I remember that I am sitting in my Grandmother’s house, at the time when I was learning to play the recorder. I had to learn how to read music. It was the only way I would progress and be able to play in the school orchestra. As a small child, I did not have the lungpower for a proper wind instrument. I had only a small voice and couldn’t quite muster enough puff to play for any length of time. However, my Grandmother persisted with me. She would always help you if you were willing to be taught, laughing as I write this as the reality dawns that I am exactly the same in that respect. You shouldn’t waste your time on people with no wish to learn. If only I had remembered that in the training sessions of my later employ, when others who did not wish to partake, sat looking blankly on, saying that they just, didn’t “get it.”
I remember her running through the notes with me, singing which were which and explaining each one of them to me and where they would be within the piece of music.
Gone with the mists of time I now do not recall any of the knowledge behind it, I remember that I like the treble clef with it’s artistic swirl at the beginning of a piece. Whether it will return or be dragged from my mind kicking and screaming remains to be seen. I had decided that I wanted to learn a musical instrument. The recorder was a cheap instrument for my parents to buy, they couldn’t afford a trumpet, my hands were so small that I probably in truth couldn’t hold one. I could barely reach the bottom hole on the recorder. I had a Hohner recorder, it was black with a cream line around each section where it screwed together and you could dismantle it for cleaning, along with a plastic cleaner like a large needle and a piece of fabric threaded through the top. You pulled it through the instrument to remove saliva deposits so that it didn’t sound like you were just blowing bubbles. I also had a bamboo recorder, which had been acquired from goodness knows where, but my mother deemed unhygienic and spirited away. I think that one had come from one of the jumble sales. My Grandmother For the classes at school, I was required to learn to read music, so that we could play whatever was required for assembly or the forthcoming concerts.
Although I have a love of music, playing an instrument did not come easily to me, around the same time, my parents decided to play and sing together in a band. My father on guitar and them both vocalising, my mother also had a tambourine to accompany them. They enjoyed themselves and would take us along to visit other churches, parties at houses of the people in the church and various places, the songs were religious and they were part of the local Baptist church congregation. They would take my brother and I along. I played a tambourine to join in but I think my brother just sat it out, he wasn‘t one for singing or musical instruments. It was at this time, that I recall they played at an asylum, it happened more than once, but I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable being there. There were patients milling around and a few “orderlies” standing around listening to them in a room. It seemed to go on forever and as small children do from time to time, I needed to go to the bathroom. They hadn’t finished their song, but I couldn’t wait, so telling my Mother where I was going, they continued to sing and play. I remember walking along the corridor to the toilet, I saw a man was coming the other way. I looked at my feet, attempting not to make eye contact and attempted to walk on past, he suddenly veered towards me and I looked up, at that point the man shrieked at me and clasped his hands to his head, then went off to bang his head against the wall. I ran away as he laughed manically. There was a room with people in further down , a lady screamed out, someone told her to calm down and not to fuss, what on earth were they doing to her in there?
It was quite some distance from the room where my parents were, to the visitors toilets. I don’t think that the organisers had put much thought into it putting us in a lounge away from the usual visitor area. I didn’t like the place, it made me so terribly sad to be there. In this huge and beautiful old building, on a bright sunny day with a wonderful wide expanse of garden outside, where no-one was allowed to play and where supervised people shuffled along the pathways, unable to walk on the grass. A place where despite the singing and praising the Lord, all I could hear was screams and cries. I went to the bathroom and despite my fear of being locked into places, I locked that door. I did not want anyone to come and get me, besides I had to pull together enough courage to make it back along the corridors.
I ran back to the room, clattering along the corridors, I saw a lady curled up in a corner, two nurses were trying to get her back into her room, she clearly did not want to go, she wrestled with them. They asked me what I was doing in that part of the hospital on my own, I shouldn’t be there. I explained that I was going to the toilet. Keep going they urged me and don’t stop to talk. I flew along the corridors and crashed back into the room, the parents were still playing, surrounded by inmates who were now singing along in their own way, rocking back and forth, emitting strange noises. I’m not sure, but think that it did them some good,. I was quiet on the way home. I asked later told my parents that I didn‘t want to have to go back there. I was scared of the people there, they were in the process of telling me that I shouldn‘t worry they were only people who were sick, that we were trying to help. But I was adamant that I did not want to return and told them what had happened when I needed to go to the toilet. My mother berated me for not taking my (older) brother with me when I went. I said, he wouldn’t be allowed in the girls toilet. So after that they agreed that it probably wasn’t a good idea for me to go again. On going to school, the next day I was asked in class what we did at the weekend. I told the teacher, she did not believe that I could possibly have been there, why would a child go to such a place. Surely I had made it up, some of the children decided to be cruel, chanting that I had been to the “nut house” and that my parents must have taken me there because I needed to see a Doctor, and I should have been left there. My sleep was disturbed for some time afterwards, I regularly had nightmares about the place.
I think that after that, my love of learning music waned. I do not remember continuing and being a part of the Orchestra for the school concert. Later I looked at learning the piano, but my parents would not entertain it. It’s a shame since in my earlier years, we actually had a piano. I did teach myself “Do Re Mi” from the Sound of Music on the piano which was held in a room at a church we later attended, it was a beautiful grand piano which had rolls of music which could play fantastic pieces, if you wound it up, I would spend hours in there just listening to it. Someone had donated it to them and it was kept in a room there. I always snuck in there to play it whenever I had the chance. Most people learned chopsticks, I was different. Looking at a page of music, I now only see notes and not a way to play them, maybe I have blocked it all out
Years later, my friend was stationed at the same hospital for part of her nurse training, I stayed well away from the building but did visit her in the nurses quarters on a few occasions.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I saw on Twitter yesterday, I think that is why this particular memory came back to me. At eight years old I decided that I never wanted to be put in one of “those places“, who knows what happened there, but the people were so very broken, they would never be the same again. I did not know, nor was it pointed out to me that sometimes people actually recovered from mental illness. No-one thought to explain what mental illness was or that it affects people in varying degrees and takes on many different forms. For many years, I had one view of it, I thought that it was where people “ended up” since there was often talk of suicides there and I certainly did not want to go there or join that club. To this day, I struggle with seeing people rocking, it takes me right back to that time. I do want to try and help, to hold them close, take away their pain and stop them from doing it. Seeing that person rocking years ago, throwing their body into the wall, faster and faster has stayed with me. I did not understand the relief that could possibly be gained from literally banging your head against the wall, later I figured it was as they tried to escape from themselves and the pain that they were in. I have always tried to avoid doing the headbanging, it tends to be a more subliminal thing with me. Years ago, I watched the film One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with Jack Nicholson. Although I could appreciate the acting in it was brilliant, I found it one of the most disturbing films that I have ever seen, it brought back so many of the images from those visits to the hospital which had lain buried for years. There is a stigma, no one wants to be thought of as unstable, deranged or messed up. We all have our moments, some last longer than others. Some feel as though they are insurmountable. Some get help and iron out the crumpled bits, living to fight another day. Some fight their own battles for years, denying they even exist then life slams your head into that wall and you get a wake up call.