Thursday, December 12, 2013


‘I don’t know why I mentioned the sword business,’ says Derek. ‘It’s a letter opener. Decorative, really. I feel a bit stupid, to be honest.’
We’d been standing off for ten minutes waiting for police because we were told Derek was suicidal and had a samurai sword. But as it turns out, Derek is empty-handed, and even if he did have a letter opener somewhere, his flat is so horribly junked-up he’d have a job finding anything smaller than a shovel.

The police satisfy themselves everything’s okay, then leave us to it.

Derek’s flat is a mean, cold, rubbish-strewn hovel, a filthy sheet tacked across the window, a soupy consistency to the air.
‘This is the first time I’ve been out in a week,’ he says, draping an army surplus greatcoat over his shoulders like a cloak. ‘I keep myself to myself.’
For all the obvious signs of neglect, Derek is still an impressive figure. With his swollen belly, his fleshy breasts spilling out the sides of a cut-off Motorhead tee, his full beard and knotted grey pony-tail,  he wouldn’t look out of place at a heavy metal festival, or at the back of a lamplit cave, with a book, a skull and an hourglass.
‘People can be so cruel,’ he says, picking up the walking stick by the door. ‘They never used to be.’

Derek suffers from PTSD. He was coping all right until he lost his job under difficult circumstances a few years ago, and it’s been a slide ever since.
‘All that work I put in to the place,’ he says. ‘All those years. And then all of a sudden there’s a change of management. Some new kids come in – kids! – and they say Okay Derek. You’re no longer the manager. You’re the manager’s assistant. And it all goes to shit. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.’ He starts to cry. I tear off some tissue from the roll and he buries his face.
‘Thanks,’ he says, after a while. ‘Sorry to be a pain.’
When I do his ECG there are some anomalies, nothing drastic, worth a check-up.
‘Is that my heart?’ he says, staring at the screen, hands palm-up on his knees like he’s receiving a blessing. ‘Well. At least it proves I’ve got one.’


jacksofbuxton said...

Just another life tossed aside on the journey through life Spence.

It can be a shitty place sometimes.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's dreadful to think how cold, lonely & miserable Derek's life is at the moment. I know some of it is down to his illness, and maybe an inflexible attitude to change (God knows we all struggle with that to one degree or other) but still, it's hard to witness. In many ways his depression is a completely understandable response to his living conditions. So I wonder if it's a psych consultation he needs so much as half an hour with a housing officer!

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Housing officer, Spence, that's the ticket. It's incredible that we have these services available and yet so often the steering isn't done to connect the two. Sad, here, in usa too for in some states the services are virtually nonexistent.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. May you be safe and secure during your treacherous hours on the streets.

Spence Kennedy said...

Often I think the lack of co-ordination between the various health & social agencies means that problems are just shifted from one to the other without the central issue being addressed. I think with better cross-party communication, maybe there'd be better results (and some economies). But I suppose even that requires investment - something in short supply these days.

Happy Christmas, Lynda. I hope you have a lovely holiday. x

TomVee said...

But all being said, what went really well for him was the police involvement, wasn't it? I know how nervous UK police are these days about swords and kives, so they appeared to have handled that one remarlably well. And they didn't arrest him.

Spence Kennedy said...

Yeah - they were absolutely great. I think that side of it was a misunderstanding between the call taker & the patient, but you can't be too careful, esp where samurai swords are concerned. Or letter openers, come to that.

ThatLibraryMiss said...

Unless you know who to call for help, you can't call them for help. Perhaps what people like Derek need is a champion; someone who knows the systems and can make the calls. It doesn't have to be a full-blown social worker, but someone with compassion and good networking skills. Mostly, it needs someone to take ownership of the problem and see themselves as responsible for sorting it rather than passing it on to someone else who doesn't care.

Spence Kennedy said...

That's true, TLM. If it's too difficult or confusing to access services, it acts as a substantial barrier to getting the help you need (but of course, to put it diplomatically, a complex system has some economic benefits for the authorities). I think it would be a good idea to employ 'champions' to help them through the system, though. It might pre-empt more costly interventions later on.