The Lunatic Pavilions

I’ve been in the archives of libraries and hospitals across London this week. I discovered The Lunatic Pavilions, Hope and Faith. They were the original mental health facilities built at Lewisham Hospital and were said to provide a home for imbeciles, idiots, lunatics. Anais, my main protagonist in The Panopticon debates what happens when they ‘fry the voices out’ in a chapter I’ve been rewriting recently. She wonders if they fry a memory out … or electric shock it out to be more accurate, what happens to the memory? Does it lay dormant in the spongy bit of brain that is left behind? If they pickle the brain or preserve it in formaldehyde, are the memories just gone then?  If you look at a brain in a jar it is nothing at all, just a mushy organ. There is no little flap you can open and see movies playing of a red bicycle behind a sofa, or a sunrise, or the hills on fire, or god awful sherry trifle. There would be no clunky television made of wood and plastic that had four big square buttons, one for each channel. There would be no squiggly bit of brain tissue – that if you leaned in close; would whisper the first words love said. You would not hear songs sang on beaches past midnight, or up hills, or in dirty little rehearsal rooms, or to entire chapters of bikers in remote desolate Scottish bars. The brain tissue in a jar … has no smell o vision, no scent of heather on hillsides, no lilies, no early morning cigarette, no brandy, no wood-fire in the back garden, no rain, no brine from the sea. Dead tissue has no taste transmitter with which to enjoy a familiar sip of tea! It’s only an organ. What lives in there is us. What were they doing in those Lunatic Pavilions? Does frying it out really work? Spike Milligan used to get shock treatment when his depression was at his worst. It obviously does something. I used to score of a guy that would give himself electric shocks or stab himself with a screwdriver when the voices got too much to deal with. But what of voices? What of memories? What of faith and hope? If memories are gone, the brain tissue pickled, and if there is no-one else that shared those memories, then I suppose those memories are gone for good too. Is it like they never even happened then? I mean the things still happened, just because they are not on record somewhere, doesn’t mean they did not exist. There still was a red bicycle, a first kiss, breaking into an outdoor ice rink at 6am to skid on ones knees in a silent city. It has made me consider if this is why I write? Mortality is fleeting. In writing I can hear the ocean, or fields of barley swaying like waves. Perhaps I am sentimental but the times for me are changing and will never again be the same. I salute the Lunatic Pavilions and those who defy logic and reason to originate their own ideas on what this strange existence is … that we all find ourselves in?

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