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  • Writer's pictureKeith Dersley

Mind-Game Capers

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Having a couple of mates in the world of psychiatric nursing back in the 1970s, I toyed with the idea of enrolling, but couldn't get in.

After an interview at St Clement’s I never heard any more about it.

Had they but known, St Clement’s could have plumed themselves on my casual interest in working with them after I left University. They ought to have felt highly honoured, because I had to admit it was hard for me to visualise an acceptable workplace. I wouldn't have minded hiring out on a trek to Tarzan's City of Opar, that source of gold bullion, and would also have considered signing on as trail scout for a wagon train or a herd of beeves out of Texas. Most of the local openings, however, appeared to me extremely lacklustre.

From my old muckers Rick and Gary I learned the facts of life such as are gleaned from places like Purdis Ward.

good way of earning a wage. It sounded like an interesting field. They had cases who went wandering down obscure and fascinating passages of human life.

As for the grey suits Rick and Gary were issued (two a year, I believe), I could have seen myself in one of those.

Rick never went by the book but he was regarded as a capable psychiatric SEN. (Years later I was told that they sent the toughest customers who came onto the wards to him, because in his presence they seemed to calm down.) Privately, Rick believed that many of the patients were 'possessed'.

Gary inclined to the same view: the right help for these people was rarely supplied by the doctors.

'They drug them up and numb the symptoms, like, never mind if the patients turn into zombies,' he would say.

Gary had read many books on psychology, some of them quite thick. In later years, he had a roaming remit with the Health Service. He went onto the streets and talked to the homeless, helping them fill in forms for accommodation, etc. A lot of them had seen the insides of psychiatric wards in their time.

I was amazed to hear he had my old mate Terry Cairns, or 'Telstar', on his books.

'He's a hard bloke to help, that one. We were aware of him. I was still trying to pin him down to a meeting when he died.'

‘He was my landlord for a while,’ I said. ‘Ex-RN. Tough as nails and highly sensitive.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Gary. ‘He knows a lot of medical terminology. He’s researched things in journals up in the library that few GPs have ever heard of.’

Telstar had been a noted figure of the streets of Ipswich with his sailor cap, his small-wheeled Shopper bike, his surly glare and ever-ready smut. When you got to know him though, he had the smile of an angel.


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