END OF STORY

Iused to give Daisy Speedwell a wet shave about once a month. My hands used to shake in the mornings in those days, and Daisy liked to sing while I shaved her, so it was a tricky operation. To steady my hand, I made a sort of snooker bridge on the side of her face and took up the slackness in her jowls with the side of my thumb. And while I shaved her beard off, she sang old-time music hall songs - ones that I'd not heard before - in a quavering, melancholy falsetto. When I'd finished, and dried her face with the towel, she'd present a cheek to me so that I could test its smoothness by kissing it.

Daisy was short and fat, and she always wore the same burgundy-coloured dress, which wafted a sweet and often pleasant smell of stale urine about her as she trotted about the ward. She had been admitted to hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act after her neighbours complained to the police about her singing. They said that she sang all day and all night, and although she had an extensive repertoire, they were getting fed up with it. Our ward psychiatrist interviewed her and came to the conclusion that she was singing because she had a mental illness called manic depression, and he suggested that she stay with us until she was better. It seemed a pity to me that somebody should be banished from civil society for such a trivial offence.

Perhaps Daisy's beard had also been taken into consideration when it was decided to remove her from the world stage. It wasn't your full-on Grizzly Adams type of beard. It was more of your oriental goatee - but very impressive all the same. Whether it was a result of all the drugs she had taken over the years, or whether she was just a naturally hairy lady, I couldn't say. I'm not a medical man. But when her beard was obvious enough to be commented on by visiting relatives, we'd recommend to her that she have it off, and the following morning she'd obediently queue up with the rest of the men for a shave, which was always my job.

Before the drugs kicked in, Daisy sang continually. So that she wouldn't disturb the other patients during the night, we made her bed up in the punishment cell. We left the door unlocked to show that there were no hard feelings. Which was true. All we nurses said what a lovely voice she had.

After a week or two, however, she wasn't singing quite so much. The trick cyclist said that this meant she was getting better. And indeed when I shaved her she sometimes spoke to me instead of sang. She was surprisingly articulate. She told me that she had been born and brought up in a workhouse. Over the years, she said, she had come to realise that love was the key to everything. Only through love can we gain understanding. She felt so full of love for everybody, she said, she wanted to burst.

Once a month we had a ward meeting in the day-room. Apart from Snakes and Ladders, and a bit of basket weaving, the monthly ward meeting was our only nod in the direction of psychotherapy, thank goodness. The meeting was chaired by the trick cyclist, a dignified Indian man whom nobody could take very seriously because he looked so much like the late Benny Hill.

The main idea of the meeting was that patients could speak their minds without fear of reprisals. There would be about 30 of us, our chairs drawn up in a large circle. Nobody ever said much. Sometimes a patient might take the opportunity to accuse somebody of stealing something from him: money or cigarettes usually; occasionally something less tangible like his soul or his dignity. Normally we'd just sit there smoking and smirking at each other. But when the first ward meeting that dear Daisy attended was thrown open, she stood up and said: "Well, I love you all and now I'm ready to do the Gay Gordons."

Naturally such a memorable line as this was taken up and used as a handy catchphrase on our ward by staff and patients alike. It even spread to other parts of the hospital. And it remained in currency long after Daisy had thrown herself in front of the 10.19 from Liverpool Street.

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