INSTALMENT 13 – “Insider Trading”

Date of writing : 28/01/2014

It would be nice if we were told about visits in advance.  Because I’m on remand, people can simply book appointments without my intervention (so long as I’ve added them to the ‘approved’ list), so I don’t always know if someone’s coming to see me.  This is usually a pleasant surprise as most visitors generally book for the afternoon, and I’ll find out they’re coming when I see the visits list on the notice board in the morning (provided I remember to check).  Official visitors, however, have the unfortunate habit of booking morning slots.

I was woken this morning at about twenty past eight – having gone to bed a bit late after watching a film – by the loud friendly voice of an officer saying:  ‘[SURNAME]! – Why aren’t you up and ready for your visit?!’.  I had just enough time to get myself basically dressed before rushing out.  So it was with too little sleep, no breakfast, and slightly fuzzy teeth, that I faced a psychiatrist …

Apparently, this is part of the preparation of pre-sentencing reports.  Now, I always imagined psychiatrists were persons who are supposed to make you feel better somehow.  Unless this one was some kind of exception I was sadly mistaken.  Like most ‘normal people’, I try to make polite conversation when presented with a new acquaintance.  ‘Dr Handel’, however, didn’t even acknowledge my attempts with so much as a disinterested grunt.  He was abrupt, irritable, and kept interrupting before I’d finished answering his questions.  I sometimes felt he was deliberately attempting to upset me. He probably was.  I left feeling I’d been interrogated by an impatient autistic sociopath.  Needless to say, this was an imperfect start to my day.

On the plus side, I just traded some sugar and whitener (which I get free) and half a packet of digestive biscuits for a whole bag of chocolate éclairs.  I won’t get them until Friday, but I’m learning delayed gratification – unlike the recipient.  I normally don’t give credit, but ‘Ferret’ is usually as good as his word, despite external appearances.  I’m actually in debt myself to Paul to the tune of two chocolate bars, a packet of sesame-coated caramel peanuts and a whole packet of digestives.  I might not mention my trade included his advance … it begins to look like a complex burial of the original debt after a while, and we know what that did for the Banks a few years ago.  Paul recently had someone default on a whole packet of gingernuts, and he hasn’t been quite the same since. Someone still owes him two tins of sardines too.

It is strange how the most arbitrary scarcity of certain goods can bring them to be coveted.  Sometimes it can feel like  the Victoria era, with the tangerine being worthy of its place in a Christmas stocking.  Three weeks ago a banana was worth three milks, but following an apparent oversight at the servery, the market was flooded and the price crashed to a single milk.  The day after that you couldn’t even give them away.  The cereal packs we’re given each evening seem to come in gluts of one kind or another.  A packet of Frosties is always worth at least two, but more often three, packs of Cornflakes.  Coco-Pops were until recently a rare commodity, but I’ve seen a few in circulation of late.  Weetabix* continue(s) to be a low-value stock for reasons I can’t fathom – I quite like it (them).  [*see Footnote]

Some things we just cannot get.  Either because they count as contraband, or because there’s just not an easy route to get hold of them.  One of the most frustrating of these is scissors – because they can be used as a stabbing weapon, they are just not allowed.  We can, however, have razors – indeed, they are given to us freely.  So what do you think happens?  In the absence of scissors, people break up the razors to use for cutting things.  This means that a large fraction of the cells on the wing probably contain a bare razor blade, which makes me a little uneasy.  This is of course the law of unintended consequences.

Another problem is the fact that there seems to be no way to obtain string.  I can see no sensible reason for this, except perhaps for those on suicide watch.  What happens – again, an unintended consequence – is that people take their bed sheets (or shirts, or pretty much any other textile), and cut them into narrow strips, using of course their convenient razors.  Pretty much every cell key seems to be attached to such a lanyard, as do many prisoners’ ID cards.  Shoelaces – outside their normal habitat of shoes – for me at least began to take on an almost mythological quality.  Since I finally got mine back, the two half-laces I’d been given as an interim solution were re-purposed as lanyards, being too precious an asset simply to discard.

Today I overheard someone offering an eighth of an ounce of tobacco for an interesting transparent-plastic mug.  I’m not surprised, as I can’t fathom how it got in here at all.  Last week someone was offering me a plastic plate for four milks – first plate I’d seen in six weeks.   As we normally eat from trays, I was at first slightly excited by the prospect of using an actual plate.  Then I realised … IT’S JUST A PLATE … and I was getting way too into this.  Besides, four milks?  Do me a lemon.

[*Footnote:    I’ve never been sure whether to treat ‘Weetabix’ as singular or plural.  I always imagined it was some kind of contraction of ‘wheat biscuits’ or similar, with the ‘x’ making it a kind of psuedo-plural.  But then I’d have to extend that to the point of referring to a single ‘Weetabic’, which just sounds odd.  Generally, I reluctantly come down on the side of the singular, but always with a residual sense of disquiet.]

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