It was in autumn, 1966. I had been to a party at Dilworth Terrace, the beautiful and at the time neglected row of semi-detached houses overlooking Judges Bay in Parnell, the first of Auckland’s inner-city suburbs destined for gentrification.
Present, all the usual suspects – Gary Baigent, Johnny Herman, Brian Roach, Francis Pound I think, the fearsome, fascinating Johnny Ryan and many more. Someone, possibly Baigent, mocked Roach, calling him the “secret writer,” because although Roach often talked about writing no-one had ever seen any work. I recall his painful humiliation. A year or two later I caught up with him, briefly, living in Kings Cross in Sydney. He was starting to acquire a reputation as a primitive painter, and for good reason. Don’t know if he ever wrote a word.
The flat was partly occupied by two gay women – Sue Henderson and Lauren Lysaght, Jiggs may have been living there but I can’t be sure. We were pretty close in those days. He was such an interesting, dry guy, and highly intelligent. Always made me laugh. I went in my spanking new Swann-Dri, my pride and joy, the coolest garment of the day and, like many of the humble, working man’s garments affected by us aspiring folkie-beatniks, expensive. Partied on. Everyone had chucked their coats in the front room – Lauren and Sue’s room. Leaving, I went to retrieve my Swanni. I couldn’t find it.
Searching, I found it rolled up in a ball under the bed, stuffed back in the corner.
Lauren came in just as I found it. I accused her of stealing it. She became very aggressive. Being the butch part of the duo, that meant a lot of swearing, shouting, kicked me in the shins, claimed it was hers. Just as Sue came into the room she decided to show how tough she was and started to belt me. I was no hard man but had had to fight my way out of a fair few situations at school. I pushed her back, hard, and as she went down Sue launched herself on me. By this time I was like, fuck this, smacked her in the chops, grabbed my Swanni and left.
Walking down nearby Augustus Terrace, I was joined by a slowly cruising car with three cops in it.
“Well, well. Been having fun bashing women at a party, eh, ya queer? Hop in.”
Out they poured, laid into me for a bit and dragged me into the car. I sat in the back between two of the cops who kept belting me.
We fetched up at the old Central on the corner of Princes St where the University Maths building now stands. A 19th century police station in every sense of the word.
They didn’t even bother questioning me, just kicked off a queer-bashing party for the boys. It didn’t last long. I was against a wall, trying to defend myself with my hands and arms, when something snapped. I was so full of adrenaline I wasn’t even feeling the pain, just the thud of the blows.
A cop stepped up to me, grinning, and drew his right hand back for a king hit. The fact that he wasn’t even bothering to keep his guard up enraged me. I let him have it, putting all my strength into a straight right to his nose. I felt it crunch as it erupted in blood.
I went down, and out, in a torrent of fists and feet.
I was shaken awake in the morning, freezing on a hard bench, in agony from head to foot. My father had arrived, white with fury. I was charged with common assault and assault on a police officer. Dad, who didn’t ask me what had happened and didn’t want to know – although far from a coward he was utterly supine before the law – told them I had been having mental problems, had been to a psychiatrist. In court, I was sent to Oakley, one of Auckland’s two huge Victorian-era secluded mental asylums, for a month’s ‘psychiatric observation.’
Their system seemed to be to drive you insane and then declare you perfectly fine. I was locked in a room for two days. No-one spoke to me, except for the one occasion when I was taken out for a haircut by one of the orderlies. I struggled, pretty attached to my long hair. They took out a big syringe, long, thick needle, and filled it with yellow liquid.
“This is haloperidol. It hurts like hell going in and will knock you out faster than Cassius Clay. You’re getting your haircut one way or the other. With hair like that you won’t be safe in the day room.”
I didn’t know what he meant. The fact is, he was probably right. They gave me a GI No.1 cut with electric shears. It would be years before I could bear to have anyone cut my hair.
On the third day, I was released into the day room, which was just a great big locked room, almost a hall full of very, very disturbed, frightening people.
There was Fergie. Must have been six foot six, couldn’t talk properly, funny noises issuing from a contorted face. He kept creeping up behind me and trying to fondle me. Many of the occupants were what they called CMD’s – congenital mental defectives, bizarre accidents of genetics, many of them I imagine products of incest between close family members. In the 90s I worked for an outfit who housed people with intellectual disability and wrote stories about several of their homes. I never saw anyone like those poor buggers in Male 3. Some would constantly remove their clothes, the place stank of shit because several were incontinent. Others couldn’t feed themselves. A few howled at random intervals. Several were grotesquely deformed, others schizophrenics sunk into catatonia, departed this world for who knows where.
