The Linnet's Wings Blackbird Dock - Page 61

opportunity left now to help you put together the strength and confidence you’re going to need, but I call on you, guys, I implore you, to please listen to Mr. Latham, please listen carefully to Mr. Latham, who has immensely more experience in this field than I have, even allowing for Paul. Every one of you, and I mean every one of you – I’ve known all of you and your families for years – have people for whom you are very important. Listen to Mr. Latham, and it might just lessen the chances of any of them ever having to go through what I’ve been through’. He sat down, and it took him several deep breaths before the D.C. control was fully back in play. Mr. Latham got to his feet. He started speaking immediately, and those among us who expected some old man’s quaver were instantly disabused. He wasn’t really an old man in any case, of course, but we were at the age when anyone over thirty was classified as practically geriatric. Latham was brisk, straight off the shoulder, take it or leave it. ‘It is now (NOT) a war which you would find in your history books, but the Falklands War is one which directly involved me, and I wasn’t much older than all of you at the time. It was my experiences during that conflict which started me off in this line of work. I am not here to make your blood run cold with the sort of things I saw and experienced; for the moment, let me just say that I left the Army three years later, in 1985, and for a while, I more or less fell apart – crime, violence, excessive drinking, short spells in prison. During my final six month sentence, I was treated by a psychologist called Edward Burridge, sadly now no longer with us. I had the usual young tearaway’s contempt for ‘shrinks’, but he slowly and insistently talked me round. He made me believe that my pain at what I had been through was perfectly reasonable, not weak; that any human being worthy of the name would find such experiences appalling, and that whoever’s fault it was that things had gone so badly wrong, it wasn’t essentially mine; the first and most important thing I needed to do was stop blaming myself. When all’s said and done, he said, you have survived, and that speaks of qualities you’ve yet to fully realise and potential as yet unexplored’. I glanced across at Charlie, and was amazed to see his face red and drops around his eyes. Though it was, amazingly, the first time in our friendship that I’d thought about it, I found myself wondering what had actually caused Charlie to become so cynical in the first place. ‘I’m not going to go into the rest of my career, you’ll be happy to hear’- he smiled, with a remarkable warmth. ‘But I already knew quite a lot, as you can imagine, about damaged young men, and for a while, I became a counsellor and advisor attached largely to the military, helping men deal with what had happened to them. It didn’t take very long, or much research, for me to realise that, for young men, it isn’t just about wars. At this point, I will refer to a few statistics which might illustrate just how many young men it is about. In the last year for which full figures are available, over 4500 men committed suicide in the U.K., three quarters of the whole national total. This equates to twelve male suicides every day. And, to put the age figures in perspective, the rates for men between the ages of 18 and 45 are much higher than for their elders, and 75% of those who take their own lives have never actually been diagnosed with a mental health problem. They keep it to themselves, meaning no-one know about their problems, or they suddenly crack’. Now, three years later, with my head back against the wall of the house and my eyes closed, I could still remember the atmosphere in that room; I could almost see Latham standing there saying it like it is. And, of course, as soon as I opened my eyes again, my playing for time was over and last week returned once again vividly but distantly, like some worrying dream which might not even have happened, except that I knew only too well that it had. It was our student flat share lads’ last chance for a night out before the end of our second university year, though we all knew that it was only the last chance because we’d made different arrangements for the next academic year, the crucial final one. Cal was spending a couple of days with Amy before they both travelled back to her place; they already had a share sorted out for themselves next term. Pete was going home prematurely because he wanted to train on the coast roads around his parents’ home before the summer 61