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A Shout From The Attic: The Esmé Years - 5

Ronnie Bray becomes a student psychiatric nurse.

I took a job as a student psychiatric nurse at Storthes Hall Psychiatric Hospital, near Kirkburton. In those days it was usually referred to as a lunatic asylum and people lowered their voices when they spoke of it and its inhabitants.

There were some five thousand patients crammed into a hospital built for less than half their number. The conditions were less than sparse, and patients were little less than prisoners, and treated as such.

Wards were seriously overcrowded. Beds were lined up in two rows down the centre of each dormitory and the dormitory beds were placed so close that only a chair separated one bed space from its neighbour.


People look at me askance when I casually remark that not only did I know Oliver Cromwell but that I met and conversed with him almost daily for a year or so. Should you feel inclined to doubt my veracity, I must warn that to do so is to malign a gentleman. The gentleman I refer to is not me, but the gentleman who was Oliver Cromwell, now gone to his eternal reward.

Mr Cromwell was a rather portly gentleman of advanced years who had lived in the large house for decades. Whenever I entered on business he would invariably be stood or strolling in the imposing hallway just beyond the massive main door under the clock tower. A stickler for business, he customarily had a pocket size notebook in his hand and was engaged in making interminable calculations with a stubby pencil.

But such was his pleasant nature that he always paused to greet me, showing that his friends were more important than the business that occupied so much of his waking time. Although he was apparently wealthy beyond imagination, he was not reticent about sharing the vast sums he was calculating. Indeed, he seemed to take pleasure from doing so.

I do not know how many rooms the residence had but it ran into hundreds, with separate dwellings around the periphery of the large estate, and even a home farm to supply much of the food needed to support his guests. The only display of pride I ever witnessed from the Lord High Protector of the Commonweal was once when he swept his hand in a grand circular gesture whilst saying, “This all belongs to me.” And, although I believed differently, having no real proof I accepted his word and muttered appreciative and pleasant expressions to him, with his holdings and wealth.

There was nothing in his dress to report his standing, or his wealth. He was not ostentatious, but mildly insistent that he had been deprived of several millions of pounds of which he was the rightful owner.

Although most people who believed they had been robbed of such vast amounts as he did would be passionately outspoken in their denunciation of those who they believed had dispossessed them, he spoke of his continuing glosses in a gentle voice not calculated to upset even the administrator, outside of whose door he frequently paraded, and never let pass an opportunity to tell the man the size of his present indebtedness to him.

Perhaps from this description of his comportment you will understand why I call Oliver Cromwell a true gentleman. His character was bestowed on him by nature, doubtless a gift to, perhaps, cushion the blow of what she would, in short time, take from him. Even as he was given a smiling gentleness as a young boy, before too many years had passed, his peace was stolen as the layers of his mind separated and ceased to co-operate one with another, yet his good nature and affability were not diminished thereby.

Perhaps it is divine justice that grants a pleasant outlook to one who became convinced that he was the former commoner who defeated a corrupt monarchical system, and who then ruled as a monarch in all but name, to grant his cardinal disposition to remain intact, even as schizophrenia distorted the workings of his mind.

The last time I saw him he was still walking the marbled hallway at the entrance to Storthes Hall Hospital, pencil and notebook in hand, marking his rising losses, and smiling.

Lawrence Sterne said ‘God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,’ and while that is not always true, it certainly was in the case of my deprived but optimistic friend Oliver Cromwell.


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