Past Lives and Present Misgivings – Part One.

by Anna Raccoon on September 10, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 16.58.10The blog post that won’t go away is still bouncing around in my head; the Sunday newspapers today have further infuriated me – and after long talks with Mr G, I have made the decision to publish. It is going to be a painful experience for me, one that will take several days to complete, so be patient with me. You’ll get an installment each day – the ‘Perils of Pauline’ Mark II.  It may be that the reason for publishing won’t be clear until I have finished the tale. That could be Friday! Who knows?

Pour yourself a double on the house, and sit quietly.

I did once write on this site of how I attempted suicide when I was 13,  a few months before the Suicide Act made that desperate act ‘legal’. Until that change in the law, you were either ‘mad or bad’. I ended the story with me being incarcerated in a fearful Victorian asylum in Epsom on the grounds that no one wanted to believe that I was ‘bad’. It was horrific, and I have thought many times over the years of writing of what happened to me as a child, but I truly loathe the ‘victim culture’ and could never bring myself to do it. I will, today, try to fill in  a few pertinent details.

There was no ‘children’s ward’. Such a thing didn’t exist in those days. So I found myself in the company of some very strange individuals indeed; many, many, years older than I. The only concession to my age was that I was given a single ‘room’, not allocated to the women’s dormitory. ‘Room’ is in parenthesis, for it bore more resemblance to a police cell – a heavy metal door, with an inspection hatch, which in fairness, was never locked, but foreboding all the same. Although that door was never locked, the door to the corridor that it was on was locked at night. Someone, somewhere, was presumably aware that it wasn’t a brilliant idea to leave a 13 year old girl sleeping and accessible to several dozen adult males – even if it was only done in the interests of getting a good nights kip on night duty.

It was about the only concession to the idea that having some 50 men and women with varying mental states sharing one ward was potentially problematic.

Once a week was bath-night. There were four huge baths, deep cast iron affairs, with the controls for the hot water firmly on the outside. The routine was that two baths were allocated to the women, and two to the men, and periodically the water would be changed – not between every patient though!  There were procedures to go through before you reached the head of the queue. As the queue snaked the length of the ward, nurses would first collect – or more generally ‘help out of’ – all clothing; further up the queue, new clothing would be allocated, so that by the time you reached the head of the queue, you were stark naked, clutching a pile of clean clothing. All very efficient for the nursing staff.

It also meant that by the time I neared the head of the queue, I was starkers, and pressed in on all sides by some deeply confused equally naked men and women. The staff took no notice of the general ‘jostling’ that would go on around me – but one of the other patients did. His name was Joss and at 28, he was the nearest to my age. He took to standing next to me in the queue, and snarling at anyone who attempted to touch me.

Joss was 15 years older than me, and a schizophrenic. I didn’t have a clue what that meant, he just seemed to be the only person in that place capable of holding a conversation. He said it was all a misunderstanding that he was there – he should have been in prison for a ‘major bank robbery’, but had ‘pretended to be mad’ to escape prison. That sounded reasonable enough to me – I hadn’t done anything, that I could see, that warranted being locked up in this way, so could sympathise with someone else in the same position. We took to sitting next to each other in the dinning room and the ‘craft room’ that we were led off to each day.

Joss was kind and gentle, and looked after me. If you were waiting for the classic ‘I was an abused child’ tale, you will be disappointed. He never abused me in any way whatsoever. I should also make clear that never received any form of ‘treatment’ at Long Grove. With hindsight, I was undoubtedly deeply depressed, but I wasn’t diagnosed with any dreadful mental illness, I was just ’there’. The only place the general hospital where I had originally been taken to unconscious could think of discharging me to.

One day Joss disappeared under one of the tables in the craft room and beckoned to me. I crouched down under the table to hear what he had to say. Everybody else was milling around the door, waiting to go back to the ward for tea – it was the end of the day. ‘Get under here, and keep your head down, I’ve unlocked a window’. So I did! In time, the building was empty and we duly climbed through the window and ran like the wind across the extensive grounds, eventually making our way to Epsom railway station.

Still waiting for something terrible to happen? Sorry to disappoint again. He took me home to his sister in Brixton who gave me a job working on one of her market stalls. I lived with two female friends of his in a flat in Battersea. Joss went home to his Mother, and appeared occasionally, but not much. I was still very much a virgin – if you need to know – just working hard, paying my way and keeping my head down.

