I listen to radio 4 in the car, which means I catch scraps and shards of whatever programme is on. A couple of times this week I’ve caught excerpts from Barbara Taylor’s memoir,The Last Asylum.</em
It's the story of her mental illness, and the time she spent in a massive psychiatric hospital in Friern, just outside London.
Those big bins are all gone now. I worked in the remnants of one in Bristol, and I visited one as a student, probably round the time Barbara Taylor was an in-patient. I have mixed feelings about them. They were dreadful places, and I saw some really institutionalized patients. On the other hand, they had the most beautiful grounds. Driving into Barrow early one morning, I saw a woodpecker on a post, and people regularly saw deer.
The big asylum in Friern was initially enormous. It was built before anpsychiatric drugs were developed, and I guess people stayed there for years. It had a farm, laundry, foundry, bakeries, all run by the inmates.
It’s a beautiful idea. To be able to go to a beautiful place, out in the countryside; where people would take care of you; where you could spend time in nature; where you could do meaningful work. If you could do it properly, with love, and care; thoughtfully; wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing? It’s a shame it all went so horribly wrong.