Cracked Right Through p.2


“When Nations grow old, the Arts grow cold, And Commerce settles on every tree.”   William Blake.

People soon forgot how Blackie’s had been in the Old Days. Life went on, members came in and went home much as they had for twelve years. But something was missing, Alan thought. There was a lack of spirit. Not that spirits were low, they varied much as they had done when Maria had been there. Yet there was no wind to lift the wings. 

The trustees were pleased at the transition. They could see that there was a placid air about the place, conducive to the recovery of mental health, in their opinion. Martin Wills was pleased too.

“You can go ahead and appoint more staff now,” he said to Jane and her Inner trustees one evening. “I will change the contract accordingly. Not all at once, you understand, but a bit at a time. I’ll let you know how many to appoint, and what their titles will be.”

“How exciting!”, said Jane, her eyes shining with delight at her ambition being realised. “Soon we can call ourselves the largest Day Centre in the Midlands!”

“Not quite yet. And do you really want it known that there are more mad people per head of population in Rybridge than anywhere else in the Midlands?” asked Martin dryly. 

“Of course not. But we can be a centre of excellence, training staff from all parts of the country. Not all our members will come from Rybridge and its environs, surely.”

“You will have to keep within the Social Services outline plan, and that of the NHS. There are limits to your size.” 

Only Philip was not completely convinced that the Plan was a good thing. For one thing, it might mean more work for him. Already he was burdened with more paperwork than he cared to do. What he wanted was to go to Conferences and Dinners as the Chair of Blackie’s and get expenses, good food and the chance to make speeches about what good work he did. He kept quiet about his doubts; he didn’t want Jane’s fury raining down upon his bald head.

Liza had started some new actions at Blackie’s, at the suggestion of Tommy and John. They had seen that the members were deprived of contact with staff, and were leaving the place slowly. Maria’s concept of a vague and woolly ‘Family’ had been abandoned, and a new image had to be put in its place. What this idea consisted of was far from clear to Alan, who had asked Liza about it.

“If the image is not to be a family, then what is it? What model are we to follow?”

Liza had squirmed about in her chair, a sure sign that she had no idea what the answer was. She had been told to abandon the Family concept, but they hadn’t told her what to put in its stead. 

“You see, Alan, it’s not as easy as that. We have to take time to adjust, and feel our way into the new ways. We haven’t done the members any good by letting them sit around and talk to each other about their mental illnesses, have we?”

“I don’t think that’s what they talked about much,” said Alan. “They mostly talked about ordinary things, chaffed each other, even supported each other. I thought it worked well.”

“But the staff talked to them a lot about their illness. They become dependent, Alan. They turn into patients, or victims. We have been encouraging dependency. That’s a bad thing, don’t you see?”

Alan did see, but doubted if what she said was entirely true. She still had given him no idea of what the new ideas were to be. 

Tommy came up to Alan one morning. “We think you would be good at running a group, or even two. What do you think about that?”

Alan had hoped he might do that one day, but was a bit doubtful about his ability with mental health members. He said this to Tommy.

“No, have no fears on that score. You’re a qualified teacher, you managed teenagers, didn’t you? These folk’ll be a doddle compared with that. How about starting with an Art group? You could think about running a group discussing depression too, if you feel you could. It would only be like chairing a discussion, not doing therapy. You’d be better at it than we would, you have more experience with groups that anyone here.”

“All right, but you’ve got to come in with me And check that I do the right thing, and don’t upset anyone.”

“If you upset anyone, they’ll tell you about it in seconds, you know that. They moan to us at the slightest little thing. Don’t worry about that.”

So Alan started an art group. The members were encouraged to go to the groups, but it was not compulsory. Other volunteers started groups, such as cooking, walking, discussion, reminiscence, creative writing, even watching comic videos on Monday mornings. 