One day, two policemen came to the door. It was me they were looking for, having followed Joss to the address several times. They marched me off down Battersea Bridge Road towards the police station. As we were halfway there, we neared the post office. Three men came running out of the post office pursued by the post master…’you stay right where you are Susanne’ said my policemen and took off in hot pursuit. Needless to say, I was off round the corner like a bloody greyhound. Technically I had just made my position ten times worse, I had now absconded from police custody.

I hitch hiked for three weeks, up and down the country, day and night. I literally had nowhere to aim for, nowhere to go. Lorry drivers bought me bacon sandwiches, leered at me, but decided I was too young to chance their arm. Eventually I hitchhiked the length of Scotland, ending up three miles from John O’Groats late at night. The car driver was worried about putting me down on a lonely road (this was 1962!) late at night. ‘Come home with me’ he said. I declined. ‘You’ll be quite safe, my sister lives there too’. He made her come to the gate to reassure me, she did.

Her name was Jean and she ran the local store and post office. She too gave me a job, helping out in the shop. I lived in her croft with her. They were very poor – it was very primitive, two inch thick glass set straight into the cob walls, no frames! That lasted for about a month until once again a policeman came knocking. He took me into custody – a hilarious affair, since even then they had rules about young children and women, and there was no female police officer, just him and his wife and a cell door which had to remain open and he had to push my food over the threshold….

Two policewomen came up from London to accompany me on the long journey back to London by train. It took about 24 hours from memory. Eventually we ended up at I think it was Waterloo Station, no matter, we had a long wait for the next connection and quite improbably, they decided to take me to the old cartoon cinema that used to be on the platform. Half way through yet another Mickey Mouse effort, sitting between these two uniformed policewomen, one of them went to get some sweets. No sooner had she gone than the other one decided to go to the ladies. I watched her disappear down the dimly lit aisle, and with no sign of the other one hoving into view – need you ask?

I was off again like greased lightening. My 2nd escape from police custody. I made it to Joss’s house – the only place I knew, just as the police arrived there. I was taken to a place called Cumberlow Lodge in South Norwood, a now notorious detention centre. I was there for months, five at least. Every three weeks I would appear in court, and the magistrates would ask whether my parents were present. They never were, they refused to communicate whatsoever. Every three weeks the magistrates would make a new order ‘to give time to trace my parents’.

I had broken the law, both in my suicide attempt and twice escaping from police custody, but I was not the usual run of ‘runaways’. I was still steadfastly a virgin, as the indignity of gynaecological examinations proved, had never stolen anything, nor got involved in drugs or anything like that. I was extremely well spoken and well educated – several public boarding schools had seen to that.

But I was just 14 years old and nobody knew what to do with me.

Tagged as: Child Abuse, Duncroft, Jimmy Savile, Margaret Jones

{ 32 comments }

Jeremy PoyntonOctober 24, 2012 at 14:28

Tip of the hat to Ma’am Raccoon!

Screaming BansheeOctober 24, 2012 at 13:32

I was in ore of you before reading this, but even more so now.
I love hearing about peoples lives growing up, but this is a life that should be in writing.

You are truely an amasing woman.
SBxxx

PatOctober 23, 2012 at 23:24

Bloody Hell.What a story! Lost for words.
I hope there are no unpublished comments that you have had to delete- if so any clue to the identity of the commentors would be appreciated.

BrianOctober 22, 2012 at 19:46

Anna,
Thank you for writing that you attempted suicide when 13. I tried at school when I was 12 because I was tired of constant bullying about my hemiplegia. The school authorities were keen to hush the matter up and I dreaded the prospect of going to a state school where the bullying would be worse or a psychiatric hospital so I went along with the line that it was just a cry for help. I received no help from the school afterwards; indeed abot three months later at the end of the year the form teacher informed the whole class that our science exam marks were marginally higher on average than the other class she taught because my suicide attempt had meant she wasn’t able to teach them for two periods while she was in meetings. Nice… I wish I could say that I’m a better, stronger character because of my school experiences but thirty-five years later I still feel just as lost and hopeless. However. it probably explains why I have a deep wish to help other people.

