top of page

I Found a Love - the Falcons

I got the job at the Royal Earlswood because someone told me that the best work you could get if you were a student was on the night shift in a mental hospital because then you would have plenty of time to study while you got paid. I asked around and found that the nearest one to me was the Royal Earlswood Hospital. I rang them up and they invited me for an interview. I lied and said that as I student I had done “care in the community” type work at a community centre in Manchester which involved helping old people. I was interviewed by the director of the hospital, a pleasant, short Scotsman with a stutter. I later was told that his daughter had died from hepatitis as a direct result of working in the hospital, after having been infected by one of the residents. He said they’d take me on but I couldn’t do the nighttime work until I’d been trained up on the dayshifts. I was assigned to do two weeks on the children’s ward which already had three trained nurses per shift. I was to be a “Nursing Assistant”. In those days there were no security checks and no sex offender register as far as I was aware, so it is a frightening thought that I, an unqualified person, could land a job looking after vulnerable children and adults so easily. Having said that, all of the nursing staff I met there seemed to be very conscientious and responsible people and did a good job.

My two weeks on the children's ward were incredibly busy, and a sad and beautiful time. I can still remember most of the children's names so deep was the impression they made on me. Though all had severe learning difficulties, their personalities always shone through. One girl, Daisy, must have been about thirteen. She was Downs, had very little use of her arms or legs, could hardly speak, had to be spoon fed and always seemed to to be slouched in her wheelchair, her head permanently tilted to her right, resting on her shoulder, but somehow she always radiated an infectious happiness and polite affability for most of the time. Once though, after her parents had visited, and only once, did I ever see her cry and it was, for that moment the saddest thing in the world. There was Big Tony, who'd spend all day waving a sock in his right hand, staring at it and singing to it tunelessly. The first time I was detailed to dress him for the day, sorting through his clothes that were all neatly laid out beside his bed, I found that there were three in the sock bundle as opposed to the usual pair. I thought it was a mistake and discarded one, and carried on dressing. Five minutes later he'd taken off one of his socks and was waving it as usual. The nurse looked at me pitifully. "Use your head. What d'you think the other one was for?"

Little Anthony, taller but not as heavily built as his namesake, always wore a pair of bright white and blue running shoes. He was very proud of them, and often you would find him sitting down in a corner cleaning them with a brush. It seemed ironic, because he could barely walk, and I would help him around the ward and their fenced play garden with him leaning against me and clutching my arms like a far-gone drunk. The children, unlike the adults, were under lock and key: this was for their own safety plus legally they weren't voluntary patients as they had been made the wards of the hospital. One day, I saw that someone had left the gate from the garden to the main grounds open. I spotted this at the same time as Little Anthony, but before I could do anything about it, he had sprinted the thirty metres to it was through. I ran to the gate only to see him disappearing down the avenue of trees, flying like the wind, or an animal on the plains of Africa.

Philip was an angelic classically blond and blue-eye eight year old who liked to borrow my watch. He'd hold it to his ear like a seashell and whisper "tick tock, tick tock" along with the second hand, smiling as if it was magic. When I left, I bought him a cheap one as a gift - I hope it's still going.

Unlike the adults, the children received regular visits from their parents, who took them out, like boarding public schoolboys, at the weekends. The nurse told me it was a kind of Peter Pan syndrome, that as they got older, the parents and relations came less, and by the time they were twenty the visits would be down to twice a year, usually around birthdays and Christmas. By 30, most residents had no visitors. The parents were old and had their own problems getting about, brothers and sisters had their own children. She shrugged. It was universal; it was the way of the world. This song is for the children of Earlswood, hoping they're still alive and happy, wherever they are.

Wilson Pickett first made his name when, in 1960, he took over from Joe Stubbs as the lead singer of the legendary Detroit group the Falcons (see ). Recorded two years before he was picked up by Atlantic Records (and their subsidiary Stax), this is perhaps Pickett's best vocal on vinyl, suffused in his gospel roots, howling and yelping like a husky under an Easter moon. Great band backing him, whoever they are, with some thrilling guitar picking, and they need to be, to keep pace with Pickett's energised vocal he sounds transfigured, like a gospel minister speaking in tongues, transported by the word of God. Except he's swapped Him for love of a good woman. Let's face it, he sings about her in spiritual terms:

"The way that woman walks - she set my lost soul on fire"

The song, written by Pickett, fellow Falcon Willie Schofield and producer Robert West, later provided the title and theme for one of Pickett's hits - "In the Midnight Hour" when he screams the finale:

"Sometimes I call her in the midnight hour

yeah yeah aaaaaah don't leave me baby

Yeah yeah aaaaaaaaaaah yeah yeah, yeah."

How could you dare put the phone down on that? Or maybe that's what you would do.


bottom of page