In 1968 my next-door neighbour in our ward at the Maudsley Hospital for the psychologically bewildered or the just plain cross was a woman from Wales in her early twenties who had slowly been going blind since a gang of boys threw lime into her eyes when she was 15. She still saw light and shadow, so she knew if a person passed between her and the window at the end of her bed, but not who the person was. For most of the day she sat sideways to the window, on the edge of her bed, her hands flat on her thighs, her legs neatly together, her face impassive, her eyes open and blank. Her name was June. She was a large woman, a solid presence in the ward, her flat, lace-up shoes, calf-length shapeless terylene skirt and home-knit cardigan in contrast to the rest of us minuscule-skirted or antique junk-shop retro birds of paradise, miserable but making the most of being officially crazy in the crazy days of 1968. June sat epically still and refused all encouragement to engage in anything, though she'd sometimes talk to us if we sat on her bed beside her. She was hospitalised because she was depressed - a not unreasonable response to the final loss of her sight. She was on antidepressants and there was talk of ECT if she didn't show any improvement.
LRB 7 September 2006 | PDF Download