Friday, 25 July 2008

Annie's World, Matron's World

For today I've decided to put up another extract of INSTITUTIONALISED volume 1 for those who have still to read it. I'll probably add some sort of suitable illustration or pic at some later date. More of volume 2 will follow in future posts... and perhaps even some very early stuff from volume 3. As for the rest of the day; well, I'm off to the gym then on to the pub for a few beers and, of course, to write.

The last time I did any really new writing was Tuesday afternoon (I think) while sitting outside a coffee bar (Costas Coffee) in Muswell Hill (North London). I got somewhat distracted by an artist (variously known as the Chewing-gum Man or The bubble-gum Man) who kneels on the pavement and paints tiny pictures on discarded gum and then photographs them (Whatever: it takes all sorts I guess!).


(For previous Volume 1 extract, click title, to view more at Lulu, click cover)

... For others the world is a very different place, there are a very different set of trials and tribulations to be faced this day.

Take Annie for example, a runaway once lost amongst the city's sprawl; what if we were to be offered a glimpse into her life this particular day, a snapshot as it were? The same day, a far, far different location, environment and routine...

Annie is 21 today. No 'happy birthday, birthday girl' here. For Annie, today shall start like any other and as any other day, Annie is awoken by the harsh shrill ringing of the morning bell. Opening her eyes, the view that greets her she knows only too well. The clinical whiteness of the dormitory walls, the twin rows of hospital style beds. She has spent the last five years of her life waking to this scene.

She climbs quickly from her bed, as do the five other girls. All around is silence save for the soft rustling of latex bed covers and the crinkling of plastic knickers; talking could never be allowable in the dormitory. As do the other girls, Annie meekly kneels on the snow white carpeted floor alongside her bed , hands crossed in front of her, palms facing outwards, head bowed. As are the others, she is waiting for Matron to bring her bed pan. Above her, hanging from a hook on the wall beside her bed, awaits, patiently, her gymslip with its short, knife pleated skirt.

Matron will appear in due course. Her approach heralded in this surreal suffocating silence by the soft rhythmic sighing of her uniform dress against the nylon of her stockings and the occasional softly-cushioned footfall of high healed shoes on carpet. Her dress and demeanour are a study in the art, development and presentation of authority; she is the absolute image of control and domination.

Matron wears her full - skirted blue uniform dress at calf length. From her elasticated nurse's belt with its ornate silver butterfly-wing clasp she hangs her keys to the left and her tawse to the right, the symbols of her rank and authority. She by far prefers to use a tawse to discipline girls - so much more personal than the cane somehow – but a cane hangs above the nurse’s station nonetheless.

This, then, is her world. She is queen here, empress, absolute ruler and dictator. The dormitory is her dominion, the girls, 'her girls', subservient serfs and the subjects of her realm. Her rules, her regulations, her stipulations, no matter how petty, are the unquestionable, unassailable law of this land. Unyielding, unbreakable. Unlike her charges, they who, in their turn, kneel, as is only fitting in such a majestic presence, in abject supplication; they are here to be moulded, one and all, broken to her will. The morning ritual is just beginning and ritual is all important here, in her world.

Not that there does not exist a higher authority, albeit outside of the immediate environs. Ultimately there is her employer of course but there are other determining forces; she never goes long without reflecting on her good fortune and her gratitude to their mutual benefactor.

From its inception the unit has been gifted with facilities and funding beyond their wildest dreams and set within premises of insurmountable and incomparable perfection of function. Presently the financial aspect still depended on that source; to date the provision of the new workhouse facilities only went so far towards their first stage goal of making the unit self funding, profitability lying some way off in the future.

Many might label as insane the substantial sums that have been poured into the unit, the old fashioned moirés upon which it is structured, the concept of 'protection from moral danger'. However, few are privy and those that are support whole heartedly the goals.

Their benefactor is a woman of not insubstantial means, influence and philanthropic drive who, having stepped back from the reins of her businesses, has seized the opportunity to indulge further her unusually active interest in aiding 'runaways' and the homeless. If some might be cynical enough to point the finger at her intention of profitability, labelling it as exploitation, so be it; as she sees it there are many other aspects and benefits to her work. These were young impressionable girls plucked from the jaws of the greatest moral and physical dangers the city had to offer. Some of these girls were barely out of school and generally were lacking even the most basic of qualifications let alone employment prospects; what chance of an education did they have, what chance now? “What these girls need most is a good, stable, secure home, a good education, caring but firm guidance”. She is simply a successful business woman in a position to offer exactly that, albeit so far to just a handful of young women but, with the completion of the new wing, she will soon be extending her hand to others. Soon a few more lucky young women will be coming under Lady Marchment's caring regime, to restart their lives in a 'fine, stable and secure home'. A secure home indeed. Lady Marchment sets great store by security, ‘protection’ as she sees it; few prisons could be more secure. Once a girl has entered Lady Marchment's program she finds that changing her mind is not an option; she has entered a private little world. A world of uniforms, bedpans, petty rules, strict routines and bells. Bells, bells, bells, always bells!…

