Thursday, 8 December 2016

Lion's View

Lion's View, such a unusual name for a hospital, although on second thoughts perhaps not seeing as its patients are thought to be lunatics, babblers, of a nervous disposition, mentally deranged. But then I don't know New Orleans, or even if this Garden District still exists, so perhaps it's not weird at all. Perhaps it's very much, or was at one time, in keeping with the area, or perhaps it's all fictional, and I, like a crackpot, have fallen for it, as I so often do for Tennessee's works. The playwright, not the American state, which I've come to mid-way in life.
Suddenly Last Summer is one of his stranger plays; a touch, some might say, semi-autobiographical if you choose to draw comparisons to Catharine (and yes, it is with a middle 'a') and his sister, Rose. I don't know – writers use and write out theirs or others experiences, not always truthfully but slanted, which, in my view, is more cathartic than say talking in circles with a psychologist. Cut out the middle man or woman and let the mind take its own journey. However, that opinion in itself could be wrong. No, not wrong, just not the accepted persuasion backed by experts.
Hell, I don't know what the broadly-held sentiment might be by those in the profession, other than treatment is still referred to as 'Therapy', and that it does now include 'the Arts': those creative pursuits we should do more of apparently, which makes perfect sense to me as one so inclined but may not to others who aren't. But what we can say is that times have moved on and people suffering mental health difficulties, for however long, are treated with more sympathy today. At least, I very much hope so, because although others will say there's still a way to go, we have come a way. And if you don't believe me, History! History! by which I mean: Research it!
I digress. Sort of.
Back to Sugar. Well, to be more precise, Dr Sugar, or if you prefer Dr Cukrowicz, as though the play is far from a saccharin affair, he's certainly the sweetener. The cube that makes the Polio vaccine palatable. I don't know why I said that! for the play has nothing whatsoever to do with Polio - see how the mind at times takes over – although perhaps there is a tenuous connection for, after all, he sweetens the bitterness the main players feel towards, sometimes each other but more often, Catharine. None of them like her 'story', which she continues to stick to in spite of her supposedly recuperating stay at St Mary's, for differing but nonetheless deplorable reasons: Aunt Violet fears it tarnishes the image of her late son, Sebastian, and wants it cut out, right out of Catharine's brain, whereas Mrs Holly and Catharine's brother, George, are more concerned that if Catharine pursues this course the money they are due to come into will be contested.
Truth is a bitter pill and even more so if the circumstances of it are grisly. Unsweetened, it's hard to swallow, particularly if it confirms something unspeakable about another to persons within and outside the family, or implicates the actions of others on their behalf. Even the Doctor, in this instance, is unable to sugar-coat it; in fact, he doesn't attempt to, he just wants to get to the bottom of the mystery – the cause of this young woman's mental instability - and when he does, he believes her, or at least believes in the possibility that what she says could, in part if not all, be true.
The truth scares and it threatens, as in it could be information that could be used against you, that others don't want to hear and won't unless they're forced to listen by a neutral protector. That's what I like to think is meant by 'Lion's View', for if you disassociate it from its hospital setting then those two words could be said to give a different connotation, one that's not entirely unconnected but which instead suggests an impartial guardian who helps to minimise, if not heal, psychological scars.

Picture credit: Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness), 1940, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 1 December 2016


The building seems so small, almost as if it would fit neatly into a snow globe or one of those miniature Christmas villages you see on display in garden centres. When did it shrink? No, it can't have done for adults still work there and none of them, those you've seen entering, are of diminutive height.
Is it your eyesight? Quite possibly. But how could that be? Could macular degeneration cause solid items to appear to a different scale to what they are? All these questions you silently put to yourself as you continue to stare at the main entrance of this toy building, and wonder how the hell you get inside. You'll need to get closer to understand its mechanisation. Perhaps there'll be a little loop-and-hook on its side which if unfastened will open up the whole front, or perhaps as you walk forwards you'll minify and the building instead will seem huge.
The longer you stand here, considering other possible explanations, the more fearful and uncomprehending you get, so that the only course is either to retreat or advance like a toy soldier: unwilling to play yet has to obey his owner's commands. Still, you delay the moment of attack, taking deep breaths and trying to calm that nervous feeling. You didn't have to come, after all. Nor are you expected so nobody would know if you turned round and retraced your steps, with a lighter heart and a much eased stomach, homewards.
What if you held an imaginary pencil or fine paintbrush up as an artist does to measure the perspective? You try it, as you've seen it done, with one eye squinted, and when that corresponds to your view as it's currently appearing to you, you repeat the exercise with the other eye as if you were sitting in the chair at the optician's. And like there when the red and green looks much the same so does this building when sliced in half and looked at through a filmy scarf, which now it's served a purpose, a very different one to the one it's accustomed to, gets draped around your milky throat again.
Is it probable there will not be a deciding factor? It would be so easy, too easy, to stop here, squinting as if the sun were in your eyes and thus preventing you from moving, with some assurance, forwards. What if, however, someone took your arm? To be kind. And tried, with good intentions as they had indeed got the impression you were blinded, to cajole you through the gate, up the path and through the main door, past Reception, and into the Great Hall in some kind of shuffling gait as if you were tied together in a three-legged race which only one of you was desperate to win. But then I guess you could say if this were to happen that the decision would have been, quite obviously, made for you.
This is not going to happen. And so you continue to stand, turning your head and feet in order to appreciate the building's petiteness from different degrees as if you were a human sundial, and still the building appears as a little house on a Monopoly board, three of them in a row like when a player is flush and buys up everything he lands upon or puts a property anywhere he owns, and yes, they do, to you at rate, look as though they could be flung back in their box at a moment's notice. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that large hands, from above, could appear to peel up the ground on which they stand to shake it clear of anything that has no business to be there as if it were a picnic blanket messy with crumbs, before folding it, corner to corner, and storing it in a cupboard where it belongs and where it can be retrieved from on a rainy day or in picnicking weather.
The Lilliputians have no idea they're in danger, or that you're imagining it for them. Or even that you harbour an irrational terror of small things, particularly insects: moths, beetles, earwigs, spiders etcetera, though not for some reason ladybirds, but in general anything that flies or crawls or can disguise itself as a pencil shaving, and to which now must be added tiny people.
Nobody tells you of this, of these perspective changes; that as you grow taller things will seem smaller, or that as you grey your stature too will, in time, diminish.

