Daniel O’Beeve’s story of the Kulchie
Kid, is being re-written, expanded and thoroughly revised.
Update: 26th February 2015: The revised version of this autobiographical
novel – which will cover the first 38 years of his life, expanded from eighteen - should be ready in just a few weeks’
time, and can be bought from this page; or by going directly to Amazon.
new title will be as follows:
The Mysterious Roots
of Half a Life, by Daniel O’Beeve
Copyright (c) The Institute
for CENT & Dr Jim Byrne
“This story should be of interest to psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, social workers, teachers,
carers, intending parents who want to raise their children well, nursery nurses, junior school teachers, and anybody who wonders
about the story of their own life, and how they came to be shaped by their family of origin.”
Update: Since mid-December, Daniel has rewritten seven chapters of this
revised and expanded autobiographical novel. He is now halfway through the rewrite of chapter 9, while I've almost finished
editing Chapter 8.
Here's a foretaste of what is in store for you, in just a
Roots of Half a Life
An autobiographical novel
Edited by Dr Jim Byrne
Published by the CreateSpace Publishing Platform
In cooperation with The Institute for CENT Publications
Copyright: The Institute for CENT and
Dr Jim Byrne
“Is life really just ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’, as
suggested by Shakespeare, in one of his darker moments? Or is it a glorious opportunity to walk the bloody way; to haul
your burden towards the borders of sanity; and then to emerge in a golden dawn of personal triumph, when you have finally
faced down your last adversity?”
Maguire. Irish Magus…
I was delighted, some four years ago, to be chosen by Daniel O’Beeve to edit and
publish the story of his fascinating life. In particular, I was very happy that Daniel had been influenced by some of
my writings about my own childhood. This encouraged him to take the bull by the horns, and face up to the highly dysfunctional
family history which had distorted most of his life.
By writing the story
of his life, he hoped to dispel some of his demons; and also to help others to come to terms with some quite common human
problems and difficulties. In the process, he also reveals some highly comical and ludicrous elements of his family
life, his school experiences, and his wider experiences of the world.
reason I admire Daniel so much is this: What he has written has such a raw honesty that it touches me deeply. And I
know how much courage it must have taken for him to admit some of these stories; to accept them as part of himself; even to
acknowledge them, in the privacy of his own mind. But because of his openness and honesty, he has also recorded a good
number of lighter moments, which are touching.
Initially, we published the first
eighteen years of his life, which was sub-edited by BM, a mutual friend in Brighton. (I am still very grateful to BM
for that favour!)
However, Daniel has become unhappy with that cut-off point,
and he has now extended the story to a more satisfying end point: about twenty years later. In the process, he tells
us, he also had to shift from pure memoir, with a few fictional pieces, to a more fictionalized autobiographical
format. The whole story now has more of the feel of an autobiographical novel.
Because this expanded story has more geographical locations and institutions which could potentially help curious
minds to guess Daniel’s identity, we agreed that I would rewrite some of this expanded autobiographical novel, especially
replacing the locations in which Daniel lived, and substituting some in which I lived. I have also changed some of the
ages and genders of some of his siblings to correspond to the pattern in my own family. And some of his peer relationships
have also been modified. This should ensure that Daniel’s siblings and former colleagues will never be able to
guess that they are reading the life of someone they know or knew very well.
hope this book proves to be interesting and helpful for any individual who wonders about how their own childhood experiences
might have affected the shape of their adult personality and life circumstances; as well as professionals who work with childhood
I hope it teaches something about love; the trials and tribulations
of learning how to love; and finding a compatible love mate.
My final hope is
that this book will help the world to understand the power of cognitive emotive narrative therapy – the therapy which
pioneers the digging up of childhood memories; acknowledging them as our interpretive attempts to reconstruct what may or
may not have happened to us in our journey towards autonomy and the capacity to love; and then to let them go - like the returning
of wild birds to the woods from which they were lovingly coaxed. To let everything go back into the silent void from
which we all, originally emerged.
To wrestle for a time with the war of words
which is human culture, and then to let it go, totally!
To step into the eternal
present like a flaming torch! Cleansed by fire; and love.
Dr Jim Byrne, Hebden Bridge, February 2015
by Daniel O’Beeve
is a very small part of your biological energy. Love is your whole being, love is your soul.”
Osho, Love, Freedom, Aloneness…
“If we do not teach our children about love and sex, who will teach them?
And if we do not know enough about love and sex, what hope is there for us?”
Micky J. Moran, A Very Peculiar Tragedy…
The purpose of this preface is to give the potential reader a foretaste of the content
of this book. This is not an easy challenge, and is, perhaps, one of the gravest tests I have faced in the entire writing
process involved in producing this book.
I would like to think that this book
is fundamentally about love; or its lack; or the journey from lovelessness to true love. Of course, by love I mean that
meeting of the minds and hearts of two or more human beings who have already achieved a state of self-love, which alone can
give them the capacity to create love with others. In this sense, as described by Ursula le Guin, love is not like a
stone, but rather like bread. It has to be made, over and over again, from a recipe you have to know intimately, in
But in the beginning of my life, there was no bread of love; no
joy in life; no cherishing of others. Nobody in my life knew how to bake; and so I could not learn to be a baker of
Love had been crushed out of my parents, and their parents, by the cruel
lessons of a barbaric history; and by their religious training. As Osho writes:
“The religions and the so-called saints
who have escaped from the world, cowards who cannot face and encounter life, have poisoned the whole idea of love as the only
spirituality. They have condemned sex, and with their condemnation of sex they have also condemned love, because people
think sex and love are synonymous. They are not. Sex is a very small part of your biological energy. Love
is your whole being, love is your soul. You have to learn that sex is simply a need of the society, of the race, to
continue itself – you can participate if you want. But you cannot avoid love. The moment you avoid love
all your creativity dies and all your senses become insensitive; great dust gathers around you. You become the living
dead”. (Page 27).
And that was how I was for most of my screwed up life.
But I must not assume that I have now given you a flavour of this
book, because it would be wrong of me to assume that most of my readers now know what I mean by ‘love’.
So I must try again.
critical reviewer of this book (so far!) said it should be called: Young Man Gets His Oats, More than Once!
I replied that that is a crass oversimplification by an untutored mind. This story
of mine has several strands, only one of which explores the sexual development of the narrator. And any sexual matter
that is discussed within these pages is done with decorum and grace, because, unlike Laurence Sterne, the author of Tristram
Shandy, who was a real-life vicar and a reprobate, my motivation is to explore the mind and heart of
the narrator, and not his genitals. To explore a journey from dead lovelessness, to joyful lovingness.
On the other hand, I am on the side of Laurence Sterne in wanting to write a narrative which
will produce smiles and laughter, because that will add something to the world. However, before we can celebrate the
lighter side of life, we often have to extricate ourselves from various sources of suffering. In the process, we have to grow
And, since I seem to be stuck in this groove of thinking about Laurence
Sterne, and his character, Tristram Shandy, I also share with him the wish that my father and mother had “minded what
they were about” in their dealings with me. But where I deviate from Shandy is in wishing my parents had paid
attention to my mind, my feelings and my relationships; while Shandy would have been happy if they’d paid attention
to the sex act which produced him, which would have given him a greater share of the ‘animal spirits’ that are
transmitted in the homunculus which is passed on in the process of impregnation.
since this book is not about the mechanics of sexual reproduction; and that it is about love, intermixed with many other strands
- but that love may not be understood correctly by the reader - what can I say this book is about? I wish I could answer that
question succinctly. I wish I could write a preface in which I say:
This a story about X.
The main point
of the story is Y.
And the reason you should
read this story is Z.
But I can’t. I have however found a definition
of the function of a novel, and two checklists of potential themes, against which to check to see if they are represented
in my story; and if not, what other themes they remind me of.
(not surprisingly) comes from Tristram Shandy’s father, Walter, who thought that “the function of a novel is not
to draw attention to its own ‘compositional devices’ but to provide entertaining information about human life”.
