A couple of days ago I met up with an Australian family – John, Gina and their daughters.
Before I had time to say, ‘I’m a wandering lunatic,’ they’d furnished me with friendship, a peanut butter sandwich, an apple and a tenner…
Because they could.
We talked about mental health services in Oz and that they came mainly from the voluntary sector.
Their feeling is that attitudes to mental health problems there are improving – the fact that a premier of an Australian state was able to stand down, citing mental health problems as the reason is representative of that.
I couldn’t help but look back in sadness as Gordon Brown was mocked at the prospect of taking anti depressants.
Yesterday I got the ferry from Mull to Oban. Things had already begun to change as I approached the ferry – the ferry that I was 10 minutes late for – the ferry I had to get 2 hours later…
People who’d come off the ferry hadn’t yet acclimatised to the fact that everyone speaks to everyone in these parts.
People off the boat looked at the man pulling a bright yellow trailer only to turn away suddenly, pretending they found something interesting in the middle distance – anything to prevent them having to engage.
No worries – I found 2 Americans to play with. Eric and Sue were friendly, chatty and open with a strong desire to find out more about what I was up to.
They told me how Lyme disease has gradually spread across the States – and that it is treated aggressively in anyone who’s found with it.
They have a 90 day regime where the illness is positively battered with antibiotics. Here we have lack of knowledge – a belief that no-one gets it – a lengthy period where diagnosis takes place – 2 weeks treatment – retesting – surprise that you’ve still got it…2 weeks of treatment … retesting…
Although I’ve been symptom free for ages, I did indulge in a small gulp and a ‘What if they didn’t get it all…?’
I’m fine – I just like the no nonsense, nuke the bastards, approach they have across the water.
In between laughing at our inability to pronounce certain Scottish place names, Sue told me she scours the beaches for bits of old china from shipwrecks. She makes these small fragments into jewellery – how cool is it to be wandering about with its of 17th century pottery around your neck?
Eventually I got on the boat and landed in the biggest town I’d seen since…er…Inverness ?
I remembered my chat with Sarah – the lighthouse woman – she’d told me that when she commuted in London she just read her book – she didn’t look at anyone.
Here in Oban there were plenty of people keen to stare at me and Hubert.
But as soon as I smiled and tried to engage…
It felt a bit like being at the zoo with people watching the antics of the penguins, ‘Oh look Alan, aren’t they cute, look at their little…GOOD GOD IT’S TALKING – RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!’
I booked into a bed – and wangled a free breakfast and a carrier bag full of fruit from the Palace Hotel.
All my batteries had run down and it had been a long time since I’d seen a bath – or a bed.
I left the hotel, still with folk gazing upon the magnificence of Hubert – turning away if I caught their eye.
I stocked up on the usual provisions thinking, ‘I’m not from these parts…’ and that I needed to get a little more practiced in the art of talking to your average towny.
I was sitting on a grass verge on the outskirts of town when I was approached by the smiling Marie.
Before I had the chance to say…well anything really…she’d launched into full chat mode.
There was hope after all.
Amongst other things she told me she had bipolar – that’s manic depression – that she does a lot of work for the church with her daughter who has Downs’ Syndrome – she’s 20 and starts her first job next week – she’s just found out she can get direct payments from the social work department with some of the practical bits of her day to day living, Marie had been admitted to Lochgilphead psychiatric hospital in the past- where she was diagnosed – she takes lithium for her bipolar – she reads to folk at the hospice in her spare time – was I aware that walking in someone’s shoes was one of the steps of alcohol recovery? She’d had and lost 2 husbands – both had had difficulties with drinking…she occasionally sees some of the folk she shared a ward with in the town – but they just stare into the middle distance now…
With a big grin on my face I asked her if it was the lithium that helped her with her bipolar…
‘Aye – that and a belief in the ‘Big Man” she said pouting upwards.
What a breath of fresh air.
‘Do you need any money for your tea?’ she asked.
‘Well, I’m fine just now…’ I started.
‘But you’ll need something further down the road…’ a statement of fact as she handed me £10.
Wow! That was more like it. She left me inspired to get in touch with a whole bunch of folk after the bank holiday extravaganza.
And here I was thinking….
Walk a mile