Doing Dark Doings at Miskatonic

'Touch' is included in Dark Doings At Miskatonic U

‘Touch’ is included in Dark Doings At Miskatonic U

Occasionally I get invites, to write or participate in various creative projects. Mostly, there are all sorts of questions about contracts, boundaries, storyline, theme, characters.  As you might expect. Occasionally, you just say Yes.  In this case, I was being invited to participate in a mystery world and given only the merest hint of what might be involved… HP Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. A creative play/battleground for the bizarre, unnatural and terrifying.

I don;t have a huge knowledge of gothic or classic horror/science fiction, and not caught up with HP Lovecraft, aside from being vaguely aware of controversies over alleged racism. The challenge was to write a story within a very strict deadline, with a very specific theme to explore around. Yes, I was in.

At the time, I had just started a couple of online courses, and was experiencing th freedom and limitations of the internet. It seemed a great way to join up to Miskatonic – let my process dictate the form and theme. What if Miskatonic started online tutoring? What if it entered the 21st century and its darkness spread onto the internet?

And then those beautiful, terrifying gothic and steampunk elements. I could see the type of machinery, feel the heavy keys to type on, the smells and colours of the world. It scared me. It felt a dark and potent world, full of uncertainty and fear. For those who regularly read this blog, you may be aware of some of the fear and uncertainties it might tap into for me. But, you know, that’s what writing is about …

So I had some vague ideas. I had a voice, a narrative, and a few emotional landscapes I wanted to explore. The rest was just … writing the damned thing. Or to become a conduit for the story to tell itself. To become a little lost in the horror and chaos of Miskatonic University, and in the process of writing a story for a project that was still a mystery – indeed, a secret. ‘Shhhh … don’t tell…’

It’s always great for writers to be challenged. A little structure, a little gem of an idea, and then for the hounds of creativity to be released. A scent to follow, wherever it goes. It’s surprising, and scary, what lies in the dark recesses of the mind. Which, I guess, is the whole point of Miskatonic University.

It’s now out there. The story and its premise still haunt me, if I’m honest. Particularly seeing the results as New Horizons goes spinning towards Pluto. But, shhh, spoliers.

You’ll have to go read it for yourself. I dare you – Touch

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What Did You Do In The War, Dad: guest blog from father about his father, the creator of James Bond & ratskin purses….

What Did You Do In The War, Dad?

What Did You Do In The War, Dad?

Dad’s guested a couple of blog posts, based on his own oral history. The latest sees a journey into our family’s past, secrets of the British Intelligence service, and a lot of speculation and mystery prompted by the question he used as the title for today’s blog:

What did you do in the war Dad?

I was wondering what to talk about when the advent of V.E. day set off a train of thought, and today we are going o what might be called a magical mystery tour.

Today I am going to tell you a story. It’s about the mystery behind the question “what did you do in the war Dad?”

A question that most kids of my generation asked. Most of them got an answer but nearly seventy years on I am very little the wiser.

And behind the mystery of what Dad did an even greater and more important story emerged that involved the whole of the U.K.

Dad went away in 1944 and returned to my life somewhere around 1954, quite a long period in a little lad’s life.

So I asked the question and the only answer I got was “I can’t tell you, “It’s a secret.”

Over the years I asked the same question, and I always got the same answer “it’s a secret”

What on earth had he been up to that he couldn’t talk about 60 odd years after the event?

At this point, a brief history of the facts that I know about his early life.

He was born James Herman Lucas in 1905 in the area of Berlin known as Charlottenburg, the son of an English father and a German mother.

At the outbreak of World War 1 his father was interned in a prison camp called Ruhleben on the outskirts of Berlin for the duration of the war.

This prison camp was developed and later became the infamous Spandau Prison.

In fact Grandfather Lucas found fame in his own right as it is reported in The Times of Feb. 11th 1919 that at the Ruhleben Exhibition he presented a rat skin purse to the Queen.

By coincidence just yesterday I had confirmation from the Imperial War Museum that the rat skin purse in their possession is in fact the purse that Grandfather Lucas presented to Queen Mary.

Queen Mary then gifted the purse to The Imperial War Museum.

So although distant I do have Royal connections.

It is suspected that Father was sent to England for the duration of the war but no proof of this has been found.

So you can see that problems of establishing his history are already present, but it becomes even more interesting as we follow James Herman.