I can definitely guarantee you that this book contains lots of entertaining
information about human life; plus some that goes beyond entertainment, to stretch the head and heart; to promote self-understanding;
and self-healing; and to clarify the concept of love, and the reality of love.
first checklist comes from Marina Warner’s book about bogeymen, where she writes about the Hindu concept of ‘rasas’,
or the juice or essence of a work of art:
“A fully achieved work of art
should flow with all nine of (these rasas): their names might be transposed into English as wonder, joy, sexual pleasure,
pity, anguish, anger, terror, disgust and laughter”. (Page 7).
Few works of art actually achieve all nine. Mine certainly encompasses
anguish, terror, laughter and sexual pleasure; as well as sexual displeasure; anger; and disgust. And an exploration
of the way childhood history plays out in later life; and how models of relationship run down the years, especially through
The second checklist comes from Helen Macdonald’s book about
the training of a hawk as therapy for the death of her father. In her book, Macdonald explores the writings of several
authors on the topic of training hawks. One of them is the sadistic homosexual author of The Sword in the Stone:
T.H. White. She writes:
“The day-book that records White’s
long, lost battle with (the training of his hawk, called) Gos is not simply about his hawk. Underneath it all is history
and sexuality, and childhood, and landscape, and mastery, and medievalism, and war, and teaching and learning and love”.
Of these themes, my book looks at the history of my family, and links it back
to the mythology of the tribe from which that family descends, in the context of the history of Ireland (which is a history
of bloody wars and colonial suppression). Sexuality again; and sexual innocence, sexual ignorance, and sexual emancipation.
The integration of sex and love. Childhood, again; including childhood pain, abuse, learning and growing; and ultimately:
I should also add that my book follows more closely the structure of
a fairy story than a myth, in that fairy stories always end happily, while myths normally end in tragedy or grief. But that, of course, does not imply that my story is concocted from widespread human experiences, as fairy stories
are; but rather from my own felt experience, seasoned by the great and good works of literature which have flavoured my mind.
Obviously, we are still a long way from knowing the overall shape of my book.
But I cannot easily be any clearer than I have been above. I feel like one of those old Model-T Ford motorcars which
can only be started by walking to the front and cranking the engine manually, several times, before it sparks into life.
So here goes with the first crank:
I was sitting quietly in my armchair, when
my head turned slightly to the right, and I spotted the collected poems of W.B. Yeats. Reaching out and picking up the
book, I opened it at a random point, and flicked idly through the pages. There, in the margin of page five, in the poem
about ‘The Sad Shepherd’, I noticed that I had previously highlighted the following words:
“And then the man
whom Sorrow named his friend
again the shore, and found a shell,
thought, I will my heavy story tell
Till my own words, re-echoing, shall send
Their sadness through a hollow, pearly heart;
And my own tale again for me shall sing,
And my own whispering words be comforting,
And lo! My ancient burden may depart.”
I want to write the
story of a substantial chunk of my life, with all its trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows. I want to write it so my
burden may depart; but also with the hope that it might lighten yours.
I know that, according to Buddhist philosophy, life is difficult for all human beings, at least some of the time. Werner Erhard
said that life is just one god-damned thing after another. And Bruno Bettelheim saw psychoanalysis as part of the solution
to these problems:
“Psychoanalysis was created
to enable (humans) to accept the problematic nature of life without being defeated by it, or giving in to escapism.
Freud’s prescription is that only by struggling courageously against what seem like overwhelming odds can (an individual
human) succeed in wringing meaning out of (their) existence”. (Page 8)
In attempting to describe for you what this book is about, I am tempted to
suggest that it is about the wringing of meaning out of a half-completed life; of wrestling with a huge range of developmental
problems; and of coming to terms with certain existential challenges, in a life of suffering. (But there are also some
lighter moments; some laughter, as suggested above; and the theme of love).
book tells a story which is about ‘half a life’ in two senses: The story covers the first half of my life; and
the first part of my life was not really about ‘living fully’. It was a kind of ‘half-life’; a mere
aliveness; or painful existence: or ‘living death’.
then became: How could such a life have come into existence? What were the factors that distorted it to such a dramatic
degree? And what are the important roots of the nightmare that I have lived?
According to Dr Jim Byrne, who originally woke me up to the importance of writing my autobiography:
“If we do not develop clarity about where we’ve been
in the course of our lives, then we cannot benefit from the journey, and all our suffering will have been for nothing!”
Bruno Bettelheim, in writing about the meaning and importance of fairy tales, tells us that:
“If we hope to live not just from moment to moment, but in true consciousness of our existence, then our greatest need
and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in our lives”. (The Uses of Enchantment, page 3).
Meaning is important, of course; but what about love?
And Trungpa teaches us to use the soil of our lives, the manure of our lives, to grow something wonderful:
“We do not have to be ashamed of what we are. As sentient
beings we have wonderful backgrounds. These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless,
we have soil good enough to cultivate; we can plant anything in it.” (Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through
Should I therefore seek the meaning of my strange
life, or should I agree with Camus that all of life is meaningless? (The Myth of Sisyphus). I agree with Camus
that the question of whether or not life is worth living is the central question of a meaningful life, as opposed to a mere
clinging to existence because of fear of death.
Perhaps in seeking to make sense
of my life, I will both find its meaning and solve some deeply disturbing mystery about my knotted roots? Perhaps in
the end I will close the door to suicide, as my no-longer needed Plan B?
This book has a number of different strands, as suggested above. The core story is
about the personal development journey of a young boy, as he grows into manhood. This story is then sandwiched between
elements of my journey from the age of eighteen to about thirty-eight years. Aspects of this story are contextualized
by some ideas from modern psychology, philosophy and attachment theory.
the meta-stories, and the sub-stories, have a more exploratory essence – and are more in the tradition of autobiographical
fiction than memoir per se. Indeed, my long-term fascination with Agatha Christie’s detective, Hercule
Poirot, may also be evident in the degree to which this story is about a crime or crimes that have been committed; and the
necessity to exert my ‘little grey cells’ to solve the mystery.
book, and its stories, should be of interest to psychologists, psychotherapists, philosophers, counsellors, social workers,
teachers, carers, intending parents who want to raise their children well, nursery nurses, junior school teachers, educational
theorists, and anybody who wonders about the story of their own life, and how they came to be shaped by their family of origin.
It should be read by those who feel alone in the world; the joyless and loveless ‘living dead’. And by all
those who care what we are doing to each other, and ourselves, on the little planet of ours.
To contextualize this narrative further, here are two preambles:
“There's no such thing as an uninteresting life... Beneath the dullest exterior, there is a drama, a comedy,
or a tragedy”. Mark Twain
Life is a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces…
Because of the missing pieces, it is not readily determinable whether or not life is meaningful…
If life has a function, or core developmental goal, it has to be the quest for the answer:
What is the meaning of my existence?
When I was a young boy, I had a big box
of leftover jigsaw pieces that had been discarded by three or four different generations of the same family over several decades;
and which my mother found in a house where she worked as a domestic helper, and was asked to discard. She brought this
colourful but frustrating collection home to me, and I was haunted for years by the impossibility of making a single picture
from the various remnants.
This, ironically, was a perfect metaphor for my childhood.
I could not make sense of anything. Indeed, it is argued by Bruno Bettelheim that it is not until we reach mature adulthood
that we have any chance of making meaningful sense of our childhood experiences.
Fragments of insight are often all we have to begin with. Some may come
from considering our Greek roots:
Σπαρτιάτης γυναίκες απαίτησαν θάρρος ή θάνατο από τους γιους
τοu. Μουζήτησε ασφάλεια και ζωή στην τιμή των αέναη δειλία.
(Spartan women demanded courage or death from their sons. Mine demanded safety, self-protection
and survival at the high price of perpetual cowardice.)
Perhaps this is the
only key that is needed to understand the central dynamic of my life. But perhaps there was also more to it than that.
Below the age of four years, a child cannot
be expected to make sense of any amount of visual clues to the sequencing of a story. But even after the age of fourteen,
I could not construct a story from the evidence of my own eyes. The jigsaw pieces just would not fit together.
My ability to construct stories had been damaged.
My ability to use the fairy-stories,
which I learned in school, as models for understanding my life, was disrupted by the strange parables of the life of Christ.
My attempts to form a religious understanding of the human condition was disrupted
by my recollections of snatches of stories in Irish Gaelic which were mainly form with little content. Or evocative
myths that provided no understanding.
