20 APRIL 1991, Page 19

If symptoms


IF ANYONE retains his faith in the benevolence or wisdom of bureaucracies, I should like to take him to the Orchard Farm housing estate, where so many of my patients live. I have noticed that the more rural the name given to housing estates, the worse they are likely to be; these days, even institutions for the crimi- nally insane are endowed with names that could have come from The Wind in the Willows. It is all part of our century's thirst for euphemism.

Last week, a patient from Orchard Farm came to see me. She had recently been cured of leukaemia, a true triumph of medical science, and now she was pregnant (though not, of course, mar- ried). She said she was very well, except for panic attacks when she was alone in her flat. Inwardly, I groaned; the waiting list to see the clinical psychologist is at least nine months long, by which time the patients are either better or incurable. Besides, in my heart of hearts I have never taken panic attacks seriously; they seem to me a symptom of weakness of will and spiritual impoverishment, or at least they did until I questioned my patient a little further about the condi- tions in which she lived.

Her flat was on the tenth floor of a tower block. Often the lifts did not work, and she had to climb the stairs; when the lifts did work, they smelled of urine (as did the stairwell), and they rattled terri- fyingly against the sides of the lift-shaft on their slow progress upwards.

Her neighbours on the tenth floor were a violent young glue sniffer and an ancient paranoid schizophrenic, who emerged from his flat from time to time to curse the world and shake his fist in the air which contained so many voices. Her block was said to be the best in the estate.

The estate as a whole had been de- signed with the acquiscence and approval of the National Association of Burglars and Muggers, whom British architects consult when building a housing estate much as South African writers now con- sult the Cultural Desk of the ANC. No criminal need fear capture there; and the spaces between the tower blocks act as wind tunnels, to test the aerodynamics and airworthiness of old ladies' hats and fish and chip wrappers. As for the expanses of grass, on which psychopaths may safely lurk at night, they bear this thoughtful message from the council: DO NOT WALK ON THE GRASS.


Shortly before my patient came to me, the police had captured the Beast of Orchard Farm. He has been charged with 15 rapes, which means (if he is guilty) that he has probably committed a hun- dred such crimes. No one feels safe now, however; there will soon be another Beast, for bestiality is contagious, like mumps.

Shah Jehan ordered that the eyes of the Taj Mahal's architect be put out so that he should never build anything as beauti- ful again. The eyes of British architects should be put out, but for the opposite reason. I am sure it could be arranged on the National Health.

Theodore Dalrymple