So about ten years ago I started to try and unravel this bit of history,

I remembered us coming from Cardiff, where the docks were constantly being bombed, to my Grandfather’s farm in Attleborough Nuneaton, where we were victims of the blitz on the night of arrival.

Father’s timing was always impeccable!

Now memory becomes slightly hazy, for some reason, we were in London amongst the air raids and the V1 and V2 rockets, burning buildings, air raid sirens, searchlights and barrage balloons. During this period Father disappeared.  He didn’t come back into my life for a long time.

When he did I asked that same question, which was closely followed by the same answer.

After Mother died I was clearing out the house when I came across a bunch of letters that had been sent home to her from the various places he had been posted to, they only covered one year of adventures in Africa, Italy and Germany but they only deepened the mystery, although facts emerged that I was unaware of.

They did solve the puzzle as to why we ended up in London. He apparently worked for the BBC, possibly as a translator or in ‘black propaganda’.

Remember German was his first language.

Presumably he was recruited from the BBC because the letters tell us he was flown to Algiers and billeted in the best hotel with American intelligence officers.

The postmark on the letters show us he was assigned to G11 which is Anglo/American intelligence.

Apparently he lived the life of Reilly there, – an American mess, with very cheap and generous allowances of alcohol and tobacco, staff car etc.

It is recorded that he “mislaid” the staff car and had to “keep a low profile” for a while, But I doubt that this incident was serious enough to demand 60 + years of secrecy.

In fact he seems to have had the run of Algiers, visiting dance halls and night clubs and other things that I am sure Mother would not have approved of.

He also alleged that he met Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame, but was unable to recall anything about him other than his feet smelt!

Later on his letter headings changed to Polindep Unit BNAF. This was discovered to mean 2Political Intelligence Department”, which was in turn just a cover name for the “Political Warfare Executive”.  Most people don’t know anything about PWE, so I was interested to know what they did.  PWE used to be the Propaganda wing of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).  After 1941, the SOE branched into two – one half became the now famous SAS, the other half became the largely unheard of PWE.

Of course these letters were censored and gave no indication of what he contributed to the war effort.

In these letters were a number of references to a place “that I cannot tell you about” and letters that were posted in England that had been posted by a friend that had been visiting this place.

The only place we could trace that fitted this description was the top secret Bletchley Park

This place was so secret that it was not that it was not discovered until the 1980s.

So secret that, although 1000 people worked a three shift 24 hour system, the secret never leaked out.

So secret that staff in adjoining huts were not allowed to discuss things with one another and had to “post” documents from one hut to another, no personal contact could be made.

So no apparent leads there.

Then son Paul came to the rescue. He used to teach students for The Open University and he emailed “I taught a guy that worked at Bletchley I’ll talk to him”

Great excitement when this fellow replied and said “Yes I can help, I know various fellow members of the staff that were there at the time.”

Sadly there was no record of Father’s existence at Bletchley Park, so at the end I was none the wiser.

So, back to the letters sent from Algiers. I transcribed 103 of these, written 70 years ago in ink on airmail paper, but of course, Father was educated in Germany so his handwriting was in the German style script and his phrasing was Germanic, Father never did make things easy!

In these letters he said that he had been awarded the assimilated rank of Major with a salary in excess of £400 per year and if anybody came enquiring for him he was “an officer of Government travelling for the Crown”

Anyway, with this information and the mention of an army pay book I thought  ‘aha, MOD!’,

so wrote giving all the relevant details and enclosed my cheque and sat back ready for the information.

Weeks later,  I had the letter saying they could not trace this person. Twice more over the next couple of years I tried, the last time the reply and my cheque arrived by return of post. Was something flagged up?

What on earth was my old man up to? I had the written evidence.

In his letters home in between tales of his high life with the Americans there were traces of homesickness but always the end was the same “I could not make the same money, and I may be liable for conscription.” What could that mean? Surely at 40 years of age he would either be too old or already in the services, we know he had a rank and a pay book.

Where was the next avenue of investigation?

His letters follow his transfer to Italy and to a City that I cannot name but I can see the dome of the Pope’s church from the window of my apartment.

How on earth did he get that past the Censor?

From this point on his letters become more and more vague and as they were typed there were thoughts that they were not written by him.