I seem to have ended up with a map of
the world that was so crumpled and torn that it was useless to me.
Finding the crime to investigate…
wanted to write about my own life, and the experiences I had in my family – and how those experiences affected the outcome
of my life; but I did not know where to start. I did, however, get a clue – one jigsaw piece - from reading the
introduction to The Idiot, by Dostoevsky, which I read in my first term in college, in Oxford. However, I still
have not been able to relate that piece to anything else that I understand. This is the piece I noted:
“Dostoevsky knew only too well that the concept of ‘an
absolutely wonderful person’ or ‘a perfect man’ was unlikely to make for effective fiction. As Mochulsky
points out: ‘Sanctity (or holiness) is not a literary theme’. The difficulty lies not least in the fact
that a good story derives much of its strength from the depiction of transgression and its resolution”. (Agnes Cardinal,
Introduction, The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Wordsworth Classics).
Two pieces slotted together. Perhaps that is the connection? Some crime, or serious misdemeanour, was perpetrated in
my family of origin, when I was very young, and that is what I have to track down in this story. Perhaps, in my material
for a story, there is that greatest of transgressions: the crushing and crippling of a human soul?
And perhaps that is not it at all. Perhaps the main theme is one of sexual misconduct and its consequences?
Or vicious sibling rivalry? Or all of the above.
It would be wrong of
me to give you too many clues at this stage, since a good novel (or fictionalized autobiography), like a good fairy-story,
has to be felt by the reader, rather than pre-digested by the author in nuggets of logical summation.
Fables of love and loss…
In many rural communities in Europe, there are stories about family feuds and fallings out,
and rejection, dejection, revenge and retribution. Some of these are told in the form of ghost stories.
Many others are told in the form of fairy stories. Unfortunately for me, there was
a great lack of fairy stories in my family of origin. Instead of presenting me with fairy stories, designed to help
me to come to terms with my inner conflicts, anxieties and rages, I was presented with parables of the life of Christ, which
only added to my confusion.
But there was one ghost story that got into
my consciousness. I do not know from whence it came. But it scared me, and entranced me in about equal measure.
Come with me then, on a cold and dark night of chilly rain and windswept roads
and moors, to the village of Crumble, in County Wicklow.
In the big bedroom
on the left-hand side of the first floor of the Flynn’s farmhouse, outside the village of Crumble, in the Irish Free
State, some of the children are awoken by the chilling sound from outside. They are clinging to each other in their
Outside on the dark hillside, the ghost of an old lady is
pushing her big black bicycle up the steep hill towards the lonely moor above. They have been told about her many times.
She is keening and crying, as she does every night.
Legend says she lost
her son many years ago, when he abandoned her for a new life, and she searches for him every night, especially on the coldest
and darkest nights of the soul. When the people are all asleep, she wanders the deserted roads around Crumble village, keening
and crying, and calling his name. His name is battered by the wind, and nobody can be quite sure what it is. Still
she continues to keen and call, hoping that one day her son will return to her.
are all storytellers…
Autobiography is a form of personal history; and
it may often be the case that there is more real history in an autobiographical novel than in a formal ‘history book’.
“(A)n historian… ought to be exact, sincere, and impartial;
free from passion, and not ... biased either by interest, fear, resentment, or affection, (nor) to deviate from truth, which
is the mother of history, the preserver and (eternalizer) of great actions, the professed enemy of oblivion, the witness of
things passed, and the director of future times”.
de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, page 51.
We are storytellers in
a sea of stories; and in the great stories of our time, we look for the themes that will enlighten us. In one of the
very first novels – Don Quixote, by Cervantes – we find this great theme: “...the endlessly-various,
multi-layered interaction of literature and life, of writing, reading and behaving; the fact that everyone not only lives
his or her life, but also invents it”.
We read for pleasure, despite the admixture of pain. We write to communicate,
sometimes as much with ourselves as with those to whom we ostensibly write. Sometimes we discover more about ourselves by
trying to communicate with others than we do when we engage in solitary excavations of our family history.
And we also read and write in order to invent or create ourselves and our lives.
The theme of leaving home…
Leaving home is at the centre of this story. Leaving home, with one’s own thoughts and feelings, and
perhaps failing to register the impact of our going upon those who remain behind. Nor even upon our future selves.
When Don Quixada (who re-created himself as Don Quixote) left home to seek adventures as
a latter-day knight-errant (in Cervantes’ 16th century novel), somewhere in the fifteen-hundreds, he was
already a gentleman of advanced years (though he seemed more like a dreamy youth, in terms of his fantasies). He was
also an extreme eccentric, and a figure of fun, with his rusty armour, his bony nag of a horse, and his broken helmet, (the
visor of which had to be rebuilt with pasteboard, with some bits of iron glued to it; and the whole helmet being held together
by several pieces of green ribbon). And thus he set forth to right the wrongs of the world, to rescue damsels, and to
perform various other knight-errant duties. In short, he was completely deluded and, as I said, a figure of ridicule.
By contrast, when Stephen Dedalus left home, in the closing years of the nineteenth century
(in James Joyce’s classic novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), he was just twenty years old, going
on fifty. He, by apparent contrast with Don Quixote, (which hid the similarity), had some high minded goals which expressed
an extreme romantic idealism. At the time he was love-sick, because the girl he loved was involved with his friend,
Cranley; and he would not stay and fight for her. In deciding to go, he conceived the mission to discover “…the
mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom”. (Page 207, Portrait of the
Artist). His perceived lack of freedom was a result of the controlling ideologies of Irish nationalism and the
Irish Catholic Church, which were intertwined. He had struggled to be a celibate Catholic youth, and failed. He felt
called to leave Ireland – the call of ‘white arms’ (loving female?), and ‘tall black ships’
(adventure?). But his ultimate goal was extremely ambitious: “…to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated
conscience of my race”.
(My own view, which will be explored below, is
that the conscience of the Irish race was not ‘uncreated’, but rather cruelly distorted by a set of historical
Between Don Quixote and Stephen Dedalus there is a vast range of
reasons for leaving home, and, since mine does not reside at either extreme, it must be somewhere in the middle. But
what was it?
The image that comes to mind is one of an uncomfortable mole, half
blind and half asleep, who feels increasing discomfort with his burrow. And so he finds it in himself to shuffle away
to a new spot where perhaps a more comfortable burrow might be found. I do not think it was any clearer, or nobler,
or more energetic than that; and certainly lacked any of the (declared) nobility of Stephen Daedalus’ motivation.
Nor was it as ridiculous or laughable or insane as Don Quixote’s.
given that I was half-asleep at the time, perhaps I knew nothing of my true motives for weighing anchor, and taking to the
Irish Sea on a cattle boat, in the warm summer of 1964.
That action, and other
key elements of my turbulent and disturbed life, will be explored in this autobiographical novel.
The reader will be particularly interested in the question of whether or not I found a congenial burrow. And
how, if at all, I found it. And whether or not the central crime, the central mystery, was resolved. I would not
dream of spoiling your journey through this maze by hinting at the outcome!
here is a metaphorical clue – in so far as we can detect parallels between adult fiction and children’s fairy-tales:
“The fairy-tale hero proceeds for a time in isolation, as
the modern child often feels isolated. The hero is helped by being in touch with primitive things – a tree, an
animal, nature – as the child feels more in touch with those things than most adults do. The fate of these heroes
convinces the child that, like them, he may feel outcast and abandoned in the world, groping in the dark, but, like them,
in the course of his life he will be guided step by step, and given help when it is needed. Today, even more than in
past times, the child needs the reassurance offered by the image of the isolated man who nevertheless is capable of achieving
meaningful and rewarding relations with the world around him.” (Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment,
And what is true of the child today is also true of the woman and
I cannot think of
very much else to say about this book. I hope these prefatory remarks will help to provide you with a comfortable context
to the challenge of engaging with the story that follows.
I must thank Dr Jim
Byrne for editing (with substantial re-writing!), and publishing, this version of my story; and BM (in Brighton) for sub-editing
the core story of the first eighteen years of my life. I also owe Dr Byrne a great debt for some of the ideas I got
from reading his papers and articles on cognitive emotive narrative therapy.
debt to the authors of the many novels that have shaped my adult mind is too vast and indeterminate to be entered upon here.
