Tag Archives: mental health

Horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 2


All morning as she stares at the computer screen in front of her she is vaguely aware of the usual background chatter, like a radio playing In another room, she can, if she concentrates pick out individual words, even whole sentences, but, she can just let it drift over her, a comforting and familiar chorus of low level annoyance, hunger and a moment or two of anxiety.
The pony has, as usual, been pushed away for the better grazing by the bigger horses.
Alice is worried about something strange, unfamiliar in the hedge.
Oliver wants to know that she will be there soon to bring them back into their stables.

Talking to animal or having animals talk to you, is not, she muses, when she takes 5 minutes to walk away from her desk, all its cracked up to be.

The messages the horses send her range from the dull, at least if you’re human – The grass here is better than the grass over there, To the mysterious , odd almost impossible to translate thought pictures about some equine deity and clouds and the smell of earth and then sometimes the downright horrific, the pony she passed on the road, screaming out its pain and fear from a cancer that nobody had diagnosed.

Her own horses, she can generally cope with. She works hard to keep them safe, secure, spends some time every day sending them messages of reassurance and maintenance and mostly, they manage to keep their voices quiet, try not to bring on the headaches that leave her pale, shaking and unable to meet the eyes of her colleagues and neighbours.

Local pets, the ones she knows live nearby, the ones she passes on her way to the corner shop recognise her, see her as something useful to them, a translation service they utilise when other forms of communication with their own humans have failed them.
“ tell them I don’t like chicken cat food”
“ The collar they bought me is too tight”
“ I get lonely when you go out all day”

These massages are easy to deal with, there are simple ways to pass these on without drawing attention to herself, but there are others which cause more difficulty to her and which sometimes she decides that she can’t hear, doesn’t understand and then she feels disloyal, dishonest. She feels as though she has let them down, those eyes, of cats, dogs, rabbits, budgies and above all, horses, expecting her to sort it out, make it better.

“ Every bone in my body aches now…let me go “
“ when you are not here, your new boyfriend locks me in the garden for hours and forgets to feed me”
“ you love the baby more than me, I hate the baby, I scratch the baby whenever your back is turned “
“ I don’t like you, but you feed me, I prefer the lady in the next house but one “
“ I didn’t mean to kill the hamster, it was an accident”
“ when you ride me, you are too heavy, you hurt my back, please stop”

She has become adept at passing on information to the humans, the other humans in ways that keep her safe.
She is not mad, knows that all of this is not usual,not normal and not something that she should be drawing any attention to, any time soon.

So, instead, she offers up tentative suggestions, wonders out loud if an owner has ever considered a change of feed, if they could use a dog collar that doesn’t fit her dogs.
Some times she takes direct action, scooping up a cat used a football and stealing it away to rehome it far away away from the man who wants to punch his boss but instead kicks his cat across a room.

Her neighbours feel a distance in her and so keep their own distance. She leaves so early in the morning, arrives home after dark, clothes mud spattered and humming with the aroma of horse and dog, that almost nobody ever really notices her and if they do meet she is polite, pats their dog, asks after their cat. They do notice that she never remembers to ask after husbands, wives, children, but after all, they rationalise, if they think about her at all. She has no parter, no family, no life that they can see, poor soul and then their phones ring or a child calls out or the east Enders starts and they forget their train of thought and they only think about her again when they notice how well their tabby kitten looks since they took her advice and changed his brand of cat food.

At night,when she lies in bed, the weight of sleeping dogs a comfortable pressure against her knees, she can, is she chooses to reach out and touch the minds of all the local pets.

The spaniel next door but one, Lord of the sofa now his family have gone upstairs to bed, he stretches full length, yawns, farts and falls asleep.

The grey cat who has discovered a nest of mice and is lying in the flower bed, belly flat against the damp earth, waiting patiently for the first one to poke its nose into the night air before he pounces.

The chickens at number 7, roosting in an unruly bundle of feathers, mad, blank chicken eyes closed as they doze and plot where to hide tomorrow’s newly laid eggs.

She lies quietly, almost asleep herself, closing her mind to the other stories, the ones she does not want to hear, not tonight , not any night.

She lies quietly, so close to sleep herself and tries to forget the face of the man at work, the man who sits two cubicles away from her , the man who explained today, how he is training his pitt bull to hate black people, and as he talked she could hear, a roaring bark of dismay and incomprehension from his dog who wants to love everyone and be loved.

