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Time is Tight - Booker T and the M.G.'s

Someone has suggested to me that the COVID virus was instrumental in dethroning Trump from the presidency, which may or may not be true, let's face it many other factors were instrumental also, but, as we have been listening to Booker T, it set me to wondering what the best instrumental track of all time might be. There are many contenders from the original Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross", through the Allman Brothers' "Jessica", to the Safari's "Wipe Out". Booker T and co themselves have more than one contender, but, on danceability and for purity, "Time is Tight" just pips their "Green Onions". Over the years, the song has proven that, whenever you hear it, whatever your mood, it is just what the doctor ordered.

There are two version on vinyl, the longer, faster one that was on the soundtrack for the 1969 film "Up Tight" and the original single track, which edges it through the virtuosity of Booker T's purring electric organ, perfectly backed the best rhythm section that ever was. The single's regular metre and cascading organ is the musical equivalent of a film showing water going down a waterfall, with the tension of sand falling through an hourglass or a burning fuse.

When I was a student, back in the 70's, I worked for two summers and an Easter as a nursing assistant in a mental hospital, the Royal Earlswood, in Surrey. The common model for such establishments no longer exists, but, until most of them were closed in the 1980's, large numbers of people lived in what are officially termed "psychiatric hospitals". The occupants of most of these were "voluntary patients" ie in theory they could leave any time they liked, but in practice, if they did, they soon were returned by the police or other social services. At the Royal Earlswood, we checked that everyone was there each lunchtime and bedtime and, if someone was missing, a search of the hospital grounds would be undertaken by the staff and the absence reported to the local police. The Royal Earlswood was the first hospital in the country to be built specifically to house people with what are now termed "developmental disabilities" and when it was built, in 1853-58, it was considered a major advance in mental care: hitherto, the best that such individuals could hope for was incarceration in a mental asylum or workhouse.

The building itself was majestic from the outside, and the grounds were extensive, allowing the service users - in those days tellingly called "patients" or "inmates" - to wander where they chose, and included a fine avenue of trees, lawns and flowerbeds, and a cricket pitch. The site was walled, the only way in or out being a roadway entrance with a cattle grate, which was enough to deter most residents from exiting on foot. If anyone did leave, having no place to go once they were out, they were usually picked up wandering around the nearby town within a few hours. So, they could leave at any time, but soon, if they didn't make their way back of their own accord, were returned. There were no locks on any doors.

One of them, an adult male with Down Syndrome, considered himself my special friend largely because we shared a Christian name. I shall call him Michael and he, in the (hopefully) last rites of Trump, has been persistently tapping at the window of my memory over the past few days. Every time I was assigned to his ward, he would ask me if I wanted to have a game of table tennis with him. Each day I turned him down, being too busy, but eventually relented, warning him that I was pretty good, and would "whup his ass" as the saying goes. He replied that he was pretty hot himself and would do much the same to me. We knocked up, and I could see that he knew how to play and that he wasn't too bad at all but that he wasn't a match for me. Come the game, his first service took me by surprise, and he won the point, pronouncing, rather smugly, "one, - love". "Right" I thought "you've asked for it". His return from my return from the next serve was high, so I crushed him with a forehand slam. He smiled at me pityingly and announced "two, - love". "But I won that point" I protested. "No, you didn't", he replied, "I did" and proceeded to serve. He didn't win another point that game, but nevertheless won it "twenty-one, - love". He also served all the way through. Whenever I got hold of the ball, insisting it was my serve, and serving my fiendish spin serve at him which he didn't even touch, he merely picked the ball up as though I'd passed it to him, and serve back at me. After the game he then went around the place gleefully telling fellow residents and staff alike, how he'd "whupped" me, and how I should get some practice in if I were ever to stand a chance against him in the future. I never played him again, we just had the occasional knock-up. It wasn't that he was cheating or that he didn't understand the rules. He did. It was just that his need to win was so great, that he imagined that he won each point as it happened. And I, recognising that there was nothing I could do about it, didn't want to patronise him by going along with it.

The differences between Michael and Trump are twofold: first Michael didn't have any power and was therefore harmless, just an affable figure whiling away his days; secondly the people around Michael, both residents and staff, did not conform to the lie. While they did not disabuse Michael of his many delusions - and his prowess at table-tennis was only one of many - they still, if they had to, would publicly proclaim the truth.

There are a lot of people in America who should seriously consider their answer, when in the coming years, their grown children ask them, "Who did you support when Trump wouldn't concede defeat? Did you stand up for democracy or did you go along with the lies?"

Unlike Michael, who had time on his hands, - he was enrolled at the Royal Earlswood Hospital when he was ten years old and remained there until his death in the early nineties - Trump's hourglass is running out, and fears the reckonings that await him when the upper bulb is finally empty.


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