One of the many holiday jobs I had while I was a young student was as a Ward Orderly in a mental hospital, which was without a doubt the most depressing and enlightening jobs I ever had.
I saw an ad asking for students who wanted holiday work to apply to a nearby lunatic asylum, and as the wages were reasonable and they didn’t want any particular skills or experience, I thought it was worth a try.
So I duly went to the hospital, found the relevant official and signed on for the duration of my holidays. All seemed well, but I should perhaps have become a wee bit suspicious on being asked to sign something called The Official Secrets Act, in which I promised – on pain of death apparently – never to discuss or write about anything I saw or heard whilst working in this hospital.
As you will now see, I have decided that I am no longer frightened by what the British Government might do to me if I discuss that job – not that I am aware of doing anything much that could be counted as an “official Secret”.
So, there I was, on the start of my first shift, waiting nervously to be taken to the ward I would be working in for my time at the hospital. The office I had to report to was at the front of the asylum, and all was clean, cheerful colours and paintings on the walls.. nurses wore clean uniforms and all seemed very organised and peaceful. Little did I know!!
I was duly taken in hand by one of the staff, signed that secrets act, given a couple of gigantic cast iron keys and led off to the back section of the asylum. The further back we went, the worse things became. The cheerful colours of the front gave way to a dirty and shiny green colour on all the walls, no more paintings on the walls, and the nurses were much less appealing.. being mostly large and rather fierce looking men in somewhat stained and rumpled uniforms.
Also we went through what I later discovered was the section of the hospital reserved for women patients, numbers of whom were wandering around in the corridors, or curled up in odd positions against the walls. Frankly they terrified me, as they really did look insane. Wild eyes, wild hair and filthy clothes.