The Walker in the Black

I’ve been back at work with the police for a few weeks now and although the majority of what used to be my work is being taken up by Dr “Hippy” Green, at least I’m being called in on the more troublesome cases; which means I’m actually starting to enjoy being called. The troublesome cases are the only ones I ever found interesting anyway.

My call-in show is starting to attract more than its usual amount of oddballs. You always get them, the people who just want to talk at you about their pet theory about how dinosaurs secretly rule the Earth from Antarctica or how the Prime Minister was replaced by a perfect clone and if we aren’t careful, everyone else will be replaced as well. It’s part and parcel of the job: get on the air, attract cranks.

Thank goodness for my long-suffering producer, Juni, who filters the calls so only people with issues I can actually help with (delusions of that nature take longer than a radio show’s airtime to even scratch the surface on) get onto the air.

Today’s caller was not one of the standard bunch of delusional motormouths, however. He was absolutely creepy. Juni doesn’t usually keep recordings of people who phone us but who don’t get on the air, as recording space is limited at the station, but she made an exception for this one.

Here’s a transcript of the call.

Hi, you’re through to the Kate Barclay Show. Can I take your name and a brief description of the issue you’d like to talk about, please?

Do you see him? The walker in the black? Do you see him?

Juni: I’m sorry sir, I don’t know what that means. Are you calling to speak to Dr Barclay on the air?

She knows, she has seen him. He is coming but if you see him, it’s already too late. He is coming. The first was a failure but the second will succeed.

Sir, if you don’t have a problem to speak to Dr Barclay about, I’m afraid I’ll have to hang up. We have other callers waiting to get through.

The walker will find her. It’s already too late.

Naturally, this unnerved Juni and she called the police immediately. They are tracing the call and trying to identify the caller because after my recent experience with a handgun-wielding maniac, they are taking threats like this quite seriously. Personally, I find it somewhat annoying because whenever someone makes a stupid threat, I end up with a police officer watching my house for a few days. I feel like I’m in my very own reality TV show, only with a tiny audience and even less interest on my part.

Was this guy being serious with his threat? I don’t know. What I do know is that the police thought it was more serious than some of the calls I’ve had in the past. Previous callers sent messages to the local police station, this one knew where I worked. That little bit of extra effort goes a long way, apparently.

Back at work

Going back to work when you are a contractor with no set hours is not a matter of working a nine-to-five job. I work nominally for the police but it’s on an on-call basis, which means I get a lot of free time to do other things.

One of the things I do is work as a radio psychiatrist for a local talk radio station. People at work used to joke that I was a real life Frasier Crane. I am not a real life Frasier Crane. Not at all.

My show runs for three hours, once a week. I take four calls on average because you can’t deal with peoples’ problems like you deal with fast food. I actually help people, I don’t provide platitudes and quick fix faux-psychiatry advice like that idiot on a TV comedy show. When I’m done talking with people on the show, my producer gives them the contact details for mental health professionals in their area. We are a proper mental health team on my show because I won’t have it any other way.

Today was my first day back on the radio so it was quite a coincidence that I started back with the police on the same day. I arrive two hours before my show starts so I can discuss how my stand-in has fared, get some brief information about one of the callers on today’s show (there’s usually someone who calls early in the hope of getting through, it sometimes works) and then actually doing the show. It’s not a bad setup, all things considered.

So I’ve been in the studio for five hours when the police call. They just brought in a guy who is almost incoherent and they need an assessment. I tell them I’ll be there in an hour, because I have to take the bus now. They can’t wait, they send a car for me.

When I get there, I immediately realise why they can’t wait. The guy is loud – I can hear him from the foyer. As I get closer to the interview room, I can smell him too. If there really is a Great Unwashed out there, this guy is their king.

The hippy is here – I can smell her, too. She is bathed in such a saccharine perfume that I fear I may develop diabetes just by standing too close to her. She jangles whenever she moves thanks to the sheer number of bracelets she is wearing. This is not my idea of a suitable colleague. This is my idea of hell.

The hippy greets me in a far too pleasant manner. Apparently she’s heard all about me from the police. I have no doubt that’s the truth. She’s looking forward to working with me because DCI Marsh has already regaled her with tales of my “superhuman ability” to see through the little lies and personality sleights-of-hand that people put up to disguise themselves. We all do it, I just see past it. She thinks that sounds amazing and can’t wait to “see me in action”.

It’s cruel but that cue is far too tempting to pass up.

I assess her. It starts with a quick visual assessment. Obviously that’s giving me far fewer clues these days, what with being blind now, but I do what I can. She’s 5’7″ but wearing low heels on thigh-high brown boots. I can’t see whether they are well polished or not but she drags her left foot slightly when she walks, so I can assume they are a little scuffed.

