Crazy

My father grew up on a half-million-acre sheep station at Pindar, near Mullewa, inland from Geraldton and about 500 km north-ish from Perth. He says he hardly ever wore shoes until he went off to boarding school at about the age of eight which is probably why the people he most admired were a travelling group of Hawaiian fire-walkers. He spent summers in Perth. For the rest of the year he saw few children his own age apart from his younger brother. Maybe because they were in this way forced on each other, I don’t think they got on very well at all in their childhood.

My father sent off to join a club sponsored by the producers of Ovaltine and yearned for the day when he could hail a clubmate (recognizable by the badge) and give the required greeting, which he assures me was “Ovaltiney Ovaltiney!”

In relatively less isolated circumstances in Sydney in the 1960s I joined the Puffin Club. At least I did know one member, even if she had just returned from a year in England where there was some chance to participate in club activities.

Nowadays I sometimes get close to that frisson of recognition when on public transport I spot a fellow-reader of the London Review of Books. Subscription to this is remarkably good value, probably because its Editor, Mary Kay Willmers, has financed it for most of its 30-odd-year existence by a loan from her family trust which now amounts to about £27 million (that figure’s from memory).

The days of the magazine’s famously quirky personal ads are now over – killed I guess by the internet but possibly also by the increasing difficulty of surpassing previous efforts. At one point, the magazine’s display ads were conspicuously (or so it seemed to me) peppered with ads dealing with psychoanalysis of one sort of another. Maybe this was in the wake of a memorable article from 2001 Saving Masud Khan. A number of other “house” authors have given accounts of their own psychiatric/psychoanalytic travails.

There is something a bit out of the ordinary, even in this vein, in the latest issue.

It is given the internet equivalent of a front-cover title The Belgrano and me and is a “Diary” entry (there is one in each issue) by one Stephen Sharp.

The source of the title can be seen from the opening sentences of the first paragraph:

My problems began in 1984 when I wrote letters to Francis Pym and Sarah Kennedy about the Falklands War and Sir Robin Day’s part in it. Sarah was presenting a radio programme and I thought she was talking about me when she spoke of a young man who had just lost his mother. Francis Pym said, ‘Guns fire from Number 10’ on the Sarah Kennedy show. I took this to mean the PM had given the order to sink the Belgrano. But Mr Pym was speaking in a different context. Paul Daniels, who was also a guest, said: ‘Something strange is going to happen.’ From that day on all the radio and TV channels seemed to be talking about me.

That’s just the beginning of a long saga of unusual beliefs and various confinements in mental institutions and medication regimes and their consequences. It’s obviously a well-rehearsed tale, but there’s a twist in the end which I don’t want to steal from Mr Sharp, described in the sidebar as

a former post office clerk. He attends groups run by the mental health charity Rethink. He has left his diary to the LRB in his will.

I recommend it.

4 Responses to “Crazy”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Yes. And it is Jenni Diski whom I’m especially mad about, and whose no mans land I share.

  2. Scott Lahti Says:

    In a similar vein, those who remember The Last Whole Earth Catalog from 1971 may recall “The Widow Woman Letter” [here or here], introduced within by the Kentucky writer Gurney Norman:

    “Editor’s note: this is an actual letter sent some years ago to a movie-star magazine in New York by a man in a mental hospital in a southwestern state. It has not been edited, except to leave out the man’s name and address.”

    My comment on the letter (under “Comments”).

    • marcellous Says:

      Scott, I see the letter as being something a bit different, really, but thanks for the link. Sharp’s piece is a bit more artful and self-knowing (which is the twist).

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