. It's days like this when you figure things out.

"Love me, if you must."

She thought I loved her, not because she was my sister. Not because I liked her. Not because our parents were as much use as an umbrella in a hurricane. She thought I loved her because I had to. Because everyone did. Because she wasn't just Joy - she was joy.

She was wrong, but I didn't get chance to tell her. It wasn't because I must, it was because I did.

Probably best, in future (if I have one), to not let the chance slip by again.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sin... nowhere...

Everybody has to be somewhere. You can't help it. Wherever you are is always somewhere. If you're lucky, you'll find that your somewhere is Somewhere. That's if you're lucky.

Mostly, though, I wish I was Nowhere.

At night, if you haven't done anything that day to warrant being strapped down tighter than a duck's billabong, or be used as a human dartboard, complete with a double top and bullseye, you could almost feel like you were in a sensory deprivation tank. The lights are out. The padding on the cell walls mutes all sounds except your own breathing... or crying. Even your bed is cushioned to prevent you hurting yourself, either accidentally or otherwise.

'Lights out' means exactly that. The lights go out and nobody, because in here we're all nobodies, is home. The world winks out in the blink of an eye and the skip of a heartbeat. If you wave your hand in front of your face (difficult if you're sedated or strait-jacketed) you won't see it, and if the Boogeyman is standing in front of you pulling his ears and sticking out his tongue, you'll be none the wiser. You could be in a coffin or an aircraft hangar and either way would still feel claustrophobic - the darkness surrounds you, holding you still, wrapping you up. Its hand is hovering over your mouth in case you cry out, ready to suffocate the unwary. As your sight is taken away, your ears open up like flowers to the morning sun, trying to capture every ray of light or whisper of sound.

And failing.

There is nothing. Silence and darkness wander hand in hand along the meandering path of your senses.

You can almost hear, if you listen very carefully (which you can't help but do), your nerves crying out, your body attempting to fill in the blanks left behind by the absence of everything. Then the floating begins. What's left of the world falls away, even the sensation of a bed beneath you, and you're left with nothing to anchor you to this plane of existence.

Some scream. Some daren't. I will admit to both at one time or another.

Even then you can feel Connors' spectre hovering by, ensuring this Nothing is still no escape.

The nights, where even your heart is afraid to beat lest it makes a sound, are the closest one can come to Nowhere. When there's nothing left in or around, you must surely be in Limbo. You can forget, for a second or sometimes as long as a moment, that you're not.

Then the realisation that it's just dark and you're just laid or strapped to your bed and it's just a few hours until the world begins again hits you.

And you're Somewhere once again.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sin... exterminate...

Exterminate! The Daleks brought that word to life. Of course they didn't invent it, but they might disagree. I understand them to be quite egomaniacal so they may well claim the word for their own. Well, they do it with worlds, so why not words?

I wonder if Dr Connors is a Dalek. He has a tough outer shell which I'm sure houses a shrivelled beast. He has cunning plans which, I wouldn't be surprised, include world supremacy. Well, maybe that's taking it too far. A world with Connors in charge would be a world flushed down Life's big plughole. I have a feeling that Fate stuck her fickle finger right up her nose and Connors was the green, crusty bogie she wiped on the toilet wall of the world.

He could be, you know. A Dalek. I'm sure I saw an episode of Doctor Who where they managed to merge with a form more human than a can of aerosol on wheels. They don't have feelings. They are only interested in power and the domination of the masses. And if they can't bend you to their will, they will EXTERMINATE.

In Connors' case, he will throw you in Room 101 for a while, pump you full of the drug of the day, on special offer from his pharmacy of choice - The Internet - and wrap you up warmly in that jacket with the nice fancy straps attached. Then he'll roll away waving his sink plunger and pledging death to the Doctor. Unfortunately he doesn't mean himself.

Oh, to have a sonic screwdriver tucked away in my pocket. Oh, to have a pocket!

The person who designed our outfits in the asylum certainly wouldn't have had cameras flashing and supermodels striding along any catwalk. I think a two year old picked up a crayon one day and the stick man with his square, loose fitting clothes that fitted in places they shouldn't and didn't in places they should, was taken as the template for our pseudo-scrubs. We looked like extras in a low budget hospital drama, where the sets wobbled and the scripts limped. One thing that two year old child had forgotten to include was pockets.

