John Welch

It is now over a year since my analysis came to an end. I had decided almost at the very beginning that I wanted to write about it and one thing I am still trying to work out is the way this affected the analysis itself. The analyst was dubious about the ‘journal’ I referred to from time to time: was I putting things in there rather than bringing them to him? Once or twice early on, like a schoolboy anxious to show he has done his homework, I even tried to read bits of it in the session. A further complication is that the analysis does not simply come to an end but goes on working its way through one’s system, and when one tries to pull the thing together one feels it slipping off in all directions, making the temptation to reduce it to an all too neat narrative considerable. But at least I had a convenient starting point, which was what happened to me nearly forty years ago, after I came back from a year in Pakistan.

I am sitting in a room in Faletti’s Hotel, in Lahore. It’s July 1961 and I am just 19. The fan is whirring above me and the BOAC man, who seems to live in the hotel, is indignant. It’s because of what I’ve done to my ticket. I had planned to fly back stopping over. At Beirut, Istanbul? I can’t remember now. This was an interesting thing to do, and as a public schoolboy about to go to university, interesting things were what I was supposed to be doing. But knowing I really wasn’t well enough, I had decided to fly straight back. I had come out to Lahore on a British Council scheme, to teach in a boys’ boarding school in the gap year between school and university.

I had entered into this arrangement like a sleepwalker. I would sit in my stone-floored, high-ceilinged room, a glare of sunlight outside, and imagine the enormous Punjab plain extending all around me. I would experience a sort of horizontal vertigo, as if I hadn’t the faintest idea how I had come to be there. Now when I get out the street map of Lahore, which I bought at the time, it is as if I am seeking to reinhabit the place, properly this time, as if I wanted to forgive this young man of nearly forty years ago his inability to be properly there when he was there. The map is an exotic document, drawn up before Independence by the look of it. Female Jail ... Cantonment ... Military Poultry Farm ... Criminal Tribes Settlement. Near the top is the Old City with its seven gates, a roughly pentagonal shape of almost solid brick-red, the buildings being packed so close together. Somewhere in there was where I wanted to be. I would cycle up Mall Road, a thoroughfare into the modern part of the city, and turn into Anarkli, the main bazaar. From there I would disappear into the narrow alleyways of the old town, drinking in the smells of spices and urine, briefly taken up and lost in it. Later perhaps I would go to the British Council Library to read the airmail editions of the Sunday papers. I used to borrow books on psychology and psychoanalysis – I was a great haunter of libraries. Back in my room I would doggedly read and annotate them in neat, scrupulous handwriting. But I made no conscious connection between these activities and my state of mind.

When I got back to England I was in a state of high excitement. One night a couple of months after my return, seated at my desk upstairs overlooking the street in our North London suburb with the sodium lamps playing on the curtains, I stayed up late, writing.

When I woke the following morning I had plunged from mania into terror. Looking back now at that time I see myself sitting at my desk not daring to write anything, staring into the sky where it is still light. The full moon has just floated into it, a huge faint bit of dead rock on the paleness. A breakdown – I choose the word ‘breakdown’ because it represents a tear in the membrane, an irreparable break in the narrative, creating its own before and after. Afterwards, when I was better, I looked back on it as a gift, a chance to see.

I told my mother how I felt: it must have been the first time I had told either of my parents how I really felt about anything for a long time. I don’t remember how I got through each day, at least not in detail. I recall my father taking me swimming – the huge space of the indoor pool, the glaucous green light, my body coffined in the chlorinated water and, when I got out, my sense of complete dissociation. I moved in an agony of fear and this was with me night and day. I was obsessed with nuclear catastrophe and with thoughts of death. I’m reminded, now, of a Barthes caption to a photograph of two elaborately costumed people: ‘They are going to die and they do not know it.’ I could see, and no one else could.

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