After a day of this I thought I was going to die or go mad. I’d just turned seventeen, was deeply confused and often severely depressed.
Then, the next morning, the door opened and in walked Jiggs. I couldn’t believe it. I actually wondered for a moment if I was hallucinating.
“Oh man! What are you doing here? Are you visiting?”
“No. I’m like you, here for a month. They wouldn’t let anyone visit, and I couldn’t leave you alone in this place.”
I hugged him. I honestly felt like he was Jesus, come to redeem me. I probably cried.
Unfortunately, I went on to be given a series of ECT a few months later. My memory, perfectly clear up to that moment, is completely blank about what happened next. That’s what it does. That part of my hard drive got wiped. I imagine I recall those episodes because of their associated emotional intensity; perhaps the brain stores these things differently, or elsewhere.
I can only imagine that Jiggs’ arrival relieved the worst of my distress and the subsequent memories, being less deeply etched, were more vulnerable to the jolts.
I can’t even remember what he did to get in. All I recall was that he did something dramatic and illegal, like smashing a shop window, and told them he wanted to kill himself.
I don’t know how much longer we remained close. It makes me sad. All I recall is the feeling, the liking, the companionship. Thinking of him as one of the few good guys. I can’t remember a single thing we did together. The ECT knocked some pretty big holes in my memory of those times.
I ran into him about ten or more years ago, out walking with my daughter Holly in Grey Lynn. He was very taciturn, seemed a bit pissed and was obviously deeply unhappy.
I’m very sad about his passing, but even sadder about what went before. He really was one of the good guys. One of the best, in his day.
The Rest of the Story
As for Sue, she was so riddled with remorse she broke up with Lauren. A couple of years later, by which time we were both junkies and about equally unhappy, I ran into her. She had married Graeme ‘Shaky’ Wise and remained his wife until he died of a massive smack overdose in the months after we caught up. He was always putting far too much in the spoon, saying, “If I die, just chuck my body in the Domain.” One day, he did. They didn’t, not that I recall. Happily, I wasn’t there. Shaky was actually a pretty lovely guy, another casualty of the brutal 50s and early 60s NZ culture.
Sue and I became friends; she even lived with me for a few weeks and we would have been lovers if we hadn’t obliterated our libidos with junk. I can still see her clearly, lying beside me in the flat in Grafton Rd in her collarless blue shirt and jeans, her beautiful smile and raven hair. We did a lot of hugging and stroking. She never kicked the habit, lived for years in India, totally wrecking her health.
I ran into her at a drugs conference in 1996. She was representing an addicts’ organisation but in fact had come home to die. I was addressing the conference on behalf of the Health & Disability Commissioner, in the capacity of her Communications Manager, in a suit. I was utterly thrilled to see her, distressed that she looked so ill. I had recently discovered I had Hep C and was about to start treatment. We sat together, so happy to see each other, holding hands, while she gave me advice about the Hep.
I wondered what people thought, the Commissioner’s CM holding hands with an obvious junkie; I couldn’t have cared less.
She left shortly afterwards for Wellington, where she had friends whom she knew would look after her to the end.
As for me, the treatment, a year and a half of gruesome medications, worked. In 2000 I was declared clear of the virus.
Apparently few of my contemporaries have been so lucky. A friend slowly (very slowly, please God) being beaten down by the Hep and emphysema tells me that the liver department of Auckland Hospital is like a roll call of all those old hands from the 60s drug scene, many of whom gathered for Jiggs’ funeral. F. made a rare appearance. Always slight, he got badly knocked around by the treatment, lost his hair and the rest of his weight. It failed. He went on to get liver cancer. Although currently in remission, he is now a frail recluse who walks slowly with a stick. Not an untypical story, apparently.
I didn’t know this until yesterday, not any of it. I was under the impression that cure rates were quite high. Not so. It makes me profoundly grateful for my life. It is a glorious English autumn day. I’m going for a long walk, maybe through the beautiful Leigh Woods, and drink in the wonder of my currently perfect health and vigour. Then I’ll swim my usual kilometre.
After that I’m going to raise a glass to my friends, the ghosts.
Every day is a gift. To think that I was contemplating … no. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Never again.