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AS A PSYCHIATRIC social worker, I came up against many cases of psychological conditions brought on by the madness of our social order. A society which puts personal profit above any notion of morality or social benefit, and condemns those who are poor as lazy or incompetent; which sexualises seven and eight-year-olds to sell them clothing and is shocked when paedophiles emerge; and which demands that to be successful, women must be beautiful and men handsome. A society which drives people into madness because they cannot cope, or because they do not conform, or because they have no moral template against which to measure their attitudes or their behaviour. A society in which I was trapped as much as anyone else, and even though I recognised how our social order had destroyed the mental health of its most vulnerable, I would have courted the madhouse myself if I had tried to challenge it. Like so many, I tried to stay in my mental burrow and leave the mad world beyond my doorstep.

But the story I’m going to tell you now is all the more strange, in that, while much of it I could have explained away in terms of psycho-social factors and conditions, there remained beneath the surface strata that I could not comprehend, that were beyond the vocabulary which my training at the University of South-East Scotland had put at my disposal.

It began with the electronic tones of ‘Dixie’ from my doorbell. Back at the flat after a day’s work, I’d finished my bland microwave low-calorie lasagne, treated myself to a mini-choc-ice-lolly, put my feet up, poured myself a second glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and had just put Series 3 of Vera into the DVD player when the doorbell musician intervened. Flicking on the intercom I soon learned it was Steve Chalmers, and buzzed the main door open.

I’d known Steve for about five years. She’d had some trouble when she first arrived here, as Constable Stephanie Chalmers, and discovered that her male colleagues expected both domestic chores and sexual favours from her, and a few were rather persistent in their demands. While she was willing to share in the former, she was not prepared to offer the latter, and things became so tense that she needed time off for ‘stress-related illness’ and was referred by her GP to me. We developed a number of strategies to protect her personal space and toughen up her personality. One suggestion I made was to drop ‘Steph’ in favour of ‘Steve.’ Apart from the fact that ‘Steve’ was nongender- specific, and the presumption would often be that it was masculine, simply hardening the consonant from an F to a V gave the name a tougher sound. Voicing the V was a more assertive act. I kept an eye on her after that, and it all seemed to work; she told her persecutors what to do with themselves, and settled down to get on with the job.

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iScot issue # 40 - April 2018 is now available to download - we apologise in advance for the sensitive nature of the front cover and suggest that one displays the issue face down on one’s coffee table.