I don’t usually do requests (because, well, I don’t usually get them), but a friend suggested I tell a particular story from my past. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be of any interest to anyone, so if it bores or annoys you, blame him.
Names have been changed to protect the guilty. This is a brief version of events, as I may have forgotten some details in the intervening years. Apologies nevertheless for the uncharacteristic length.
Way back in the mists of time (1996), following graduation I moved to London to pursue an embryonic career in the film industry. I had already worked on two low budget feature films, and was keen to continue working in this glamorous and excitingly underpaid industry. This financial precariousness, coupled with London’s notorious expensiveness, led me to seek shared lodgings in a rather insalubrious suburb, where I shared a house with two other gentlemen – one a corpulent Irishman who worked for Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise as what I believe is called a “heavy”, and the other was the landlord, a man so affable and mild-mannered that, if I didn’t know better, I would have assumed was the alter-ego of a superhero.
Things went fine for about a year or so. The landlord wasn’t around much and was understanding about the fact that it was often difficult for me to make that month’ rent, and the Irishman was…well, let’s just say that we didn’t exactly “hang out” together.
Then one night I woke up screaming. No, wait – I was woken by screaming. At the time it didn’t really register what was going on – one second I was fast asleep, the next I had leapt up and was racing for the door. I opened it to be confronted by Landlord standing there, blood streaming down his face from a cut on his forehead. He proceeded to tell me that he’d been to a local bar where he’d had a few drinks and then started a rather heated debate with another patron about the IRA. Patron no.2 became excited and, in order to emphasis his point, struck Landlord in the head with a pool cue. Landlord then explained to me at great length that he was the second coming, and that he was under government surveillance. Irishman woke up shortly after this, and we managed to convince Landlord to go to a hospital to get his cut seen to.
The next few weeks are a bit of a blur, but suffice to say that his behaviour continued to deteriorate as his personality fragmented, albeit interspersed with flashes of lucidity. Eventually we persuaded him to come with me to a local mental health clinic. On the way there he seemed perfectly fine, but as soon as he set foot inside the building he started acting even more deranged than usual – changing accent, accusing me of having betrayed him, describing the locations of the hidden cameras in his house, etc. Needless to say, he was committed that day.
Some months passed, he got better, he was released. He seemed to have made some improvement – he was calmer, able to talk about what had happened. Then he had a relapse. He went missing. His brother called us one morning to tell us that he had jumped in front of a London Underground train at Mile End station and had died on the way to the hospital.
His brother took over as landlord, and Irishman remained as the only other occupant of the house. Life with him continued to be the proverbial barrel of laughs. Most nights he would return late from work (or rather from the pub he went directly to after work) drunk, put something in the oven, slump on the sofa, fall asleep, and I would be woken by the smoke alarm as whatever was in the oven burnt to a crisp and filled the house with fumes.
Finally a friend rescued me by asking me to become the fourth tenant in a house with three Scandinavian ladies.
But that’s another story…