Elena ‘andcartOctober 22, 2012 at 11:11

Phew, Riveting. I sometimes wish that I had been you.
I spent three glorious years in a Children’s Home wherein I was entirely happy. The only problem was that they sent me back home, although I have to say that Social Services believed that it was the best thing to do. However, no one ever checked to see if I was okay. This oversight still stuns me, especially since the school I went to back home knew that my sister and I were being beaten. And so did the neighbours.
But my Children’s Home gave me what little confidence I have, taught me how to behave in polite society, and how to speak. I eventually upped and joined The Wrens at the first opportunity. I would never have had the nerve or the accent to get away with it if it had not been for the so very kind, upper class Scots couple who looked after us all during that lovely three years.

AmfortasOctober 22, 2012 at 01:00

Just hang back a wee minute or two folks with the excoriation of Jimmy Saville. Little or no evidence has yet appeared and even the dead – who can’t answer back – are innocent until proven guilty. Saville is up before the Great Judge in the Sky as we speak where all is known, even all the false allegations that may well be present. We live in an accusatory age where even none-celebrities are the unfair targets of malicious accusation and gossip.

Elena ‘andcartOctober 22, 2012 at 11:20

I couldn’t agree more. I am appalled by the current “Revelations” which have the stench of The Salem Witch Trials. But as you say, he is dead, so no one can be accused of Libel.
This is all going to come to horrible grief. Find me a woman of my generation who has never been groped, although I was never groped by Jimmy Savile. But I am beginning to think that I must be the only one. I wonder which Press Publication might be interested in that?

Edna FletcherOctober 22, 2012 at 11:27

Your sentiment is not wrong- but the whole system starts with the premise of guilt whoever you are. The difference here is that there seem to be a lot of people coming forward, some might be wrong allegations- but all of them? We may never know the real truth..

wassnameOctober 21, 2012 at 23:55

Sue, the very reason I click on you every day is that I believe that you always speak the from the heart. This first instalment.of this saga tells me your heart and your brain are as one. You have nothing to fear from your friends and who gives a sh1t about your enemies?

Carol42October 21, 2012 at 20:13

Really good Anna, can’t wait for the next episode. I am about the same age as you and it seems a lifetime ago that such treatment was considered normal. That said I am not sure the present system is much better from what I read.

FrankieOctober 21, 2012 at 19:33

Well Anna: That was a thankfully short break to gather yourself together…

What an epic tale. Bloody Hell! If nothing else, perhaps it might make people appreciate how far we have come (in theory) in care for the mentally ill since the 1960′s. I realise that things are still far from perfect but… what on earth? That place sounded positively Medieval, or at least Victorian.

One can see that if those kind of practices were common, it would be easy for slime, like Savile, to exploit the situation.

Truly, we are hearing of a ‘life, less ordinary’. Way to go, Anna Raccoon!

cascadianOctober 22, 2012 at 08:01

” If nothing else, perhaps it might make people appreciate how far we have come (in theory) in care for the mentally ill since the 1960′s.”……..That “in theory” is telling, what factual information leads you to believe that mental healthcare has improved? We regularly hear horror stories about geriatric care, these are people that can represent themselves adequately, are you confident that mental patients can voice their concerns?

Edna FletcherOctober 22, 2012 at 11:19

I agree- ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is no less apt today then when it was written. The control of vulnerable people needing 1 to 1 attention, support and understanding is no less obscene today than 45 years ago. A visit to an acute psychiatric ward is like visiting a prisoner even today. I have not remained too far professionally to know this as fact.

There are good people but they are mostly ground down trying to advocate the more humane approaches.Chemical Coshes now for dementia suffers too because no one tries to understand or cares to spend the time getting to understand the person behind. All the ‘professionals’ play the game based on changing text book theories about mental illness. People are not textbook theories, not should they be treated as such. Stock phrases and words about in the social work/ mental health field which describe nothing but prejudices and judgements.

I recall someone I worked with who was ‘banned’ by others because he appeared threatening. I dared to see him alone and got to know him – as a result I found out that he had no idea that people were scared of him or why- he shouted a lot. He was no longer banned and I was able to help him- through knowledge of his functioning by helping him get a mental health section removed against the reigning psychiatrist’s opinion. The problem is you have to be far removed from textbook theory type thinking to work well with such people and they need friends other than just family often..

Elena ‘andcartOctober 22, 2012 at 12:14

I used to do The Laundry for one of these “Care Homes” for patients suffering from Dementia, although it was hard to tell what they were suffering from because they were all bombed out of their brains and sitting in chairs in the communal area, reeking of urine. All of the clothing was used by anyone that it fitted, and I know this because I saw various people wearing various items.
I owned The Laundry but I had to do it myself because none of my staff would touch it, and I can’t say I blamed them. The smell was awful, always Polyester, and always unironed, having previously been washed at to high a temperature, so they looked like a bunch of tramps. No dignity at all.
How anyone could have left their father or mother in such a place leaves me defeated to this day.