So even if I did have the Doctor's (Who not Connors) fancy tool in my hand, I couldn't have tucked it anywhere - at least without walking funny.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Sin... purple princess...

With the help of some purple paint and three imaginary friends, Luscious Lily tried to change the world.

Lily, of the Luscious kind, was probably one of the more outgoing patients I've met. Well, less probably, more certainly. She was never backward in coming forward, said what she thought and danced almost all the time. Even on the days when MTV wasn't on the TV, and after Tuesdays had died their dismal death, Lily de Lush seemed to have a song constantly in her head. Her feet were never still, her hands waved as if she was part Mexican and her body swayed to a beat no-one could hear but her.

And she was away with the fairies.

The phrase could have been coined - two pence or otherwise - especially for her. Lily's entry into this non-exclusive club was her genuine belief that, when dusk fell and all was quiet, a secret doorway opened in her room and the elves and pixies came to take her to play. Whether that room was at her home or in the asylum, the door would appear and playtime would begin. She would, apparently, spend her time in this other land, snorting fairy dust and dancing.

How she managed to get her hands on the purple paint, I have no idea. To my knowledge, you could get any shade in the institute as long as it was white. The only place that had anything other than blinding was the nursery, but that oasis of greenery was off limits to all except when visiting dignitaries or big money spenders were around and it had to look like is was being used for the patient's therapy. Which it wasn't. I can't imagine - and I can imagine most things - that there had been an odd tin of Precocious Purple, vinyl silk, lying around in the corridor. She managed to get her hands on one though. Somehow.

Maybe it came through the secret magic door with her...

Anywho, once Jeremy (luckily it was him and not one of his illustrious colleagues) went to collect her the next morning, she was bathed in paint and her room covered in hand daubed musical notes. Lily was no longer Luscious, she was lavender. The paint dripped and smeared together to hide much of the stanzas, but it appeared that she had composed a concerto of some sort. No-one tried to piece it all together to find out if the opus was awful or genius. It, and she, were hosed down and scrubbed until spotless once more. When asked where she had found the means to make the mess, she insisted her friends, of which there were three, had given it to her, and that they had said she should write down the song in her head. She was bringing music to the masses, a song to the silent and colour to the crazy. Even though she spent a long stretch in Room 101, she was unrepentant. But then, her special doorway opened anywhere.

Strange. Weird. Bizarre. Pick your adjective. You couldn't help, though, but be infected with the drum of Lily's feet and you could almost be sure your heard the music in her head. It was a little like the overflow of noise from someone listening to music on the bus. You can just hear the beat and a touch of chorus. With Lily, if you were close enough, you could sometimes swear you heard it too.

And rumour, along with its brother-in-arms gossip, reported that she had once woken with grass on her feet. Seemingly from whatever field or meadow was on the other side of the door.

But that, dear fellow lunatics, was impossible. Much like causing a bus to smash through the window of a post office with the toss of a coin and the bite of a Big Mac. It doesn't happen. Except it does. At least the bus side of things does. Hence my appearance within these hallowed walls. Who am I, considering the things I know and can do, to say that Lily, Luscious as she is, is nuttier than a bar of Snickers, all wrapped up in chewy caramel? Who am I, in fact, to say that any of the surrealities that exist in the minds of my friends are not actually real?

For all I know, when all is quiet and darkness falls, a crack of light starts in the wall. It opens wide and Lily's gone to dance and play in the garden beyond.

But I doubt it. Probably, Lily, who is quite easily the most attractive patient in here, hence her Luscious pseudonym - red hair and green eyes that sparkle in even the brightest light - is a chicken short of a kebab and lives in a world all of her own invention.

To be honest, though, I don't blame her.

To be honest... I wouldn't mind visiting occasionally.

Sin... all white?

Blue. My favourite colour.

Profiteroles, my dessert of choice.

Risperdal, my drug of enforced peace.

White... well you'd expect everyone to like white, wouldn't you? Clean, crisp, pure. Can't stand it myself. Strangely, my dislike of the colour turned up, tapping me on the shoulder and saying 'Hi', not long after I arrived here. I think it may have had something to do with the glaring ghastliness of pretty much everything around - the walls, the uniforms, the lights that burn into the back of your head like lasers in your eyes, even when they're closed. I would think that could have an effect on your opinion of something.

