Tuesday, 26 January 2010

“You’ll Have a Cup of Tea...”

I was on night duty and received the call from the GP early in the evening. Keith was a patient of his in his 50’s. He was a divorced man who lived alone in his own bungalow. He worked as an engineer. He had no previous history of mental illness, but had this evening turned up at the surgery complaining of sleep problems. The sleep problems seemed to relate to Keith spending every night working on a special project in his garage. He was adapting a Reliant Robin.

(For the benefit of those who have never encountered this form of vehicle, the Reliant Robin was a rather flimsy and unstable three wheeled car made of fibreglass, which is now thankfully no longer in production. Their cornering ability was notoriously bad. I once witnessed a Reliant Robin attempting to turn rather faster than it should. The car rolled over onto its side. The driver climbed out, shook his head, pushed it back onto its three wheels, and drove on.)

After a few minutes Keith confided to the GP that the special adaptation he was fitting to this Reliant Robin was an antigravity drive. At this point the doctor gently suggested that it might be a good idea if he were to see a psychiatrist. Keith did not take kindly to this, was uncharacteristically rude to the doctor, and abruptly left the surgery.

The doctor thought that Keith might be showing symptoms of bipolar affective disorder: in particular, grandiose delusions, as well as boundless energy, poor sleep, irritability, and pressure of speech.

I arranged to meet him with a psychiatrist at Keith’s house. It was mid evening by the time we got there, and dark. Keith answered the door, I explained who we were, and he rather reluctantly let us in.

When we were in his living room, I asked him, “Tell me more about your project.”

Despite his reticence, this was clearly a topic close to his heart, and he could not resist telling us about it, the sentences flooding out almost faster than he could move his lips.

“I received a vision about a week ago,” he said. “It was a plan for an antigravity device. It came from the Dog Star. Incidentally, the inhabitants of the Dog Star aren’t at all like dogs, you know, they’re more like furry slugs, and they all fly around on antigravity platforms. They chose me because of my engineering know how. I’ve managed to get most of the parts, and I’m making the ones I can’t buy myself.”

“Why a Reliant Robin?” I asked. “It’s somehow seems an unlikely car to fit an antigravity drive into.”

“Ah,” he said. “You might think that, but you’d be wrong. It’s exactly the right vehicle. You see, it’s made of fibreglass. That means it won’t interfere with the antigravity rays.”

I thought about this. I could see that this made a kind of sense. But not enough.

“I think it might be a good idea if you went into hospital for a while,” I said to him.

“What on earth for?”

“I think you may be mentally unwell at the moment.”

“They said people would think that. Well, you can all just get out of my house. Go on, get out!”

We retreated rapidly, especially as he had picked up a golf club and was waving it about in a threatening way, and heard him locking his front door as soon as we were outside.

It was strange that Keith had suddenly appeared to develop full blown symptoms of bipolar disorder in his 50’s with no previous history of any mental illness. We wondered if there was some organic cause. Whatever the reason, in view of his unpredictability and irritability, we decided that he needed to be in hospital, and was clearly not going to agree to this. We completed an application under Sec.2 MHA, for assessment. Then I called the police.

Four police officers in two police cars turned up a few minutes later. They knocked on his door, but he would not open it. We could see him peering out of his window at us. It looked as if I might have to get a magistrate’s warrant under Sec.135, but I decided to have one last try. I made my way to the front of the melee of police standing at his front door, and knocked again. I could see him through the glass on the other side of the door, and knelt down at his letter box.

“Please let us in, Keith, you have been detained under Sec.2 of the Mental Health Act. You’re going to have to go to hospital. If you won’t let us in now, I’ll have to come back later with a warrant.”

There was a pause. Then I heard him unlocking the door. As he opened it I smartly stepped forward and entered, expecting the police to be right behind me. However, as soon as I was in, Keith quickly shut the door and locked it behind us.

The police were on the other side of the door. On the wrong side. I was locked in a house with an unpredictable and irritable detained patient. Who had threatened us with a golf club. And the police were outside.

“You’ll have a cup of tea,” Keith said.

It was important not to panic. It was important to show Keith that I was in control of the situation.

“Actually, Keith, I don’t want a cup of tea. I’m actually feeling quite anxious about this. I’d feel a lot better if you unlocked the door.”

“Feeling anxious are you? Well, you’ll have a cup of tea then.”

I tried to find another way out of the house. I went through room after room. But all the windows and external doors were sealed unit double glazed units, all fitted with locks that could only be opened with a key. And Keith had the key.

“What are you doing?” he asked me ingenuously, as he followed me round the house.

“I’m trying to get out. I don’t like the fact that you’ve locked me in.” I could see the police milling about outside, trying windows and doors, but basically looking powerless and ineffectual.

“You’ll have a cup of tea,” he repeated, putting the kettle on.

“I really don’t want a cup of tea right now, Keith. We need to take you to hospital.”

“You’ll have a cup of tea,” he said again, very firmly, putting some teabags into a pot and pouring in the hot water. “You’ll have a cup of tea. Then we’ll go to the hospital.” He got out some cups.

I began to see what was happening. He too was attempting to retain a measure of control over the situation. It was a stalemate.

“All right,” I said eventually. “We’ll have a cup of tea. Then we’ll go to the hospital.”

“Milk?” he said, smiling. “Sugar?”

So we had a cup of tea. He chatted about this and that, while I drank the tea and tried to hide my panic. Then he unlocked the door, stepped out into the night and calmly got into one of the police cars.


  1. Only fools and horses comes to mind when you mentioned the robin reliant, a car sure to bring a smile to your face.

  2. So now you know how he feels when you lock him up in a hospital.

    You didn't consider asking to see the anti-gravity drive? For all you know it might have been real.

  3. Thank you again for taking the time to read my blog, Anonymous. In answer to your first comment: that's why I wrote about Keith.

    Sadly, Keith did not actually have a functioning antigravity drive. However, even though what people say may appear to be signs of mental illness, I do frequently check things out, just in case. One good example is an old lady in the town who complained of noises in her house. Her GP thought she was becoming demented, but when the community nurse visited, he did actually hear the noises she was talking about. It turned out that her next door neighbour had broken through from his cellar into hers and was converting it into extra accommodation for himself.

  4. If you'd been around in 1895 would you have locked up Guglielmo Marconi when he had claimed he could send messages with aetheric waves? It would have been no less incredible at the time than an anti-gravity drive is today. Hopefully Keith will return to his invention and learn what not to say next time interfering social workers come calling.

  5. This comment is completely irrelevant to this post, but I just wanted to say how much I like reading your blog. It is fascinating reading what goes on 'on the other side', and you present it very well. I have read all of your entries, and all I can say is please write more!

    Anonymous, I found your comment quite amusing to be honest. Surely when scientists (or whatever you want to call them) are coming up with new inventions they are pretty unlikely to receive a vision 'from the Dog Star' where they are like furry slugs? I am certainly no expert, but that sounds pretty delusional to me, unlike the Masked AMPH's example of the old lady hearing noises, which did actually have a genuine explanation. But furry slugs sending messages about an anti gravity drive? That is pretty out there....