So there ends the letters to home, no real information except that together with the American he seems to have had a very comfortable and enjoyable war so far.

The next positive trace of him was in Germany as a member of the Control Commission.

‘Ah,  the Home Office must have a record of him, at last we have the chance to solve the mystery.’

After a considerable time the Home Office answered my request made under the Freedom of Information Act, and to be fair they appear to have done a lot of research but the answer was identical  – “we can trace no information on this person, even using all combinations of the names”.

So nothing, nix.

Unbelievable considering I have photos of him in uniform in the city of Hamburg.

I also have photos of the villa and officer’s mess where he was billeted in Hamburg, in fact the villa is still standing, and very posh it is too.

It is strange that I have documentary proof of all these things yet they are all denied by the authorities.

Who is telling porkies,  and what the hell did you do in the war Dad?

During research into G11 intelligence I discovered that they were involved in something called the ‘Alsos Project’.

This was involved with getting German scientists out of Germany and transporting them to America to work under Oppenheimer on the atom bomb project.

So I thought “the Americans are more open than the English, so I’ll try them”  – so I posted a notice on their site, and much to my surprise I had a reply.

A truck driver called Bunny was attempting to trace his father in Law’s war history, and his footprint was almost identical to Dad’s.

We corresponded for some time until I had an exciting email from him.

“I think I’ve found a way in.”

THAT WAS THE LAST TIME HE WAS HEARD OF!

The only reason for this that I can think of is that Homeland Security had monitored our emails, got suspicious and blocked any further communication.

What on earth had these people been up to? We are far beyond the limits of the Official Secrets Act so why cannot information be released?

It seems strange that with one year’s letters I can track him from London to Algiers, Algiers to Italy and Rome,  and to Hamburg in German,  yet the Home Office and the MOD are unable or unwilling to admit to having any information on his activities.

I know –  and again,  have his letters to prove – that he worked hand in hand with American Intelligence, but the one lead that developed from American enquires was suddenly eliminated without any explanation.

He always said that he was involved with the liberation of Dachau and Belson concentration camps and gave graphic details of these, but would never talk in depth about them, presumably the memories were too painful.

He also always alleged that he was in Berlin at the time Germany collapsed and was at the bunker where Hitler and his cohorts died.

Despite the rumours concerning Hitler’s death Father always asserted that Hitler died in that bunker.

Following up from that he said that he was in and out of the Russian zone, his brief being to track and capture Hitler’s deputy, Martin Bormann. He never did find him and concluded that he had made good his escape to South America. In the late 1980s, DNA evidence proved that Borman had died, probably in 1945, at the time Dad was hunting him in Berlin. You got that one wrong, Dad!

There possibly ends my question to “what did you do in the war Dad?”

Most of what you have heard is provable but some of it is just hearsay. Maybe someday I will press the correct key and the whole story will come out.Who knows? Too many secrets have been buried and those that can remember have either died or are too old to be credible.

What on earth DID you do in the war Dad?

I will end this tale of intrigue with a quote sent to me by my son Paul from Leo Marks, head of the Codes Office at the Special Operations Executive during WWII.  He described the SOE as

pitted and pockmarked with improbable people doing implausible things for             imponderable purposes, and succeeding by coincidence.

Is it coincidence that I have letters giving certain information that authorities deny? Are they hiding information or does it really not exist? Another mystery that may never be solved!

So sixty years after he returned home the question still remains unanswered:-

“What did you do in the war Dad?”

So, James Herman Lucas, did you really exist? I may not know, and may never know,  what you did in the war Dad but we’re all very grateful that whatever you did, it worked-and the allies won. James Herman Lucas or whatever, I’m proud of you.

If I knew all the answers it would be a very boring story.

Postscript

I travelled into the Sahara Desert riding a camel a few years back, with the romantic notion of following in my Grandfather’s footsteps – and finding the wreck of the staff vehicle my father mentioned, covered with sand but somehow containing a jaunty note from my grandfather in the glove compartment. Although my fellow travellers rode their camels with dignity, I was crouched over mine like some sort of bloodsucking parasite, holding on for dear life, as a local villager threatened us ‘Westerners’ with a very sharp and very large knife. He was eventually placated, and we spent the night at a beautiful Bedouin Camp. The car remains lost to the desert.