It's like, I used to like snow. Snowfall, snow scenes, snowballs and snow angels. Oh, and snowmen of course. I once pushed a small snowball down a hill with my family to try and see how big it would get when we reached the bottom. In the end, we couldn't move it and it was bigger than us. I used to like crisp, starched white sheets on my bed. Now, I have them and I hate them. Now, if it snows, I would turn from the window and star at the wall. I would, but it's pointless - the wall and the ceiling and the floor are as white as the snow.

In a blizzard, it's like I am being suffocated by the total expanse of nothing.

But blue... what I wouldn't give for a bit of blue. We have the sky out the window, when it's not overcast. We have... erm... Nope, that's it. The sky. That's all the blue we get. You even find yourself looking into people's eyes for a hint of another colour. But even they're surrounded by white. Granted quite often, in here, that's tinged with red.

Why do you think it is that they remove all colour from our world? Is it therapeutic? Meant to calm the savage beast? Red is the rag to the bull so remove any trace of that and its compadres? Do they think, if there a glimmer of green or an orchestra of orange, the inmates would take over the asylum?

No. It's control. Pure and simple. A demonstration of what they can take away from you. They may profess to be able to give you back your mind, but in reality - something severely lacking in here - they strip you of everything you have and everything you are.

Possibly, it's so they can rebuild you from scratch. An blank easel to sketch out the new, improved, you. Yeah, it might be that. And pigs soar through the skies big little fairy wings, their tails spinning like a helicopter's.

If you don't have anything left, you don't have anywhere to go. You lose yourself in the void, stumbling at first to find your way, then acquiescing and resigning and merging yourself until you, too, become void. Then they have you. Then you are there's and they can do with you what they will.

Ask Caroline. Ask Jersey. Not that they'd tell you. One from fear and the other from arrogance.

On my original 'application' to join the ranks of the insane, I pleaded paranoia. You may not believe me, given my growing belief that 'THEY' have plans that do not necessarily include the full well-being of the residents, but I'm not paranoid. I'm realistic and observant.

Being the only sane person in here, someone has to watch out for my fellow freaks.

Just because you're NOT paranoid, doesn't mean that they're not out to get you. All white? I mean... all right...?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Sin... fiddling...

The plastic bit on the end of your shoelace is called an aglet. I know that, even though I am only allowed to wear slip on shoes. Bit bizarre that, isn't it? That I know it, and that it actually has a name.

Does everything have a name? Even the silliest little thing like the bottom curve of a paperclip? Not allowed them either. You could kill yourself with a paperclip, just as you could with a shoelace. Not that I would. I used paperclips to... clip paper. Kind of does what it says on the tin, although they tend to come in boxes rather than tins. I also use - or used - paperclips to create my incredibly clever and stupendously useful Fiddler.

I'm a fiddler. No, I'm not made out of paperclips. But my hands like to be doing something. Tapping, clapping, unwrapping. I get fidgety if I'm not doing anything. So I took a paperclip, one day, and bent it. Then bent it again, until it was a quite pretty looking 'Y' shape, and thus the Fiddler was born. It slots right into your fingers, perfectly sized to twist and turn as absently as your mind wants to wander. Therapeutic almost.

A whole industry has been built from executive toys. Mini Newton's Cradles, stress balls shaped like faces and more. My own invention did exactly the same thing and cost next to nothing. I even put it on ebay. And had questions about colours and sizes!

People will buy anything. Apparently someone sold a piece of burnt toast on ebay once.

The burnt bit looked a bit like a cross between Garfield and Elvis. Didn't cost me much either.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Sin... 41...

41 is such an UGLY number, don't you think? It kind of sticks in your eyes like a knife in a corpse. Nothing like the glorious curves of the number 8 or the angular artistry of a 44. 41 - hideous, really.

Now 42 is another matter. Possible, or rather probably, because of my love for Douglas Adams' works, I think 42 is a fine example of the numeric aesthetic. Maybe it is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, but it's probably just the number of the house I grew up in. When I moved in there, I could touch the tops of the holly bushes in the front garden. Now, they're more than twice my height. The world turns and drags us right along with it.

