Date of writing: 31/05/2015
There are three ‘wings’ here, but to call them such is to stretch the concept somewhat. Each is more of a loose collection of buildings, or in the case of B wing, a sprawling tangle of decaying 1960s brickwork and concrete extended by numerous ‘temporary’ structures that cling leech-like to the asbestos-ridden host. In addition to being home to something like 230 inmates, this warren of long, narrow corridors and occasional unexpectedly large spaces also houses the library, chapel, healthcare and psychology departments, visits hall, and countless workshops of one kind or another. At certain times of day, the mass flow of people along corridors only wide enough for a single file in each direction reminds me distinctly of my secondary school.
My latest accommodation is here on one of eleven corridors distributed seemingly at random. My first-floor suite is not the largest I’ve had, and I find myself sharing it with a cellmate who conversely is the largest I’ve had. Dave is twice my age, probably more than twice my gastric girth, and I understand perhaps only one-quarter of the words he says. His heavy Yorkshire accent is compounded by a tendency to run words together (that may be related to his own poor hearing) and I usually need to interpolate using context and gesture to extract the key content. Often it seems a general “mmm” – with variable tone inflection – is enough to convince him of comprehension and engagement, but nonetheless I wonder if he tires of my requests for him to repeat himself. There is much punctuational profanity, and the content often includes reference to immigrants on benefits or politically incorrect terms for people of colours other than his own. All of this aside, he has on occasion said things that have been surprisingly insightful, and I try not to prejudge the perspicacity of his proclamations.
Now, I previously noted Colin’s snoring, and it’s something I really don’t mind in a cellmate for some reason. He also occasionally spoke in his sleep, once saying quite clearly “I know you don’t have the graph” before lapsing back into his ursine respirational rumblings. I’ve established that if Dave is asleep, he will always be snoring. This, as I’ve said, is fine: it can be quite a useful indicator that it’s probably safe to turn off the television. In addition though he frequently suffers from what I’ve decided should be called ‘hypnocoprolalia’. He swears a lot when he’s awake, but during sleep most of his recognisable words are offensive. It can be quite startling to be woken by a sudden shout of “Fookin’ basst’d!” or “Ooh, y’ boogger!”, although my irritation often turns to giggles of amusement as he continues in a similar vein. Even when I can’t make out the words, his tone is argumentative. Evidently he has some bones to pick with his dream sprites.
Dave is unfortunately one of those people who have the television on constantly, regardless of whether or not he wants to watch anything. If he pops out for a bit, I’ll turn it off, and when he returns he quite often spends some minutes sitting looking slightly lost before realising what’s different, and then turns it back on again. Sadly, his poor hearing means that the volume is also usually much higher than I’d like. He often falls asleep sitting in front of the TV and is almost impossible to wake – I genuinely wondered if he’d died once when he stopped snoring. I recently bought a universal remote control (which, contrary to its name, sadly doesn’t allow me to control the whole universe), and I take his semi-narcoleptic episodes as an opportunity to subtly reduce the volume for a little respite. It is usually some time before he decides it’s too quiet after he wakes up. I’m grateful that he’s straightforward enough that I know he would have told me if he’d noticed this habit, and was irritated by it.
He’s considerate in the ways he knows how – boiling the kettle for me (whether I want a hot drink or not), shouting the time at me in the morning if he thinks I need to get up, so I’m not late (whether I have anywhere to be or not), or getting me to take my headphones off so he can remind me that a film is starting (whether I’ve indicated any interest in seeing it or not). His intentions, at least, are good. I do think though that more than a few months in close quarters with him might be a struggle. Thankfully, I understand it shouldn’t be all that long before I once again get a cell to myself. The single cells on this wing are known as the ‘rabbit hutches’, because they aren’t exactly palatial, even by prison standards. Nonetheless, a small space to myself will be better than a slightly larger space shared with a large Yorkshireman. In the meantime, I’m bumbling along safe in the knowledge that there are far worse cellmates I could have … (see: Ahmed)…