Jonathan Blake Decides to Live

Jonathan Blake was born in 1949. He is 68 years old when we meet him to talk about his memories of King’s Cross and LGSM, in September 2017. He is officially a pensioner, he tells me proudly; he never expected to be able to say that, having been diagnosed with HTLV-3 – which later became known as HIV – in October 1982. Jonathan was the first person at the Middlesex Hospital to be diagnosed with the virus (his hospital number was London1), at a time when sparse medical understanding, and a culture of fear and prejudice, made diagnosis seem terminal.

Over the next few hours, Jonathan shows Michael and I around his treasure-trove of a house and garden. The inner and outer spaces that he has made his home are vibrant, creative expressions of a decision he made, thirty five years ago, to live. At the bleakest point in his life, Jonathan felt that his only option was to end it. Then, at the crucial moment, something his mother had taught him as a child resurfaced in his memory: “you do not leave s**t for other people to clear up”. And so, “If you can’t kill yourself”, Jonathan explains, “you get on and live”.

Each painting, poem, photograph, sculpture, tree, and decapitated doll’s head, that Jonathan has surrounded himself with, is a testament to this choice to get on and live. Everything he shows us has a story attached to it. Everything roots him in the world, through connection to the people he has made his family. A little mosaic, embedded into the garden path, made from broken pottery, beer-bottle tops, fridge magnet letters and scrabble pieces, reads “jo, THE GARDEN MAN”. A friend made it for him, and the dedication is apposite: Jonathan is clearly most at home in this outside world that he has created, teeming with living things.

Listen to Jonathan’s story on Historypin –