Just As I Am
A keyboard in front of me – dusty (I really must clean more), a buzzing computer and a pile of papers in front of my screen. This is all clutter to be cleared. Sitting in an office chair, wearing thermal trousers (pants, as the Americans call them) and a blue Bear Grylls top. Active wear for a not so active activity.
Some sadness and some relief – an ending , a journey , a struggle. Post lunch fatigue, post assignment apathy. Having come from smart advice from a smart, successful and disciplined writer, and feeling that coming to this task ahead of me, I bring nothing. No smart idea, no brilliant revelation, no witticisms or wisdom, or tragic disclosure. A half hour or so tap tap tapping.
A reminder that the printer isn’t working. A jam leaving half eaten snatches of paper ripped to shreds in unreachable parts and unmapped locations where inky fingers fear to poke and prod. Another prevarication, another writer’s block. Not block but jam. And jam still in the crevices of my fingernails after an unwanted spillage discovery on the kitchen surface just before lunch. Before scrambling the eggs, and toasting of bread. That chattering mind, that monkey on the back. Sit and be still.
Sit and be quiet.
Sit and be.
Tortoise slow and hibernation dull, a reflection on proof reading, editing, ghost writing, creative verse and poetry, sports writing, journalism and blogging. Creating content, selling ideas, apps and websites all designed for this strange and tortuous practice of writing. For pleasure, for profit, for fun and out of boredom. To expose, to reflect, to analyse and opine. Words on paper, words on screen, doodles and hastily written snatches of conversation or half noticed observations. All the better to see you with.
A countdown is ending. A journey is coming to a close. This discomfort shall pass. There are deadlines ahead – more words to find, more corrections to make, more dreams to catch, make or break.
Outdoor wear for an inner adventure. A somatic awareness of the aches and pains of the tap tap tap. The anticipation of ending, of relief, of … success? And yet those words of advice, the difference between competitive and competition. Making comparisons and trying toavoid comparisons. The challenge to motivate, to coach and be coached, to discipline and to drive.And the urge to sit and be quiet.
To sit and be.
Tap tap tap.
A Walk To Clear Your Mind
The buzzing is too much. Voices, shouting deadlines and ideas and the noise of a chattering mind. The fear of failing, the critical inner voice, shouting so much louder than all the their books and novels and articles and blogs and evidence of what has already being achieved. But it’s not happening now and it’s not happening fast enough. At the moment there are no publication dates, no deadlines, no cheering editors or publishers clamouring for more work. No delicious reviews, no awards ceremonies, no writer’s panels or reading events or interviews or proposals.
It all seems blank.
The screen, the paper, the mind. All blank.
I rise, weary from doing nothing, from being and knowing nothing, and slip into a heavy coat with this heavy frame of mind, and take heavy footsteps towards the closed and locked front door. I turn the lock, slowly open the door into a cold, wet, scary Real World. The World outside my front door.
A slow dismount of the stairs. I lean on the wall for company, for support and reassurance. Slumping my way down it like a drunk from a Saturday night stag do, barely aware of who or where I am. A rush of cold air passes over me from the stairwell, an unwelcome reminder that it is still the darkness of winter and that summer is many months away. Perhaps, this year, it never will arrive, and we shall stay covered with snow and dark skies.
The hill is steep, an uphill struggle, and I clamour for breath as my heart beats hard and fast with the struggle to put one foot in front of the other. progress is made and at the top I stop, gasping, and bent over. Further steps, with feet so heavy, tired muscles unworked, avoiding the foul shit of dogs and pigeons and police horses and discarded johnnies full of spend seed and fast food wrappers and cartons and litter, newspaper articles and postings for lost pets and feather from birds mauled by feral cats and rabid dogs. All this detritus of man and nature, an unholy mess outside my front door.
I stumble, broken, bleary, exhausted, to the bottom of the hill. A bridge over dark water. I lean on the curving wall, and close my eyes. I breathe, and feel the coming spring sun on my face. I hear rooks and the cackling of magpies and the improvised song of blackbirds, the gruff coo of a wood pigeon, and the distant rush of traffic.
And I breathe freely.