She lies quietly and just before she drifts into sleep, decided that she will change jobs soon, move on to somewhere else, somewhere new.

At 4.45 the alarm jolts her awake again.

Number 49- the man who hated noise.

Number 49 – The man who hated noise.

The door next door – number 51 slams shut, with a bang so loud it makes his window frames rattle and even though he is expecting it, after all it is 7.35, he still jumps, just a little and slops tea into the saucer, splashes some onto the draining board, he tuts quietly, annoyed with himself, he should be used to the door by now, it happens every morning. It shouldn’t be a cause for real anxiety, but today it is.
7.45 and his other neighbours- number 47 have started the litany of
He doesn’t understand why she needs to stand at the bottom of her stairs and scream up to her oversized teenage son. He didn’t understand why she doesn’t simply walk up the stairs and actually speak to him.
Instead her screams come straight through the thin walls and fill his sitting room with her frustration
“ get up, you’re going to be late”
“Get up, you’re going to be late
“ I said, get up, you’re really late now”.
There are times when he seriously considers punching a hole in the wall and screaming his frustration at her and her sharp, edgy voice and for once filling her house with noise so loud it stops you thinking.
But, of course, he doesn’t.
Instead, he washes his cup and saucer, dries them carefully with the green checked tea towel and puts them both away in the cupboard next to the kettle.
He spends a moment checking the kitchen, work surfaces wiped down, cereal boxes carefully aligned in a tidy row. Sandwich box ready to go, flask filled, Apple polished and because it’s Friday, a two finger kitkat as a special treat for break time.
7.53 and a minute or two later than yesterday, the barking starts,staccato yaps, with no rhythm or pattern
Bark, bark, bark
Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark
And then a longer pause,
But, he has no time to savour this, to hold onto the last moments of peace before he must leave the house because the sullen teen has finally been prised out of bed and the thud, thud, thud of some hideous rap music has started and it’s counterpoint
“Mum, mum”
“What do you want?”
“ mum, I can’t find my PE kit”
The voice manages to be both booming and whining simultaneously
“ I can’t hear a bloody word, turn that bloody music down”
amen to that thinks the man at number 49, but it’s 8.10 and he needs to get going himself.
He collects up lunchbox, keys, waterproof jacket and a book and leaves the house, carefully and quietly shutting the front door.
The dog is still barking , but miraculously the music has stopped and he makes it to the car before the front door of 47 bursts open to disgorge six foot of teenager, all hoodie and rucksack hanging off him and the tssk,tssk, tssk of badly muffled outsized head phones.
Today, he doesn’t have to cope with the barely disguised sneer of dislike and he slides quickly and quietly into the car.
A deep breath and then engine on, the gentle purr of a car well maintained by it’s owner, check in mirror, signal and pull out onto the street.
Some mornings he listens to classic FM, playing low, almost sub audibly, but not today, his nerves are already jangling, he needs the silence of his commute to gather himself for the day ahead.
There are times when he genuinely believes that his neighbors are doing this on purpose, that they are conspiring to actually drive him insane, that this cannot be simply random thoughtlessness, that there must be some planning in all of this.
He doesn’t understand why they find it so difficult to just keep the noise down.
He is always thoughtful, mindful, careful and above all quiet.
Keeps his windows closed in all but the most freakish heat waves.
Only uses his Hoover once a week and at a time he has carefully calculated to cause the least impact on his neighbours- 11 am on a Saturday is hoovering time.
He would never dream of running his washing machine or tumble dryer at 10pm on a Tuesday night.
He saves his DIY tasks for holidays when he is sure that his neighbours are out at work.
He has never owned a pet or learnt the drums or bought a home entertainment centre or had mid week barbecues.
He keeps the volume on his television and radio to levels that can only be heard when he sits, quietly, in the armchair next to them.
But,none of this makes any difference to his neighbours, they seem completely impervious to his role modelling of good neighbourliness.
His offers of timed plugs to help them ensure that TVs and music go off at a sensible hour have caused terrible row,promises of injunctions and in one case and the threat seemed very real, the threat that if he ever knocked on the door again, he would get his face filled in.
After work, he parks his car, carefully, considerately outside his house. The dog next door hears him coming and starts to bark
“Bark, bark, bark”
“ bark, bark,,bark, bark”.
The teenager is home, his mother is not, so the noises are all recreational
Call of duty ..ack,ack,ack from the front room
A music channel from the bedroom and his voice, loud,echoing on a mobile
“ yeah, safe, yeah mate, safe, innit”
The man from number 49 puts on the kettle, waits for it to boil, takes his cup and saucer down from the cupboard and reaches Into the biscuit tin and chooses a chocolate digestive.
He sits quietly in his armchair, places the cup and saucer on the nest of tables next to him and reaches out for the book he has left on the arm of the chair.
He removes his bookmark and has just started to read when the the phone at 51 begins to ring and the dog, not to be outdone, begins to bark in answer.
“ Ring, ring”
“Bark, bark, bark”
“Ring, ring”
“Bark, bark, bark”
He doesn’t mean to, but as the front door of 47 opens and slams shut, he drops the book, but gently, not to make a sound when it hits the floor and curls Into the chair, makes himself as small as possible and wraps his arms around his head, pushing his fingers deep into his ears.