Alan tried to get the members to be keen about their art. It was tough going. The members were not the same as teenagers had been, although there were similarities, one  being that both groups were hard to enthuse. This was mainly due to the fact that both were almost entirely wrapped up in their inner workings and how they felt at any given time. The difference was that teenagers grow out of it, mental health people may do, but slip back again. Come to think about it, we all slip back and behave as teenagers from time to time, Alan thought, recalling his tantrum the previous evening when his TV had gone wrong. So perhaps people with mental health problems are little different from the rest of us. Except that they have been caught up into the system, and cannot get out. Sometimes the drugs gave them the symptoms of mental illness, not the illness itself. How do psychiatrists tell the difference? They don’t, because there is no incentive to do so. As long as they have patients, their income was safe. No, that’s too cynical.

The Art group progressed slowly. There was almost no talking, although Alan tried to initiate conversation. The members preferred to work in silence, and they certainly concentrated hard. Most said they liked the peace and quiet, it helped them, so Alan took their hint and stopped talking himself. The works were not terribly good, but nobody cared, and it was forbidden by Alan for anyone to say anything derogatory, or even mildly critical, about someone else’s painting. 

There were no crises at all. Sometimes a member feeling manic would work amazingly fast, or on huge bits of paper, but it was all art. Alan made no attempt to do any analysis from the pictures drawn or painted. Occasionally the members themselves would explain what the work was about, and that was illuminating; but it was rare.

Following his success with the art group, Tommy asked Alan if he would like to run a discussion group. ”We’ve tried it before, and all we got was a lot of argument, people getting upset and leaving in a huff. Perhaps you might do better. Care to have a try?”

The first discussion group had about eight people in it, evenly split between men and women. Alan was unsure where to begin, so he asked people what they would like to discuss. One middle-aged plump woman said, “We’d better keep off religion. The last time it made people cross, and they say you shouldn’t argue about religion or politics.”

“What’s left? Nothing interesting,” said Mick, always to be relied upon to stir things up. “If you can’t discuss politics, all we can talk about is the weather.”

Betty, the plump lady who had spoken before, turned a bit pink. “There’s plenty of things to talk about, Mick. What about the Royal family?”

“Nah, that’s politics. I’d chop all their heads off anyway. Waste of money, they are.”

Before Betty could come forward again, Alan thought he had better lay down some rules. “We must respect other’s views, even if we don’t agree with  them. Is that all right, everyone?”

They all nodded, unenthusiastically, Alan thought. Then Betty spoke up again. “Before we leave the subject of religion, I would just like to say that I say a prayer for all the members, every day. There. I had to get that out.”

This news was mainly ignored by the members, except by Sally. She sat up straight. and snorted loudly. Sally hardly ever said anything, and everyone was surprised by her joining in.

Betty saw that Sally was not pleased by her statement, and repeated it. “Yes, Sally, I pray for you too. Even though I know you don’t believe in God.”

“You knows I’m an atheist, Betty. I don’t want your bloody prayers. You can stop that, I don’t want them.”

Betty looked sanctimonious but a little rattled. Sally could be a bruising person to get into a scrap with. But Betty stuck to her moral high ground.

“I know you don’t want it, but that makes it all the more important that I do it. I’m speaking on your behalf to God, since you won’t do it yourself.”

Alan saw danger looming, but it was too late.

“You can shove your prayers up where the monkey put his nuts!” said Sally, rising to her full height of five foot nothing. “This is just what happened in the religious discussion group, years ago. The God-botherers ruined it. So shut yer face, Betty.”

Sides were being taken. Mick muttered “Hear, hear” but Amy started to tell Sally that she was “Out of order, you are.”

“Oh, you think I’m a bloody public telephone, do yer? Out of order? It’s you lot that’s out of order!”

Alan thought it had gone far enough. If they had been kids, he could have been teacherly and sent a few out. But what to do here? These were grown adults. 

It sorted itself out soon enough. The majority of the members simply got up and walked out noisily. This deflated both Sally and Betty, who were left looking at each other like two dogs which had started something they didn’t want to finish. Alan said, “The group’s over, you two.” Maybe we’ll come back next week.” Or maybe not.

Tommy laughed when Alan told him of the spat. “They’re always at it, those two. Never come to actual fisticuffs, but not far off. I don’t know who winds up who. Give it another go next week, Alan. I’ll have a word with them.”