Drops on the window. Who needs the shrill cry of an alarm clock. A deluge now awaits me outside.
At first, in bed, a reluctance to get out from the warm womb, to enter a wet and miserable daytime. Memories of the kitchen flooding last week, the drip drip drip of water from lighting sockets and that dreadful feeling that the roof will bulge, become pregnant with puddled water, and suddenly burst. Waters breaking to give birth to nothing but water. A drip becomes a torrent. A torrent becomes a flood. From the flat above, drenching the kitchen floor again. Damned mops and towels. Damned plumbers and insurance.
Calm down, calm down. That was then and this is now. The rain is outside. It’s on the window. A hypnotic tap tap tap. Let it lull you back to sleep, to calm you like a warm bath. Spring is coming. The rain is watering roots, feeding half dead tubers and bulbs, satiating the ground’s dry thirst after a long and lonely winter.
You are warm, you are dry. Today has no agenda. There is no fear needed. There is the gym, a wet walk to the powerhouse, to the usual regimes of weights, and cardio, of warming up and cooling down. Stretches and shakes. An hour, three times a week, four when it feels good. A regime. A healthy interest. A habit, a lifestyle, a life-saver.
And the writing. Not a whole book in a single wet day. But some notes, some exercises. That Business Writing Diploma that’s taking forever. Those assignments that seem so dull and insurmountable. On a wet day, amidst the dullness and the creeping bleak mist, an expanse of light and sunshine – distant worlds, far off worlds, remembered worlds, imagined worlds.
All of which are sensible things to do on a wet day. Yes, yes, all sensible, all a good use of time. If I can get out of this bed. This warm, warm, dry bed. A tempting home for the day. Other things too. Other stay at home things – a movie, a DVD, a bake (some lemons still in the box – that gin and tonic drizzle cake I’ve got the recipe for and always wanted tot try). Or into town, a wet wait at the bus stop, then a bus ride smelling damp hair and wiping the condensation from the window to watch th passing gloom. To the flicks. To shop til I drop. To brunch and to afternoon tea with cream cakes and lace tablecloths, sandwiches cut into triangle with no crusts.
Or none of this. A devil may care, break-all-the-rules, throw-caution-to-the-wind spontaneity. I could jump out and break free. Break the routine. Strip away all of my dull sleepy clothes, open the door as naked as the day I was born, embrace the world, its disappointments, its wet misery, its gloom and pessimism – and Go Dancing, Naked In The Rain.
In a break with tradition in the supposedly macho heterosexual world of the kicking game known as football, the first premier league player has declared his Gay Pride on a live televised match. Pedro ‘Mary’ Streisand of Dolly Rovers twerked his way around the pitch wearing a sequin emblazoned jacket bearing the words ‘Out and Proud’ after he finished the match against Manchestford CityUnited last Saturday. Dolly Rovers won 1-0.
The Institute of Kickyball Studies claims that as many as 100% of the Premier League players might be gay or bisexual, despite appearances. ‘They certainly play like girls, and many of them even have manicures’, a spokesman said.
Pedro’s former girlfriend, Cazza Broomsweep-Longthorne, exclusively told us ‘I just thought his Liza Minnelli, Queen and Pet Shop Boys record collection were indications of an eclectic musical taste. We had a perfectly normal sex life that I could tell – I would go out with the girls for a prosecco and Pedro had a pint with the boys.’
Fans have enthusiastically welcome Pedro’s coming out. ‘It’s great news for the sport. It’s 2017, and of course nobody really believed that there were no gay players’ Fan ‘Dogger’ Grimes told us. ‘We’re pleased to see him show such strong self-esteem, and to act so courageously in the face of discrimination. As far as fans are concerned, the whole England team could come out, and the fans would be welcoming and supportive. Some of us might even find a date!’
The FA have not made any comment.
