The Lakes was basically purgatory. You had to check in all leads to things like phones and iPods, in case you somehow hanged yourself. (It had once happened in the shower, a nice, northeastern nurse – also called John – told me. He played the guitar and wanted to do postgrad at Essex University, where my wife had just got work. He used to be in theatre, he said, with Toby Jones.) It was too much to think of going to reception (if that’s what they call it?) and waiting for them to raise the glass and glower at you as you said: can I have my lead? They had so many different ones… And I was so banjaxed with antidepressants, what would I listen to even if I had a lead?

But in purgatory there are a few bearable things. All the activities were basically no use for me: pottery needed 2 hands; a supervised walk in the woods, 2 legs. But the mindfulness course was ok – 15 minutes of listening to a tape, at 3.30 every afternoon. I’d done mindfulness before, pre stroke, trying to stop my brain overloading; now my brain had stopped altogether, so mindfulness was easy. It gave me a sort of satisfaction when everybody else, asked at the end whether it had worked, said: nah. For me it worked too well; I’d have done mindfulness till the cows came home…

But at 3.45 it was over.

There was a woman patient, about the same age as me, who always smiled at me and said: Doesn’t he look like James Blunt? The unintentional Botox-like effect of my right side freezing had a (sort of) compensation… She was always quite jolly but she was evidently pretending; she’d made umpteen suicide attempts.

A young woman cleaner from Eastern Europe used to look at me and half-smile, beneath her in-ear headphones, as she mopped the floor.

One patient with a shaved head looked alright. I wondered when he’d be going home. That’s when the problems start, he said. Neighbours! Playing music all night long… I asked him if he liked music. He said (and I always remember how specific he was): deep funk. I said: did he like Parliament? He’d never heard of them.

I could have asked about Funkadelic, but instead I ate my rice krispies.

I could either lie on my bed, walk around the courtyard (with the smokers) or watch tv. If I managed to get there alone, I’d put Film4 on – but inevitably someone would wander in and change it. My father had always liked ‘Allo ‘Allo, even in his non-dementia phase (along with M*A*S*H). I ended up watching a lot of it then, on UK Gold. I don’t know whether my father always liked ‘Allo ‘Allo or just liked it after he retired to a village in Suffolk. Herr Flick was a local celebrity and used to open the Barrel Fair on the green outside my parents’ house, complete with leather Gestapo mac. Real name (I’ve just found out): Richard Gibson.

Herr Flick! Such an 80s name…


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

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