INSTALMENT 18

Date of writing : 21/02/2014

Sometimes, it’s possible to sense the mood of the wing even from behind a locked cell door.  It can be as though a hundred minds have independently become impatient and restless so as to form a grumpy gestalt creature that simmers and shifts, looking for an excuse to swipe its paw at the next thing that passes.  It’s something about the texture of the silence that permeates the echoing landings; somehow a silence of tension rather than peace, yet I struggle to put my finger on why it seems so clearly different.  Perhaps it’s much like the way you get used to the sounds that a house makes in the night: the click of the heating pipes, the wind round the chimney.  After a while they become the background that quietly let us know that all is well – unheard, yet familiar and comforting.  I suppose that evolution has tuned us to detect the small changes in these things; the wind in the trees may sound much like the leaves disturbed by a prowling tiger, yet the latter could snap a man form deep sleep to startled awareness if his life depended on knowing the difference.

I’m sure the moods of the wing are probably governed by similar equations to those driving the weather: fractal complexity and extreme sensitivity to initial conditions would thwart most attempts at forecasting.  However, a morning of unexplained lock-up usually counts as a lingering area of low pressure, and late unlock for lunch shows gathering clouds on the satellite picture.  So by the time it came to the two-by-two gradual unlock to collect canteen orders in the afternoon, there was a palpable air of restlessness.  Maybe it was the order of the unlock, or just something about the food today, but some butterfly had been flapping its wings somewhere.  The officers sensed it too, and decided to let us out for exercise.  My floor was last to be let out, and by the time they got round to us there was a lot of door-kicking going on.

I’ve written here before about the apathy for exercise unless the alternative is bang-up.  Today, more than half the wing was out, including many I’d never even seen in the yard before.  Eighty (by my estimate) slightly grumpy and moderately chilly inmates walking alone or in twos, threes, fours, some clustered in corners, one on a bench – there was no chance of going clockwise today.  The Running Man, as his name would suggest, likes to run round the yard.  I thought we’d got rid of him, since he was moved on to a Cat. C a few weeks ago.  But suddenly he’s back, kicked out apparently, and now causing trouble here again.  ‘A couple of yards from the sides lads!’ is the shout as he runs around the outside of the yard, trying to insist he owns the perimeter.  The 79 other people in the yard were rapidly losing patience with him – he can get away with it when there aren’t too many others around, but not today.

Inevitably, someone eventually took enough offence that sharp words came to blows.  The Running Man quickly became The Bleeding Man, and the pair were unexpectedly broken up by a heavily muscled guy who’s here awaiting trial for an apparently violent murder.  Meanwhile, the two officers supervising the yard just watched from behind the gate to see how things panned out.  Given the large number in the yard, that was probably wise; they were waiting to see if it resolved itself (as it did) or if it turned into a more general riot – in which case they would have pressed the ‘make lots of officers appear’ button.  A few weeks ago, I happened to be crossing the open area between the main blocks when it was pressed.  It was quite a sight to see two dozen officers coming from all directions at high speed heading for the same wing.  Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary this time.

As these things go, it was a fairly minor incident, but the excitement did seem to dissipate a lot of the tension of the day.  The pair were taken away and locked up, to face a ‘nicking’ later, and the rest of us carried on our circuits without being hassled.  We now had the bonus of something to talk about, and somehow that cheered everyone up.  Nothing like a good playground brawl to lift the spirits.  Or something.

This evening also saw me become the proud owner of a complete chess set – something I wasn’t expecting.  I haven’t played since I was a teenager, and quickly found I can’t remember how to set the pieces up.  You might ask – why then, did I choose to come into possession of it?  Well, sometimes an offer made at random is too good to refuse.  A packet of digestive biscuits is a ludicrously low price for a solid wood board and pieces – especially when all pieces are present and correct. I think I’ll keep it, and see if I can remember how to play.

Date of writing : 22/02/2014

My CD player/radio has arrived!  It’s great.  It even has a clock on it – a rare thing it is to know the time, but now I have it neatly displayed for me.  So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a new toy to play with  … …

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