*In case you haven’t noticed, this is allegedly an example of ‘satire’ I’ve written as part of a writing course. No animals were injured in the writing of this story, and any resemblance to persons and Football Legends living or dead is entirely a matter of unlikely and ludicrous coincidence
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was a timid little thing.The sort of child that wouldn’t really say boo to a goose. Then, at school – after being overlooked for the central casting – a guy called Patrick was forced to pull out of the school nativity play. It was ‘The Shepherd’s Story’, and he was the lead shepherd. I was asked to help the rest of the cast by reading his lines in rehearsal. I can still remember the opening lines:
I wish I’d never been married. I wish, I wish, I WISH I’d never been married.
This from an 11 year old soon-to-realise- homosexual. I began to quite like the acting thing, and so was secretly pleased when Patrick failed to recover in time for the performance. All of a sudden, the timid child had found a voice, and it felt really good.
From there, I joined a local panto group (oh yes I did!) and went on to school plays, and on to studying drama at University. In the midst of it all, I found the power in having a voice – both in projecting on stage and to a crowd, and to find the individual voice for myself as powerful, engaged and active. I studied the voice as part of the drama degree, alongside using my body, working in space and working at different levels, and it became a journey of knowing more about my interaction with other people.
In a second career, I trained as a counsellor, a psychotherapist. I helped other people tell their stories, helped them to find a voice for themselves – to name and reclaim shameful of frightening parts of themselves. As much of the work was over the telephone, I found ways to quieten and soften my voice, to put aside views and judgements which impeded the client’s telling and speaking. I became a soft spoken facilitator of feelings, a person-whisperer.
And then people had to ask me to ‘speak up’. I’d become so accustomed to soft speaking that it was a habit, that instead of performing I found myself shrinking. The quiet voice quietened my physically, artistically, emotionally and politically.
For the first time in -ooh, 20 years- I’ve been performing again. A couple of one-offs, but a journey in rediscovering the power of my voice. Feeling it resonate in my body, the power of a voice in the auditorium. Shouting, screaming, laughing, swearing. All those – words. ALOUD. Not thoughts, but spoken words.
It’s like running or swimming, rediscovering muscles unused for too long.
Today was an interview – again, the softly spoken facilitation. It returns easily, that quiet and timid part of me.
But there’s still a part of me able to shout out:
I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED! I WISH, I WISH, I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED!
Never real and always true – Antonin Artaud
Dreams fascinate me. I dream deeply and often. Last night was a confusing mash of visists from dead friends, vague acquaintances, family – some terror, some fun, set in the twilight between the past and the present. There was no depth, no message, no psychic foresight. It was all just a dream …
I recently read Richard Wiseman’s Night School, a great account of sleep, dreaming and psychological research. On the subject of dreams, I’m none the wiser. Am I deleting unused or unnecessary information? Am I processing difficult thoughts and feelings? As I entering my subconscious? Am I entering some shamanic dream world denied to me during the waking hours? Am I seeing warnings of the future?
At some time, nearly all of these have been true. I’ve had dreams of foreboding, and sometimes acted on them. I’ve had dreams prompted by anger, injustices, or trauma of the days and weeks beforehand. I often find I’m flying, and always have done since being a a child. I have dreamed lucidly, knowing it was a dream, and being able to choose which direction to take – not often, but sometimes. More and more, dead friends visit me in my dreams – one in particular. It’s never frightening, and sometimes I know that he’s a spectre, and sometimes it seems we’ve just met up again as we used to. Invariably, he has some sort of message or some discovery or revelation to bring. Mostly, I feel comforted that he has visited because I cannot reach him any other way. For a while, he is real to me.
For a time, following surgery and medication, in the midst of anxiety or depression, I lost my dreams. These were the most unsettling times. I knew of their absence, and begged for their return, no matter how frightening or terrifying they might be, because the loss of them was worse than the truths they brough. They have always returned.
There have been brief times when my dream world and my real world have interacted. Immediately after my heart surgery, my world was populated with Chinese nurses, vengeful caretakers, hippos created out of paper mache, and Arabian princes. I believed them all, and it took years for me to be dissuaded of their reality. I daydream easily and often, my mind wandering off into half created worlds and futures, passing minutes or even hours.
On and off, I have kept dream diaries. I ask for dreams, and sometimes the requests are granted – answers to life decision, ideas for stories, characters, plots and projects. I can always remember at least some of my dream when I wake – although often feel frustrated that I haven’t recollected enough, or got to the end. But my dreams don’t have endings – mostly, the waking is its own end. I have often died in dreams, and dream in colour, destroying at least two popular myths.