41. That was the house across the road. It had a small camera that eye-spied anyone who might knock on the door. The house was a mirror image of the one I lived in - a simple three bedrommed terrace - so I was surprised to discover it was actually a brothel. There were no red lights in the windows or 'Playgirls Massage' signs in the garden, and I never really saw a steady stream of visitors, but when the police raided one day, that was the apparent reason. It was a shame, really. They were nice neighbours. And the underwear on the washing line in the back garden was quite something to behold for a growing lad.

17 is another number I really don't like. Not as much as 41 - 17 and I are still on speaking terms - but it's not one of my favourites. When you write the numbers down, they don't seem to flow, as if they were thrown together one day on a chain gang and are forever handcuffed to each other. They bicker and fight and strain in different directions but it's all for naught. The 1 and the 7 are eternally tied together.


You get a lot of thinking time in an asylum, you know. A lot of chances to contemplate your navel, whether there's an event horizon in the back of your head ready to suck the whole of existence into another plane of reality, and whether the sausages you had for lunch actually contained anything resembling real meat. When you're done with all that, there's not much left to keep zee leetle grey cells entertained. I'd thought long and hard about how many turns of the spanner it had taken to bolt all those chairs down and spent many an hour wondering about the number of tins of super brilliant white paint it needed to paint our entire world its particular shade of blinding.

So. 41. Not the prettiest petunia in the flower bed.

If you add the numbers together, you get 5. I don't like that either. 5 haunts me. It screams at me in the night and taunts me during the day.

I knew a bus, once, with that number. It had cigarette burns in one of the seats and was used frequently by a man who one day took a gun with him to cash his unemployment benefit cheque.

That was the start of it all.

41. It's an ugly number, don't you think?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sin... ink spots...

It was his own fault, he should never have insisted on looking at those ink-blot things. I did tell him to give them a miss. There was a three year old copy of FHM to flick through instead of the book of splats that invaded your head.

But he wouldn't listen. He never did. He'd been a teacher. He was used to being - or least trying to be - in charge. He was used to knowing what was best and trying to guide others. So he didn't listen.

Roger Stainsbridge. Teach, as he was called - naturally. He'd been a teacher for most of his life, respected and proud. At 54, he snapped. At 54, Mr. Stainsbridge decided he'd had enough of the threats and taunts from the children he was supposed to be helping on their way to a better life. It was only a minority of pupils, but they were relentless. They saw the chink in his armour and they crow barred it open to slash at the fresh meat beneath. The crack? A fifteen year old girl. The crowbar? A joke, a rumour, a big wooden spoon of spite.

There was nothing in it. No indiscretion or desire on either part. Teach was in it to teach and wanted only to help those in his care better themselves. The girl wanted to learn and to better herself. She wanted more than McDonalds or Tesco. She wanted a career. But she was failing. She was introverted to an excruciating level and wouldn't say 'boo' to a butterfly, let alone a goose. She was the class outsider, the one whom even the geeks could pick on. But she was an extraordinarily talented artist. Her escape from her self-imprisonment was her oils. And, of course, this was something more to fuel the fire of abuse.

Being a teacher for so many years, Teach had wings wider than an albatross, and many of his children had been taken under them to give them a boost or a tweak or a push in the right direction. This time it was the turn of the girl. History, and Mr. Stainsbridge, doesn't relate her name. She was just 'the girl' - spoken in lower case. It was enough, to this year's class, that he'd shown an interest in her. Modified photos, produced on the school's computers, showed them together. Back-of-the-class whispers invented stories ranging from secret kisses to full blown affairs. It was a joke, that's all. A schoolboy prank.

But the girl, already painfully shy, didn't find it funny. Her hanging herself with her own school tie, wasn't a joke.

Teach didn't find it amusing either. After the ring leader had taken his beating and spent his week in hospital, after Teach had been released from prison for the attack, which he freely admitted, the taunts and the slashed tyres and the egged windows began. And Teach, a teacher for most of his life, dedicated to others, snapped. It took five people to hold him down as he launched himself at the group of boys who wore their ASBOs with pride. His grief - at the girl and the tatters of his career - fed his anger.