This weeks’ writing task for my school based writing group – 300 words on the topic of lost, deserted, dangerous or abandoned places.

“But it wasn’t like that”, I want to shout out, set them straight, but when I look around everyone, all these strangers, are silent, intent on the performers moving along the corridor, so i duck my head down, start fiddling with the buttons on my winter coat.

“You don’t want to go to that” said Norah, when it was our turn to make the lunch, ” Might raise a lot of, you know, stuff”.
I wanted to argue with her, explain, but the words were sticky that day, so i ran the zip up and down on my cardigan, taking comfort in the feeling of wool against metal.

Tony brought it up at the weekly meeting, mentioned the poster in the community centre, asked how we were feeling about it and i wanted to say, excited, looking forward to going back, but you have to be careful how you answer those kind of questions, so i said nothing, just rolled the loose threads in my pockets into tiny soft balls.

So, Saturday, my library day, I take my books, but I don’t turn right at the end of the road, i turn left and i walk up the hill, heading towards the miles of metal railings and the big gates and when i get there, there’s a woman, she’s dressed as a nurse, but i know she’s not one, I can tell, but she’s smiling, so i smile too and there’s a little crowd, so i tuck myself at the back and we walk up the gravel drive towards the front doors.

Mr Carmichael would be cross, the gardens are all over-grown, flower beds choked with weeds, he was proud of the flowers, always made sure that the vases were full, cheered up the day rooms, some of the men helped him, we would watch them, know who was having a good day. Sometimes, at the Saturday night dances one of the men would have a flower in his pocket, give it to the woman he was dancing with and she would hide it in her locker until all the petals had fallen off.

I head towards the side door, the womans’ entrance, but two more of these people appear, they’re dressed as doctors, but they’re not, too young, not busy enough and now i know we’re were heading, the tunnel.

The tunnel was famous, a mile of corridors, everyone used it. It was where you saw stuff, heard stuff, caught up with gossip, news. Sometimes people just walked it or on bad days stood still, shrank against walls until someone came and took you back, put the kettle on.

And now we’re standing in a little huddle and in front of us are these young people and some are wearing strait jackets and pajamas and some are dressed as doctors and they’re screaming and shouting and now I really want to tell them, but I bite my cheek, hard enough to draw blood and I half close my eyes and i’d like to rock , but that’s attention seeking behavior, so i don’t.

I’m drifting now, remembering……………

Saturday dances, men one side of the room, women the other, piano and then later, years later, a record player and sometimes wanting to dance and sometimes feeling the music pour through your hands and sometimes it all being too much and being taken back for quiet time and the kettle on.

The laundry, warm, steamy, the smell of soap and hard work and the jokes and the nice Irish nurse, the one who would share her cigarettes.

Fish and chips on Friday and jam roly poly with custard.

The men had a barber, but the ladies had the WRVS women, shampoo and set, the smell of warm hair and setting lotion.

Concert parties, everyone, well everyone judged good enough to be an audience, in neat rows, nurse on the last seat, the one nearest the aisle, a good sing along and a nervous comedian.

And days when the sky seemed too near and you needed to hide under the blankets and someone would save a slice of cake from tea and leave it, quietly, on the bed-side locker.

The young people are writing on the floor now and there’s an abandoned wheelchair placed carefully halfway down the tunnel, everyone in the small audience is focused, all attention on the performers.
i take a deep breath, rub my fingers along the fabric of my good winter coat and quietly slip away.

It’s time to go home, to the home, I walk out of the main doors for the second time in my life and my feet make a soft crunching noise on the gravel path and i wonder what’s for tea.