I don’t (largely) snore – so I am told, and have never talked or walked in my sleep, the thought of which disturbs me greatly. My dreams are entirely private, and acting them out in some way in public fills me with a self censorship my dreamland has always freed me from.
I’m not a Jungian, or Freudian, and don’t really believe in dream symbols or interpretations. Occasionally , counselling clients discussed their dreams with me, and therapeutically I have found it most helpful to ask what emotion the dream brings up for them, as well as any special meaning they might attach to the dream. Invariably, we are able to find some understanding of the dream, although this is most probably simply interpretation rather than a ‘real meaning’. But dreams have never been unhelpful for me or for clients, and as a writer I am always surprised and welcoming f the worlds created by my dreams.
I wish I knew more. For someone who spends so much time dreaming, I know instinctively that it must be important. I cherish my dreams, and wish you all the best, and sweetest, of dreams…
I had a letter last week. From myself. Which I had written 5 years ago. See, Time Travel is real. I am The Doctor.
I was watching an arts event, Pilots, at my local arts centre in January 2011. It was all kind of interesting and experimental, and one of the projects was by Cross Collaborations as part of their ‘Past Present Future’ project. We were invited to write a message to our future selves, to choose a button we liked from a little collection, and return it with a stamp addressed envelope to be posted 5 years hence to our future self.
As it happens, there was an interval coming up. I was bored an uninspired and had difficulty imagining myself 5 years into the future. So what I wrote was a statement of fact, what was happening in the here and now. Just a piece of information. I felt I was cheating a little and not taking the exercise seriously enough. But it didn’t have to be anything profound, or anything special. I hadn’t got any special plans for 5 years’ time.
…the will be an interval …
And completely forget about it.
I say I didn’t have plans. At least, I didn’t for five years in the future. But I was just booking a holiday for later in the year – to Peru. I’d heard so much about Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the holiday included staying with a native family on tree rafts at Lake Titicaca. This holiday had all of them and plenty more besides. Some time ago I’d attended a self development workshop, where we were all asked to imagine achieving something exciting and wonderful. One very timid young girl eventually confessed to wanting to go to Machu Picchu. I brought her a brochure the next day for an adventure group I was part of (SPICE – Special Programme of Initiative, Challenge and Excitement) which happened to be advertising a trekking holiday to Machu Picchu, just to encourage her to believe in the possibilities. A year later I got a virtual postcard from her with pictures of her at Machu Picchu. She was beaming.
So I was excited, and terrified. I’d never been on for great heights, so it was also a challenge to myself – initiative, challenge, excitement. My brother, rather sensibly, suggested checking with my cardiologist as it was a high-altitude holiday. I dismissed the idea but, as the time came for the holiday, I booked an appointment.
Which is just as well. Because that’s when they found out that not only my mitral valve (which had been repaired ten years earlier) was leaking, but that there was also a problem with my aortic valve – more so, in fact. When the cardiologist delivered the news, she told me to think very carefully about the holiday to Peru, because it would be very dangerous. And then told me not to cry, as she couldn’t stand it when patients cried.
I had to cancel the holiday. Fortunately, I got all my money back on the insurance.So I didn’t get to Peru, or Machu Picchu, or Lake Titicaca. Although she had said a heart operation probably wouldn’t be necessary for 5 – 10 years, in fact I needed emergency surgery within 3 years.
There will be an interval
None of which I could know writing myself a letter to the future. As I didn’t know that I would also have testicular cancer, lose my job,or lose my driving license through an eyesight problem.
Which meant, that when I did receive a letter I’d completely forgotten about writing – in my own handwriting – I was a little confused and felt I’d suddenly stepped into an episode of Lost. And I sat and looked at the message:
There will be an interval
And I laughed. And I cried. And goosebumps ran down my spine. It all seemed so prescient, so insightful, so philosophical, naive and so pertinent. The little message from five year ago me was like a hug from someone who really cared about me. And a phrase that meant nothing at the time – except that there was going to be an interval, a comfort break for a pee and an ice cream – put everything in perspective. An interval had almost ben a finale, the script I though would be performed had become an improvisation, and sometimes we surprise ourselves, and don;t realise the significance of what we do at any on time. And it’s not all about the big performance, the centrepiece, the main event.
