MY DR HILLS’ CASEBOOK (Entry 17) : A blog by Robert Fairclough

The seventeenth instalment of Robert Fairclough’s blog about our Change Minds project, Dr. Hills’ Casebook, uniting history, mental health, creative writing and theatre.

My Dr Hills’ Casebook (17)

I was staggered to see that my last post went up on 26 May i.e. nearly four months ago. Such a lot has happened since then. We had the online screenings of the ‘Dr Hills’ Casebook’ film which, apart from some initial technical hiccups, went really well. I think it’s a towering achievement by everyone concerned and should be seen by anyone remotely interested in local history and mental health (or both). The whole play can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIL8cSK5IEM&t=652s

After that, I was more or less straight into the design of ‘Dr Hills’ Casebook – The Anthology’, a compilation publication of case studies which provided the basis of the characters seen in the play, photographs, essays, creative writing and interviews with the play’s cast and crew. It’s a celebration of the Dr Hills’ project, designed as a keepsake for the group members; an intimate memoir, if you like. Reading through it, it’s moving and humbling to see how, through the research experience, those involved have come to terms with their own personal issues, have turned positives into negatives and grown as people. I include myself among their number.

Our Zoom meetings have tended to be ‘Anthology’ heavy over the past few weeks, so with the book heading for the printers, it felt like something of a fresh start to meet up at the Norfolk Record Office on Tuesday 21 September. It was a beautiful, blue-skied sunny day and everyone from the research group seemed to have a metaphorical spring in their step. Covid seems to be receding and people talked more, not least the ever amiable Gary Tuson, the County Archivist who was there to give us a guided tour of the NRO.

The Norfolk Records Office is the repository for all paper records related to the county. To say it’s administration is pretty thorough is an understatement. Gary offered the intriguing statistic that if all the records the NRO were piled on top of one another, it would be 23 times higher than the Shard building in London. That’s A LOT of information.

I love the place. The moment you step inside, you immediately feel at ease in the cool, scholastic atmosphere. As a researcher myself, I reckon it would be a great place to work, particularly as it’s situated in such green, serene grounds. The NRO is particularly welcoming as it often hosts exhibitions – there’s one on at the moment about the 14th-18th century Paston family – and you can also study items from the catalogue in person. One highpoint of Gary’s tour was seeing how damaged documents are restored, but the unquestionable highlight was being able to examine the fabled casebooks of Dr Hills’, the well-spring of our group efforts. The NRO obviously works as a storage facility: the books look nowhere near over a hundred years old, and it’s amazing to see that Dr Hills’ handwriting has barely faded. It’s also an eye-opener to see why some of the patients were committed to the asylum – one unfortunate woman was sent there because she was going through the menopause. In some ways we’ve moved on from those unenlightened times; in a lot of ways we haven’t.

We could have stayed for hours, but with Gary heading for another appointment, around lunchtime we departed for a pre-arranged picnic at Whitlingham Country Park. As I think back to how everyone was sitting in the sun, happily relaxed and chatting away, a Facebook post about the day by my friend Tess Denis came to mind: “To feel joy again in the company of other people… I thought that was something I’d never experience again. Dr Hills still works his compassion beyond his life on Earth.”

I really can’t add any more to that.

Robert Fairclough, 24th September 2021

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