Saturday 16 June 2012

The Occult Memorabilia Of War

I recently picked up two incredibly poignant documents from a military memorabilia shop in Folkestone. We were down in Kent for the launch of Matt Rowe's chap book style Vernacular Folk publication. Vernacular Folk is a beautifully photographed archive of the exhibitions Matt has hosted at his B and B space. It includes a fine essay by Sarah for a her GHost residency at last year's triennial. Other highlights include Matt's “Bad Omen” - comprising of a figure on a beach wrapped in video tape made from the film The Omen - another curious vivification of my story The Dunwich Tapes.

Back to the documents. The first is an identity card found in the skips of St. Bernard's mental hospital as it was being regenerated into luxury housing. The card comes from the Second World War and is purportedly for a prostitute rounded up and declared mentally defective in an attempt to prevent to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases to U.S. Troops. A nice bit of paranoid social engineering that is still being echoed in recent reports about the forthcoming Olympics; where major sports events are spuriously associated with increases in sex trafficking, rumours that are largely revealed to be unfounded when assessed quantitatively.

The identity card is of one Louisa Morris (which appears to be an anglicised rendering of Louie Morruzzi). She was registered at St. Bernard's Hospital in Southall, Middlesex on 23rd July 1943, before being moved to Darenth Park in Kent on 18th July 1944 and finally back to St. Bernard's in October 1944.

'Mentally Defective' Identity card from WW2
St. Bernard's Hospital along with many other closed down asylums has been converted into luxury housing. As this article in The Psychiatrist details, the marketing materials for these housing projects make interesting and unintentionally ironic reading,

Examples of the language employed by property developers in sales brochures advertising old hospital buildings included 'sanctuary' and 'seclusion' in 'grade II listed buildings', 'tastefully converted period buildings' and 'luxury penthouses'. There was a strong emphasis on security, with 'a secure and private environment', '24 hour security guards', 'security gates' and 'CCTV surveillance'. Original asylum architecture is even imitated in modern buildings: 'the classic facades that emulate the original architecture', and the clock tower of one former hospital was used as a symbol to represent the whole development.
Residents at the redeveloped site of Nethern Hospital will be greeted by 'the gentle bounce of tennis balls on private courts' and 'the distant voices of children'. They will, however, remain unaware of the 1976 enquiry into high levels of suicides that found serious understaffing and unsatisfactory conditions on the wards”.

The article also tabulates a list of former psychiatric hospitals and their current use: I am particularly intrigued by Bradwell Grove, Oxfordshire which is now a zoo...

The second document I acquired is an school exercise type book for one B. Cheeseman who was attending a 'first aid' course run by with Civil Defence Corps in 1966, for the treatment of patients following a nuclear attack. Judging by the changes in pen, the course ran over a number of days or weeks (around October) and took place in Kingston, Surrey. The proprietor of the military shop thinks they were probably evening courses. It's a document of enormous terrifying nostalgia, the instructions for constructing makeshift ambulances as efficacious as the blueprint for an Arabian magical carpet; the treatment for soft tissue injuries as futile as the curative recipes of a medieval cunning man. The guides to managing the psychological effects on patients, in particular, have all the moral emptiness of the Ten Commandments,
“6. Stupurous depressive state - Try to maintain morale, rather than treat demoralised people”
Medical Seal Of Armageddon
Cold War Testaments

It seems even B. Cheeseman loses hope in the value of the course as, towards the end of the notes, she doodles a Christmas Tree next to a topic heading “Germ Warfare”. It would appear that as the festive season of 1966 draws nearer her mind wanders from effects of nerve gas to her plans for decorating the house.
Germ Warfare And Christmas Tree

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Legend Trip Talk

I'll be talking with Mark at the Charlie Dutton Gallery this evening details below:

to coincide with
Alison Gill's
ends 16th June

Imbibe at the Genius Loci Bar:
Wednesday 13th June 8pm
Mark Pilkington (Strange Attractor) and Andy Sharp (English Heretic) present an illustrated discussion on the genius loci and its relationship to folklore, film, landscape and magick.