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A Dickens of a Christmas

Christmas is a joy of new and old – surprise presents, surprise visits, cards and music – but all wrapped around with old friends and things we have done over and over and will do again when the time comes round.

Yesterday we sat radiantly to watch Michael Caine learn again the message of Christmas – with the Muppets, singing the songs, saying the words and knowing the truths – ‘God bless us – every one’

Last week’s review of the papers had introduced me to The Cricket on the Hearth – a less well-known Christmas story from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol’s lesser-known successor gets its moment in the spotlight | Books | The Guardian

I might have come across it earlier in life as it is there in the Dickens collection inherited from my grandmother – It lived with those other blue jacketed volumes behind the glass door of a bookcase. The doors bound shut via a thread wound around two brass knobs – This thread was a great attraction and was fiddled with often by small boys – but this did not lead to regular reading of the genius word protected. So far I am struggling with the story of the cricket.

I have done much better with Claire Hilton’s brief muse on another Christmas story from Dickens’ real life when he visited St Luke’s Mental Hospital in London. We read that he found one ward silent – bereft of any stimulation or cues which would help the residents relate to the outside world, or the time of year. Other wards were more lively: decorated with coloured prints, china shepherdesses, having tables, carpets, comfortable chairs and an open fire. You can just see the risk averse dominance in one place contrasting with the humanity of others. Dickens remarks on the influence of the environment on the well-being and mental state of the residents.

He witnessed the dance – joined by members of staff as well as residents, including the resident doctor and his family. The lighting of the tree. The shining faces and the pleasure of cake and a mug. All conducted with decorum and restraint – but no physical restraints

On the ending of the celebration males and females returned in silence to their still and separate wards.

So we learn of the impact of social therapy before the age when effective medication became available.

There is more to learn about Dickens’ interest in mental health and the care of the mentally ill - 10_Oswald_pp93_102 Corrected May 25.pdf (

Dreadfully we discover that while he was a great observer of the human condition and sympathiser with the poor, neglected, imprisoned and ill, the great man had, like so many of us, flaws in his personal life. When infatuated with a younger woman he tried to have his wife Catherine certified so that he could set her aside. His friend Dr Thomas Harrington Tuke refused to collaborate on this – For she was not insane: Charles Dickens was a ruthless Victorian husband. Like my great-grandfather | Ian Jack | The Guardian

Let us all stand up for truth like Tuke – Such courage is much desired just now.

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