Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Sin... Backpacking...

Laura, as loopy as a magnificent man in his flying machine, was a Little Miss Chatterbox that probably inspired the Roger Hargreaves classics. She could talk the hind legs off a donkey at 50 yards, said donkey using its forelegs to cover its burning ears, said ears smoking after the continuous onslaught of noise.

Sometimes that noise made sense. Often, it was simply a jumble of words thrown together. It was as if a hundred monkeys were tapping away on typewriters in her head - eventually she'd either recite the works of Shakespeare or she'd say something that wasn't just a car crash of cacophony.

I was pleased, and surprised, to be there when such a one in a million (words a minute) occurrence... occurred. It wasn't necessarily that Laura was going to say anything of Earth-shattering importance necessarily - but you never knew. We all deserved at least one Eureka moment in our lives.

As it happened, I wasn't just in the room when she managed to string the words together in a daisy chain of meaning - Laura had actually chosen me to be the victim... I mean 'focus' of her tirade. I, being me, didn't mind. If she wanted to let rip the dogs of dialogue, then who was I to attempt to stem the flow? In most cases I switched off, the tone becoming a monotone that I could rest my weary head upon, drifting off on a diatribe of discord. Noise became white noise. Bedlam became blah-blah-blah.

As such it was a good few minutes before I realised I could understand what she was saying.

"Lights on, lights off. Lights on, lights off. It was like a scene out of the Karate Kid, if Norman Bates was Mr. Miyagi." she said.

That made me jump off my cloud and land with my feet firmly on the floor. I didn't want to admit I hadn't heard anything up to that point, so I simply nodded and raised an eyebrow.

What followed was an account of Laura's adventures in the land of Lunacy. How she went from carefree student, backpacking across Australia, to the delightful but disturbed walking fountain of furore. For three quarters of an hour I was, genuinely, held captive by her story. Its weaving way wrapped around me, not letting me escape and barely allowing me breath. How so much could happen to one girl - 21 at the time - and NOT taint her I couldn't imagine. How this particular girl, dark hair flowing as much as her tongue, managed to be sitting next to me, I could. Stalkers and crazies (more so than anyone in here) dotted her journey like a sewing machine stitching a hem. She mentioned friends, she spoke about places with something akin to awe, and she told me of times where she was so scared she didn't know where to turn.

It was times like that that unpicked the seam and redirected it to chair next to mine.

The final straw, the one that broke the backpacker's back, was the wizened woman who turned the lights on and off. The woman who stood in the middle of the hostel room and watched her sleeping. The woman who took photographs of you without you knowing - in the kitchen, watching tv, in the shower. The woman who cackled malevolently to herself, and had access to the knives in the kitchen drawer.

You try not to let her know you're awake and know she's watching you. You try not to move, to keep your breathing soft, to look through almost closed eyes, your eyelashes like bars on the windows of the prison you feel yourself in.

Then you see the knife in her hand. You see her move with a fluidity one so old shouldn't be able to manage. No more pretence. No more pseudo-sleep. Only reaction. Only self-defence.

Only an accident.

I think Laura talks so much because she's trying to tell herself it wasn't her fault, but she can't quite believe it.

Some tribes in darkest Africa or deepest Amazon believe that a photo robs you of your soul. Laura kept hold of her soul, but the photos the old woman took robbed her of her life.

I'd tell her so, if I could get a word in edgeways.

(This blog entry is based on the true events depicted in the book Secret Confessions of a Backpacker by Laura Watts. Find it here: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/lkwatts)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Sin... Mad Mick...

Do you think 'crazy' and 'insane' are the same thing?

Are they hand in hand, wandering down Asylum Avenue, seeing dragons and butterflies in the cloud shapes - Nature's own Rorschach test? Are they like tomarto and tomayto, you say 'potato' and I say 'spud'? Or are they everso slightly not the same? Reaching out to each other with their fingers barely touching, desperately wanting to be one but each being a slightly twisted version of the other?

I think it's the latter. I think they're a shade apart, like white and ivory or magnolia and cream. And I don't think they want to be together. Crazy and Insane stare daggers at each other over the back garden fence, with their only desperation being the desire to be in opposite corners of a ring waiting for the bell to tell them to fightfightfight.

There's a patient. We don't see much of him as he tends to either be in Room 101 or in his own cell. He prefers solitude. Silence is his friend. Michael is his name, and Mad is his game - one he plays very well. Mad Mick has been here longer than anybody else. He's a Founding Father, a legend in the world of weird. The fact that he looks and acts like the secret love child of Back to the Future's Doc Brown and Crocodile Dundee helps label him as a touch... touched. That he built his own tank - the army kind not the fishy kind - throws a hint of tapped into the mix.