But I cannot resist saying something about some of them. So let me just say this: Without my sampling of a few of the classics
of modern English, Russian, European and American literature, this story could not have come into existence. In particular,
I want to say how valuable Graham Green, Iris Murdoch, Kurt Vonnegut and Ursula Le Guin have been to my journey. But now I
have insulted Shakespeare, Dickens, Joseph Heller, Donna Tartt; Ken Kesey; and dozens more – because they were all equally
One harsh reviewer wrote: “This book is a kind of alphabetty-speghetti
soup of literary classics, partly masticated by the author and then spewed onto the page”.
I wrote back to say, “Every writer stands on the shoulders of generations of predecessors”.
“But in most cases the roots are cleverly concealed”, he replied. “And
the writer must write from his own life’s experience, and not from the distilled essence of his predecessors!”
So I wrote to him to say, “I could not have produced a more personal autobiographical
story if I’d connected the tube of my fountain pen to a main artery and wrote my text in feverish blood!”
“Melodrama!” was his curt response.
was my parting shot.
Now you will have to judge for yourself.
Daniel O’Beeve, Lime Regis, December 2014
“It is our suffering
that brings us together. ... The bond that binds us is beyond choice. … We are brothers (and sisters) in what we share.
In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. ... All you have is
what you are, and what you give.”
Le Guin: The Dispossessed
1a. A legend of old Ireland…
I can tell you anything about me and my little life, I need to give you a broader context. So, to begin with, let me
tell you a legend of old Ireland:
Long, long ago, about 64 generations back
– in the season of the Crow – about two full moons before the Festival of Aine (the Moon Goddess), Doneal McFlynn
was walking on the hillside outside the village of Crumble-Baan. Evening was closing in, and darkness was descending
Looking down on the village, he could just see the outline of the three
concentric circles of round houses in which the entire population lived their communal life.
Though the light was poor, he could still make out the modest campfire of the two boys who were keeping the Night
Watch on the opposite hillside. Suddenly, without warning, a great flare of flame arose in his field of vision, right
next to the boys’ campfire. In his entire lifetime he had never seen this vision, though he had spent decades
expecting to see it one day. The alarm signal. Invaders have been spotted approaching us.
As quickly as he could, he made his way down to the village, where the men and boys had congregated
in the open space at the centre of the inner circle of roundhouses. They had a huge assortment of wooden clubs, wooden
shields, whips, big stones and slingshots, a few axes, and bronze bars with which to beat their opponents. The boys
had arrived sweating and shouting. They had seen the signal from the next village, at the top of the valley. So
the enemy must be coming from the sea, as they had always expected they would.
Tor Sorgas was the leader of the raiding party. He stood at the front
of the bigger of the two wooden ships, in metal helmet with nose shield; wearing woollen shirt and trousers, covered by a
leather jerkin. He has ordered the crew on the oars to head for the bay. They had left their home in the frozen
north of Europa three weeks earlier, intent upon plundering a few communities in Scotia and Britannia, but they had been rebuffed
at ever attempt. They also failed two landings on the Welsh coast, and now were bound for Hibernia.
Tor could not imagine any kind of life other than plundering the wealth of others, especially
the mineral wealth of the Britons. But the livestock and crops of Hibernia would have to do this time.
They had run out of dried fish earlier today, and so they had to succeed with this landing.
To ensure that there was no turning back, they burned their boats on the beach where they landed, and began the trek inland
to find some undefended community to plunder.
Doneal McFlynn, as the village elder, took charge of the massed men and boys, and told them that the gods were on
their side. Nobody had the right to invade their community and disrupt the peace. Right is mighty, he told them,
and then commanded them to follow him into battle.
It was not known in
advance how long it would take to locate the enemy, but in the event it involved a two hour march eastwards.
The warriors of Crumble-Baan met the invading army on the fields of Larkow, halfway between
the village and the coast. The men and boys of Crumble-Baan did their war dance, screaming and roaring their anger at
the invaders. This was the tradition of Lenster-Beag, to demonstrate superior moral right by every means available to
larynx and arms and body movements.
Tor Sorgas had trained his warriors
to ignore the behaviour of the enemy, and to look within for the superior claim of the people of Scantavia to the wealth of
the world. The god of war was on their side, and they would prove to be invincible.
The men and boys of Crumble-Baan ran down the hillside towards the invaders, stamping their feet, shouting curses,
screaming for them to withdraw and go away. They were convinced that, at any moment, the invaders would understand that
the people of Crumble-Baan had the superior moral stand, and then they would simply run away.
However, the warriors of Tor Sorgas did not flinch until the Hibernians were in close, and then they ripped them
apart with their swords, knives, spiked flails and spears.
Only two of the younger
boys lived to run away, and report back to the village.
The women of Crumble-Baan were heartbroken at the news of the death of their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers.
They were beside themselves with grief.
All through the night they cried,
beating their chests with their fists; and wailing to Aine for relief from their pain. And then, about two hours before
dawn, Banba Ni Flynn, the physically strongest of the women, appointed some young girls to take the children and babies into
the woods to hide. She then took the group of forty women and older girls out into the fields where they undressed and
covered themselves with mud, from forehead to ankles. Throughout this process they chanted a mesmerizing prayer to Aine.
They then slaughtered a goat and smeared its blood and guts over their hair
and chests. This was accompanied with screams of ‘vengeance’.
they each broke two tree branches for themselves; one to serve as a club, and the other to strap to their left forearms, with
reeds, as a shielding beam, to protect themselves from direct blows by their enemy’s weapons.
Then they knelt on the cold, damp ground, and prayed to Aine, the Moon Goddess, to help them settle the score with
And finally, they set off at a brisk pace on the long walk to
the battleground, which they expected would take at least two hours.
Tor Sorgas celebrated his victory in his brief battle with the Hibernians by roasting several
of the bigger, more muscular, fallen men over open fires, and eating them. Then he and his warriors sang lots of victory
songs, and slept well in a large mound of tree branches which they cut down and assembled for protection and warmth.
At dawn, Sorgas awoke and noticed how quiet it was. It was a kind of
sub-zero quietness which roared in his ears, like the distant sound of the sea in a seashell. Pushing the tree branches
back, he stepped out into the morning light.
Looking up at the hillside ahead
of him, he saw forty strange animals, like apes, standing perfectly still. Each one carried a big tree branch like a
It was a truly chilling sight, but Tor began to laugh, and called to his
men to get up and come look at this strange sight.
The other fifty-five Norsemen
emerged from their sleeping shelter and joined in the laughter.
Then the women
of Crumble-Baan began to slowly walk down the hillside. The laughter from the Norsemen continued, with some moments
of silence, some giggles; some attempts to intensify the laughter; some faltering; some increasing disquiet.
The women of Crumble-Baan walked slower and slower, now slightly crouching down, with a chilling
intensity: clubs at the ready. The Norsemen took up their positions. Tor gave the order to prepare their weapons.
As the strange creatures came closer, they began to keen; to express their
grief at their great loss, as they picked their way between the fallen bodies of their kinsmen on the open field.
Closer still and the Norsemen began to smell the great stench of stomach bile and the iron
and flint of the goat’s blood.
Then the women stopped, and Banba, in a
strange tongue, told her sisters that you cannot hope to win your battles by relying upon your moral message affecting your
enemies. You had to be as remorseless as they were. You had to harden your heart; to forget everything you had
learned from the Moon Goddess.
Then Banba uttered a great shriek of ‘Revenge!’
and the women and girls of Crumble-Baan set about the Norsemen and did not rest their clubs until there was no longer an intact
skull to be seen.
Six women lay dead on the field, alongside fifty-six Norsemen.
The women and girls stayed on the battle
field for two days and two nights. At first they bathed themselves in the blood of the killers of their menfolk.
Then, with their bare hands and some sticks, they dug holes to bury their dead men and boys. They lay on the graves,
keening and crying.
At the end of this period, Banba called them together and
spoke to them:
“From this day forward, let there be no more charity”,
she ordered. “No more compassion; no more kindness; and no more forgiveness. Let you heart be like flint,
and your face like a locked door”.
