“Never get out of the boat.” – Captain Benjamin Willard.

When I first saw him it made me happy. I was walking to the hospital for my regular therapy appointment. He was standing on the pavement at a busy city crossroads, ponytail, black jacket, trousers too big for him, dirty trainers. He carried a rucksack – are they even called rucksacks any more? – on his back and in his hands were a pad and a pen. He was smiling.

I stopped by a bus shelter and watched him looking up at the sky and smiling that big smile. It had started to rain but he was absorbing it all with joy, leaving his face upwards to catch every raindrop. Then he started to walk backwards.

He walked backwards down the pavement, making a note of something on his pad. When the traffic stopped for the lights he beamed at the drivers and crossed the road, backwards. He stopped at the bus shelter and made more notes, and smiled, and smiled.

When the traffic cleared the lights and he saw a gap he walked across the road to outside the sex shop, backwards. Another note. More smiles.

“Hey……you fucking weirdo!” and the smell of weed as a white car with low tyres, driven by a man wearing a yellow cap, smoothed by. The passenger laughed. But my guy kept smiling, even as something like a fag packet got tossed at him. He made another note, smiling. Another driver laughed and pointed. But the joke was on them. My guy was happy, so full of happiness he was soaking everything in as fast as he could, even the cold, and writing it all down so he’d never forget.

I stopped again by the corner of the hospital, where a shop sold blinds and pvc windows from the front of a disused garage named: “Hospital Autos”. He saw me turn to watch him, writing it down in his pad in the rain, smiling at me. He crossed the road again, backwards. More smiles. Total joy in the cold and rain, in the dirty streets of my home city.

When I left later he was gone, so was the rain. I walked back to the train; forwards.


Christmas Jail – Please release me..

Benjamin Alexander

Rows and rows of heavily barred windows rose up beyond an inner fence of thick steel mesh crowned with razor wire. Across the exercise yard a tall metal pillar was topped with several fully functioning, high resolution, all-weather, surveillance cameras. It was Christmas Eve, 2002.

The sounds of shit dance music and shouted requests for a loan of tobacco filled the dark early evening. Somewhere off to my left, from another House Block, wafted the last few words of a Christmas Carol; shouted at first, then screamed until the singer came away from his small window and someone else summoned up the breath for a chorus of “Please release me….”

Entering the large House Block where my office was located, I clanged the large metal gate shut as quietly as I could, then heaved and locked in place the heavy wooden inner door. The smell of prison hooch filled the…

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Benjamin Alexander

“theriac – *1:a mixture of many drugs and honey formerly held to be an antidote to poison 2:cure-all”

He rode the rails. Black jacket on. Holstered ticket machine hanging from his shoulder. Crumpled trousers, shiny seat arse, leather shoes cracked across the folds, unpolished since bought over a decade ago. He sweated on this cool September day. And he was in a bad mood.

He filled the carriage, stomping up and down the aisle of the sixteen wheel service train that ran from Newark Castle to Matlock and back. Feeling like he was surfing the iron wave in perpetuity. Sweating. His belly couldn’t help but free itself from the front of his grey shirt. It hung like a water balloon over the top of his trousers. Fingers mashed at the ticket machine in irritated servitude.
“Thank you, sir.”

His face was wet grey parchment, dripping at the edges, ashen and…

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So there we sat, surrounded by brick walls and a high wire fence. Mental Hospitals aren’t loud places and it wasn’t loud in the courtyard, apart from us kicking and jumping on the gravel and laughing at the stupid seriousness of it all.

See, my friend is poorly right now. She’s in hospital and she hasn’t got a release date – which hurts me: I don’t want her to suffer and I don’t want her to be in pain, because I know a little of how that particular pain feels. She’s too great to be feeling that level of horror. But she’s safe, and there’s a lot to be said for being safe. Dialectics, eh.

I got there too early and managed to lie my way onto the secure ward until they rumbled me and sent me downstairs for ten minutes. “Who are you?”

“A friend.”

“OK, Boss, you just take it easy and we’ll be with you shortly.”

I haven’t been anyone’s boss for a long time.

My other friend turned up a few minutes after me and I’d totally forgotten that I should have met her at the ward entrance, meaning she bumped into an old CPN who, in a fit of vitality and assertive anger one day, she’d told to get out of her house during a home visit. This is always a dangerous move seeing as CPN’s are heavily involved in the Sectioning process. But CPN’s don’t always know what’s going down. That’s lesson in madness #1.

The three of us sat around a circular dining table and smiled a lot. And laughed. We got permission to take her out of the ward and into the shared secure areas of the hospital, but the staff didn’t realise not one of us was actually legally a ‘responsible adult’. The net could have dropped over all of us at any time. But we were savvy, just as we were happy, and we were friends. I gave her a picture I’d painted and she laughed and said I’d better make sure I signed it good and proper because she was going to stick it on her wall and didn’t want the psychiatrists to think she’d made it and was that fucked up.

At ‘Jackie’s Pantry’ my friend teased the male worker behind the steel counter, calling him Jackie. He didn’t laugh, but we did, all of it captured on camera, every move; a nurse never further than twenty feet at all times in every place we ever went. Dangerous times.

Out there in that courtyard the sun shone and the wind blew. There are no such things as Sea Lesbians – so we thought – just like an Octopus can’t live up a tree, should it want to, or a paint roller work like it should in a tight spot.

We talked about some things that only the initiated can; just three human beings sitting on a low wooden wall under a clear Derbyshire sky in March without the need to explain anything.