51. Feeding Fivepences into the System.


Durer had a problem drawing the female upper body, which was why he was dropped from the Tomb Raider team.

No-one in the post office queue seems to be talking about Expressed Emotion research. Perhaps that’s because, like the post office queue itself, the concept belongs to the seventies. That’s why I prefer Hermes Mail, where the drop off point is across town, in a corner shop heavily frequented by substance mis-users.

The idea that behaving like a character from Eastenders can bring about psychotic relapse in a family member is devastating. The key ingredients of Expressed Emotion, or EE as we used to call it before the telecoms company stole the name, are supposed to be Critical Comments, Hostility and Emotional Overinvolvement. The same conditions have been achieved on shows that feature hysterical and random harsh judgements, like Strictly or the X Factor.

At the corner shop, a lady in front of me has counted out a large number of copper and silver coins onto the counter and the shopkeeper helps to count them. The customer is an ex punk rocker by the look of her attire, though a quick mental calculation tells me that she was already aged at least 40 in 1978, when punk was at its height, so that her wardrobe consultants may be at fault. Nevertheless, torn tartan trousers are pretty much fine for any occasion, from the Savoy Grill downwards, let alone a trip to the corner shop. There are people in pyjamas behind me in the queue.

The problem seems to be related to the Lottery – she has brought the wrong ticket, or it is not her own ticket, or possibly it is a dry cleaning receipt. She glances back at me conspiratorially and says that she isn’t going to tell the person whose ticket it was supposed to be. I confirm to her that her ethical position is sound, but also that I have no idea what she is talking about.

I observe that everyone in the queue is very calm, despite what seems like a pretty serious delay in proceedings. And I attribute this to a very particular body language on the part of the salesperson. She is a tall Asian lady with an excellent upright posture and a steely gaze.Yet even within the steel, there is a glint that says, ‘make time in your life for an elderly person who cannot cope with the modern world’. This is a low EE shop, I decide, and no-one is relapsing into a psychosis here this morning.

If you like low EE, one of the best shops is called Boyes. It’s hard to explain the ambience. The lighting is soft and the aisles are wide, but in no way confusing. Towards the back of the shop, there are piles of haberdashery and materials, including a large selection of foam blocks. None of the items are brash or tawdry; every item is just the kind of thing you might need one day, if you were turning over a new leaf from a former life as a contract killer.

The public library used to be low EE but things have really changed. In the centre is a ring of PCs which are occupied by students, all of whom are looking at facebook. In the foyer two old blokes are talking loudly about the bets they have placed that day. The atmosphere is tense, because everyone knows the librarian should exert some kind of authority and enforce silence, but this doesn’t happen. And then people arrive to collect free condoms from the help desk, and I wonder how they are filed and coded in the library system. The librarian says they have run out of condoms and apologises profusely. The two customers, who are teenage boys taking the mickey, burst into a fit of giggling . I appreciate the distraction, which allows me to feed handfuls of 5p pieces into the self service machine. So I can rent DVDs and pay fines effectively free, in that I can mobilise coins that were, up till now, beyond use.

EE was one of the most cumbersome tools ever developed by modern mental health researchers. It has fallen out of fashion not just because it is a thing of the seventies, but because it could never be cost effective compared with drug therapy.

It takes a panel of specially trained academics hours to decide if a family is high EE or not. EE can be reduced by special family education programs, the feasibility of which ranks with ‘rolling out’ DIY SOS nationwide.

Otherwise psychotic people shouldn’t spend more than 35 hours a week with their high EE family. That leaves a lot of time to kill. First day centres closed, then Woolworth’s closed, then the library repealed the decibel law. Employment is increasingly high EE, and so is television.

That probably explains why we ‘find ourselves’ in Boyes so much, trying to remember why we wanted foam blocks. And why people trying to avoid a psychotic relapse spend a lot of time in the Hermes queue.

EE is a good name for a business, even if they can’t really provide ‘everything everywhere’. In community mental health care its more a case of Nothing Anywhere, just shops to go in.

Also, its only £3.60 for your parcel, instead of £12.60 with Royal Mail.


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