Finally, they collected up the weapons
and shields of the fallen Norsemen, and then they walked slowly homewards to their man-less households.
Over time, the women of Crumble-Baan found new men to join their
community, from the surrounding district; but they retained control. They raised their children to be merciless fighters.
The people of Crumble-Baan became an indomitable people, because of their harshness, until – 9 generations later - the
Normans came and broke their spirits. In a matter of days they went from being a matriarchal communist community to the flogged
serfs of the Norman warlord, the self-styled nobleman, Ralf, The Earl of Swafford – a murderous psychopath with a king’s
He kidnapped one out of every ten men, women and children in the village,
and kept them in the woods above the river, guarded by his most murderous men; and threatened to gouge out the eyes, and roast
alive, one man, woman and child for every act of rebellion or insurrection that was undertaken by any member of the village
Now, in total defeat, the people of Crumble-Baan were harsh and broken.
Bitter and unforgiving. And they passed that down to their offspring.
1b. Subsequent history…
1798, inspired by the American and French revolutions, the people of Crumble-Baan, now renamed Crumble village, joined the
United Irishmen’s revolt, only to be crushed once more by the English army of occupation.
In 1845, half the population of Crumble either died of famine,
or left for America: many dying at sea.
In 1848, following the wave of revolutions across Europe, the Pope of Rome, who had been the titular head of feudal
Europe for centuries, identified this year as the crucial point in history to attempt to roll back the march of Protestant
capitalism, and to restore Catholic feudalism. His plan was to unite the Italian, Spanish and Irish peoples against
the English, Dutch and French. For this purpose, a large body of well-educated priests was sent to Ireland, to take
control of the mind of the Irish people and to fashion it into a weapon to use in the attack on England.
These priests were mainly guilt-ridden, repressed homosexuals, and other kinds of socially-unaccepted sexual deviants,
and they spread their (official, public) dread of sex among the people of Crumble, along with the crazy story of Redemption
by Christ’s Crucifixion!
people of Crumble-Baan were my ancestors! Forged in the fires of insecurity, feudal conflict, intense grief, human degeneracy,
degradation, starvation, violence and colonial warfare. And finally used in a cynical political war of the worlds, in
which primitive fear of sex would be one of the main building blocks!
2. Let me tell you a modern story…
“Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts”
Wish You Were Here
I want to tell you a story which begins in a small
rural village in the Irish Free State at the end of the Second World War, and stretches over land and sea for several decades.
It cannot end until I have completed a full 360 degree journey back to the point of my own birth, and forward through a number
of failed relationships to a completion which makes emotional sense of a life that was almost lost in a neurotic spiral of
involuted distortions of itself.
want to tell you this story, because I have been changed by the stories I’ve read over the years – and I believe
the tradition of writing and telling stories is one of the most profoundly therapeutic traditions we have. One of the
reasons story-telling is so helpfully therapeutic is the one given by Maya Angelou: “There is no greater agony”,
she says, “than bearing an untold story inside you”.
And no greater
relief, I believe, than getting your story out in the open, where you can understand how the elements fit together, and you
can let it go.
It is also profoundly therapeutic, according to Fritz Perls,
to have your stories of personal suffering witnessed by others who care about your struggles and your suffering.
Thank god for the storytellers, for they
give us the plotlines of our lives. Without them, where would we live our precarious lives?
Even god owes a debt of gratitude to the yarn-spinners for giving him (or her) such a large and powerful role in
creating the often miserable, and sometimes joyous, life in which we live.
the beginning was the trackless void, and a storyteller said, ‘Let’s create a script’. And the actors
came forth in droves. And the drama began.
The drama was dominated by the best storytellers and the people they promoted, and between them they inherited the
earth. And the voiceless people without stories were left to rot in dark corners of deprivation that went unreported.
The great storytellers from the deprived
classes sold their souls to the highest bidder. And the meek inherited some bread-crusts and an undeserved, negative
And the sons
and daughters of the poor wandered the highways and byways of the world, in which there were few if any books. Perhaps, if
they were lucky, they would stumble over an occasional classic.
3. The impact of stories…
Catch 22, by Joseph Heller – over which I accidentally stumbled, in the 1970s - I was left with two images
and a strong feeling. The feeling was one of horror at the brutality and stupidity of war. The first image was
of Snowden, as Yossarian and others opened his flying suit to inspect his wounds - as they flew above Germany, taking flak
from the enemy below – and Snowden’s guts spilled out in front of them, and his young life drained away before
them. A graphic reminder of the horrors of war.
Whenever I think about
Snowden, tears fill my eyes, and I feel such pain in my chest. Such a sad waste of life.
The second image is of being back at the air base, in Italy, from which the bombing raids were flown, for the burial
of Snowden; and Yossarian is up in a tree, naked, looking down at the burial. He is naked to make sure that no stupid
‘brass’ tries to pin a medal of bravery, or any other kind of war medal, to his chest!
Well that’s how I remember it – even if that’s not how it was written.
I feel much the same sadness and pain about the crude business of childrearing as Heller did about the horrors of
war. It appals me how much suffering children go through, because childrearing, even today, after centuries of cockups,
is still a wholly amateur activity – an opportunity to practice any old cobbled together ‘black art’ on
a new piece of human putty!
Planning my approach to writing my memoir…
I want to write about my life
in a way that will leave you with (at least) two images and a feeling. I want you to see the guts of the story, without
fainting, or being so depressed that you fail to do anything with it. I want you to be present at the burial of my story’s
ending; so there is a sense of completion: a destination where you can get off in one piece, and feel that the journey was
not wasted; and you are more whole than you were before – if a little emotionally bruised here and there.
I want to stand on the side-lines, naked, when the story is (hopefully) eventually widely
read, in case some idiot tries to pin a completely meaningless medal to my naked chest.
I was once advised to start my writing with ‘an amazing opening’,
and then to follow that up with a solid middle and an exciting end. And that would probably suit my style, if I could
be sure that you would agree that my ‘amazing opening’ was truly amazing. My tendency is to think in a linear
path, and so a beginning-middle-end structure should suit me. This advice would also line up with the advice of the
King to the White Rabbit, in Alice in Wonderland:
Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.
‘“Begin at the beginning,” the King said very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end:
However, when I discussed this with my friend, Bob,
in Brighton, he thought I would have to decide for myself ‘the running order’ of subplots, to make the overall
structure as interesting as possible.
By this stage I was totally confused,
so I sought some advice online, and found this, from Ploughshares, a literary magazine:
“Sometimes memoirists can feel as if we have very few choices about
our stories. Bound by truth and memory, we can often conclude there’s not much room for our creative selves to have
a say. But here’s a secret—we don’t have to pin down a narrative in the order that events occurred. We can
switch things around, pair things together, and work associationally. Isn’t that exciting?”
That is certainly exciting for me, because it gives me permission to do something that I had thought was illegitimate.
Let me explain.
I got involved in writing my story three times, from
three different starting points. Here they are:
Firstly, my girlfriend
in Bangladesh, in 1977, suggested that I write my life story as a form of self-therapy. I began it, at that time, but
left it incomplete. It was a literal, White Rabbit-like story.
my friends, Bob and Janet, in Brighton, suggested I write my story as a source of income, because my previous writing work
was not commercially viable. I began it, but again it was incomplete. It was a mixture of White Rabbit literalism
and some creative innovations.
And thirdly, a couple of years ago, I read two
papers by Dr Jim Byrne, about his humble origins in a dysfunctional family, and particularly his difficult relationship with
his mother. The overlaps with my own life were startling. And those papers contained a couple of literary devices
- especially a mysterious Blue Bear - that I thought I might be able to use in my own story.
Chi è l'orso blu, e da donde egli proviene? (Who is the Blue Bear, and from whence does he come?)
Those literary devices reminded me of something I learned from a review of The God of
Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, in which the reviewer argued that each author, in order to tell their story, has to invent
a whole new language. Suddenly, I realized that Dr Byrne had a character – the Little Blue Bear – who could
become a part of my own unique language for the telling of my very difficult story. It would not be the same Blue Bear,
and it would be a vehicle for my own, unique, creative voice. Additionally, of course, I would have to fish around in
the literature of the world for props and scaffolding to make the surrounding story stand up, and to complete the process
of my own creation of a wholly new language of the heart of a silent, voiceless child.