A Beehive In My Heart and marvellous errors

the four chambered heart

Last night, as I was sleeping

I dreamt – marvellous error! –

that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.

– Antonio Machado, quoted in The Fourfold Way by Angele Arrien (Harper Collins, 2003)

This time last year I couldn’t bear going into work.I was told it was a kinda PTSD response. Entirely natural, it turns out, following life threatening illness or surgery.

Seems like it all just caught up with me.

I had a few chill pills, a lot of love from family, some workplace support, and a really helpful therapist. I’d chosen her to ‘do’ EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) on me. In fact, we just talked, and I learned the difference between ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’. Day to day survival had been challenging enough. The very thought of going beyond that, into ‘thriving’ was – and still is – challenging.

I returned to work. I survived again. I’d planned to practise thriving this year. Looking at some volunteering work, finishing off some writing project and starting some new ones. Some courses to sign up for. Some of it’s been achieved. Then I had investigations around anaemia – colonoscopy and endoscopy, cameras should into orifices they had no business being – and the DVLA and my consultant have confirmed I’m not allowed to drive.

All of which is a shock, and things I’d have found very challenging to cope with this time last year. So there’s progress. I’ve achieved a counselling qualification, and some form of hypnotherapy qualification, and at least a working understanding of the power of the mind and trance work.

I haven’t yet fallen in love. Although my heart breaks easily and pretty much every day. Smiles, looks, smells and touches can all promise more than they give.

As part of my own recovery, I attended the first part of a training in ‘shamanic healing’, which I wrote a little about in an earlier blog the raven, the beaver and making happy tracks in ordinary reality. I’m not a Shaman, and I don’t claim any special insight or spirituality, but I wanted another way to help understand the impact of trauma and healing, and found it helpful and grounding. I do use much of the knowledge  on myself, and in my work as a psychotherapist.

Recently, I finished reading The Four Fold Way by Angeles Arrien, which develops some of the shamanic/First Peoples understanding. The Paths of Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary are explained from the perspective of native spirituality – very ‘New Age’, I’m sure.

The Healer is encouraged to ask how they help heal the four chambers of the heart daily:

“Am I full hearted. open-hearted, clear hearted and strong hearted?”

Some simple questions I now practise. Am I full hearted? How many times have I approached situations or people in a half hearted manner?! To be half hearted is a ‘wrong placement’ – how much healthier, stronger, empowering to be ‘whole hearted’ or ‘full hearted’!

Am I open-hearted? Not naive – but opening and softening my heart, rather than closing it down through defensiveness or fear.

Am I clear-hearted? Do I have clarity of purpose, or am I doubtful, ambivalent or indifferent?

Am I strong hearted? Physically, I’ve been all too aware of the vulnerabilities of my heart over the last decade, but this is a question about courage. Can I be authentic and courageous today? The author, Angeles Arrien, locates the etymology of the word ‘courage’ to the French coeur, or ‘heart’ and “the ability to stand by one’s heart or to stand by one’s core.”

Instead of asking when someone became anxious, stressed or depressed, the shamanic healer might ask;

When did you stop dancing? When did I stop singing? When did I stop listening to and telling stories? When did I sop enjoying silence?

The ‘shadow’ of the Healer is the Wounded Child of the South, preoccupied tieh the Four Universal Addictions:

The addiction to intensity.

The addiction to perfection.

The addiction to the need to know.

The addiction to being fixated on what’s not working rather than what is working.

Shadows, addictions, hearts and minds. Warriors, Teachers, Healers and Visionaries. All parts of my world. sometimes helpful, sometimes unhelpful.

And as for love – that’s another adventure yet …

Keep Britain Bona – let’s troll together towards our fantabulosa futurette

Keep Britain Bona!

Keep Britain Bona!

I voted, very early this morning. Going in, I met a lady from my yoga class coming out, though didn’t dare tell her how much I was aching from the hour and a half class that had stretched and stretch for two hours. I’m the only bloke, so I feel I have to be butch. And try to contain my trumps, which is much more difficult.

We has a fair stream of people coming and going, which is encouraging to see. Our voting site is an outbuilding from the local school. It’s where the students are counselled, and so it’s great to see there are positive messages everywhere about self-esteem, and sharing, and caring. It’s a nice place to be. Last time I voted, there were a lot of posters and leaflets being affirmative about LGBT identity, how important it is to value yourself and others. Other friends have told me about how they’ve had UKIP supporters threatening to stab people outside their Voting Station. I wasn’t surprised.

