If the visitors come without sticks, I supply one for a penny. For another penny I’ll sharpen the end, to get a better reaction. You ain’t meant to poke them hard, so a point gets in between the ribs, see.
I’ve got a deal with one of the keepers. He snaps sticks and I share my takings with him. We make a pretty penny with all the crowds passing through here. There’s rumours of them stopping visits so folks want to come and look at the mad ones while they can. Visit and poke.
There’s all kinds in there. A real madhouse it is. Them’s dangerous and screaming sometimes. I can hear it at night when I can’t sleep. Men and women, all as mad as each other. Can’t always even tell which is which in there.
I went in, just the once. The keeper let me in at the end of the visiting time. The rich people with their fine clothes and gold watch chains pushed out past me, kerchiefs at their noses against the smell. One of them turned I heard, snatched the stick poking into him and tried to drive it into a lady’s eye. A real lady, she was. They hurried everyone out then and I went in as the door slammed.
There was so many people, lying and sitting and some of them rocking. The noise was so quiet and so loud at the same time. Bad smells. I took my stick but held it at my side and eventually let it drop. One saw it and grabbed for it. I got to it first, thinking about that lady’s eye and my eyes.
I did not stay long. I stood near the wall and watched as the keepers pushed them back into the wards. Some hit out, others stumbled and fell, some just followed the instruction and a few stayed still, unable to move without help. I didn’t want to poke any of them.
I was glad to get outside again, out in the air and the light. I would scream at night too. I don’t make the sticks so sharp now.
Inspiration: Visits to 'Bedlam'