She wears long, light-coloured flowing skirts, a white blouse and a long, light-coloured cardigan. Her hair is long, dark blonde (apparently it’s “not nice” to call it “mousy brown” these days, even though that’s what it is. I expect that fad will blow over eventually, like “unmilked coffee” did) and left to hang in ringlets. The scene of mousse, hairspray and slightly cooked hair tell me the ringlets are not natural. Couple that with her bracelets and I know her type.

This is a woman who is very particular about the message her appearance gives off. She wants to come across as airy, happy-go-lucky girl who is easy to get along with and would be everyone’s friend.

It’s a shame her voice tells another story, then. Her inflections, her choice of phrases and her general manner of speech tell me she comes from a poor background, is from a village just outside Darlington and spent a lot of time at college and university trying desperately to be accepted as part of the well-to-do crowd.

‘I would ask how things are in Neasham but I know you don’t go back there as often as your parents would like,’ I tell her.

‘How did you know?’ she asks me, her voice shaking just a little. It’s a typical response. I’ve hit on the right village and it’s taken her aback.

I explain my method, going into more detail about how her looks and manners betrayed her than I normally would. She’s supposed to be working with me so I’m still assessing her here. I want to know what her reactions are like when she’s stressed, it’s important for the job.

I’ll admit she held up well enough. We step into the interview room and I catch her reaction to the smell from this unwashed mess of a man. She did not hold her breath as she walked in. I did, it’s something you learn through practice. Take a deep breath, hold it, then breathe shallowly until your senses get used to the onslaught.

The man is still howling in a language I don’t understand. Apparently the hippy doesn’t understand it either. I try talking to him in English, but he does not respond. I try a few other languages, too. I’m fluent in French and German but I’ve picked up some Latin, Spanish and Polish as well during my time. He does not respond.

Then the hippy chimes in, taking my linguistic cue. She speaks Greek. This stinking mess of a man understands Greek. Maybe the hippy is going to be useful after all.

It takes us two hours of questioning before the assessment is over. The man is not insane but he is reacting to a cocktail of narcotics he ingested the day before. We get him packed off to hospital to flush his system out and make sure he’s healthy before the police can be let loose on him.

As the ambulance drives away, DCI Marsh comes up to me and asks ‘So, how was your first case?’

‘It’s hardly my first, David. I’ve made 624 assessments for you, now. This one was no different.’

‘Amanda says you both worked well together.’

I quirk an eyebrow at this. He’s on first name terms with her already – and it sounds like he rather enjoys her being around. I also make a note of her name: Amanda. I had not bothered to ask and until now everyone has referred to her as “Doctor Green”. Nobody refers to me as “Doctor Barclay”, it’s always “Kate” or “That weird bitch”. I make a mental note of the difference and file it for use later.

‘I think you two will work out fine,’ David says.

I grunt a response and walk away to get a coffee from the vending machine. We probably will work well together. Amanda has turned out to be a decent psychiatrist and it’s clear from her first reactions that she is eager to please. I just don’t want to agree with David’s assessment.

It’s a result

Being blind doesn’t mean you can’t see anything at all. I’ve lost count of how many times I have had to explain that to people. Even the most well-meaning of friends and colleagues can’t seem to get their heads wrapped around the simple fact that yes, I’m blind but no, that doesn’t mean I can’t see you.

I can see you rather well, in fact. You just happen to look like an unfocused projection on a wobbly screen. Oh and the projection is of shadow puppet theatre. For some people that’s a definitely improvement.

Speaking of, Detective Chief Inspector Marsh came to see me today. The case against my attacker is now concluded. The bastard is back behind bars, where he should have been in the first place. Nobody listens to me until it’s too late; which makes me wonder why they pay for my services in the first place.

In case you’re one of those Internet types who reads the blogs of people they have never met, I work as a contractor to Northumbria Police. I’m a psychiatrist specialising in criminal behaviour, which makes my assessments rather useful to the police when they are dealing with their more unhinged suspects. I’m there to make sure people are actually fit for questioning; capable of being tried in a court; etc.

I’m good at it too, not that that has stopped them calling in a less-experienced hippy to replace me while I was in hospital. I’m ready to return to work now but it seems work is not ready to have me back.

So DCI Marsh came to visit to discuss my progress and to ask if this hippy (why do I call her that? Because friends have met her and apparently she looks like she can’t quite let go of the Summer of Love) can work alongside me while I get back “up to speed”. I know what this is about. They want her to make sure I don’t miss anything during my assessments, either because I can’t read body language any more (I can read some but I’ll admit most of it is beyond me now) or because, you know, I was shot in the head so obviously they think that’s going to have an effect on my abilities.

