Monday, 8 April 2013

The Not-So-Grand National...

The Grand National.

It's a race. Not just any race - a horse race. Not just any horse race - one of the biggest. Not just any biggest horse race - the sort that gets ordinary people, who never walk into a bookies at any other time of the year and never switch the television or radio on to listen to the commentary of any other sporting event, to place a bet.

Now mental patients, asylum residents or (as certain orderlies call us) 'The Animals', are not normal. Ignoring my own... I suppose... PARAnormality, my friends are a little different. They see the world through a stained-glass window, one which casts assorted shades upon the world within and without. In more than one case, that window is shattered, or at least cracked, and the view is warped - a distortion of reality dragging the mind on a rollercoaster of reason with psychosis are its sick bag.

The orderlies thought they would give us a little fun and excitement. Nice of them, no?


They ran a sweepstake. Let everyone take part. A fiver of their allowance to pick a horse. Sat everyone down. Changed the TV over from MTV to Channel 4.

And they're off.

Of course, the orderlies had their fun. They prompted and cajoled. Pushed and conspired. They weren't idiots. Well, that’s debatable, but they're not naive. They knew.

At first, there was silence. A hush that is almost never heard - though hushes are generally not heard anyway - in the Recreation Room. All eyes were on the screen. A hands were clasped together, either in anticipation or prayer. All eyes were wide.

Rainbow Hunter. That was the first horse out. Brian, one of the Cornercopias. It was his horse. His five pounds. His chance to run free.

He cried. The tears were silent at first. They raced down his cheeks as the equine combatants raced around their track. Then the sobs took over and his body shook.

The orderlies laughed. Their first victory.

And so it went.

As horse after horse dropped out, resident after resident had their own drop-outs. Whether it be with fists of fury, as Brendan Blessed, who believed himself to be an angel and who had an almost permanent broken leg due to thinking the imaginary wings on his back gave him the gift of flight discovered when James 'Don't Call Me Jim' Carton's horse was pulled out by the rider. James, never Jim or your face would take, sometimes, weeks to recover, lashed out at the closest thing to him.

Brendan's head.

Or whether it be in manic misery, the way both Edna and her sister in everything but reality, Mabel, dealt with their steed's failure to complete the course. They're cries drowned out the commentary and the shouts from the other patients yelling for them to be quiet. They huddled on the floor in each other's arms, shaking, their tears becoming a flood that made Brian's seem a meagre tributary to their Nile.

Seventeen horses finished.

Half of those were chosen by my compatriots, the winning three included.

Mine came third. Bender Benny's was second. Luscious Lucy's mount stormed in at first.

Not one of us ended up collecting our winnings, not least because, when Auroras Encore proved odds in such a race were the stuff of dreams (meaningless and with as much substance as air), individual losses and successes merged into a collective furore that swept the room like a tsunami.

Four hours later, order was restored, thanks to the kindness of Jeremy, the dominance of Dr. Connors and a unhealthy dose of whichever drug was your respective version of finger-licking-chicken. The orderlies had smiles on their faces for hours after that. They'd had their fun. They'd split the proceeds. They'd massaged the maelstrom that a room full of patients can become.

I wonder what the collective term for a group of lunatics might be. I'd wager on 'A Stampede'.

The Grand National.

A race. Not just any race, but one which can take your reason, plonk it on the back of a horse and hurl it around the asylum.

A race, in here, with no winners.

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