Mark in MayenneOctober 21, 2012 at 19:15

*being patient*

Dick the PrickOctober 21, 2012 at 19:10

You can take the girl out of Liverpool….. Brava!

LaurentOctober 21, 2012 at 18:58

This is truly a wonderful story, epic, ironic, beautifully written. As i know you do. Thinking of you these days. I must call you ! (a big embrace to you and G; and a very warm hug). Laurent

Jeremy Frunt-BottomleyOctober 21, 2012 at 18:26

“There are nowhere near enough judgemental conclusions in this account, it is merely mental. Why is there no blame, no naming of Guilty Men, no BBC scandal, no demand for a public enquiry, and worst of all, no mention whatsoever of Madeleine McCann or Jimmy Savile?” asked Nudecorpse editor Becky Redtop, as she blasted her staff on the newsfloor of soaraway tabloid The Slut.
“Well seefingizzloik,” said Society Editor Dean Street, “Worritizzizzroit, we nicked it off that Macca Loon’s website boss. On account of she don’t ‘ave no lawyers watchin’ 24/7 like what we do.”
Becky fixed Dean with her straight eye and crooked grin.
“Get your useless backside down to Macca’s French maison de retraite,” hissed Redtop, “And start yelling through her letterbox”.

Singlane Acts of TyrannyOctober 21, 2012 at 18:07

You may not entirely get this even now BUT, you are a most impressive person my internet friend.

Single Acts of TyrannyOctober 21, 2012 at 18:07

which is more than can be said for my spelling!

JuliaMOctober 21, 2012 at 17:26

I do hope the next instalment doesn’t have you joining a cult!

Edna FletcherOctober 21, 2012 at 16:34

I was a volunteer, (pre CRB checks- the astute might note Mr James Saville would have had a blemish free record and he was given free reign to numerous institutions), 45 years ago at one of the other similar institutions in the area not far from the one you describe.

The bathing arrangements were indeed primitive. I was asked to give a not too warm bath to an old lady stripped naked in a communal, rather old style, open bathing area with large tub. She screamed to blue heaven throughout- so would I if some stranger tried to bath me. Of course today I would need an NVQ to do so and health and safety training etc. Need I say no harm came to the old lady or myself from this omission. But today old people are still bathed by strangers (and have blemish free CRB checks).

I have never forgotten was the way the inmates were ‘pushed’ down into their chairs by nursing staff if they tried getting up. I recall a fairly youngish woman compared to the others clicking her false teeth and appearing to be paralysed, only to be told by staff that she could walk; she jumped from a window on hearing of her husband’s infidelity and refused to accept this (today this would be deemed confidential material). I used to spend a whole day morning until night there and came back home feeling depressed and unhappy about all these ‘hidden humans’, who I thought little more insane than people I saw in my daily life.

Good on you to have escaped and developed into the thinking person you are- we are the richer for this.

cascadianOctober 22, 2012 at 07:36

Thank you Edna for your invaluable service to the community. So many people avoid mental patients believing them to be violently disordered when in reality as Anna is eloquently recording they are more likely to be misunderstood or intellectually unable to describe their symptoms. “Hidden humans” is an excellent description.

The daily parade of sociopaths and psychopaths described as politicians bemuses me as to whom we should be afraid.

Anna thank you for your forthright honesty, we have come to expect no less from you but that does not mitigate the extreme bravery required to write this.

Woman on a RaftOctober 21, 2012 at 16:31

You could make money with this. Don’t give it all away for free. Samples only to sell the biography and film options.

Anna RaccoonOctober 21, 2012 at 16:52

Feel free to do so – my only interest is in the truth, not money.

MudpluggerOctober 21, 2012 at 15:49

All the best Dickens and Conan Doyle stories were initially published as instalments. I reckon they’ve finally got some competition with this developing yarn – and it’s not even fiction.

A lot of folk out here are holding their collective breath, waiting to hear What Katy Did Next……

macheathOctober 21, 2012 at 16:22

Well said!

If I may, this is from a post of mine from October 2010:
If Dickens has a spiritual descendant among today’s bloggers, it is surely Anna Raccoon – tireless researcher, indomitable campaigner, witty satirist and gifted raconteuse.
and it’s as true today as it ever was

EngineerOctober 21, 2012 at 14:08

Good Lord – talk about ‘character-building experiences’. No wonder you have strength and an independent streak!

