Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

In 1984 I was 27. Since leaving school I had done unskilled manual labour, when I could get any. Then l worked as a nursing assistant and then a trainee nurse in an 840-bed psychiatric hospital at Goodmayes in Essex, formerly the West Ham Lunatic Asylum. It was like a walled town. I ate, slept and socialised in there and became institutionalised and a bit mad, I believe.

In ordinary life, among relatively sane people, one becomes fairly confident about the parameters of so-called normal human behaviour. They are narrow parameters, and all the time getting narrower, I think. But if you live in a large mental hospital, these parameters widen drastically, or even disappear altogether. And after a time one comes to relish and prefer the greater variety of human behaviour, and the daily surprises occurring within the crenelated walls, and life outside becomes insipid. I was sacked finally, for, among other things, 'throwing human excrement at members of the public'.

After that I led an itinerant existence performing more unskilled labour. I mucked out pigs. I cleared builders' rubble on piece-work. Around this time, too, I had a silly season, and became familiar with the protocol of the magistrates' court. I was up before the garden gate about once a week, and I was glad of the unusually close attention that was paid to my life by the well-meaning people who work in them.

I've been thinking about this period of my life a lot lately, after reading in the newspapers about the 'allegation of a sexual nature' that has recently been made to the South Yorkshire police about Cliff Richard. It was said to have taken place at a Billy Graham Christian faith rally at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane football ground in 1985. Apparently, there were 47,000 people packed into the stadium that night, and a total of 200,000 people came to hear him speak over five nights -- a surprisingly large number. And reading about that reminded me that Billy Graham also toured Britain's football stadiums in 1984, one of which was Ashton Gate, home of Bristol City. For I was there on one of the four successive nights he spoke, and the stadium was packed then, too. Thirty thousand spectators, a 2,000-strong choir, the singer George Hamilton IV as a warm-up, and then the world famous evangelist Billy Graham got up to speak. …

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