5. Even jumbled stories can make sense…
Carlos Santana, in planning his autobiography, believed he could start his story at any point, tear it up, toss it
in the air, and that, regardless of the order in which it landed, it would make a sensible story. Such randomness goes
against the grain of my somewhat ‘male brain’, which likes systems and structures. So I have to reject it.
Finally, I discovered a third approach, from Karen Joy Fowler, in her book about the loss
of her ‘chimp sister’, titled We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The approach of her main
character, Rosemary, which she achieved during her second year at the University of California, Davis, was this: “By
then I’d figured out the way to talk about my family. Nothing simpler really. Start in the middle”.
And so I have decided to do just that – to start in the middle of my life – the
‘mean point’ of my life – the mean point of a mean life - at the age of 32 years.
6. All that glistens is not gold…
are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be".
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
So let me begin with the trappings of my life at
that time: My UN consultancy work; and my work for the Royal Thai government, at Thammasat University; my apartment in Soi
Pradiphat 14, round the back of Praddipat Road, near Saphan Kwhai, Bangkok. And the screaming roar in my head that could
only be quieted by tranquillizers and Thai grass.
This starting point helps
a lot, because, by this stage, it looked as if I not only did not have any family, but that I had never had one! That I had
fallen from the skies fully formed. A perfect ‘organizational man’, with a fabricated CV that any robot
would be proud of.
In the process of ‘amputating’ my ‘unacceptable
family’, I had somehow chained my heart to a frozen vacuum of fabricated identity.
I was a self-constructed-self with no core.
And the ‘international
development role’, which I had at that time, is a perfect illustration of how lost I was by then. I was trying
to fix the world – but I didn’t even know I was broken into tiny fragments.
What a fake, unreal ‘person’ I’d become. What a failed life I was leading – despite
the visual illusion of my ‘professional success’.
7. A waking nightmare…
“Welcome to the machine. Where have you been?”
Pink Floyd, Welcome to the Machine
The beeping alarm dragged me out of a strange black and silver landscape of caves and hills,
in which I was haunted by memories of something I’d lost. I was frantically searching for something precious.
But I could not begin to find it until I knew what it was. And I could not remember what it had been.
Beep, beep, beep…..
I awoke; slammed the beeping alarm
off; and swung my legs out of bed. It hadn’t rained for weeks, and the temperature, in the run-up to ‘Christmas’
was above eighty-five degrees from lunchtime onwards. It was already over seventy degrees today, and it was barely seven
o’clock in the morning. Yellow light streamed in through the windows of my three room apartment.
Although it was almost Christmas ‘back home’ (wherever that was: the UK? or Ireland?)
there seemed to be endless Chinese celebrations going on all over Bangkok. We were still in the year of the Horse; and
the year of the Goat would not begin until early February 1979. I’d consulted a traditional Chinese healer in Bangkok,
and he’d told me that the year of the Goat would be a major turning point in my life. He said my world would crack
and fall asunder; only to be rebuilt in a better form. And the symbol for the moment of change would be the arrival
of the Goat.
At the moment it was Chinese Thanksgiving, which is their winter
solstice celebration, involving ancestor worship at its core, but lots of eating of spicy foods seemed to be the main evidence
that the celebrations were in full flow.
8. Minor health problems…
I looked down at the red hives on my legs and arms. Fucking bedbugs.
I crossed the bedroom and picked up the big black phone, and spoke to the apartment block manager, telling him the new mattress
was no better than the previous one – ‘I’m still covered in bedbug bites’ – and asked that he
get a new mattress in by the end of today.
Then I opened the fridge and looked
in. Nothing appealed to me, so I removed by tee-shirt and put on a pair of swimming trunks; crossed to the entrance
hall; out onto the patio, where I was struck by the glaring sun and the roar of the traffic from Tunun Praddipat. I turned
right and walked down to the swimming pool.
There were already two Thai families
– two mothers and fathers and four children - and the fat American from apartment number four - in the shallow end of
the pool, chatting amiably. I walked to the deep end, where the yellow sparkles of sunlight complimented the pale blue
of the chlorinated water. I climbed down the steps, and, clinging to the ladder rail, floated out on my back.
This was one way to cool down; one way to wake up; and one way to try to soothe my burning hives.
My head was thumping, as usual, and my neck and shoulders were cold and stiff.
It was a lot cooler this month than it had been in June when I arrived in this exotic city, with plans to make a
reputation and perhaps a small fortune at the same time. I was trading on my creative ability to suggest timely economic
and technological innovations for rural development. The Royal Thai government was urgently investing in anything that would
wean the poor peasant farmers of the Northeast region from the Lao and Cambodian communists that repeatedly infiltrated the
militarized Land Settlement Projects. (The paradox, of course, was that I probably hated the American Empire more than did
the Cambodians or Vietnamese!)
The humidity had dropped to about 60% which,
for the Thais is very comfortable; but when it’s combined with such high temperatures, it does not suit the pale, European
skin and is outside of our comfort zone. My pale and sensitive skin was particularly uncomfortable in such hot and sweaty
9. The cultural context…
As I lie in the pool, trying to clear my head, and cool my hives, I can smell the riot of odours of Thai cooking
from the countless cooking stalls in the streets that surround Blue Lotus Apartments – the gated community where I’ve
lived for the past two months. Overall the aroma of Thai food is pleasant and rich, though at its core is that rotten,
fermented fishy smell of Pla ra. I could also pick out the diluted stink of Pad sa Tor (which I had often tried as a
hangover remedy); though it was pretty heavily covered by the whole gamut of sweet and spicy herbs that Thais love so much.
But at least those food odours tended to mask the clouds of car exhaust fumes that drifted in from Praddipat Road, as the
early morning traffic roar, which would last all day, began to howl in earnest.
of the pool, I walked to the shower at the end, washed the pool water off with some local soap; walked back to the apartment,
bowing to the spirit house in the small plot in front of my door. Back inside, I got dressed. Today was the big
day for feedback on my presentation to the Director of the Department of Public Works, on my Northeast Village Technology
and Rural Economy proposal. For this purpose, I donned my bitter chocolate, linen safari suit with the pale beige stripe:
sort sleeved, open-necked, waisted, and with flared trousers. I wanted to wear sandals, to keep my temperature down,
but that was not acceptable attire for a government office; so I had to wear a pair of Barrett’s two-tone shoes, dark
tan and beige, that matched the suit.
10. A breakfast of two parts…
Out on the street there were three tuk-tuks (or sam lor - motorized rickshaws – the
big brothers of the Indian baby-taxi) waiting for customers to come along. I caught the eye of one driver who’d
driven me before, and beckoned him over. He turned his sam lor and drove over. Meanwhile, the aroma of the nearest food
stall was stimulating my appetite, so I asked my driver to wait while I had a bowl of Kuai-tiao nam soup with noodles and
pork-balls, from one of my favourite street-sellers; then, after a three minute flavoursome treat, the sam lor driver drove
me up to the Dorchester Hotel, in Soi Pradipat, where I ordered breakfast.
had lived in the Dorchester for about two months, until I ran out of money. Although I was an accredited consultant
with the UN, I was on a payment by results contract; which meant that, until I brought in some project funding, I could not
claim my consultancy fee. It was very expensive living in Bangkok, and funding my own field trips and consultancy reports.
Before then I lived in a low-rent apartment that was subsidized by Christian Aid, for use by missionaries and Christian Aid
field workers. I was evicted when some neighbours complained of the sounds coming from my room every time Juliet came
to visit, during my first few weeks in Bangkok. It was unfortunate that the floor was a kind of hard, glossy resinous
concrete, which squealed and screeched when the iron-frame bed was forced down hard on its bare metal legs. I suppose
it took the other residents a few weeks to figure out what was going on, and they then decided that making love in the afternoon
Now I was back in the basement restaurant of the Dorchester, in
search of the second part of my breakfast, and also to meet Juliet to plan our visit to the Department of Public Works.
The purpose of this visit, as I said, was to get feedback on our presentation, made last month, to the Director, the Minister,
and the senior funding teams from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Development Program
(UNDP), and the Dutch government development agency (DDC).