Picture credit: The Toy Shop, 1962, Peter Blake

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Far From Dawn

A car door slams like the sound of a hand slapping a cheek, not playfully but hard; a laugh suggestive of glass being dropped in a bottle bank follows. Then, there's small, quick footfalls with heels that clack accompanied by softer lengthier strides and a hand jangling loose change in a trouser pocket. Stop-start, more breaking glass, a shushed chant, faces and bodies possibly pressed together as in prayer, start again, now a little unsteady, and jangle. A rustle as a gentler, yet urgent hand rummages in an over-the-shoulder handbag, the almost undetectable scrunch of tissues and a low mutter like a breeze blowing leaves where are they? where are they? A clink of glass, smothered, maybe by a mouth, perhaps by a cotton handkerchief. An audible snapped but unmeant: Stop that will ya. Aha, here they are! A jingle like the bell on a cat's collar, then the scratch and scrape of metal on metal which goes on far longer than it would in wakeful hours.
Finally, an incisive click, then a creak as presumably the now unlocked door swings inwards to allow the mash of lips and intermingled feet to stumble over each other into the vestibule, where bodies and elbows, once admitted, push the door closed with a resounding thud, which further disturbs and pollutes the still atmosphere.
A dog barks its irritation, a bathroom light gets switched on, and a bedroom net curtain is twitched, then quickly let go when there's nothing to see but a yellow light shining like a beacon in the darkness. The light goes out, not long afterwards, like an eyelid preparing to return to sleep and a underfed fox decides it's now safe to scramble over a fence, its claws clinging and digging into the wooden slats until its skinny body can be carried over, and then slinks to a verge where there's bushes. There, it sits, unblinkingly, surveying this slumbering terrain it claims as its own, until a noise startles it and it darts across the street, round the corner and into the next road.
The dissonance being the starting cough of a motorcycle engine, which now putt-putts and warms as its owner zips up their leathers and squeezes their crash helmet on; its fastener fumbled with as if its brand new or not yet adjusted to, and its purchase is regretted. Where is he, the rider, going at this ungodly hour, and why? To work perhaps, or perhaps he's an insomniac and so at this late-early hour goes for a drive. He climbs astride, revs the engine and accelerates to the top of the street and turns right, which will lead him, if he chooses to follow it, past a primary school and to a main junction where either direction will take him through a parade of sleeping shops before an overpopulated town is in sight, and where the beam of his headlight will seem far less bright against the still-sullen night.
Unlike the disruption of half an hour ago, nobody has stirred. The gunning of this motorcycle they contend with so regularly it washes over them, so that even those that have been up on other nights, possibly for a glass of water or to nurse a baby, have failed to register its low-throated rumble, though if it they stepped for a moment outside they'd instantly be aware of the heavy fragrance of petrol in the stale-not-yet-freshened air.
But they don't for the thought doesn't occur. They stay inside, woolly-headed, and stand at a counter or sit in a chair in the silvery light that sneaks in through windows that are either too small or too picturesque to be veiled. The luminosity that intrudes, whether it's from a street lamp or the moon, touches their features as the sun might at the height of day. Skin is made radiant and hair tinted gold as the glass of water is drunk or the baby is winded and lovingly, with a tired mother's care, placed back in its crib. Thus bathed, their world seems becalmed and they soothed.
The full moon on this night casts this ethereal light, so heavy that it hangs like a plump fruit at risk of falling to the ground and being bruised, and to which there must come a camouflaged point where it gets plucked out of the sky for at times only a peeled segment remains.

Picture credit: The White Page, 1967, Rene Magritte