WEDNESDAY 8th February 1984

WEDNESDAY 8th February 1984

b21Wednesday seems to be the day that drains are investigated and people are to be found peering round cavities and subterranean channels in the floor.

It was Chad again this time – who was very nice and cheerful and reassuring  – it’s an interesting and intriguing world  – the world of plumbing  – to be so immersed and involved and committed to drains and leaks and pipes.

And particularly important so it seems in an old Victorian institution like Bexley Hospital .  Its a different universe , to see the not obvious , the world beneath the floors and keeping it all functioning without impinging on the world above.  Strange and eerie to think of a network of cellars and corridors running parallel  below the world of corridors above .  Warm dark subterranean corridors  ,  a haven for the feral cats with their central heating pipes , all needing to be looked after , cosseted and coaxed , rusty and vulnerable through so many years of use.

It is difficult to see how they will survive to meet the millennium , probably they won’t.

Somebody told me that Ted Hersts   passion is the world of sewers  – it seems to me that psychiatrists and therapists might very well be interested in these subterranean worlds as they struggle to understand the world beneath the surface of the humans above.

(Ted Herst was a consultant psychiatrist at the Broomhills Therapeutic community at the time . Broomhills was part of  Bexley Hospital , though located in a separate house)


Wednesdays of course is my general day of the week for reflecting , or it seems to be , probably because I am generally on my own in the department and then up to E1 , the locked ward by myself .  trundling the  converted tea trolley along the corridors.

And the session on E1 always leaves me with particular cause for thought and reflection .  Such a small knot of mad people up there at the moment .  It is an advantage  – NOT being so crowded .  remembering the days when I first started here in the early 1970’s , then  the ward was  teeming and of course there were  more people in the hospital anyway. With the cutting down of patient numbers there is however , a general shabbiness on the ward which does tend to enhance a bleak  rather run down  feeling.   The nurses are really trying their best but  despite this there does seem   a sense of incipient failure not only among the patients but among the staff as well.

People who have been brought into E1 have often reached the end of the line.  Their failure in life is manifested by their surroundings  – bleak shut off rooms  –  and they – with listless dazed apathy  – having reached the end of the line – ultimate betrayal by the world to which they often seem invisible  or not worth noticing  – surveying the existence around them  with dazed overmedicated apathy or the bizarre and restless manifestations of psychosis.

I already  know a lot of the people  who are bought in – I have seen them in the hospital before  – or I have seen them in E1 before .  Sometimes they look sheepish and self conscious , even hostile , that once again , I, and the other members of staff around  have been witness to their supposedly perceived failure and inadequacies.  But sometimes of course they are just relieved to see a familiar face.

A rather low key , even at times slightly apologetic approach seems to work the best, rather than being in the least over bearing or forceful .  I would never want to push art therapy onto someone who really didn’t want to do it  – why would I  – I would hate the idea of being forced if I were in a similar position .  If I do not know them , I approach  , – carefully  – I ask their name and I tell them mine ,  I ask them if they would be interested in doing some drawing , or some art  in general ? I suggest it might feel good to express how they feel .  I often sit next to one person and listen to them  , talk only if it seems necessary .  Often there is  an amazing sensitivity that emanates from both of us  or a small group in general .  We can be sensitive to each others needs .  And sometimes  there is a sense of concern for me  , which I find touching  – i.e. I have pushed a full trolley all the way along the corridors  to come to E1 and then  nobody  does anything  , there are those that retain a strong sense of what might be fair or fair .

Sometimes if I have known them before , it might be intuitively all right to ask them what has happened , why they are here etc  , but at the times not , it helps to have your antennae in full working order .  It just might be too painful .  Furthermore if paranoia is deeply entrenched questions are bound to be mistrusted . Where are the answers going to ?, who am I going to tell ?

Thursday 9th Feb 1984

Hopefully next Wednesday I may be able to fit in going to Tiranti’s off Charlotte Street to purchase some modelling tools for the art therapy department.

The underlife of the hospital never ceases to fascinate me .  Some people seem to be very status conscious in the choice of who they might mix with at work  – i.e. with psychologists , consultants .etc .  this doesn’t seem to work with me  – just the opposite in fact .  I seem to learn more about the workings of the hospital by knowing  the people who work in the stores , the electricians , John in the woodyard , Chad and the plumbers , some of the porters , and the  nurses of course .  It is they who are really the most important to the hospitals continued survival  – without them it would grind to a halt and disintegrate .  Well , I think the hospital is slowly physically disintegrating anyway !! but they keep sticking her together , painting her up , keeping the pipes unblocked .

Friday 10th February 1984

Peter Squibb has accepted my offer to work in the art therapy department .  This may not last all that long as he is very unpredictable  – but  a good prospect in the meantime .  i can see  some actual brushing and cleaning going on  – i.e. the sinks being actually CLEANED! The draining board actually CLEARED !.  Filthy corners being actually explored .  My heart has lifted at the prospect !.

