The Durham Light and Other Stories


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A Personal History of Homelessness and Schizophrenia
By Andrew Voyce

ISBN: 1-84747-039-4
Published: 2008
Pages: 54
Key Themes: homelessness, autobiography, schizophrenia, recovery, study, personal success



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About the Author

Andrew was born in 1951 and has always lived in the South-East of England. His ethnicity is White British.

Andrew took a degree in Politics at Reading University but failed his finals in 1974. In 1985 he was awarded a pass BA in Social Science by the Open University. In 1993 he was awarded an honours BA in Politics by the OU and in 1998 was awarded an MA in Social and Public Policy by Brighton University.

The author was first admitted to a psychiatric institution in 1974 and was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was a revolving door patient with frequent admissions and discharges from Hellingly in Sussex and Oakwood in Kent, both NHS institutions. Andrew feels he was saved by the introduction of community care and the closure of the asylums, which never got it right. Although he has never had a work carreer, has only briefly been a home owner, and has never been a higher rate tax payer, and can hardly therefore be described as a Thatcherite, Andrew fully acknowledges that it was Mrs Thatcher’s government which closed the asylums and gave him a life of some hope.

The last episode of five years’ untreated psychosis, which is the subject of ‘The Durham Light and other stories’, was logged by Andrew in several short stories which combine to make this publication. This was completed in about 1998. Following some difficulties, this booklet was produced in digital format for publication in 2008.

A point about the descripition of the delusions that Andrew suffered is that there was virtually no visual or audutory hallucination. As will become apparent, Andrew lived in a world of half fact, half fiction. He frequently observed events which he then seriously misinterpreted. This may be the basis of many episodes of psychosis. Andrew was not a hearer of voices or a seer of visions.

Another aspect of Andrew’s experiences is that his delusions were of his time. He could not have had delusions about the War on Terror, for example, for that was after his time of delusions. But he did fanatsise about events of the time- the Cold War, the Troubles in Ireland, and some obscure and arcane military and historical scenarios.
In some discussions with others, Andrew has found that he shares his delusions on signalling, on strange things going on at sea, and also something of a world view with a few fellow mental health service users. He wonders if it will be possible to ever make a comparison of delusory beliefs shared among people with schizophrenia or other diagnoses, which he thinks would be an interesting project.

Finally, Jan Wallcraft of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health has for a while recommended the power of narrative as a therapeutic or cathartic process. Andrew endorses her view, and ‘The Durham Light and other stories’ can be seen in that light.

Book Extract

The Durham Light

It became apparent to me whilst I was homeless for five years that a tactical move had occurred involving the Durham Light. My primary context was of course the coming of the Soviets (the five homeless years were 1986-91). It was obvious that the British state had collapsed. I had no contact with any agency or arm of the British state except the DHSS where I obtained £4.77 a day no fixed abode (NFA) rate dole money. Previously, I had quite a lot of contact with the British state: – tax department, government offices, hospitals etc. – so it was obvious that the British state had collapsed. And as the Americans were patently leaving Britain, the only thing that could be happening was that the Soviets were coming. As soon as the last vestiges of Americanisation had left Britain, as soon as there was no possibility of argument, then we would thankfully become Sovietised. To my shame, my last inside support system had been American, but those five homeless years including three winters outside in the cold and snow would have purified me. I would be sort of like a rehabilitated person from one of the Siberian gulag camps where people (prisoners) slept out in snow drifts. I was becoming suitable for inclusion as a Soviet, for when they arrived. And then my days working for an American company in the City of London could be forgotten. I would also be rehabilitated from having a mortgage from an American bank. I had caught the last end of American attempts to push the Soviets back. And not only was the local branch of the American bank in the county town where I remained homeless closed down, but by chance there was a branch of my former employers’ insurance business in town, and the signs were that it too would disappear. The Wimpy bar had closed down. An American franchise. Good. And the Sock Shop had closed. That was reported in the Times (which I read every day in the town library) as gaining most of its profits from its American branches, so it too was good that another sign of Americanisation was gone. I took great pleasure in photographing their closed places (although the Wimpy later opened as Burger King). It was my contribution towards making the place safe for the Soviets. If I photographed an empty building, as usual my photo would be registered at the developers, and the Soviet reviewers could ascertain if any changes or activity was taking place, including if the building was booby trapped or fitted with a nuclear device. So all was proceeding well on the major front, with the Americans going and the Soviets obviously keeping an eye on things and ready to arrive when there would be overwhelming acceptance of them.

So where does the Durham Light fit into this picture? It was something I had discovered and it was the prime context for local British conditions. The Soviets would want it documented and under control.


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