And Roger Stainsbridge became a resident at the Nuthouse.

A year after being admitted, Teach picked up the book of ink blots. An hour after, when, in every one, he saw the girl with the tie around her neck pulled taut, he began to cry.

It's been six months. The tears still flow.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Sin... wobbly handles...

"My handle's loose."

Caroline told me that once. I was never one to follow rules, not really. So the one about, if you weren't told, don't ask, didn't particularly apply to me. Well, it did, but I didn't take any notice. People had a tendency to die around me, so they weren't going to complain - oh, hold on... yes, they would, given the chance... OK, forget that. People in here, mental as anything, were not going to complain. How's that? Better?


In here, where you spent your days in a daze, wading through a haze, things either bothered people or they didn't. There wasn't much of a mid-way. Tolerance stayed on the outside, not wanting to step through the door lest it be warped into a special brand of crazy along with the rest of us. Not that people get uppity, don't get me wrong. You had your Banjo Bensons and your Olivia de Halibuts who could snap if you so much as breathed the wrong way near them. But mostly, people were chilled. How else could you be with a murder of orderlies ready to tie you down and play pin cushion with your arm at the drop of a hat or the roll of a die?

Or the toss of a coin..?

The Corner-copias, eye-spying their spot on the floor, wouldn't move if you stay off their hallowed spot. Most others were too deep in their own private purgatory to worry about anyone else.

So if I wanted to ask my questions or make my statements, nobody was going to mind too much.

Well, there was that time with the Whippet, but that's another story.

I was the only one in the institute who was there voluntarily. Even though my 'voluntarily' no longer had the same definition as Dr Connors', I wasn't actually insane. If you forgot about my claims of death and destruction and concentrated just on my usual mental state, I was fairly sane - I flew close to the precipice of whoop-de-doo but I never quite reached the leap into the abyss below. You may think differently, but you'd be wrong.

Just because I'm in a mental home doesn't make me crazy.

So I asked Caroline, quiet and sweet, with quite tiny feet, why she was there. Why she was a member of the Crazy Club? What was her own brand of barmy? She said her handle was loose.

I think that's possibly the best reason I've heard. Some will say they had a wobble. Some will tell you, straight out, the deepest depths of the troubled psyche. I, myself, give various versions of paranoia. Caroline's handle was loose. It was a long time before I discovered the truth behind what had loosened it. By then Jersey had become her 'friend', she had merged with the wallpaper and her fear had faded. By then she was dead.

The institute and Dr Connors were meant to be the screws that tightened that handle back up. It seems they just screwed her up more.

I wonder how they were with putting up shelves.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Sin... full moon... half moon... total eclipse....

Jupiter has 63 moons.

Greedy, don't you think?

Way out there in the vast vacuum that is space, it has 63 moons. Why? What does it do with them all day? Are they like marbles and it's a cosmic game in the playground of the solar system? Or are they Jupiter's children?

Now THERE'S a school run!

Does the fact that the planet is called a 'gas giant' mean that it's just a big ball of wind? Like Flatulent Freddy? Or Freddy the Fart as he was also known. Or simply 'The Fart'.

Freddy the Fart was the only man I have ever known, possibly the only man in existence, who, no matter what he eats, breaks wind constantly. From a bottom burp to blowing a gale (and Gale would certainly not be grateful) he had the whole range of wind related exhausts within his repertoire. On most occasions, it was just noise. Once or twice, or thrice, The Fart would deliver such a resounding, window shaking eruption that the whole room would look up, and those closest to him would vomit.

You could almost see the cloud of green gas.

Jupiter has 63 moons. Considering where the planet's and the person's Gaseous Giganticus similarities lie, we're pleased he hasn't had one moon. If he had, I would think certain of the more temperamental residents would ensure it was a total eclipse.

63 moons. I wonder if they're like Facebook friends. Each spouting random thoughts, changing their statuses and profile pictures a dozen times a day. Here's a photo of Titan sunning himself on the day side of the planet. Here's Io, acne erupting over its face like volcanoes spewing lava (or is that the other way round), skating on Saturn's rings. Jupiter herself Tweeting that she wishes she could get some housework done but all the children running around is making her head spin.