This, then, is Matron’s world; a world within a world, ritualised and controlled. Today though there is disruption; there are girls here other than ‘birthday girl’ Annie and one of them is having difficulties adjusting.

Humiliation, shame, embarrassment, mortification. These terms and more could easily be applied to Jane's reaction to the situation in which she has found herself this morning, yet no mere words could truly do justice to describe the depths of her despair. She can feel the soggy wetness of the thick knicker-liner, is only too aware of that other soft squigyness confined within her plastic bloomers. She has caught sight of herself in the mirror, kneeling there, and her horror is written across her pretty face. She can see the areas of yellowing and those of the more shaming blackness within the semi -transparent garment. She is acutely aware of the smell and, what is more, she can hear Matron approaching. She can feel tears falling on her upturned palms.

If we could listen in we would hear words of comfort and kindness from Matron, her voice would be soft, no hint of anger nor irritation. We would hear her curt instruction to the nurse to ‘clean the girl up’ and the nurse’s prompt response; “yes, Matron”. We might, just might if we were to listen closely enough, make out the occasional soft grunt from girls desperate for control, forced now to wait for their bed pans while the girl is dealt with. There then comes a sequence of events, inevitable under these circumstances.

First there comes the voice of the nurse; “she is ready, Matron.”

Then Matron; “thank you, nurse”. Then Matron again “bend over, girl”.

There is a pause, perhaps a sob, before: CRRACK! “One, t,thank you Matron”; CRRACCK! “T,tt two, tthank yyyou, mmmMatron”; CRRRAACK!! “Th, th, thr, three, th,th,tt thank yy,y you,,’sob’, mmmMatron”.

A bell rings; six girls take their places squatting over bed pans barely adequate at best. There comes the gasp of the freshly punished girl. She has been lucky, had she failed to count, failed to recite her formula of gratitude there could have been many more than three strokes of Matron’s tawse; Matron is apt to re-start her punishments. There are other sounds filling the air now of which the more sensitive might rather not be privy and which the girls, without exception, would rather not anyone hear. Suffice it to say that the bell, although continuing its tintinnabulation throughout is never quite loud enough, particularly under the never distant supervision of Matron and her nurse, strolling up and down between the twin lines of squatting girls as if invigilators in some twisted exam.

Well, what of the rest of the day in Matron’s world? For most they will have slipped outside Matron’s immediate sphere; there are lessons to be attended. The next two hours Matron spends at her desk; there are reports to be filled in. There are also plans to be drawn up; there are soon to be many changes made, particularly within the framework of the research activities, a bold extension of scope, in fact groundbreaking.

Post lunch and Jane, the girl for whom the morning has proved so vexatious, is scheduled to attend her therapy session with Ms Soames. She has thus been returned to Matron’s jurisdiction with the reminder of the latter’s authority still throbbing across her rather full buttocks.

She has been left to stand at the foot of her bed to wait for Matron, her compatriots having returned to the class room. She stands with hands on head facing the mirrored wall at the room’s far end. There is little scope for anything else.

There are three doors, the two set in to the side walls, one on either side at the room’s end toward which she is presently facing, she knows lead to the class room and the examination room, the latter being kept locked. The third door, the one set into the centre of the end wall behind her, the only door in or out of the suite in fact, lies safely beyond the floor to ceiling iron security grille that bisects the entire room at that point and that sets the limit of their living space. The symmetry of its thick bars is disturbed only by its inset gate with its bulky lock beyond which the door itself would, of course, be locked. She knows that through that door and only a short distance along the passageway beyond is to be encountered an identical, if somewhat narrower, grille of equally imposing bars and equipped with an equally robust lock. Besides, in front of her, no more than two bed-widths distant, the nurses station is occupied, as it always is, the woman, a red head, her colouration set off prettily by her light blue uniform, sits with her back to the mirror working on her reports but occasionally glancing up.

There is always supervision here in Matron’s world.
Copyright (c) 2008 Garth. P. ToynTanen

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