Christina Patterson: The fear that always follows me

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The Independent Online

The other day, in Stoke Newington High Street in north London, I saw a man and woman having a row. Suddenly, he punched her hard in the face. Then he turned round and walked away. I phoned the police and followed him. When they arrived, an impressive eight minutes later, I heard him deny it all.

The other day, in Stoke Newington High Street in north London, I saw a man and woman having a row. Suddenly, he punched her hard in the face. Then he turned round and walked away. I phoned the police and followed him. When they arrived, an impressive eight minutes later, I heard him deny it all.

At the police station, a few days later, the young constable who took my statement told me that the man was the woman's ex-partner and that he wouldn't leave her alone. He left malicious messages on her answering machine, scrawled obscene graffiti outside her home, and waited, for hours, by the door. He was still claiming he hadn't touched her. Even confronted with photos of her purple, swollen face. "But I love her, innit," he insisted.

It reminded me of my own experience of being obsessively pursued, which was infinitely milder, but infinitely more strange. It started innocently enough. I was presenting literary events in a venue next to a library and began to notice a regular face in the crowd. James (not his real name, of course) was well known to the library staff. Some had known him when he was younger, as a handsome, clever man with a passion for poetry and an eye for the girls. While working for a publisher, he'd had a severe psychotic breakdown and was forced to leave.

In James's gaunt face and sad eyes, you could see the shadow of the person he'd been and the future he had lost. The library staff, who knew he was lonely, would sometimes agree to meet him for a coffee or a drink. When James asked me for a coffee I, too, agreed. I knew, through family experience, some of the horrors of his illness and I wanted to be kind.

As the poems and letters began to pour in, I knew I was in trouble. But I couldn't entirely avoid him. When he wanted to see me, he could just buy a ticket to a reading and stare at me reproachfully from the front row. He left messages on the office voicemail. He sent me a bottle of the perfume I've worn for years, although I'd never told him what it was. I sent it back, of course, and explained, yet again, that his feelings weren't returned. But if even the sane lose their rational faculties in love, what hope is there for the seriously mentally ill?

He sent me a picture he'd painted, of me as an angel and him as a frog. He wrote sonnets, begging me to marry him. He spoke to my colleagues and boss. He even arranged a meeting with the literature director of the Arts Council and urged him to act as a pander. As the letters got more desperate, I began to worry that he would do himself harm. I contacted the mental health services in his borough and asked them to keep an eye on him.

When I started a new job, running a small arts organisation, James had no trouble tracking me down. By this time - seven years after I'd first met him - the messages were abusive. He hoped, he said, that my babies would die of acid poisoning, since I had denied him the chance to have any of his own. And then he saw our ad in a newspaper for an administrative assistant, and applied for the job. In his letter of application he said that he should be running the organisation, or perhaps the Foreign Office.

A few weeks later, after the appointment had been made and the 83 unsuccessful candidates had been informed, I got a letter from the Regional Secretary for Employment Tribunals. I had been accused, it informed me, of disability discrimination. I almost laughed. I wrote a long letter outlining the history and sent it, with witness statements from former colleagues and copies of letters and poems. I got a terse note back advising me to "seek legal advice". "I'm afraid he's got a case," said the lawyer on our board. "Since you knew he had schizophrenia he can argue that you knowingly discriminated against someone with a disability. Welcome," he added with a dry laugh, "to the world of European law!"

We spent days putting the case together, collating the shortlist criteria and demonstrating the various ways in which James had failed to meet them. In the end, we got off on a technicality. My lawyer argued that we had less than 15 employees at the time of the complaint and were therefore exempt from the legislation. I cried with relief. Our legal costs were not reimbursed.

Stop that bus

"Bloody men are like bloody buses -" said the poet Wendy Cope in one of her most popular poems. "You wait for about a year/ And as soon as one approaches your stop/ Two or three others appear." She's right, of course, but what do you do when they arrive at fairly regular intervals but just don't stop? The buses, that is, not the men. On the day when summer showers reduced the whole of London transport to meltdown and all the fish in the Thames drowned in sewage, I had my most baffling bus experience yet. After a tortuous journey into the West End, and a pleasant dinner with a friend, I set off at 11.30pm for Tottenham Court Road and the 73 bus. In the next hour, four passed, but not a single one stopped. They weren't full and some of the drivers were smiling. A growing group of us gazed in amazement. Was it some kind of Tour de France for buses? A conspiracy? A joke? And is there a tribunal for bus drivers who don't stop? If so, please send me a form.

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