This morning he gave us the benefits of his unique sociological observations , particularly about Sister S , who is new on the ward, having moved over from the old S2 .  Peters comments went as follows ;

‘She may have been all right with that  load of old women mate (S2 ward) but she’s no fucking good in R2 .  Bloody useless she is in there. She won’t last long – d’you know what she’s done ?  – she locks the dormitory during the day  – so nobody can get back in there – that means the women can’t change or put their lipstick on – you know , like they do and the men can’t change when they’ve been working on the gardens  – she’s bloody useless mate , I can tell you  –  and we’ve got a bloody stupid doctor on the ward  – and I’ll tell you something  – if she goes and doubles my Depixol  – I’ll smash the ward up .  I will . I’ll break all the windows – chuck the colour telly out of one  – I’ll murder her ‘.

My neutral replies were not somehow appreciated .  Its a difficult situation trying basically to defuse and lower  the mood .  Anyway he wasn’t finished yet ;

‘Nobody ever accepts what you say  – they’ve always got to argue  – especially these fucking doctors .  Argue , Argue  – so in order to prove I am right , to know how I feel I got to go fucking barmy to prove it .  Oh yes, she’ll say then , it doesn’t seem to suit you after all’

‘And what will happen to you  after you’ve thrown the coloured telly out of the  window ?’ I asked

‘I’ll go to E1 of course and then onto Rampton or Broadmoor , then out in a wooden box , thats what will happen  – but if they fucking listened to me it WOULDN’T happen  – but they’ve got to argue  – Sisters and bloody doctors and the nurses , everybody  – and then I come down to dear old Britta here and say all this and she says Oh yes but I thought she was very nice  – you’re not up there with her mate.  You don’t know ‘.

I couldn’t argue with that.  His philosophy on life had a gritty , realist and  logical feel to it .

BH, G and SE , all Ashdownians found this dizzying directness , a breath of fresh air .  One could almost use the word delightful .  No hidden agendas or coded messages , it was all out there , up front  .  Anything with such a ring of truth about it HAD to be listened to and taken seriously.

I think it was Peter’s remarks about doctors that really delighted BH as , at the moment he is carrying on  his own private war with Dr M , who he says is ‘pissing’ him about .

In fact BH rather laid himself open to such seemingly dictatorial actions during the community meeting over in Ashdown on Friday .  On being told that his passes were cancelled because he was late back  – he said he was taking them anyway.  He then sort of compromised by going home on Sunday  – taking his two hour passes etc .  But then ,  he was twenty minutes late , so Dr M could hardly ignore this  , all passes were stopped again .  Bit of a vicious circle .
b23Tea corner in middle studio of the art therapy department

So – no wonder BH beamed at every anti establishment word of abuse that Peter uttered .  He is quite enormously popular with Ashdown residents .  They can’t get enough of his down to earth philosophy and sociological observations on life in general and Bexley hospital and R2 ward in particular.  In truth Peter is very witty and intelligent with a sharp eye  that is uncannily accurate.

The art therapy department was very crowded this morning, nearly 30 patients in and out, rather too many for one art therapist.  Several new people, A from E1., and  S Q of old E1 fame.  She has been admitted into Ferndale and seems to have mellowed and changed.  I well remember past occasions on E1 , there was the memorable time , when , standing in an empty wardrobe for some considerable period , she suddenly and quite unpredictably came out and punched me in the head.  She was one of the few people who could strike fear, no , terror in my heart.  She cheerfully terrorised everyone on E1.  I remember her talking about chopping people up and chuckling gleefully to herself.

I also have a clear and disconcerting memory of her cornering a young psychology student on the ward at the time and placing her fingers round her throat.  The memories could go on and on. There was another time when I took three Goldsmiths art therapy students on placement with the art therapy department , up to the ward and just being able to divert disaster  , i.e. SQ suddenly striking out at M with a really hard well aimed punch that luckily missed due to my quick action.

My head of Medusa broke in the kiln  , it was a bad week of firing .  Sometimes it happens like that.

I went off to the ward round in  Ashdown during the afternoon .  The art therapy department is somewhere where Ashdown residents are quite comfortable  AND most importantly , creative , but it does have a hint of anarchy at times . We are all moving in the same direction  but Oaklea 1 tends to be a space where freedom of expression is entirely possible  and often takes place , i.e. as with PS.

Reassuringly though , with this connection in mind , Sister commented that BH had come back from the art therapy department and had said to her that Britta was trying to screw him up as well because she agreed with the Ashdown Team .  Dr M smiled broadly at this so that was a bit reassuring and Sister said wasn’t it nice that  we all (the staff) took a consistent approach with BH .  We all nodded like good children.

What with all the sensitivity about confidentiality in the meetings  , I had somehow wondered if I was being suspected as the mole .  I hope not   because it certainly isn’t me .

