I believe that it is time that I told Joan’s story in full, but beware for this story comes with a health warning. It just might be bad for your mental health:
Joan was born in 1940; she nearly did not make it into this world. She was slowly being strangled by her birth-cord, only the alertness of the midwife saved Joan’ life. The German air force also nearly denied Joan entry into this world. They dropped a string of bombs across the local gas works and railway station, just a few hundred yards from where Joan was entering the world.
Joan’s mother had been employed at a large ammunition assembly factory and a few days after bringing Joan into the world returned to work there. Placing Joan into the care of an elderly spinster, who Joan’s grandmother would later describe as being kind but having wildly fluctuating moods. The only thing Joan recalls about this period was loud piano music. Aged five Joan returned to live with her mother who rented a small neglect terraced house which was regularly flooded. Joan remembers two things from this period in her life, the noise of neighbours fighting and the rhythmic singing accompanied by music which emanated from a local pub, the Bargees Halt.
Joan remembers her mother talking about the bricks that were used to raise the household table and chairs off the floor whenever the nearby river flooded. Joan does not recall having any toys or being allowed out of the house. She remembers crying a lot when she went to the local faith school, she felt different to most children, being thin dirty and always hungry. It seems that she was often missing from school with periods of illness, her school record talks of general neglect by her mother. It was during this period in her life that she first remembers hearing a voice talking to her. She remembers that the voice with its rhythm pleased her. She does not recall ever having any friends at school, saying the other children generally ignored her.
When she left school she found work in a corset factory, she remembers that the work was hard and poorly paid. Around this time a young chap Fred entered her life, but he only wanted two things money and sex and if she refused him he beat her. At this time she turned to alcohol to cope, she does not clearly recall when the lone voice was joined by others, but remembers that they started to sing to her and that she would dance and sing back to them. She recalls being arrested several times by the police and spending time in police cells. When this happened Fred really beat her up. One day after a particularly bad beating she was found lying in the gutter, soaked in urine. Fred upped and left her she thinks that it was about this time that she first cut her wrists. Then she says the voices turned on her, started calling her names, so she cursed them back. People in the street would tell her to shut up. One day she remembers dancing in the street, someone told her to stop, she was so angry she started to curse them. Then other people joined in telling her to shut up, but she continued to dance and dance, until she fell into a shop window, a lady’s dress shop window. It broke, she remembers being covered in blood and cursing, then she grabbed a handbag and danced away.
Arrested and put in jail she was later sectioned under the mental health act and sent to a large mental health institute. She was treated with a new wonder drug Largactil, but the voices grew worse, so she sang and danced and started to break windows, it stopped her cutting her wrists she said. She remembers being constantly restless she called it the jitters. She became a window breaker extraordinaire.