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Iggy Pop, Ian Curtis and me.

January 4, 2016

Iggy Pop’s “Open Up and Bleed” was on the turntable – but there was no blood. Just the extensor tendon slipping up and down under the cut in my knuckle as I moved my right hand index finger.

Somebody gave me a lift to the Radcliffe Infirmary. I remember a tear migrating towards my ear as I lay waiting on a trolley. A nurse asked me what was wrong, and I was grateful nobody was openly judgmental about what I’d done. The doctor told me I was lucky I didn’t completely sever the tendon. Dr Marmalade’s comment “In ten years time you’ll wonder what you were worried about” was on my mind. “Well it won’t be like that” I thought.

A few days before, I’d visited a psychiatrist at the Warneford Hospital. I remember a gothic building with lots of corridors and wooden stairs, and a nervous seeming assistant, possibly a PhD student, with hair that was very long, even in that era. The psychiatrist seemed unsympathetic and quite sarcastic, so I said there was nothing mentally wrong with me, and they seemed satisfied with that.

I think I had the referral to the Warneford through the Oxford University student counselling service. I don’t remember visiting a GP at that time in Oxford. I doubt anybody who knew I visited a psychiatrist also knew I punched a window.

I regret how I behaved, I handled the situation and my emotions badly, but I felt very bitter about my experience of Hertford College, and Oxford.

A bit over two years after leaving Hertford, Trustee Savings Bank offered me a job as a trainee computer programmer. I was asked to complete a medical declaration. My GP back in Warrington advised me that I should declare the episode at university when he prescribed amitriptyline, so I wrote “Mild depression, summer 1976” on the form. Perhaps naively, I assumed that the form was for purely medical purposes, accessed only by medically qualified people. In the event, the information was read by line managers and at one time passed on to team member colleagues.

I doubt I’d have mentioned the depression diagnosis but for feelings of remorse about the window punching incident (I didn’t tell them about that). If I’d known how TSB management would use the information, I’d have tailored my answers to the questionnaire to create a better impression. I fractured my cheekbone playing football for a Hertford College team, requiring an operation at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, which left residual nerve damage causing me some problems. I’d have found a pretext to include this injury on the statement. When Brian Biscuit asked the rhetorical question “You had trouble at university, didn’t you?”, I could have replied “Yes, but our employer TSB does sponsor sports, should that be held against me?”.

One or two TSB managers seemed positively vindictive. An appraisal that praised my technical skills and my initiative was withheld from my personnel file by a TSB “Executive”, Mr Flute. The appraisal could have supported my application for a software programmer job at TSB’s new centre in Milton Keynes, which was rejected. I think Mr. Flute felt he had licence to behave as he did because of my medical declaration. Fortunately for me, I think I dealt with bullying at TSB with greater resilience than one unfortunate employee (Mr V.) who committed suicide.

I’m not the world’s most knowledgeable person on pop and rock music, but I like the music of the 70s Manchester band Joy Division. I think it’s partly because I share something with Ian Curtis. We both self-harmed to the music of Iggy Pop. Obviously he went further than I did, but I did my thing before he did his. I’ve never been an Iggy fan though.

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