It was always dark
in the Dan Thai Phin restaurant, because it was below ground level and therefore had no windows. The lighting was old
French wall lamps; the décor was dark; and the carpet was so dark it was hard to discern the maroon background that
would be visible in broad daylight.
I sat at my usual table near the door and
looked at the menu. It contained no concessions to the English language, apart from the Romanization of the Thai words.
I had learned to stick to the Khao phat, for breakfast and lunch: which in most good restaurants contained fried
rice topped with nam pla phrik (which is chillies in fish sauce). The other ingredients tended to vary,
but often included lime or lemon, cucumber or coconut, and, more often than not, spring onions. (Nobody in Bangkok ate
or supplied bacon and eggs; or toast and marmalade. And it was almost impossible to get good quality coffee, since chai
was the drink of choice in that city. Such cultural deprivation!)
phat arrived, with a strong smell of lemon grass and ginger; along with a big pot of freshly brewed chai. I got stuck
into the rice, with a fork in my right hand, while pouring the chai with my left. The chai was never as strong as coffee,
or even Indian tea; but I slurped a couple of mouthfuls back, in an effort to wake myself up fully.
11. Juliet arrives…
The chai was not all for me, as Juliet was
due to arrive soon. She normally had black coffee in the morning, at home, (and on Mondays, Wednesdays and some Fridays,
I joined her there for coffee and toast). But today she was due to meet me at 8.15, so we could prepare for our meeting at
9.00am at the Department of Public Works. The chai was a poor compensation for the lack of her preferred home-percolated
I heard her three-inch stilettos hit the marble floor in the
entrance hall above, and checked my watch. Bang on time.
I heard her march
steadily down the stairs: click, clack, click. I was filled with sadness and gladness, in a mixture acidic enough to
burn right through my heart.
She was dressed in a tight, black, Thai silk suit
of jacket and pencil line skirt, with a long slit up the right thigh. Her long blond hair was tied back in a big gold
hair slide; and she was wearing her big, red-framed specs. She was dressed to kill for a crucial business meeting.
She looked around the restaurant, saw no expats were present, apart from me, and kissed me
on the lips. She whispered “Sugar lips!” as she pulled away. Sitting down, she pushed her cup towards me
for a chai fill, while pulling some documents from her briefcase.
papers on the table in front of her, she stared at me, examining my eyes. “Morning, honey?”, she said, interrogatively,
looking at me questioningly. She could see that I was still low; hung over; depressed and deflated.
Fishing in her bag she found the little silver box of speed pills (ephedrine and caffeine),
and pulled two out for me. I washed them down with a mouthful of chai. Hopefully, within a few minutes, they would
neutralize the tranquillizers that I took last night, and the Thai grass that I smoked at bedtime.
“What’s the running order?” I asked her.
at the documents from the DPW. “Kun Wicheet will speak for the Department. The USAID representative will
respond. We will be asked to accept or reject the offer”.
that all?” I asked.
“No detail on what the offer is likely to be?”
We had made a pitch for half a million dollars over a two year period, to set up a pilot
project in Ubon Ratchatani. That would then be reviewed, and a decision made about the future years.
“What do you expect?” I asked her then.
“This is a standard format”, she said. “It could mean a funding offer; or it could be an
offer to review additional proposals; or to submit additional argumentation or supporting evidence, etc. Impossible
to say if they’ve found any funds for us, at this stage”.
In the air-conditioned taxi to the DPW directorate, I was able to cool down. The restaurant
had been too warm, and the street outside, as we came out, was so warm and humid, that my armpits were wet by the time we
were locked inside the icy-cool interior of the cab. Of course, some of my sweating could have been due to the tension
I felt about another rejection of our project proposal, and another few weeks of brainstorming, researching, writing and making
We were both quite tense as we click-clacked our way into the
Wicheet, the director, a pleasantly fat Chinese-looking Thai, was seated regally behind his eight-foot desk. In front
of him, seated on a semi-circle of comfortable chairs, were Len Hogan, the USAID representative for the Northeast; Sjoerd
Leenstra, from UNDP; and Bernhard Hendriks, from the Dutch DDC.
stood up and shook our hands, and indicated our seats.
He then made a statement
about the excellence of our economic and technological development proposal. Len Hogan explained how they had evaluated
our proposal in the field, back in their office, and also in Washington, and that they were pleased to recommend to Congress
the disbursement of 500,000 US dollars per year for the next three years to make this project a success. Leenstra was
also full of praise, and said they would pick up the cost of local support services; and Hendriks said the Dutch government
would be pleased to pay all salaries involved.
This was six times what we’d
asked for, and then some!
Juliet thanked them for their feedback, and steered
the conversation in the direction of when and where the funds would be disbursed. The short answer was that a decision
on start dates would be made in Washington, and it was likely to be early in the New Year; possibly late January or early
The room was aglow with a celebratory mood. Everybody expected
this to be a great breakthrough for the people of the Northeast; and to keep the commies at bay!
We all shook hands and dispersed.
Juliet and I walked briskly back down the stairs to the sound of her clicking heels, and the squeak of my soft soles;
out into the hot street; and into the first air-conditioned cab we could find.
inside, she screamed with pleasure at our victory. I laughed and cheered. After six months of hard work, we had
been vindicated; we had succeeded; we had made it.
We asked the driver to take
us to the Dorchester Hotel. It would be safer to use the hot-sheet floor – the third floor was exclusively bookable
by the hour – instead of risking being seen entering Blue Lotus Apartments (or Red Rose Court, where Juliet lived with
her husband, Bart) for a celebratory roll in the hay.
Juliet, who was sitting
on my left, took my left hand, clamped my index and middle fingers together, stuck them in her mouth and moistened them; then
pushed my hand up her skirt, which had a deep, accommodating side split, inside her panties, and into her warm, wet vagina.
This was a strange, new bonobo-like celebration ritual that was unknown to me. Ten
years earlier, I would have been deliriously happy to be so wanted by a woman: so passionately desired. Two years ago
I was ecstatic about being wanted by this woman. But that was then and this was now.
In that moment of double victory, I realized my total defeat.
"She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks
he sees what God is doing."
Kurt Vonnegut –
Rewind six or eight weeks. Juliet and I run
along the platform with light luggage, and board the overnight train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Railway Station to
Ubon Ratchatani, near the borders with both Laos and Cambodia; leaving at 8.00pm and arriving at 10.00am the next day.
We had a sleeping compartment, which meant we could have our evening meal in our private
room, and get to bed by 9.00pm.
By 10.00pm we had made love, and I had left
the lower berth, and moved to my place on the top berth. I could hear her crying softly below. She wanted me to
stay in her berth with her. I could not do that, which might seem strange given how strongly I was drawn to her, physically
and emotionally. To understand my behaviour, you need to know some background.
Six weeks earlier, when I was still living in the Dorchester;
I awoke early on Monday morning, after a boring weekend. Juliet spent her weekends with Bart, her husband, in Red Rose
Court. He left for work around 7.00am on Monday mornings. I usually worked at their home, with Juliet, on Mondays
and Wednesdays, (and occasionally on Fridays), arriving around 8.00am, where Juliet and I had coffee and toast, and then reviewed
our action plans and worked on our project designs, project proposals, and so on. We normally managed to avoid too much
sexual distraction from this work – but by no means always.
this particular Monday, I went down to the restaurant, had a bowl of Khao phat; and then took a sam lor to Red Rose Court.
I punched the pass code into the keypad at the gate; waved to Kun Ying Yufarit, the glamorous and elegantly dressed Thai manager,
who was in the estate manager’s office, inside the gate; walked along the path that led past the first grey, reinforced
concrete block, and up the stairs in the centre of the second block, to the first apartment on the first floor.
A huge blue crested lizard was on the wall by the top of the apartment’s red door.
As I approached the door, it expanded its throat and made a hissing sound, in what seemed to me to be a threatening way, but
I screwed up my courage and leaned in to rap my knuckles on the door. I then got a bigger shock. Bart opened the door, with
a very serious look on his face. I thought – Oh, no! This is it!
waved me inside, and told me he’d taken Juliet to hospital on Sunday, after he found her rolled up in a ball on the
kitchen floor. He was very concerned about her, and she was kept in for tests.