After voting, some bloke turned up to  drive my car off for its MOT, as I’m not allowed in the driving seat anymore. There’s an analogy there somewhere.

I get a kick out of voting. I recall going to vote not long after Nelson Mandela had ben released, and stopping to think how important the whole thing really is. Tomorrow is VE Day. I’m not on celebrating war, but I know far too many people were killed, and that my ancestors have made huge sacrifices just so I can turn up and use a stubby little pencil to put a cross in a box.

I know that voting isn’t the end of it all. I’ve been an activist, I’ve been on protests and marches and parades, and I’ve campaigned. Occasionally I’ve taken (peaceful) direct action. Once upon a time I handed myself in tot he police for being a ‘Sex Criminal’ when the Age Of Consent in the UK was discriminating against queer sexuality. I may or may not have been dressed as a nun at the time. And I wrote about my experiences during the Poll Tax ‘Riot’ in a previous blog here.

I’m not ‘tribal’ in my politics, but have a lefty bent. I admire those of my friends who have been grafting hard on behalf of professional politicians who really don’t deserve half the support they’ve been given. This year, so much has been stage managed, to the point where politicians feel it’s perfectly OK to just not engage in television debates or with real members of the public anymore.  My hero of this election is the ‘hyacinth heckler’ who accused PM David Cameron of racism for the way he and his party have depicted the Scottish National Party. How great to hear a real voice amidst the din of commentary, fawning, political pandering, obfuscation  and downright lies. I’ve mostly been a ‘hacktivist’, tweeting and posting any old stuff that seemed to me to reflect some of my agenda. It’s all second hand, and so I take the time to thank and acknowledge those who have worked really hard to engage people like me in the political process, to persuade and argue and cajole, to stand on doorsteps and street corners and challenge, and debate, and get sworn or laughed at. And those who sit for hours staffing the election booths – when I spoke tot he two people at my election office this morning, they told they’d sworn’ Never again’. I thanked them for never saying never. Because, without them …

Having said that, locally we also have a little local ‘colour’ this year. Which is a polite way of saying the extreme right wing, in its various historical guises of BNP and EDL, have been out peddling their usual xenophobic nonsense. It comes in shades, from dilute forms of UKIP through to a new manifestation in ‘The MAINSTREAM Party’, who proudly proclaim ‘We don’t do Minorities’. Their election slogan is ‘Britain and Europe back to Normal. NOW.’ I don’t even understand what that means. I won’t bore you with the details of their ‘manifesto’, but it appears they’re not as keen on The Gays as our local voting booth is. There’s quite a lot of tutting and repressed anger involved. But if you want to know more,  the Mainstream Candidate has given his contact details – 07931 084762, or e-mail info@mainstream.org.uk.

I didn’t vote Mainstream. And although today we’re being urged to vote for the ‘less bad’ option, I truly voted idealistically and with my heart. That’s as strategic as I get.

Yes, of course I voted to Keep Britain Bona. In a way, every vote does that. Buck the trend and get involved. Have your say – vote, but don’t leave it there. Bang a drum, shout a chant, sign a petition, hacktivate. Challenge, hope, change.

Say No to Normal.

Enjoy The Silence

silence

Shhhhh ….

Shhhhh…..

Can you hear it? Can you hear it?

Can you hear nothing at all?

Can you just enjoy the silence….?

I was at a yoga class last week. A nice sunny evening, so we decided to do the class outside. On the lawn. Which is astro-turf, and full of ants. So as you might imagine, my mind was distracted anyway. I’m not terribly good at the whole focus and mindfulness thing, even though I do practise. It evades me.

And as we settle in, scan our bodies and get in tune with ourselves, focussing on the breath – like all good yoga practitioners do – we were encouraged to ‘enjoy the silence’. And the more I tried to enjoy the silence, the more I could hear. Planes overhead. Birdsong. Cars starting. Police sirens wailing in the background. Children laughing somewhere (up to no good, I imagined). My class members fidgeting and breathing and the gurgling of their bellies. An occasional fart (oops, apologies.)

And my heart. Beating.

