Sunday, 13 June 2010

Neville the Schizophrene

I used to live in a cold water flat in Grimsby. I say cold water: actually it was more like ice. I'd been living there for three or four months with my girlfriend and neither of us had been completely naked in all that time. You needed a St Bernard just to go to the bathroom. 

Fuelled as I was by amphetamine, Special Red cider, grass from the garden and a totally deluded sense of my own importance I was able to survive: sometimes by the seat of my pants; usually by the seat of someone else's.

There were three house rules: Sit down, chill out, and don't be playing any heavy metal.

The place was a lot like Picadilly Circus at rush hour. I played guitar in a rhythm and blues band at the time, so that lot were in and out like a fiddler's elbow. I had a drunk friend called Bill, too. Bill was an ageing blues guitar player who I'd found behind a hedge somewhere. He moved in. There were a few transient and desperate groupies. And there was the nutter who lived upstairs.

I'd first got talking to Neville after I'd heard a drum kit being beaten to within an inch of its life upstairs in the middle of the night. Turned out that somebody on the mental health team had suggested to Neville that he might like to take up drumming for the therapeutic opportunity it afforded. Never one to do things by halves, he was soon in possession of a Keith Moon style double drum kit complete with goldfish and explosives.

Neville thought that his new hobby might be contributing to the strained relations he was now experiencing with his flat mate. I thought that this might well be the case, but that his paranoid schizophrenia probably didn't help matters much, either. For Neville, God bless him, was barking mad. He'd once been in the merchant navy, but had had to be air-lifted off the ship in an Anderson stretcher after deffing out and half killing several of the crew.

I'd often be awoken at some god awful time in the morning by the violent rapping of Neville's cane as he paced up and down my living room in his Cuban heels, his poncho flung dramatically across his shoulders, reliving his latest delusions.

  "I have just returned," he would tell me, "on my rug, from the universe, where I have been to maintain the order of all things."

One of the manifestations of Neville's craziness was that at times he truly believed that he was the Author and Sustainer of all creation. This was something that we had in common.

  "Neville," I would groan, "please could you not be so outlandish before I've had a drink?" 

One day I was contentedly chopping up speed in the kitchen with the intention of taking it all myself and selling a few bags of crushed up Canderel to the students who lived down the road, when Neville appeared from nowhere, and before you could say "Good lord, you cunt, would you stay away from the Berwick", had filled his face with powder, stripped himself naked, and ran fully engorged into the street to batter the traffic with a large branch that he'd found in the garden.

Within an hour he'd been arrested and confined to a psychiatric unit, and was released into my care after 28 days on the condition that I would be responsible for administering his medication. I had no problem with that; I even encouraged him by taking it myself. I lost several days and ran the risk of major brain damage but hey, what are friends for? And I've never been able to resist an interesting looking pill.

After that, there were four house rules: Sit down, chill out, don't be playing any heavy metal and under no circumstances whatsoever let Neville go anywhere near the amphetamines.

Like alcoholism, Neville's illness was progressive, and I can hazard a guess at what happened to him. But whenever I think of him - like now - I like to imagine him standing proud, cane in hand, as he travels on his rug around the universe, maintaining the order of all things.

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