                        Asdown models in fired grey clay 

MONDAY 13th February 1984

 Outside contractors were called in to remove the effluence from the previously blocked drain that has been causing a fairly foul smell for the past few weeks and could have been some  sort of serious health hazard.

Even OUR department , though decidedly not one of the cleanest or the more hygienic departments in the hospital were becoming very aware and beginning to object to the subtle yet pervasive odour. The odour prevailed from the moment the door to the department was opened and increased almost with each step one took into the interior – finally culminating  to the foulest odour by the office and store room by the back door.

Even the most hardy of people have been suddenly saying to me  ‘Cor, whats that smell Britta’?

PS started work in the department today and the sinks look better already  – the corners , awful corners by the sink have been duly  explored and cleaned . On the housekeeping


and hygiene front things are looking up  – if only he will stay .  His  spasmodic presence working here tends to be very unpredictable .  He is quite likely to come to me tomorrow morning and say ; ‘I’m going to jack it in Mate’ . We’ll just have to try and keep him reasonably contented , although I did try this with KB alias RJ and it didn’t work .  I think it is the R2  ethos /culture , whatever you might like to call it    i.e. ‘Bolshoi at all costs ‘etc.

Denise is not in today and what with that , the drains being cleaned , Dudley going to a funeral and Sheila not in work , there is o chance of anyone covering the department , so I couldn’t go to the Ashdown Community meeting but I let them know .


Despite everything  , smells etc , it was a good morning, about 28 people in the department throughout the dining .  PTh didn’t come , but JB did and drew something for me  , also Rose M who said ‘I love you’ in that beautifully straightforward way of hers.

GG enjoyed himself on Thursday evening with J , evidently they went for a curry (Maharajah of Bexley) in Bexley Village ) and a pint afterwards .  Tonight he is being feted by R  – this time Italian style and a drink afterwards.  I said to him ‘My God G , it’s all right for some – we’ll soon have to book your company in advance’  To which he laughed.  Somehow he has been looking much warmer of late

 TUESDAY 14th February 1984

Jean just phoned over to let me know that Deidre is not very well and not coming in . It might be nice if Deidre could phone over to the department herself , being part of our team etc .  Knowing second hand somehow distances her from us.

Heard this curious noise from the middle studio as I was taking my coat off in the store room , a sort of jumping , climbing sound .  Peered out to see N1’s G perched on the edge of the bin and jumping down.  I did suggest he could perhaps do this elsewhere , health and safety a little bit in mind etc .  And so he did . Quite politely.

b27Wednesday 15th February 1984

 My weekly day  of meditation and reflection , interspersed with actual work of course. Looking back her the last two days it has been a very useful time.  Eileen’s chart system which she devised for me with the art therapy department in mind  – the breakdown of ward attendance is working very well indeed. In fact it is excellent.

It was my  earlier feeling that Mary Burden had quite lost hope that anything like administrative efficiency could be alive and flourishing in the art therapy department.  I WANTED to come up with a breakdown of the actual figures and was very good at the regular register taking  –  But a more in depth and detailed picture  of  attendance was definitely needed, – i.e.  from what ward and what client group using the department ? , when and  how often ?,etc etc  had eluded us .

Mary brought it up several months ago and kind , fair person that she is , had resignedly refrained from mentioning it again.

She phoned up yesterday to ask me something or other , quite unrelated to the vexing question of figures and statistics and I decided to break the news to her.

‘Mary’ I started off by saying ‘I wanted to speak to you about something’.

Pottery corner by the kiln in middle studio

‘Yes’  , she sounded faintly guarded , ie , possibly thinking ‘Oh dear  – is she going to order more art materials at phenomenal cost  etc , we’ve overspent our budget as it is and there is no money etc .’

‘Do you remember you talked to me some months ago about how you would like a breakdown of ward attendances?’

‘Yes’? the inflection in her voice faintly tremulous and rising – incredulous hope perhaps ?

‘Are you sitting down Mary ?’

‘I am sitting down Britta, I have a feeling  that I’m going to need to ‘

‘Have you taken a deep breath?’

‘I’ve just taken one ‘

So I launched into an account of how Eileen had   devised a simple but effective means of noting down ward attendances – one , which in fact only took up about three minutes of my time at the end of each session.  Mary , needless to say was  delighted and amazed .   Nice to do something like that once in a while , most exhilarating .

And of course I have to agree that it is very useful to know WHICH wards use the art therapy department.  My initial reluctance was not due to any disagreement about this , but rather a feeling of helpless inadequacy , of knowing my administrative limitations etc .

Actually I had had an abortive attempt some time previously  – I had devised a colour code with disastrous results.  Denise and Deidre both agreed it was very attractive to look at but fairly hopeless  as a quick and efficient means of gaining information.  Anyway it was a very agreeable surprise for Mary and I was pleased.


                                               Ashdown artwork

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s