Our dear old Earth has but one moon and, seeing as how precious she is to us, what do we call her? Moon. As simple and unimaginative as that. Not Phobos. Not Titan or Kryton or Vulcan. Moon. Her hold upon us and this planet is such that she can affect the lee and the low of the oceans and rivers. Men can be transformed into werewolves (apparently), savage beasts that can be only be killed by a silver bullet piercing their heart. More than half of Dr Connors' pets owe their current situation to the lunar tick.

Wow. Imagine what state your mind would be in with 63 of the buggers circling overhead. And imagine what the sky would look like when those moons are full. The satellites would set it alight.

Jupiter, as I may have mentioned has 63 moons. We have just one. I think that's plenty, thanks.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sin... white rabbits...

I like rabbits.

Never had one in a stew, and don't intend to. But generally, whether fluffy or not, long eared or short, I like rabbits. Bugs Bunny was an absolute star. Bambi's Thumper could slap his feet with the best of 'em. What's not to like?

The recreation room is large, rectangular and white. In one corner, up high and out of reach, is the television, nicely enclosed in a see through box to protect it from whatever crazy might want to rip it down and dance upon its screen. As this is an asylum, you'd think it was full of said sad crazies, but it's not, not really. Mostly, they're ill or damaged. The last thing they would feel like doing is tearing televisions down and jumping on them.

Facing the television corner are four rows of ten seats. The chairs are hard plastic so they can't be torn. They're bolted to the floor so they can't be thrown, especially at the imprisoned TV set. Along the walls there are similarly plastic, equally hard and uniformly bolted chairs.

On one wall is a window. It has solid, slightly rusty bars on both the inside and outside. It's toughened to withstand a head being slammed against it in either a vain attempt at escape or frustration, even though that head would, and has on occasion, been stuck between the bars. But a window is a window. It opens up onto the outside world and, even if that world was a building site or a bomb site, it would still be outside. As it happens, though, the panorama that greets you when you step uo to the bars is so much more than rubble and rocks. A vast area of grass. An occasional oasis of a flowerbed or patch of shrubbery to break up the beautiful monotony of green. In the distance were trees. Lots of trees. And not one building to break the vista.

I would never have thought that the stunning view was deliberately placed by Dr Connors to please the patients. He wouldn't have given that as a present. It was for visitors. It was for his own view - his office being off to the right of the recreation room. We, the residents, were only gifted with anything beyond the walls of the asylum by luck or default.

At any one time there as many as fifteen or more standing at the window. Even if there was nothing to see apart from what you had seen every day since you arrived - nobody walking across the grass, no animals feeding, no birds flying or clouds drifting - it was still compulsive viewing. But, for some reason, there usually was something to be seen.


An abundance was putting it lightly. To say there were a good few bunnies hopping across the lawn was like saying Everest is a big hill. There could be three rabbits in the immediate vicinity to the building for every resident that felt the need to gaze out on a daily basis. And that was without those that trailed off to where the treeline began. The were breeding like... well... they were breeding like they were rampant. It meant that, close up, there was sometimes no grass to be seen, just a constantly moving sea of fur. Stare at it for too long and you could feel nauseous, but you couldn't take your eyes away. Sure they were cute. Sure they were funny sometimes, the way they'd hop and jump and munch. But more than that. They were free. They were a sign that this place wasn't the universe.

In a way, those little furry creatures were Hope.

Today, though, there were no rabbits. Today, though, there was only grass.

Cries of horror, whimperings and vacant stares faced the window today. But the window stared back, impassive. It had no answers. It had woken this morning, just like we had, to an empty scene, devoid of life other than plant - and the odd insects and bugs that skittered and burrowed. But we weren't bothered about the creepy-crawlies. We were bothered about the bunnies. Our friends. Our hope.

No rabbits meant that all we had was in here.

It's almost night-time. Evening, when the sun goes down, the lights come up and the rabbits and residents sleep. No explanation has been forthcoming from Connors or any of the orderlies. All say they don't know, and some say it with a smirk that indicates they actually do.

Everyone, myself included, has slumped - physically and emotionally. When you're a patient in a mental asylum - when your only friends are a needle and a bundle of fluff the other side of a pane of glass, you might think there's no further way down to go.

But there is, if you have hope. Because you can lose it or it can be taken away. And you may never know why.