Bart was very worried about Juliet.
While he was making coffee, and
going into too much detail about the procedures they were running at the expat clinic, to try to find out what was wrong with
Juliet, I was thinking of the strange coincidence. Two or three weeks ago, Juliet told me Bart had been whisked into
the expat clinic for tests for unexplained abdominal pain.
And about two weeks
before that, when Juliet and I had been working on a new report, I had asked her if she had any painkillers for a bad headache.
She said, “Yes, upstairs, in my beside table”,
So I ran up, opened
her top drawer, but could not see any pill boxes, because a large, pale blue letter was spread across the top of the drawer
contents. I picked it up to look for the painkillers, and noticed it was Bart’s handwriting. But that was
very strange, because the salutation line said, “Dear Juliet”.
would Bart write to his wife, with whom he shared a bed?
That was the mystery
that caused me to breach their right to privacy by reading the letter. The bottom line was this: Bart was very unhappy
because Juliet was only supposed to ‘mess around’ with other men, as he ‘messed around’ with other
women; but Juliet had broken the rules by ‘falling in love with Daniel!’
What a mess.
was now involved in a marriage in meltdown, because Juliet had fallen in love with me. Bart must want to kill me!
Hence his stomach aches. He must be arguing with Juliet, or wanting to row with her, all of the time, hence the resort
to writing to each other – total breakdown of spoken communication – and hence her intense stomach aches.
And who is the cause of all this? Me!
"That is my principal objection to life, I think:
It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes."
Kurt Vonnegut Jr – Deadeye Dick
Bart’s lips are
moving as he hands me the big cup of strong coffee. He looks very depressed. As he speaks, I speak over him:
“I’ll leave!” I said. I just blurted it out. I didn’t
know I was going to say that.
“I’ll go back to England”, I
said, “and leave you and Juliet in peace”.
Bart smiled, and looked
at me with genuine bemusement; and perhaps affection.
that?” he asked, with a big look of relief on his bearded face.
solidarity”, I said, thinking back to when my wife, Ramira, had an affair, just two years ago. If only her lover
had had a sense of male solidarity, he would have gone away and left us to sort our marital problems out for ourselves.
(That was what I thought then, but in time I would come to realize that Ramira’s affair was a symptom of something deeply
wrong with our marriage, and not to do with the availability of other men).
I was totally surprising myself with this male solidarity with Bart. I did not know I would say anything like this.
Bart immediately offered me his hand, and we shook on it. It was now a deal!
In some ways, Juliet was the best thing that had ever happened to me, though it was of course
stressful for me, being involved in somebody else’s marriage. And I was so much her captive, emotionally and practically.
Once I arrived in Bangkok, a few days after Juliet and Bart had arrived, all of us transferring from Bangladesh, she had taken
my passport “for safe keeping”, and locked it in their safe; and it was clear she would never give it back if
she thought she would lose me in the process.
But now I had a plan.
I thought we had a reasonable chance of getting funding for a project beginning in the New Year; and I felt sure I could persuade
her to give me my passport, so I could go back to England for Christmas, thus saving a lot of local expenditure of non-existent
“I’ll go home for Christmas”, I told him then, “but
I won’t come back in the New Year!”
“But don’t tell
Juliet that!” he said.
“That’s right”, I said.
“It’s our secret”.
“Male solidarity”, he said,
offering me his handshake once more.
Once we got confirmation of our three year funding, subject to approval by Washington, there were only a few days
left to Christmas. I told Juliet I would like to go home for a couple of weeks, until the funding had been disbursed,
to save money; and that I would return with our third team member, Jasper, as soon as the funding was released; and then we
could get down to work.
She did not suspect a thing, and so she did not resist
the need to hand over my passport. I went to Red Rose Court at about eight o’clock on the morning of Christmas
Eve, and Juliet and Bart offered me some red wine, and we smoked a couple of joints of Thai grass. And Juliet passed
me a couple of tranquilizers.
Juliet was upset at my leaving, even for just
a couple of weeks, and it showed. Bart was clearly upset that she was so upset about losing me for a while; though he
must have also been reassured that at least he was getting rid of me as a love rival for all time!
Bart drove all three of us to the airport for my ten o’clock flight.
goodbye was very stressful, as Juliet and I tearfully embraced and kissed each other under the semi-watchful eye of her husband.
Somehow I checked in, semi-blinded by tears that stung and hurt my eyes. I sat in my
aeroplane seat, half drunk, high as a kite, relieved to have escaped, and undone by the feelings of grief at the loss of Juliet.
My mind was frozen; my heart was like a big lump of painful rock in my chest; my hands trembled;
tears ran involuntarily from my eyes, though I resisted them with all my might. I felt like screaming.
I was going ‘home’? Or leaving ‘home’? Or moving in confusing
I was finally, totally lost!
big, cool, silent plane travelled via Bangladesh, Doha and Frankfurt, for about fourteen hours. However, because of
the time gap between Bangkok and London, I flew into Heathrow at three o’clock on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1978.
The sun was shining like a June day. The fields were green and welcoming
in a way that rice fields could never touch me.
I took a taxi from Heathrow
to Jasper’s parents’ home in Oxford; where I went to bed for three days. I got up for the main meals, at
lunchtime and evening; but mostly I slept. I was sleeping off the withdrawal from the speed, tranquillizers, booze,
hash, opium and grass; and the heartache at losing Juliet, as well as the relief at getting rid of Bart from my list of nightmares.
I slept and snoozed; sat around eating
or watching television; and so the Christmas and New Year celebrations passed me by.
On 2nd January 1979, just after lunchtime, I took the double headed ragdoll from my suitcase and headed
into the centre of Oxford. I was going to see my ex-wife, to say ‘season’s greetings’ and to give
her the doll for the twins that she conceived towards the end of our married life together. We still did not know who
the father of the twins might be, since she was having sexual relations with me and Kevin Thompson when she became pregnant.
I rang the doorbell of the duplex flat we had lived in on Eastern Avenue, and Ramira opened
the door. She coolly invited me in. It was nice to see her, but I had very mixed feelings towards her. We went
up the stairs and into the living room, and there was Kevin, parked on the sofa that I had bought; and his big fat belly was
pointing at the ceiling, and he still had that characteristic silly grin on his too-open face.
We exchanged greetings; I told them what I’d been up to in Bangladesh and Thailand, in terms of the nature
of my work, the climate, etc. Nothing too personal.
I then handed over
the doll. It was meant for the twins. It was a doll made up of two bodies – two torsos with heads and arms
- with no legs, and they were stitched together at the waist. They had a shared skirt. When one head was exposed
to view, the other was concealed under the skirt, and vice versa. One face was black and the other white. If it
was symbolic of something about our dreadfully confused situation, I could not think what that might be.
We ran out of things to say to each other, and we went downstairs to the exit. As I was leaving, I glanced
in through the downstairs window and saw the twins climbing out of their cots, after their afternoon naps. I was captivated
by their little faces. These could have been my kids. Cute little three-year-olds.
“I think you’d better go!” said Kevin, in a gruff voice, suggesting a slight hint of threat.
No ‘male solidarity’ here.
I walked down the Botley Road to the café where I used to go to kill time, when Ramira and I first split up.
I ordered a coffee and some toast, and went to the juke box on the wall. I selected the same tune I used to choose all
that time ago; just over three years now:
“I’m not in love”,
sang 10 CC, “So don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through”.
I felt as raw as any piece of meat ever could. My heart was aching and my guts were
knotted. My eyes were moist and hurting. But was it for the twins? For a life that could have been?
For the faithless Ramira, to whom I had been married for six years? For my loss of Juliet, who had been my lover for
two years? Or was there somebody else hidden behind all these possibilities? Somebody who had been there
from the very beginning? Somebody who had marked me for life!
The juke box fell
silent, and I finished eating my toast.
Echoes from the past invaded my mind:
“How I wish
How I wish you were here”.
These words came from a Pink Floyd album that I was into around the time that Ramira and I split.
Oh, how I wish you were here, I told myself. If only I knew who you were. And if only I
knew how to connect!
I swigged off my coffee and stepped out into the afternoon
Stephen Boyd, Introduction, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Wordsworth Classics.