So my options are thus: agree and get back to work, or refuse and retire on grounds of disability. There’s no way I’m retiring. I’m 34. I’ve got a lot of time left ahead of me, although my Lupus is trying its best to take care of that. There’s no way I’m giving up a career I spent 13 years training for after only three years on the job.

So that’s settled then. Marsh seemed happy. I pretended to be happy. We had a cup of tea, a quick chat about nothing in particular and then agreed I would start work again on Monday.

It’s a result, I suppose.

Health and safety can go screw itself

So I got called in by the police to evaluate a suspect today. That’s nice. It means they haven’t lost my phone number, like I was starting to suspect. Instead they have been using some fluffy, cotton-brained ditz in my place.

Apparently I’m “too bitchy” for most of the force to want to work with, but on this particular occasion the hippy they got to replace me was unavailable, so I got the call.

Did I mention that the only reason I’m not still their first port of call was because they failed to listen to my warnings and released a dangerous suspect? No? Well, they did, and then that very same suspect shot me in the head.

He thought I was bitchy, too. I’m starting to sense a pattern.

Anyway, when I got to the station the desk sergeant recognised me and waved me through but the guy dealing with the suspect decided it was “against health and safety” for me to take my cane into the interview room “in case I get hurt”. Dangerous suspect? Nope, just a routine dickhead getting a quick check-over because he’s “acting funny”.

We argued but he held his ground. I was bored at home and this trip into town is literally the most interesting thing that has happened all week. So I relented and handed the only thing that allows me to get around safely, in case the twazzock in the interview room decides to try anything funny. You would think the two police officers that are always in there with me would prevent that, but apparently not. Logic is not this officer’s strong point.

Two minutes later, I tripped over the chair one of those officers pulled out for me. What a gentleman.

I should have stayed at home. I will tomorrow, and I won’t be the only one. That’s two more officers on disciplinary thanks to me, and two more people in the force that think I’m “bitchy” for “making a big fuss”.

Screw ‘em, says I.

My life is not about one event

One of the most infuriating things about suriving being shot in the head is that whenever I get angry or frustrated about anything, the people around me instantly decide my reaction is due to a change in personality, or an inability to cope.

Why? Because I was shot in the head, so I must have suffered a change in personality. Imust be finding things difficult to cope with, especially now that I’m blind as well. Under those circumstances it would be amazing if I wasn’t some kind of broken mess of a woman.

Except, of course, I’m not a broken mess. I got hurt, yes, but I’m not hurt that badly compared with how I could have ended up. The scans come back fine. I’m recovering well. I just get upset and frustrated with things because that’s how people are.

So stop assuming everything is the result of my being shot or I’ll start assuming everything you do is the result of you being an idiot. Which is probably is anyway, but that’s another (somewhat related) matter.

Here we go again

So apparently writing a couple of entries isn’t enough to keep my counsellor happy and I’m expected to keep sharing my feelings with all and sundry in order to demonstrate that I am coping with my disability and adjusting to my new life. I know all this talking therapy crap works for some people, I’m a psychiatrist after all, but when all is said and done, talking through my feelings is not what works for me. Im a woman of action, not words. When I have a problem, I sort it. I don’t sit around whining about it on the Internet.

Which is why I’m firing this counsellor the moment the police stop paying for these sessions as part of the severance package they gave me. Until then it’s out of my hands.

Peter has started coming around more often than he used to. It seems he has his own issues to deal with because he’s using me as a sounding board and free therapy sessions. I get practice out of it so I don’t mind. Anything to relieve the boredom and make sure my years of study are not wasted, I suppose. I won’t give any more details than that here because it would violate Dr-patient confidentiality but suffice to say he is recovering, albeit slowly.

Okay, that’s enough sharing for now. The hippy counsellor has something to read and my tea is getting cold. Talk to you later, voyeurs!


Hello there.

My name is Catherine Barclay, although everyone calls me Kate and I suppose I do too; although I have never really thought about it. I am writing this blog because even though I don’t want a counsellor, one has been “provided” for me by my former employers, as a way of “coming to terms” with the fact that I was blinded at work because they didn’t do their job properly.

Apparently writing here will “help” me come to terms with my situation. I do not believe this for a second. The fact is the idea of talking therapies is based on limited evidence extrapolated ad absurdum. All I can really say this will help me with is learning to touch type better, since I can’t see the damn keys any more.

Still, I am told actually writing something here will keep the hippy in denial that calls herself a counsellor off my back, so I’ll spend a few minutes now and then writing something in here. Read it if you want, or ignore it. I don’t care either way. That goes doubly for you, Mrs Hippy.