The drive up to Hidden Hills never gets old.
That long winding road up through the woods, that sense that the greenery around you is somehow swallowing you up, that awe inspiring sight as the big white building looms at you as you come up the crest of the hill.
It’s a beautiful building alright; if you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might think that this was a luxury hotel. It has been. It has been a lot of things over the course of its history.
This is my sixth or seventh visit, but as ever he’s waiting for me in the car-park, this tall, casually dressed black man; charming, smooth, extremely efficient, knowledgeable not only about the place as it currently stands but about its past.
He seems to know the history of every one of its residents too, from those who pass through for a brief time to those who stay much longer.
Dennis Northwood shakes my hand as I get out of the car, and he asks me how I’ve been since I was last here.
I could tell him about the job offer I got, about the girl I’m dating, about how my ex-wife and I are trying to sort out our affairs, but he gets enough of that here, and so I tell him things have been good (which they have) and we head on in.
The main hall is as imposing as ever, and as we head down through the corridors towards The House Of Divergent Mental Disorders – which the former inmates refer to, sometimes, as La La Land in that offhand jokey way, but which others call Sevconia – I remember my first time here and the bizarre “board meeting” I watched take place.
We go down past it; we are, as with my last visit, heading towards the psychosis wing, where I last watched a former Hearts chairman get electroshock therapy.
Northwood tells me that we’re not going to see anything so dramatic this time.
But I’ve learned that in this place to expect the unexpected.
A very fat man walks up to me, very calmly, and starts to talk about how the entire country is biased against “The Famous”. I don’t ask questions. It is too easy to get sucked down this rabbit hole, and I don’t even want to start. “Fan forum guy,” Northwood tells me as we walk in the other direction. I remember. Mark something or other.
We head down the corridor and into the psychosis wing, and amidst the screaming from some of the cells – one is ranting and raving about “McLaughlin” and banging on the door – two staff members come down towards us, smiling broadly.
“Is he up?” Northwood asks.
One of them nods. “Oh he’s up. He’s been writing.”
I am surprised. “Writing what?” I ask, getting my own notebook out.
The two men laugh. “On the walls. With his crayons again.”
Aah. Well, that’s what I’m here to see at the end of the day.
The two men lead Northwood and myself up the path and we pause outside a door. The name-plate on the door reads Ferguson. This is the man I’ve come here to look at.
Northwood turns to one of the orderlies.
“Has he been restrained?”
Ferguson, to the best of my knowledge, is not prone to violence but these guys take no chances.
“Sitting up in his chair, wearing his jacket, like a good boy,” the orderly says with a grin.
Northwood nods, and he opens the door. I walk in, and I see right away what this guy’s problem is, and it’s a very big problem indeed.
The walls on either side of me are covering in crayon marks, one sentence written over and over again on the left and another written over and over again on the right.
On the left it reads “Van Bronckhorst has Ange sussed” and on the other wall it reads “No plan B. No plan B. No plan B.”
“Mr Ferguson,” Northwood says, “is a former footballer and now writes for a low-rent tabloid. He is an opinion writer. They’re all a bit mad, of course. But normally when an opinion is challenged and found to be wrong, and is then dismantled and held up to ridicule, these guys back off, admit they were wrong and quickly change the story.
“Mr Ferguson here persists on sticking to his guns. Some would call that courageous, but in this industry we recognise it as delusional. If this guy believed he could fly and persisted in that view we wouldn’t let him onto a high-rise roof, would we?”
I cannot argue with that, nor can I argue with the need to keep this guy confined to his room.
There is something vaguely creepy about all those words, and looking at Mr Ferguson I cannot justify any scenario where someone this out of touch with reality is loose on the streets.