I haven’t enjoyed the silence sine the heart operation almost two years ago, and the installation of a mechanical heart valve following my heart breaking, tearing apart from the stresses and strains of ordinary life.

In recovery, I thought I was imagining it. That the anxiety and trauma had fixated me on the sound of my heartbeat, thumping around my head and not  my body. A self-imposed marching rhythm, a private dialogue that I had punished my frailty with.

No. It’s real. The loud and regular workings of a mechanical valve – my audible bionics. Sometimes unnoticeable, sometimes deafening when all around is silent. In the middle of the night, when I wake from a night terror, or at the buzz of a morning alarm, it seems to boom around the house, like the woodpecker boring into a tree I heard in our spinney last week. It’s loud and inescapable. For me, it’s the sound of life. As important as the sound of my breath, of involuntary farts, of gasps at scary movies and the moans of lovemaking. The Universal Om.

And I yearn for silence. I want the only noise to be that which is around me, that I can tune in to the soft heartbeat in a lover’s chest as I rest my head on their chest on a lazy Sunday morning. The dawn chorus, the last note of a song sung and finished.

And yet, I dread the silence. It will be the loss of life, the end of days. As long as there’s the click of a valve, the turning over of life itself, I know I’m still here. I know that every part of me is still engaged, still journeying through life and all of its noise and music and tears and laughter. The fall of the surf and the wind in the trees. The alarm of the bell, the march of boots, the baby’s cry. Dog whistles out of my range, tremors on other planets and in different galaxies.

It’s all there, in the heartbeat. The constant sound of life, and of  living.

Enjoy the silence?

No. C’mon, feel the Noize…

More Than Chocolate: On Easter, Agape, coming out and the joys of renewal

more than chocolate

more than chocolate

At every moment you choose yourself.But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out  of which you can build many I’s. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and elected.Only one – which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiousity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your I.

– Dag Hammarskjold

Easter always feels very special to me. Partly because it changes every year – a movable feast. Partly because of the Spiritual meaning and mysteries drilled into a young Catholic boy. And partly because it’s the anniversary of my Coming Out.

As it happens, I’m Coming Out was the song chosen to represent the Opening Of The Tomb and Resurrection of Jesus in a rather dubious rendering of the gospel to the music of Diana Ross, performed under the title Agape at my school by a renegade ‘brother’ who turned out to (allegedly) be on the run from tax authorities in another country, and who had forged himself a reference in order to seek refuge in a Boys’ Catholic Boarding School (ahem). His version of the gospel even included the Crucifixion performed to Upside Down. Even when ‘Luis’ cast himself as Jesus, and performed in nothing more than a gold lame  ‘g’ string, the audience and school didn’t seem to twig that there might be something amiss about this peculiar  ‘re-interpretation’ of the gospels and its author. It was the 80’s and everything was a little ‘glam’. I was offered the part of the Roman Soldier Longinus who pierced Christ’s flesh with the Spear Of Destiny. I turned it down – not on aesthetic or religious grounds, I’m afraid. I thought the part was too small.

Eventually, it all Came Out, and Luis was escorted to an airport where he was given a one way ticket out of the country. Brushed under the carpet and Someone Else’s problem.

I celebrate my own Coming Out at Easter every year because … well, I first ‘came out’ at Easter. If there was indeed any ‘coming out’ to do. I was never butch, and didn’t particularly hide crushes on classmates, teachers, Captain Kirk, The Six Million Dollar Man, even the cartoon Spiderman, particularly well. The New Romantics kept my sexuality camouflaged in gender bending fashion, and a theatrical ben offered me many opportunities to be a little luvvie.

And I developed my first serious crush at Uni. Falling for an American exchange student – well, as it turns out, at least my gaydar was in good working order. And I invited him to stay with my family one Easter. At some point, I blurted out that I was like one of the characters in Caryl Churchill’s dramatic exploration of sexual politics, Cloud 9, which had just been produced at our university. It was a way in. He kindly recognised my inadequate stumblings, and calmly accepted what had been said. All of a sudden, it was ‘Out There’. I’d come out of a dark tomb and entered a bright, scary new world.

Probably, the only person I’d come out to was myself. I said the same things several times to different people, in slightly different ways, and it always seemed like there was no surprise, just a witnessing to my own re-creation each time. Even my parents, in a tear filled and awkward last minute family meeting I called.

