John Clare Writings

Burnt 2. The Funny Side: Who Dunnit?

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How did my fire start? I can’t say too much, but various authorities, as well as neighbours, have alluded to the, ahem, mentally disturbed woman in the flat above mine – or what used to be mine. They cannot prove anything. I rather suspect her criminal friends, who, it has been repeatedly told to me, supply her with stuff to sell in markets and take their cut, rather than her personally. She threatened me with a visitation from these charming types three times before I went up to Brisbane to see my daughter and my grandsons. Her hatred of me stems from my asking her to stop hammering, pounding and jumping on my ceiling sometimes for hours on end. Sometimes she was definitely using a hammer and I was sure she was building a boat. On other occasions you could practically feel the air pressure change as she became airborne, and then hear a tremendous thump, like a whale dropped from an aeroplane as she hit the floor above. I genuinely feared that she would crash right through and break my neck. She cannot help being mad, but she is cunning and nasty with it and she is capable of pretending to be madder than she really is. She has two voices. One is saccharine, the other like demonic possession. I have known a number of amiable mad people, including the admirable Mad Johnny at Essendon when I lived there in the 1950s.

Long ago in Sydney they closed the asylums, or mental homes – whichever is least offensive – and the more dangerous, to themselves or others, were pushed out into the community where there was rarely anyone to make them take their medication. Our lady upstairs had about a hundred helpers. Most have dropped off. One got very angry with me when I described my position thus: ‘If they can’t find anywhere else for her I will cop it, but I really can’t pretend to like it.’ That was as altruistic as I could get. As for my middle class judges, we don’t know. They have never tried living beneath her. I have seen her, and so have others, sitting in the city with a cardboard sign that says HOMELESS. She actually lives in a Housing Department flat – the one above the one that used to be mine. I call her mad, despite the stark medieval sound and despite the fact that it is an insult to Mad Johnny. If a certain amount of bitterness spills through, so be it. That’s it. I hope you don’t end up underneath her. Of some interest is the fact that my abode for nearly thirty years burst into flames when I was changing from a bus to the XPT at Casino around 7 pm. None of my neighbours knew where I was – except a lady who lived around the back. Amazingly, she had a heart attack and was taken to Royal Prince Alfred simultaneously with the fire-bombing, which certainly did not prompt the attack (she staggered round the front with her chest pain before seeing and hearing the eruption). An ambulance arrived for her and our heroic upstairs lady rushed ahead of her (she had already called the fire brigade, realising belatedly it seems that her own flat was in danger) and threw herself on the stretcher.

There are a number of witnesses for most of this. For the rest I have presented speculation. She is of course innocent until otherwise proven. What fun!

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