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Land of 1,000 Dances - Wilson Pickett

When I first worked at the Royal Earlswood Hospital, I made up my mind that I would treat the residents much as I would treat anyone else. This may seem obvious in our current enlightened times, but wasn't back in the 1970's where the common practise amongst laypeople was either to run away or gawp, or to patronise. I soon saw from the behaviour of the other staff that this was the best approach as the residents sensed any communication that was less than genuine and were brilliant at exposing anyone who was lying or scaring the shit out of anyone who was frightened. On the other hand, they appreciated anyone who was straight with them, friendly of course, but by straight meaning honest. They themselves were by and large incapable of lying, and it was refreshing to be in a world where people meant what they said and did, as opposed to the "real world" where feelings and motives are hidden at every turn. If someone said "I don't like you Stylus" well then, you knew where you were. And if they said they liked you, that was okay too. It didn't stop them from being subtle or complex, it just meant that their actions had more meaning. I always reckon that I learned more about people in the Royal Earlswood than at school or in offices or anywhere else in the world. I also swiftly came to realise that there was a thin line between "us" and "them", if indeed there was any line at all. Maybe the only difference, really, was the white coat that all staff were issued with.

After two weeks on the children's ward, I was assigned to night shifts on Henry Ward, consisting of about 35 adult males. Initially I was terrified: I was a twenty-one year old with no medical training and only two weeks mental health nursing experience, and these guys were nearly all older than me. On top of that, at least ten of them were what was called "Australian Antigens AA positive" which meant that they were highly infectious carriers who could transmit a serious form of hepatitis, the disease that had killed the hospital Director, Mr Stewart's daughter (see last post). I needn't have worried so much, just a little bit would have been fine. The hepatitis was only lethal if it was undetected over the first few days, and only occasionally resulted in the death of the patient. You could only get it if you ingested it into your internal system: ie orally, through the bloodstream or via sexual intercourse, from a carrier. In the days pre AIDS and pre COVID this was pretty scary at first, but by the time I finished there I was pretty blasé about it. I shudder now when I look back at the tidying up of faecal matter I performed regularly as part of the job, the utensils I drank from, and my constant smoking having touched numerous surfaces, doorknobs, clothing and so on. I needn't have worried: the guys were generally fine. They'd watch telly, read comics or play games amongst themselves, usually more at the snakes and ladders end of things, but there was one regular game of drafts. All I had to do was keep any eye out for any fights or any residents who didn't feel well, administer their medicine - only five or six were taking it and in tablet form - get them to bed, and then, once they were in bed, count them to make sure they were all there.

The only difficult part was when it was time for bed. I would tell them all that it was bedtime and a few would trundle off to their dormitories, but the vast majority would carry on watching tv. I'd ask when their programme finished, give them another ten minutes and then check out the other dayrooms before coming back and switching the tv off. They'd all moan and one would always switch it back on, at which time I would remonstrate with them gently, turn it off again and switch it off at the plug which was a little unfair as it was on a console under lock and key in my "control office". On the first night, what appeared to be turning into a major riot, was averted by the intervention of a tall Irish guy who suddenly stood up from his front row telly seat and cried "Come on boys, we know it's time for bed. Off we go and we'll soon all be tucked up and nice and warm. Let's get moving" and he shepherded them all off, friendly fashion, with them muttering "okay Paddy" and "just for you Paddy". I thanked him and then suggested maybe he too should tootle along for a bit of shut-eye to which he readily acquiesced, with a "right you are, I think I'll get me head down for forty winks myself" before disappearing as well. The following evening much the same thing occurred with Paddy arriving bang on cue from the day room. This nightly ritual continued for a week or so and I was thankful to have such a helpful resident in my ward. One night Paddy was already chatting to me when the time came and we duly did the honours. Just as I was just about to suggest he go too, the Director dropped in on a surprise visit, just to check on how I was getting on. Paddy resisted my hints that he should push off to bed and leave me to my conversation with the Mr Stewart, when the Director, having asked how I was doing, said:

"of course, you've already met your supervising Night Manager , Mr Delahunt." I somehow managed not to give away my amazement and embarrassment as I realised that I had for the past week thought my line manager to be one of the inmates and been treating him as such. It is also extraordinary, that the wonderful, charming Mr Delahunt had no idea that I thought I was in charge of him when he was my superior, the source of confusion being, of course, that he didn't wear a white coat. He'd been there so long, he didn't think it was necessary: the residents and staff all knew who he was, just as they knew the Manager, who didn't wear one either.

"Land of 1000 Dances" was Wilson Pickett's biggest hit. It was one of those numbers that efficiently cashed in on the sixties craze for new dances by naming as many of them as possible, the great example of which was the Contours' great "Do You Love Me" but there were many others. Pickett's trademark groaning and granting is at its best here, creating the visceral excitement that spills out into the frenzy of the collective "naah, na na na naaah.." hook that is so infectious. The Muscle Shoals' fame studios "Swampers" have never been so tight, pacey and funky, all at the same time. No white coats here.


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