Scenes From A Big Hoose With Padded Walls

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The drive to Hidden Hills takes you down a wooded path, where the trees on either side of you stretch out in a way that suggests that the forest is swallowing you. It’s disconcerting until you see the place loom in front of you; that’s even more disconcerting.

Built sometime in the 30’s, this place was once a luxury hotel and you can see that clearly. When the place ran into financial trouble in the 50’s it was bought up by an overseas consortium who thought they could restore it to its former glory. They failed.

It passed through various hands after that, from private owners to huge conglomerates who tried their luck at various projects including making it into private housing, before the Jenkins Trust took it over in the early 90’s as part of their major expansion. They opened it for business in 1998.

It holds 300 inmates, incarcerated there for a wide range of crimes from the deadly serious to the seriously abnormal.

One thing unites all of them; none was found even remotely competent to stand trial. When two prisoners escaped in 2012, one of them was found standing by the side of the road a mile from the institution; he was directing a phantom army down the country lanes.

He told staff that he was a World War 2 general, determined “to put the hun in their place.”

I arrive and I am greeted by a tall black man; this is Dennis Northwood, and he has been the administrator here for nearly ten years.

He is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt; it’s very informal. He takes me in through the large entrance door and into a wide reception area. Once more I recognise what this place once was in the way this lobby branches off, allowing easy access to every area of this vast building, and all its various wings.

“Do you want the basic tour?” he asks me, and I nod and for the next 20 minutes he gives me the rundown of the place, all without ever leaving the lobby. He is engaging and smart; he has written two books on paranoia and psychosis and one on the running of this place. He has seen it all.

By the time he’s finished I think have the background for a separate article.

But of course, I’m here on very specific business.

“Are you ready for the show, then?” I nod and he smiles and walks off, and I fall into line behind him, keeping up with his brisk pace. He talks as he goes, pointing out little things, highlighting certain bits of his tour from a moment ago with an anecdote or two, and we go down halls and in and out of spaces that open up in front of us, until we are there.

Here it is, at last. I’ve heard so much about this place.

“Welcome to La La Land,” he says with a grin. It should sound flippant coming from someone who works in one of these places, but of course that’s what many of the former residents called it, and there was one bestselling non-fiction book called A Big Hoose With Padded Walls which came out of here. The name seems appropriate considering some of the stories I’ve heard about the people who dwell inside this particular area of the building.

The House of Divergent Mental Disorders is the official title of this wing. Some call it La La Land, as Northwood does.

Others have a different name for it.

They call this wing Sevconia.

And as we walk through the doors I hear a familiar song; a tuneless voice starts to sing “There’s not a team like the Glasgow Rangers” and before I’m even through the first layer of security other inmates have joined in, and they are banging on the walls … it’s like a football bar at the end of a Saturday night.

Northwood points out individual cells; “Ex Daily Record sportswriter,” he says passing one.

“Ex Grade One referee,” he says going by another.

There are three cells in a row occupied by former bloggers and website guys.

He introduces me to a few of the inmates those who aren’t in their cells, and I find each of them interesting in his or her own way.

But I haven’t come here for those people at all.

I’m here to witness a very specific, and amazing, spectacle.

We get to the meeting hall, where the inmates are encouraged to come together and talk, expressing themselves in whatever way they choose.

Some of the nonsense that’s been uttered in here down through the years has been truly mind-bending; complex conspiracy theories that would baffle the likes of Alex Jones.

One theme dominates; the Unseen Fenian Hand.

Today the meeting room is empty, but all the desks have been joined together in the middle of the floor to create one big table.

Northwood motions me towards the wall, where a row of seats is arrayed for spectators and as we sit down the door opens and in troops the first of them; his nametag reads Douglas. He is wearing standard issue hospital pyjamas but he has on a pair of polished brown brogues; I’ve heard they all wear these, and as they come in one at a time it turns out that they do.

This is the “weekly board meeting” of the “Rangers International Football Club” and it has been going on in this building for some eight years now. There is a fax machine in the corner and over the years it has churned out many a head-scratching press release.

Today I’m going to see how that process takes place, how this group of befuddled, confused and clinically insane men has generated so much news and created such chaos in the outside world.

It is not at all what I expected. These men do not ramble or rave at one another; they talk, rationally, quietly, softly. A “secretary” keeps minutes.

A fat man at the far end of the table scribbles furiously into a notebook.

There are no raised voices.

This is not a rabble, although the stuff that comes out of here often reads as if it were written by a raving lunatic.

It’s only when you listen to the content of the talk that you understand why they are all here; it is some of the most paranoid stuff you’ve ever heard in your life. Ranging from theories about how much air is pumped into the footballs at Ibrox compared to those at Celtic Park to gigantic, titanic webs of complexity involving giant corporations and government institutions it is smorgasbord of the bizarre and incredible. You wonder how the minute-taker keeps a coherent track of it.

One theory involving Scottish Water piping certain drugs into their stadium so that the players tire more easily is so involved and detailed that I wonder, briefly, if they might not be working off some kind of leaked information but then the fat man suggests that Celtic Park is getting a different drug piped to them and I snap out of it in an instant.

Man, they told me that it was easy to get sucked into this stuff and they were right.

As I watch this meeting going on I am struck by how completely these men are enclosed in the belief that they are running an enormous football club, forever on the cusp of glory only to see it snatched away from them by myriad dark forces.

They hold a vote on some bizarre point of order, and the fat man rushes away to a separate table to start scribbling a press release. Coffee is brought by an orderly. The men drink it slowly, talking about how they are going to catch Celtic in the league and whether the club manager Steven Gerrard will have money to spend on transfers.

Then they start to ramble a bit.

“Medication time,” Northwood says, and a row of orderlies comes in and starts to escort them all back to their padded rooms, one at a time, all except the fat man who keeps demanding time to finish and finally slaps the paper down on the desk and asks that it be released to the press immediately.

Northwood nods, and picks it up. He lets me read the first few lines;

“We have been presented with evidence via a whistle-blower that raises serious concerns surrounding …” and at that he folds it up and puts it into the fax machine. I will later read that they have called for the suspension of Neil Doncaster and the SPFL’s legal team.

I thank Northwood for allowing me to observe and he takes me back down through the halls and down towards my car. As I start the engine, Clyde 1 comes on and I recognise the first caller. He’s in one of the first rooms in SevcoLand … they let these people use phones too?

“Aye, see that bloody SPFL board … absolutely disgraceful lot so they are, what they’ve done this time … what they’ve done here, what they’ve been doing … hey do you guys know exactly what they’ve been doing? Would somebody care to explain it to me?”

I guess that press release has worked just as intended.

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