It’s heartening to hear of the people who helped and gave you a roof over your head, though. It does suggest that despite all we hear in the media, most people are basically good-hearted and kind, though perhaps the same can not be said of ‘officialdom’, however well meaning their actions might have been.

I suspect that what is yet to tell of this story may not be easy to tell, but will deserve to be read with respect.

AmfortasOctober 21, 2012 at 12:41

Gordon Bennett. Phew.

You have my attention, m’dear.

If Mr G listens, so will I.

macheathOctober 21, 2012 at 12:28

I’m at a loss for words; it must be very difficult for you to relive these experiences and they are uncomfortable to read, yet you do it in such breathtakingly elegant and vivid prose that one cannot but admire the result.

JuliaMOctober 21, 2012 at 15:57

Seconded!

ZaphodOctober 21, 2012 at 12:20

Bloody hell, this is a ripping good yarn!
More please!

{ 4 trackbacks }

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Petunia Winegum September 10, 2014 at 10:43 am

This is a movie-in-the-making, Anna – you do realise that? What an incredible story.

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EyesWideShut September 10, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Isn’t the past astounding? Different context, I know, but I was reminded of episodes in the lives of relatives, like a 14 year old coming ashore unaccompanied and without a penny to his name at Ellis Island in the early years of the c20. He had convinced everyone who mattered en route that he was 18, and no one bothered about ID. To gain entry to the States, if you had no visible means of support, you had to show proof of an address that was waiting for you or be met off by the boat. When it emerged he had no one to vouch for him, the family standing behind him in the health inspection line simply claimed him as theirs. And they were Russian Jews, not Irish folk. Did the Immigration Officials care? Did they heck. At least there was one “family member” who spoke fluent English, so that meant shaving a few minutes off the process. Hard to imagine that now, as anyone who has travelled to the US recently will tell you.

There’s a resilience in youth. Maybe it comes from not fully grasping how wrong things can go, or maybe it’s a question of physical energy that carries you through. I don’t know.

The system you found yourself in didn’t know what to do with you, and I suspect for all that some things have “improved”, it might be a case of plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. The details of your incarceration might differ nowadays, but overall, I think the attitude is still one that certain categories of people (or children) are problems to be solved, and that usually means they must conform themselves to the internal organisational imperatives of an institution. Institutions are set up for institutions and not for people.

Ps – do you think those lady cops knew exactly what they were doing when they took their eyes off the ball?

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Moor Larkin September 10, 2014 at 1:12 pm

It struck me that those harbouring the runaway, such as those John-o-Groats ‘Crofters’ would be prosecuted nowadays. maybe the law meant they should have been back then. I recall that in the Jimmy Savile story from his autobiography, when he was returning the runaway to the police station, he cajoled the police officers both against worsening the situation of the girl and perhaps, charging him with harbouring a fugitive.

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DtP September 10, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Many thanks for the drink, could i pay for the bottle and listen quietly by the fire? I’m filled with trepidation.

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Hysteria September 10, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Hmmmmm…. Part one of three – there will be a twist in here somewhere…….

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Ken Hardy September 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm

I enjoyed your story. I am so pleased you met some kind people on your journey. I spent a couple of decades as a long distance lorry driver, and am so pleased that my former colleagues looked after you. They “leered” at you, but at least they fed you, and did not molest you. For a girl of your age, you showed a great deal of courage. Fior that I respect you, and look forward to the rest of your story.

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The Jannie September 10, 2014 at 5:34 pm

All this truth and honesty will get you nowhere. Just invent what’s missing, preferably involving a few z-list celebs and Grub Street will come knocking. In the meantime, rest assured that there are lots of hugs available hereabouts!

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Norman Brand September 10, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Wonderful human spirit. A great read.

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Alan Scott September 10, 2014 at 7:38 pm

You restore one’s faith in the essential goodness of the human soul – your own at least, certainly.
On On!
Alan Scott.

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Robert Edwards September 10, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Well, all I can say is – Thank whoever that you didn’t top yourself – many lives would be diminished had you done so. A terrifying and uplifting tale…

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Kath Gillon September 11, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Seriously impressive life, although me being a bit contrary I read two first and one second :S don’t ask :)
Clearly you are one of lifes survivors and that is to be celebrated.

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