Monday, August 31, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (18) Back to School...
I had many reasons to admire this person who was two years older, and much more mature. Of course he was wiser, but there was a strange sense of humour attached to that. He claimed to have done all these naughty things in addition to smoking and drinking. So at some stage a story and photo appeared in the local newspaper related to a brassiere that had appeared on the flagpole above a convent. Fred claimed that he had climbed across a glass roof to do the dirty deed, and we all thought it was terribly funny. Did nuns wear brassieres in those days? I have no idea. Somewhat later he created a stuffed effigy of a person and hung it by the neck from a telegraph pole on a back road out of Ramsgate. Again it attracted a lot of press attention. And at the time, I thought it was terribly funny, not really considering the cost of the emergency services called out to take it down, or thinking there might have been traumatising implications for any one who had been touched by suicide. Such thoughts were to come many years later when I found myself on a career path of suicide prevention. At the time it was just one of Fred’s larks.
On another occasion, one that I actually witnessed, he had placed a wire under a dog’s leash and collar to make them retain their shape, and then walked down Westgate’s Station Road, pulling ‘the dog’ behind him, and talking to it as if it were there, telling it off for wanting to stop and sniff lamp posts. Passers by were befuddled. We struggled to keep our faces straight. There was a thought that some elderly person might approach Fred and say: “Excuse me young man, but I think your dog may have run away.” But it didn’t happen.
We plotted. There was an hysterical conversation over bridge one afternoon, with fellow conspirators, about what might happen if we put washing powder soap flakes in the town’s large open fountain down near the harbour. We had a discussion about fluorescein and the wonderful colours it might make in the fountain. I thought that was a marvellous idea, and tried it out in the well-stocked fish tank in the Biology Lab. It caused a very pretty effect with the late afternoon shining through the window behind it. Of course the next morning there were problems with several fish floating on the surface of the tank, and an irate biology master, Mr. Bob Bateman, who reprimanded me thoroughly, gave me a couple of detentions, and demanded I use one of them to clean out the fish tank ready to be restocked. How come Fred could get away with a Bra on a convent roof, and fake dead bodies on telegraph poles, and I could not get away with a few drops of fluorescein in a fish tank? Again, like the portable bus stop story from 2 years before, a reminder that I was unlikely to get away with anything slightly naughty in life.
Of course we discussed my progress with Freud, and Fred would look quietly all knowing when I dropped some naïve clue to my unconscious. We would then argue about whether his interpretations were accurate or not. I was younger brother, student of psychology, and an analysand rolled into one. And I was having fun beginning to understand bits about my self, from my dreams and from occasional slips of the tongue, or trying to recall past events about which I had been told but could not for the life of me recall.
Of course there was a different side to the relationship. Fred and his girlfriend Rosemary invited us to the odd party, and we invited them to the cinema and to my 16th birthday party, catered by my mother, and alcohol free (sort of). The idea was to invite a number of couples, and dance the night away in the front room of our semi-detached. Memory says there were about 7 or 8 couples, some from school, some from drama club. My new record player ran hot all evening, a dining room table covered in food was emptied, the carpet was mightily scuffed as we jived away, and I have a vivid memory of somewhat later when all the lights went out, with the rustlings and sotto voce moans. Of course it came to an end when my parents returned from wherever they had been. Lights went on, and red-faced snoggers had to straighten clothing and pretend it was all pure. Somewhere, I have three or four not very good black and white photographs taken with a flash. Or perhaps I just have a strong visual memory.
We repeated the party idea just before Christmas 1961, but this time at the hotel owned by Jan’s parents. It had been empty since the end of the season in September, and Drama Club had been meeting there regularly. Jan’s parents were away, but had given permission for the drama club to have fun. The dining room floor of the hotel was perfect for dancing. We organised some drinks and a light supper, and invited everyone we could think of – probably about 30 people – including Fred and Rosemary. Unfortunately, someone had told a friend who told another friend that there was going to be a teenage party in a hotel on the sea front. What was unfortunate, was that the friend lived in London, and had organised a coach to bring a load of slightly older young people to stay at the hotel, and party. They brought alcohol, and we are sure they brought Marijuana. We met the group at the front door, trying to be strong in our rejection, and using the excuse of a private party. We were overruled and overwhelmed, and this group of unknowns took over. What was left of the food and drink disappeared rapidly, and somewhere around 1am we managed to get the music off. Most of our friends all went home, but the strangers took over the 12 bedrooms upstairs (in various combinations), finding themselves bedding from various cupboards. We retreated to the family end of the hotel downstairs and had an uncomfortable night pondering how to get the hotel back into some sort of shape before Reg and Bobbie returned from London.
The unwanted guests got on the road early, and our morning clean-up began. It was frenetic, helped by a small group of our close friends who had stayed, in support. We were freaked at the state of the place. We stripped beds of soiled linen, tidied as much as we could, hoovered floors. The kitchen had been raided very early, and the fridges and every container had been emptied of anything resembling food. We actually had a laugh at this, given that Reg and Bobbie, at the end of the season, tended to just leave the place, and take a break before beginning to spring clean for the new season. So some of the biscuits and cake, for instance, would have been some months old. We never did really find out who the unwanted guests were, where they were from, and who had been kind enough to invite them. But it was an awakening of sorts to some of the world of the 60s we were to experience a bit later when we ourselves moved to London.
It was also part of an awakening to our own sexuality. I had had strong yearnings, and wanted very much to be close to Jan. I had thought this might be an opportunity. These older more experienced strangers clearly paired off, and were involved in activities about which we could only fantasise. They had ruined our somewhat naïve young person party, but they had also created problems which messed up the evening; particularly my tentative plans based in yearnings and fantasies. We were confronted by the reality of their activities, and forced to talk about the results, but it sent shock waves of disgust, mixed with wry amusement, through Jan and her sister and their close friends who were there.