When the police came to ask what the big boxy thing with the long turret and camouflage paint (though if it was camouflaged, how did they see it?) was doing parked in Tesco car park, he told them it helps in traffic jams. When they wanted him to sit in their car to have a 'chat', he pulled a knife his father Mr. Dundee would have gone weak at the knees at out from the back of his jeans. He tried to tell them he was simply removing it because he didn't want to do himself an injury when he sat down. Besides, it might damage the upholstery in the car seat, let alone the upholstery in his boxer shorts.

The two officers didn't quite see things like that. He had a knife which, phallically speaking, made them both feel inadequate and he held the keys to what looked like a baby Challenger. And he saw nothing wrong with that.

His knife was confiscated, his tank was impounded, and his collection of guns, ammunition and blades was met with astonishment - not least because most of it dated from the war. Which one? All of them!

Eventually Mad Mick ended up in the care of Dr. Connors. And that was the last the world saw of him. He was deemed clinically insane and a danger to himself and everyone he came into contact with. And you know what? A bigger load of bananas I have yet to hear.

People confuse insane with crazy. They mix eccentric with lunatic. That Mad Mick wasn't the brightest bulb in the flowerbed wasn't in question. That he was insane and would chop out your liver with a flick of the wrist most definitely was. You see, Mad Mick liked a knife that was better endowed than he was. He liked his World War II pistols and his Spanish Civil War helmets. And he liked to go shopping in a tank. But he would also give you his last Rolo - if packets of Rolo were allowed, which they weren't because the last thing Connors needed was a patient on a sugar rush or shoving a sweet were the sun daren't ever venture enough to shine. I'm a nice guy (ignoring the deaths), but he had me beat, and he didn't need Mr. Switchblade to help him do it.

To be honest, I'm not surprised Michael's best buddies were the silence and the solitude. In a world where odd was ordinary, he was extraordinary. He didn't fit in amongst the damaged souls that wandered the halls of the asylum - patients and staff alike. He was out of phase with us common folk. He didn't see things the same way. He saw beyond the horizon, where the world hides from view. And now he hides from the world.

Mad Mick is crazy, just a little bit. But he's not insane.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Sin... room 101...

It's quiet in Room 101. You can hear a pin drop or a mouse's whiskers twitch.

Of course, the only pins are the needles they use to fill us full of drugs and if a mouse managed to get in here it'd probably be eaten by Kevin "Haggis" McNally, who would eat anything, whether it had a pulse once, still or not.

Room 101 is also the only room where, when the lights go out, it's actually dark. There's no phosphorous glow from the glaring white of the walls, floor and ceiling that burned itself onto your retina. Extra thick padding adorns the walls like a landscape of snow covered hills and valleys that's only missing the odd smoking chimney from remote farm houses and the occasional huddled copse of trees. It deadenes all sounds and all light. When you're locked in there, you experience a deadening of not just your senses, but also of your soul. When it's lights out, the lights go out inside you.

I don't really know what I did to be worthy of a stay within its venerated walls. One minute I was staring into space wondering if I really could see the colour blue out of the corner of my eyr and why it kept running away if I quickly turned my head to check, and the next I was under a pile of arms and legs as a fight between Hilda, the woman with the glass eye and black teeth who had served up her pet dog on a barbeque, and Darcy, the girl who had apparently tried to marry her labrador, swept by like a tornado leaving a wake of destruction in its path. I was one of the cars or homes that were lifted like twigs and cast casually aside.

I can't remember what happened after that, really. I know I tasted my own blood and I do recall the weight of three orderlies seeing if each could be the straw that broke my back. Then I was in the Room wondering, instead, if I could actually see little people wandering over the hills that covered the walls. Was I Gulliver to their Lilliput? Was I the giant to their Jack, feeing, fying and foeing while they scaled their beanstalks to hide the golden goose?

Time takes its own course when there's no ticking to keep it on a leash. It will speed up and slow down as it fancies to mess with your mind, taking great pleasure in dragging your days out to weeks or squeezing your weeks into hours. In the end, you forget Time is even out there, watching you, playing with you. In the end you simply ARE, lost in the moment with no notion of past or future. In the end there's only you and Now. And Now is not the best conversationalist in the world.

If you weren't already in an asylum and, by default, mad, you could go insane in there.

I think that's the plan, though. I think that's part of the fun. I think the whole point of Room 101 is to flick the switch and turn your Crazy up a notch or two.

All in the name of therapy, of course.

I don't mind it. I don't fear Time and its games. I sometimes talk to the wee ones on the walls. I embrace the darkness because it's so welcome after the ultra brightness of everything else. And, when I am in there and the lights go out and I die inside, I (for a little while) can't hear the screams.

It's quiet in Room 101. You can hear a pin drop or a mouse's whiskers twitch.

But you can't hear anything else.