Saturday, November 15, 2008

Television, the drug of the nation

Martin B was a troubled character from a wealthy East Lothian family, with the sort of pursed-lipped mother (her name was, distinctively, Mauville) who was bound to be disappointed. Martin had suffered from psychiatric problems (he said it was "LSD psychosis"), but had become a nurse, and used to horrify and fascinate us as children with tales of his experiences: decapitated pillion passengers, the wrong limbs sewn on in the mortuary; death in the ward, the body lying unnoticed for hours; making up the faces of dead bodies for family viewings, trying to cover the terrible injuries to protect their sensibilities; drug mishaps; and gruesome accidents of all kinds.

It was around the time that Elvis died (1977), and the 17-year-old brother of one of my classmates died the same year in a motorbike accident; all those images are bound up together in my memory. Many of his stories were, on reflection, probably exaggerated, but the temptation to elaborate for his wide-eyed audience must have been intense. He bought us sweets and gave us silly nicknames. We knew there was something not quite right, and teased him for the way he ate ("like a washing machine"), but his fiendish stories were plentiful and he was incredibly generous.

We never had a TV at home and longed for one. Things got worse for Martin and he lost his job, but the obvious thing for him to do with his disability money was to buy a TV for his favourite kids; and for a glorious few days we had a tiny TV, with poor reception because our cottage didn't have an aerial, until his mother insisted he return it to the shop. It seems callous, but we had no idea of his personal circumstances, so we were hugely disappointed, having no inkling that he was penniless.

Martin died 16 years ago, of an accidental drug overdose (or deliberate; no one seems to know). He's another of those oddly charismatic people from my childhood whom I can never quite believe is gone.

6 comments:

Claire said...

My favourite memory of Martin was the time we phoned in to Radio Forth because we were sure that we could see a star in the sky that was changing colour (I think it turned out to be Sirius, the dog star). You might be able to add more detail to that story, LP.

Speaking of Sirius, I went to Martin's funeral, which was held in the church attended by JK Rowling. It was a dismal, poorly attended affair, and didn't reflect anything of what I remembered of Martin's colourful life. Everyone trooped out to John Lennon's Imagine. Very sad.

LottieP said...

There was a bit of a prurient side to him too, though: he used to delight in saying the words "rubber johnny" to us (how absurd that seems now!).

Anon Y Mouse said...

A poignant tale, evocative of the halcyon days of childhood and well worth a cashew nut.

Gillian Haggart said...

Rubber Johnny.

Radio Froth.

TVs: if I see Bob the Builder one more time I will die. Funny how generations reverse themselves. I am actualy considering having no TV in my new gaff. But prob will.....

My dad worked on a 'mental' ward for a while....Saughton. I don't think he lasted long. Things were fairly grim. Wish I'd asked him more.....

Gxx

Mancsoulsister said...

Your entries about your childhood/teenage years are always so bittersweet and sometimes very sad. I still love reading about the characters who popped in and out of your life back then and the memories you associate with them. There are times when I almost feel like I was there.

LottieP said...

Thanks, MSS. I've been having some doubts recently about the whole blogging enterprise (whether it's not all just thoroughly self-indulgent) so it's nice to know that people get something out of what I write.