So I like the spiritual mystery of Easter, and the childlike magic of bunnies and Easter hunts, because the theme of personal and spiritual renewal is a universal and important one. Even if it takes place whilst wearing  a gold lame ‘g’ string, and to the soundtrack of Diana Ross.

So, dear lover, through this world of mine that I weave for you here, methinks sometimes I see you moving.

And I wait of you that in time you also spread worlds equally beautiful, more beautiful, for me.

[Not in written words only, but in spoken words, or the mere sound of the voice or look of the face, and in beauties of body and limb and brain and heart, and in beauty of deed and action, and in a thousand ways.]

– Edward Carpenter ‘Lo! what a world I create’


Now We Are 25 – The Poll Tax : A pot of tea, a riot, and the power of one small word

poll tax

 

Somewhere, in that melee of placards and optimism and camaraderie, there’s a young politically awakening me, scrabbling out of the 80’s but probably still sporting the last vestiges of New Romanticism. I’d been slapped awake by the Smash Clause 28 campaigns and a suddenly politicised Coming Out and University Course that had veered from pantomime into agit-prop and socialist theatre via Theatre Of The Oppressed, forum theatre and Theatre-In Education. I was writing and researching ‘gay drama’, and we were on the cusp of ‘Queer Politics’ via AIDS activism and direct action.

On 30th March 1990, I joined a whole band of merry mischief makers beguiled by the ‘Can’t Pay Won’t Pay’ campaign against the proposed Community Charge or ‘Poll Tax’ . I’d arranged t meet up with a friend – a veteran of Section 28 marches, and of the Greenham Women’s Peace movement, so a little more radical than this Drama Queen. We’d walked the length of the march, and had been struck by the sheer good-naturedness of the whole thing. We’d chatted with lovely pensioners, and parents with kids in wheelchairs, a few familiar faces from Anti-Section 28 marches, and oddbods we knew from London. I’d moved down the year before to live with a houseful of student friends and friends of friends somewhere in Walthamstow. But the whole thing had been delightfully ‘genial’, empowering and what the media always referred to as good natured.

 

And it was HUGE. I’d given up relying on crowd number counting, as guesstimates varied from police suggestions of dozens to to breathless activist boats of millions. I knew there were lots. And lots and lots of us.

 

It has gone so well, so delightfully peacefully, that my friend and I decided we’d go and celebrate in the cafe under St.Martins in Trafalgar Square. The dmo could do without us for a half hour or so and to be honest our feet were aching and our throats were hoarse and yes, we were pretty parched, now you come to mention it. So we went down into the basement, amidst the smell of Earl Grey and Builder’s Brew and Carrot Cake and Scones with jam, and people chattering excitedly and, yes, good naturedly.

 

Something happened while we were down there. I’ve never really found out what. We decided it was probably time to be going home now, because it would be great to see if the media actually bothered to cover this march, so we went back up the stairs and

 

FUCK ME. Almost knock over by charging coppers on horseback, racing right into the crowd, as we held on to each other standing on the kerb, mouths agape. It was what I remembered from Planet Of The Apes, when the humans get hunted down by the military Apes on horseback, blowing trumpets and throwing nets to enslave the frightened crowd.

 

We couldn’t get home. We couldn’t get out. We got herded over to the opposite end of Trafalgar Square. ‘Pretend we’re a couple’, my friend shouted. ‘They’re more likely to after Queers and Lezzies.’ She was right, and we held hands like a courting couple, but the Force was unleashed, and seemed riled at something. The riot police charged into us, helmets and truncheons and shields, pinning us against the wall. And fists. Beating down on us indiscriminately, and catching me in the nuts in a carefully hidden swing between my legs. This really wasn’t cricket, and it really wasn’t terribly British.

 

The next day, I tried explaining it to work colleagues. All of a sudden I was labelled a renegade troublemaker, and told that we ‘must have done something’ to deserve it. No, no, I kept saying, it was all terribly good natured.

 

It’s a day that has stayed with me. Both the power and fury of the crowd, the sense of resistance and community. And the attitude of Them  and Us and the tools of State being abused and abusing. The naivety and incredulity that I’ve never had since.

 

And one word has grown in my vocabulary. One word that I really learnt the meaning and power of. And a word that was a stronger force than any of the batons of fists or bricks or charges or kicks and sticks and stones.

 

No!