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A Shout From The Attic: I Went To Help The Man In The Darkness And Found A Friend

"One of Peteís many talents is his idiosyncratic and artistic handwriting. Someone once remarked that Peteís handwriting and mine were alike. Peteís response to that was that they werenít because he could read his own handwriting, but he could not read mine! A point well made, because I can read Peteís but I canít read my own after three days,'' writes Ronnie Bray, telling how he met a man who was to become a good friend.

Peter Daniel Jessop and I met in 1973 in unusual circumstances. We were both mental patients in Halifax General Hospitalís psychiatric wing. Pete was in a trough of manic-depressive disease, and I was suffering from a surfeit of disappointment. Although we hadnít met, we occupied adjoining bedrooms. I was awakened one night by a massive thump. I knew it was nearby, and the lack of footsteps said to me that no one else was investigating it, so I got up to make my own enquiries.

In the corridors dim lights, I could see through the doorway of the next bedroom a massive form sprawled on the floor, moving as if trying to get up. I went in to help the man in the darkness and discovered a friend. This was Peter Daniel Jessop, known as Pete. He had been sedated, which was the stock answer to all psychiatric puzzles, and had stumbled and fallen when he had got out of bed. I never did discover why he got out of bed, but continuous sedation can make a mess of a bodyís biological clock and he might have thought it was time to rise.

Although not very tall, he had substantial girth, and long red hair to match his long red beard. To some, he must have looked ferocious, but he was the soul of gentleness, and suffered for others. We found common wavelength, enjoyed each otherís humour, and he introduced me to the recordings of the blues singer, Bessie Smith. He also as a psychiatric nurse.

One of Peteís many talents is his idiosyncratic and artistic handwriting. Someone once remarked that Peteís handwriting and mine were alike. Peteís response to that was that they werenít because he could read his own handwriting, but he could not read mine! A point well made, because I can read Peteís but I canít read my own after three days.

During our time at Halifax, we became firm friends, enjoying similar interests and talking for hours, gently setting the world to rights. We enjoyed hearing Brian, one of the SENís, as State Enrolled Nurses were initially called, who was a recent refugee from the Royal Army Medical Corps, explaining to a patientís relative who had telephoned for information as to their condition, ďSorry, but I donít know. You see, Iím dental trained, not mental trained.Ē I donít know what the relative thought about that, but we found it interesting.

An elderly lady patient, Annie, who was suffering from the early stages of senile dementia, was wandering the corridors looking for the bathroom. She was given directions by one of the nursing staff in the day-room. Pete saw her later, with a wet patch behind her dress, and asked her if she was still looking for the bathroom. ďNot any more,Ē she answered resignedly.

After we left the hospital, we remained firm friends. When I moved to Huddersfield and was living above the cafť on Colne Road, Pete would visit. I began a life-sized oil painting of him dressed in the robes of an African Chieftain. He had an abiding interest in Negro history and culture, and wrote a book called ďHard to heartĒ about some of the young black men he had encountered in Huddersfield.

I enjoyed Pete because he has a gentle heart that has been further gentled by his suffering. He has not married, and doubts he would do well in marriage, but to the right kind of wife he would make a good understanding husband. Gay and I visited Pete on our 2002 holiday and found him much as before, except that his dad, Joe, had died during our absence, so Pete lived alone in the house on Manchester Road at Linthwaite.

He still listens to his music, doesnít write much anymore, and works at an adolescent assessment unit, where he counsels and cares for troubled youngsters. We kept in touch by email for a while, but his address went down, and I donít have his telephone number, and it is not listed in the BT online directory, so I have no recent news of my good friend Pete Jessop, but I wish I did.

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