This week

This week has been a right old trudge. Wading and treacle inevitably come to mind. I always seem to feel heavier and bleaker in warm weather. My bones are Celtic. I can't bear heat-induced enervation. I need to feel a spring in my step. Or an autumn! Anyway. I took myself off to two photography exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday. For a tenner I gained dual admission (student rate) to Hoppe's portraits and those of bohemian photographer Ida Kar. Both were very good and are to be recommended. Many of Hoppe's portraits struck a chord, but the two that have stayed with me are those of an old, wild-eyed and dishevelled Augustus Johns, and the second of an old Thomas Hardy. The latter reminded me of my Dad - it bore a resemblance - and helped me picture more of an aged yet healthier image of him had he lived beyond his 59 years.

I have once again been struggling with the writing. The re-writing, the structuring - call it what you will. It's par for the course.

A future - yet past book in that I attempted it a few years ago but deemed the end result an abysmal failure - beckons again. Another reminder presented itself to me today from the pages of this week's Times Lit Supp. A review of a new book by Christopher Payne and Oliver Sacks, called Asylum, outlines its premise as being to capture the vanishing world - and images - of the state psychiatric hospital. It reminded me that, in the mid-60s, Enoch Powell - then Health Secretary - was pressing for urgent reform of these institutions. In 1968 a fire broke out at a hospital in Shrewsbury. Because the doors of the psychiatric wards were locked many of those patients perished. The tragedy highlighted conditions of overcrowding in psychiatric institutions throughout the country and wardens and doctors faced renewed political pressure to release those people whose entry was, in many cases, suspect - for behavioural problems that today are considered normally problematic, or maybe even problematically normal. What does 'rebellious' mean anyway? One of those patients that was released in 1968 was my Mum. She had spent nearly seven years at Brockhall Hospital for the Mentally Subaltern. Tucked away in the Ribble Valley - witch country no less - it was Europe's largest institution of its kind. The story awaits.

Another piece in this week's TLS reminded me of my Dad, who suffered from kidney failure. So too 'Freelance' regular columnist and poet Hugo Williams whose piece this week is moving because of the way in which he writes of his dealing with his own kidney failure - and the prospect of thrice weekly dialysis.

I am still reading Dermot Healy's A Goat's Song, but have added Lionel Shriver's So Much for That. I'm also now about to see if the library has Herman Hesse's Siddhartha.

Eh! Onwards. The Easter break will be one of reading, 'writing' and cycling.



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