Monday 4 December 2017

The Hat Girl by Sheila Ash

Battersby Hat Works, Offerton c.1910

Shaking with shyness
she strolls silently along The Strand.
Her hands hold hats
folded from felt for daylong hours
into the night when
mercurial madness moves memories
from her maiden mind
as an earie erethism (*) enters in.

(*) -Erethism is a neurological disorder affecting the whole central nervous system derived from mercury poisoning. Known as the mad hatter disease, it was common among old England felt-hatmakers who used mercury to stabilize the wool in a process called felting. This occupational exposure to mercury vapours gave rise to the expression “mad as a hatter”. Its effects include characteristic behavioural changes such as irritability, low self-confidence, depression, apathy, shyness and timidity, and with prolonged exposure to mercury vapours, delirium, personality changes and memory loss occur. People with erethism find it difficult to interact socially with others, with behaviours similar to that of a social phobia and they experience physical problems such as a decrease in physical strength, headaches, general pain, tremors and irregular heartbeat.

© Sheila Ash, 4th December 2017

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