There will be an interval
I’ve added a couple of links to stories from A Happy Finish
hi to y’all from 54 countries. I’d love more comments – so feel free …The View from A Fridge is nothing without you.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.
You will forever be in my heart. I first came across this phrase, not from relatives from Ireland, but from watching the inspiring Young@Heart chorus singing their version of Forever Young at Hampshire County Jail, after finding out one of their members had recently died. It was enormously powerful and moving – and the inmates, quite rightly, gave it a standing ovation. Amid the applause, and the meeting of inmates and seniors, one inmate shows them his respect with the phrase “You’re in my heart forever”.
You will forever be in my heart.
Moments, memories, people. These are what stay in our heart forever. I visited some of my old teachers recently, and we shared food, wine and memories. Rather insanely, I’d taken part in a Knife Throwing Act with my Art Teacher for a revue performance. thinking that there was some magic trick involved. There wasn’t, as I realised when the third knife he’d picked up from the school canteen, landed itself between my legs. A tailcoat I wore for the act still bears the puncture mark of one of the knives.
Ah, good times. The conversation turned to not so good times – recollections, scandals, undiscovered secrets and scandals involving paedophiles, suicides, abuse and cover-ups. For the most part, what remained in hearts was good – amazing people, a beautiful environment. A lot of losses, too – school was a long time ago, and I’ve lost close friends since, as well as teachers and other people we knew mutually. They do live in our hearts forever, books in a library waiting to be burned down. Those darker memories also have their impact – further abuse, addiction, suicide, the taint of institutions protecting reputations and not children.
i was always a step away from what happened. I only heard about it many years after, when survival wasn’t dependant on being believed, and when choices to reveal could, or must, be made.
Memory is a funny thing. About the same time, on social media, timelines filled up with pictures and accounts of people remembered on World AIDS Day. People who had left us before medicine caught up, before our strongest enemy became stigma. Like the final scene in Longtime Companion, the memories of lost friends blur into a walk in history, and sometimes I find myself saying hello or goodbye with the wrong people.
Most of the people I now carry in my heart are those I choose to invite. I’ve shown some an exit door – some go willingly, so linger or return in different ways, at different times. For the most part, we live in harmony and share songs and laughter. Occasionally, a heart will break from the weight of memory, and I’ll do the best that I can to heal it in some way. So my heart is, literally and emotionally, full of patches and tears breaks, resounding to a beat that reminds me I’m still here. With all the people and memories that I carry.
And perhaps You will forever be in my heart should be a welcome, and not a goodbye. An invitation as well as a declaration. Allow me to love you, to meet and walk with you on your journey for a while. And if we should part, for whatever reason ….
You will forever be in my heart
Although all of the above is a lie. The phrase itself is Irish for ‘May I have permission to go to the toilet.’ I was hoodwinked by my own gullibility. I’ve mistaken a profound feeling for being taken for a ride. On the one hand, I find it hilarious. On the other, I stay with the translation as I read it. Like memory, I can choose the tainted, or the good.
I’d just rather believe you will have a place in my heart, than tell me to go p off ….
It’s been a while since I blogged – miss me, faithful reader? – and in the meantime, I’ve gone through a redundancy. Which is a relief, a disappointment, and an opportunity. In my day job as counsellor and psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many clients on ‘change management’ of various sorts, and redundancy itself quite often. From the outside, the strategies I offered seemed clear and helpful, goals simple to pinpoint, aim or work for.
From the inside, it’s very different. Feelings of loss, disappointment, loss of worth and self-esteem, self doubt and self questioning cloud the space in-between and clog the gears, leaving a sense of stuckness and impotence. Weighed down by the past, my fears and uncertainties.
