Mick’s beard has the coarse look of terrier fur, and his hair hedges over his head in a thickly tangled muddle. Along with his army boots, his shiny fatigues, his jacket and carrier bag of stuff, he looks as if he wrote the book on the etiquette of neglect. And in the context of a voluntary admission to Southview and case notes that begin with the assessment malodorous, it’s difficult to resist the obvious assumptions. But when I introduce myself I’m struck by the clarity of his eyes; beneath all that scrub he carries himself with quiet economy. On the journey into hospital he tells me his story, speaking in a soft Scottish accent.
‘I haven’t been well. I know that. I’m very extreme. One minute it’s party, and the next it’s “where’s the nearest bridge I can throw myself off.” That’s why I’m going in to Southview. I’m hoping they’ll have some ideas.
‘I’ve had a few things happen. My best friend died on me a few years back. He had meningococcal septicaemia, but the paramedic thought he’d taken heroin and gave him adrenalin, which pretty much killed him. I suppose he wasn’t to know. I did tell him, though. I said “Darren smoked some heroin a couple of years ago but that’s it. He’s terrified of needles, for starters.” But there you go. The house was usually filled with people. There was always something going on, it was a really busy place, a hive. But for some reason that particular day there was no-one about. Even the phone had been cut off. So he spent the whole day on his own, going downhill. It all added up to one big mistake. But he probably would’ve died anyway.
‘I was in a band for about ten years. Couldn’t play guitar all that well but Sye took care of that and I wrote the lyrics. We were like Paul McCartney and John Lennon. We balanced each other out. We did alright. But you can’t do it for ever, so I gave it up, pretty much. Concentrated on my novel. Short stories. It’s difficult getting the space to write, though. I need a bit of quiet, and it’s so noisy at home. You know – kids and that. Plus I had a lot else on my plate.
‘You know the FBI are going to release their files on John Lennon? They must be about so high. They were absolutely terrified of him. He had such a power over people. I always thought his peace thing came out of a deep personal anger. He was a tough working class scouse kid. Bit of a bully. I think his mum died, then his aunt looked after him, then she was run over. But he turned it all around, didn’t he? He channelled it. I bet those files’ll make interesting reading.
‘I’ve just been diagnosed with Huntington’s. It’s what killed my grandma and my mum. We all knew how the disease went on because we nursed grandma as long as we could and we saw how it took her. When mum was diagnosed she asked us to promise to kill her before she got to the later stages. Me and my sister talked about it, and we decided that when it came to it we’d give her a big shot of heroin. But then when she went into a home and we talked about it again, we realised that we couldn’t actually go through with it. It wasn’t because we were scared of going to prison. We just couldn’t do it. Funnily enough – although not really that funny – a little while later there was an accident at the home and mum died. That’s the thing about Huntington’s – or one of the things – you end up having trouble swallowing, keeping your airway open. So I think she choked. Not a nice way to go. But I suppose she was spared the worst of it. I mean – she was in a place with all these people with Alzheimer’s. They weren’t giving her the right drugs. It wasn’t nice.
When it comes down to it, I think I’m like Nick Cave. I don’t believe in an interventionist God. But when they told me about it, I must admit I was relieved. It was just like God had intervened. Spared her the worst of it.’
The ambulance parks outside Southview, and Rae opens the door. Mick looks at me and smiles.
‘So, that’s my life story,’ he says. ‘What’s yours?’