Tales from the Past: Wretchedness and a Gun

There is such healing mercy in underserved love.

This article is one of a series on my experience of psychosis. The articles are:


Whilst in the deepest throws of madness I happened to find myself in Bedford prison. Not for any criminal malfeasance, of which there was much but none in this tale, but for a civil infraction which meant that I had landed there without ever seeing the inside of a courthouse.

It was whilst there that I performed the most desperate and wretched acts of my existence this far. Although on preparing to recount the tale I have reason to be grateful that this is the worst, for there exists far worse.

I'd long, well perhaps a year or less, survived on the streets. Prior to that, in the grip of impending madness, I had been afraid to claim any benefits so although I was housed I had no money. Smoking was easy however, the nearby coach station yielded a wealth of discarded cigarettes barely smoked. I was often not the only person there of  an evening gleaning and sometimes we would even acknowledge each other with a nod.

Pickings in prison are slimmer. I was put on "education", which paid if I recall correctly the princely sum of £2.30 a week. This was enough for a small pouch of pipe tobacco which if guarded jealously could last the best part of a week. But not the whole week. So for each week of the six weeks I was there, there were a few days where I was back to gleaning. But the short stubs of prison smoked roll-ups, pressed into the ground by passing feet and probably consisting of tobacco gathered the same way, does not make for good tobacco. And it made me quite ill.

Those I think were the most wretched acts of my existence so far.

A Gun

One of the oddest tales from my brief adventures at Cambridge University is the connection between the time my college had to return my automatic assault rifle and the time I met Stephen Hawking. It all began with the Buddhist priest who I thought was trying to steal my soul. My Buddhist friend had somehow acquired some weapons that had been used in magickal rituals. Presumably the original possessor of these items was now terrified of them and wanted shot of them. My Buddhist friend kept the sword and gave to me the deactivated black assault rifle and a large steel double-bladed axe. At the time I was still living in college accommodation, although this was shortly before my ignominious ejection. Corpus Christi finally, at the start of the spring term in my second year, kicked me out for going mad on psychedelics. I consider this to be an entirely reasonable response on their part and bear them no ill will for it. As might be expected they were pretty clever in how they went about it. Instead of any official process they allowed me to occupy my room (at Newhnam House) that term, but refused to permit me to "sign in" for the term. So defacto I was considered to have dropped out. I retrospectively applied to "degrade" and take some time out, an option I had previously declined, but my request was eventually denied. When my time at college came to end my Buddhist friend was moving out of the room he had rented and gifted me the deposit. I moved into his old room in a house just off Mill road, the hippy quarter, and pretty much opposite the Bosphorous takeaway which did, and possibly still does, the best spicy potatoes in Cambridge. For a little while I lived in the flat above the Bosphorous with a collection of rapscallion locals including a college colleague who introduced me to the writings of Aleister Crowley and various other pychedelic philosophers. We shared the flat with a gentleman named "Nobby" and his partner. Nobby had some kind of strange sensitivity to the additives in orange squash, so whenever we took ecstasy or LSD he would down two litres of squash and inevitably end up striding round town with a crazed look. At least his high cost him less than ours. His partner shared a name with the fledgling academic computer network in use at the time. That coincidence was to mess with my head not inconsiderably as I descended into madness. When I moved out I unintentionally left the gun behind in my room and took the axe with me to Mill road. The shared house I now lived in had amongst its residents a research student who worked for Stephen Hawking. One evening I came home to find the garden full of people and a barbecue in full swing. And there was Stephen Hawking. I walked over to meet him and look him in the eyes to see what I could make of him. I couldn't discern much from his eyes. As I wandered off the research student engaged me in polite conversation with his father. He mentioned how I had replaced a slightly unconventional housemate, a Buddhist priest who kept a sword in his room. Naturally I made the least reassuring reply possible and told them both I had an axe. He was fairly nimble of mind and tried to turn it into a joke "everyone has an axe to grind". I don't think anyone was convinced and I went upstairs to my room. Around that time I received a message from college, this was still a decade before mobile phones would become ubiquitous and I don't recall how I got the message. The message was a request that I return to college to collect my gun... Some poor soul had entered the room I'd vacated, and amongst who knows what other detritus I'd left behind, they'd found the gun. Obviously they called the armed police in to deal with it. Who then confirmed it was deactivated and that as my property they were required to give it back to me. The college porters were really not so very happy at all to return it to me. I have no idea what happened to the gun and the axe, probably abandoned at Mill road. My next step was homelessness, sleeping in an abandoned car in Harpenden for a little while before being given a flat in Luton and moving onto the next phase of my strange adventures.

"I didn't lose my mind, I left it in lots of different places for safe keeping."

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