It’s not easy to let go, and sometimes we need a ritual, a structure to help us reflect, learn and grow. When I’ve ended counselling sessions, I’ve sometimes used ‘smudging’ or the burning of incense or a candle to formalise a break or clear a feeling, a response, something left over. I use focussing and Interpersonal Process Recall to check in on how I’m feeling and where the feelings might come from. I can share my thoughts, feelings, observations with colleagues and my supervisor.
Yesterday was an ending for me. A long relationship with a valued and trusted supervisor who had also trained me. I’d been supported through many changes at work, and we both agreed that an ending session – the rituals of goodbye – would be useful. My supervisor offered me a tray of stones, a technique we sometimes use in counselling to find an object to reflect on what we see, what we notice, what we might project at that particular time and place.
A way to tap into something subconscious, or a felt sense.
I shuffled my hands around in the battered foil tray containing big, small, elaborate, smooth, rough and raw stones, looking and feeling for something appropriate.
A stone for when I first entered the counselling profession.
A stone for when I first met my supervisor.
A stone for the end of the relationship.
A stone for the future.
The first is a battered and raw large pebble. Parts of it feel smooth, parts of it feel rough. It’s not polished and it feels an unfinished shape. The second is part of broken tile, clear and beautiful glass on one side, rough honeycombed plaster on the other. I hadn’t noticed the rough side when I picked it. Shiny, shiny. The third stone was dark and chipped, its centre exposed and its exterior worn smooth. A very tactile stone – cool and comforting.
The final stone is the one in the picture. I’m still seeing different things in it. I picked it because it reminded me of a decoration on a mobile decoration hanging up in my home. It’s round, it’s an appealing colour, and it’s complex. If I look hard enough, I see nicks and scratches and imperfections. When I hold it, it seems smooth but my fingers can find faults and lines along the surface if I let them. I find it hypnotic, enticing, and uncertain, foggy, shiny gold and deepest blue.
I don’t claim to know what any of it means. And it doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s play, it’s imagining and creating and questioning.
Oh, and it rolls and moves around and doesn’t stand still….
Based on an idea from the Freemind Project, I’ve started writing anonymous love letters, and just kind of leaving them for people to pick up and hopefully receive a bit of a boost to the day.I started feeling low because my Driving Licence has been taken away due to my loss of field vision and decided I’d try and create something positive out of my misery. Because I can no longer drive, I take buses. At first I felt resentful, no longer having my own car. There are other people on buses, and some of them can be quite annoying sometimes. So when I came across the idea of leaving messages of love to random people (and they don’t come any more random than on public transport) , I realised it might make the bus journey a whole lot more interesting and positive.
Of course, I don’t go round giving them to people I choose, waiting to see if they love me back and tell me what a good and loving person I am. The whole point is to give away something loving and positive to another person, without knowing who the recipient might be and not expecting a response back. It’s just in the nature of random acts of kindness, in the spirit of random acts. Putting some lurrv out there and hoping it sows some sort of seed.
The best place I’ve found so far is the lockers in my local gym. I’ve just come back from a workout, and I’ve left a note for whoever might use the locker next. They may choose to open the letter, they may not. I have to stop myself from hanging around out of curiousity to see. But I just hope someone picks it up, and that it touches them somehow. The envelope reads ‘A nice message for you’ and on the back I add ‘YES – YOU! OPEN IT #randomactofkindness’ I don’t know what people think when they open it – whether they feel touched, or annoyed, or mystified, or start looking around to see if someone in the room is trying to start up a bro-mance or ask them out. The point is, it’s letting someone know they’re pretty wonderful just because they happen to be there. I also add that I hope the message makes their day a little better, and if it’s a good day already, they might one to save the message for a day that’s not so good. Or pass it on. As the Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence say, ‘Promulgate Universal Joy’.
Today’s message was based on a Facebook meme posting I picked up a while ago. And, as I’m spreading a little love, feel free to take this with you, faithful reader, and do with it what you will:
In case no one has told you today:
You are beautiful.
And you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.
I’ve told that to a stranger in my gym today. And Universal Joy to you too. Go and be a bit random, if you like. On the buses, in the gym, at school or college, a festival, a rally, a prayer meeting. It makes the world a better place, and your heart a little larger.
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
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.
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.
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 …