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Reviewed by Chris Barchard
In July of last year (2007) an event took place in Bath which had a very different take on service users/survivors getting together than the world of meetings and publications, websites, day centres and so forth with which many of us are familiar. This was not earnest soul-searching stuff but people getting together to have a good time while expressing their discontent with the psychiatric system. This was Mad Pride in action, alive and well.
The event was organised by the previous vice-chair of Perceptions Forum, Clare Crestani with the Mad Hatters of Bath, who are linked to Mad Pride. For anyone who feels the user movement is in need of refreshment this was an event not to miss. There was live music, plays, refreshments, information and a children's tent. The day was set to start with a bed push, organised by Mad Pride, which had started the day before. It ran from a mental hospital in Bristol to Queen Square, Bath, which had been hired for the party. This provided a beautiful setting in the centre of the city.
The weather had been disappointing but auspiciously changed on the 14th July as if welcoming the celebration of madness. When we arrived we found Clare and the Mad Hatters setting up tents, which we tried to help with but didn't know much about. People started to gather in the square, many just interested members of the public who had decided to come along or were passing by. It was described as a Picnic Party on the poster, somewhat modestly. In fact is was more like a small scale festival. I spent a little time talking to people at the information area and catching up on news with Clare whose charisma and talent at organising were important for the success of the day.
The official start was 1pm, aimed at coinciding with the arrival of the bed push which had been organised by Rufus May, the eminent psychologist and service user, to protest against oppressive psychiatry. This arrived somewhat later than expected but nobody was phased. It was a nice day, people were picnicking on the grass and the band were rehearsing and getting set up. When it did arrive the bed push swept in at great speed and it was hard to get a good picture of the arrival. Someone dressed as a large syringe accompanied the patient and attending nurses.
Various people took their turns to perform music and recite poetry. A group of players performed two satirical plays with psychiatric themes and later on the main musical act, Fractured Persona played. This is a band dedicated to performing their own songs related to psychiatric experience. I'm sure I'll get pilloried if I use words beginning with psy too often in relation to Mad Pride. Understandably they don't like the ambiance of that world.
Fractured Persona combine good music rooted in rock with powerful and imaginative lyrics which are able, like much worthwhile art, to make good experiences out of bad ones. They were selling copies of their album, Unspoken, the proceeds of which were donated to charity. They have a website, www.fracturedpersona.com
The plays lampooned the world of what is called treatment, showing how it can be as crazy as the madness it seeks to abolish. Also on display was information about Mad Pride, a movement dedicated to celebrating the human spirit and extolling the positive side of madness as well as reclaiming the language used to disparage us. Clare distributed copies of the magazine, The Great Escape, which the Mad Hatters had created which gives an often light-hearted take on what it is to become subject to the mental health system. She told me that she had drawn inspiration for the form of this magazine from our own Perceptions.
I was left wondering what I was doing being involved in all this serious stuff when I might do better getting a life and celebrating who I am.
To see a more detailed version of the picture, see hatters.jpg