Obedience and Revolt: The Mysterious Roots of Half a Life
 

...

Update - 28th March 2015

Dr-Jims-office.jpg

By Dr Jim Byrne

Daniel O’Beeve has now updated the Preface to his semi-autobiographical novel: The Mysterious Roots of Half a Life. And he has rewritten chapters 1 and 2.  And I (Jim Byrne) have modified the Foreword.

You can read all of this material,below, free of charge.

I hope you enjoy it.

If you wish to let Daniel know what you think of this revised material, please send your messages via me: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Editor and publisher 

~~~

Foreword - by 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 of progress; 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?”

Willi-Sean Maguire.  Irish Magus…

Obedience-and-Revolt3.JPG

This is one of the strangest, most intimate, most moving and delightful autobiographical stories I have ever read.  It is somewhat fictionalized, so it counts as a semi-autobiographical novel – but it feels as if the person who wrote it lived every pain and joy on these pages.

I am proud to introduce the writing of Daniel O’Beeve to the world, and convinced that this will become one of the great stories of post-post-modern literature.  Each time I read it, I see and hear it on the Hollywood screen that I carry in my head for that purpose!

I was delighted, some four years ago, to be chosen by Daniel O’Beeve to edit and publish the story of his fascinating, difficult, challenging life.  In particular, I was very happy that Daniel had been influenced by some of my writings about my own childhood.  This, he writes, encouraged him to take the bull by the horns, and to face up to the highly dysfunctional family history which had distorted most of his life. 

Daniel was a product of inadequate parenting, in a culture which was deeply wounded by colonial exploitation. 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 – especially problems to do with relationships and love; and especially sex-love.  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.

The main 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.

With every chapter that I read, I felt I had become a little wiser than before; a little more compassionate; a little more human.

~~~

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.  And my own peers and relatives will know that none of this applies to them, because the overall shape of the story is so different from what they know of their own lives.

~~~

“The impact of inadequate parenting, in every society, is disproportionately borne by the roughly forty percent of the population who have parents with insecure attachment styles of relating to their children.  Those children are born into a barren landscape of loveless isolation and aloneness.  And in the part of their brain where the capacity to relate to others should be slowly built up, there grows a huge, cavernous hole which robs those children of the capacity to love and play with others.  It dooms them to live half a life, at most!”

Willi-Sean Maguire.  Irish Magus…

The fundamental wiring up of the human brain occurs in the first three or four years of life, in private homes, away from the eyes of the world.  The ways in which that mental wiring responds to later social and cultural contexts can then seem quite inexplicable and mysterious.  The only really effective and comprehensive way we can learn about those formative years, and how they impact the feeling states of later life, is if somebody has the courage to go back, dig it all up, and lay it out in the form of the story of a life – or half a life.  And that is what Daniel has so bravely and helpfully done.

I 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 trauma and psychological development.  I also hope it serves as a model for others who want to follow in Daniel’s brave footsteps in writing their own life story.

I hope it teaches something about love; the trials and tribulations of learning how to love; and finding a compatible sex-love mate.

My final hope is that this book will help the world to understand the power of cognitive emotive narrative therapy – the newest 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, March 2015

~~~

Preface

By Daniel O’Beeve

~~~

 “If we do not teach our children about love and why it’s so much healthier than hatred, what will become of them?  If we do not teach them about their journey towards healthy sex-love relationships, in maturity, who will teach them?  And if we do not know enough about love and sex, and relationships, and how to manage our hatred and rage, what hope is there for any of us?”

Micky J. Moran, A Very Peculiar Tragedy…

~~~

Obedience-and-Revolt4.JPG

It must be more than thirty years since I sat in a dusty bedsit in Alton Cross, soon after arriving in this strange part of the High Peaks.

I was sitting in a big, embracing armchair, and holding a new copy of a novel by Graham Green.  I was really into Green’s novels at that time.  I think the book title was The End of The Affair.  In a preface to the book, Green had written that this was not the book he had intended to write; and that the main character, Scobie, was not at all like the Scobie he had intended to create.

Stories and characters may have lives of their own.  I say that because this is not the book I intended to write; and the characters have transmogrified and grown beyond my plans for them. 

My subtitle refers to ‘mysterious roots’, and I thought I knew what I meant when I originally wrote those words.  However, the mystery slowly crept up on me, and grasped me by the unsuspecting heart.  Truth is stranger than fiction; and this journey is as strange and startling and mysterious as any of the dramatic mystery stories of Dorothy L. Sayers; Raymond Chandler; Agatha Christie; Arthur Conan Doyle; P.D. James; John Grisham; Patricia Cornwell; Donald Westlake and Donna Tartt.

I would say that this is a semi-autobiographical novel because: More than fifty percent of the material is straightforward autobiographical memoir.  But about twenty percent is based upon extrapolation from, or interpolation within, the known facts.  The remainder, perhaps fifteen percent, is pure fiction, spun and woven by me to fill the gaps between my well-established jigsaw pieces.  But spun and woven with integrity and commitment to stick to a kind of veracity that transcends the weaving process.

~~~

Most people seem to be in denial about the fact that ‘childhood is a nightmare’.  One of the reasons it’s a nightmare is that there is so much routine cruelty in the history of our tribes, families and broader cultures.  And lots of psychological damage, caused by cruel treatment in childhood, is passed down the generations.  It’s a sickness locked into our largely unwritten cultural narratives.

And often sexual abuse is mixed in with physical and psychological abuse – or there is a neurotic denial of a history of sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

Most people that I’ve encountered think that ‘sex is sorted’; ‘sex is no problem’; we live in an era of ‘sexual liberation’.  But many of the traditions that make up the cultures and sub-cultures of the British Isles, and North America, and Western Europe, were anti-sexual or asexual in nature.  (And look at the sexual scandals in India today; and the trafficking of sex-slaves into our ‘civilized societies’ from the poorer parts of the world).  And also today, we are finding that, at the highest levels in society, sexual abuse of children and minors has been perpetrated under our very noses; and covered up; and denied, by politicians, police officers, social workers and others in positions of authority. How can we hope to step outside of that history of sexual repression, sexual abuse, and the failure to link sex and love, if we do not examine where we have been?

How can we create a safe world in which to raise our children if we are asleep to these problems?

In this book, I do not propose to offer an analysis of human sexuality.  I will only show, as one of the several strands of my own distorted development, that sex can be very confused and confusing; and sexuality can be stunted, but also reclaimed.  However, it can only be reclaimed if it is integrated with the quest to love and be loved; to forgive and to trust.

I will also shine a light upon the problem of emotional and physical abuse of children; and the problems of psychological development in the case of cultural and intellectual deprivation.  And, since Nelson Mandela claimed that "There can be no keener examination of a society's soul than the way it chooses to treat its children” – this will tell us a lot about the soul of the culture from which I came; and related cultures.

~~~

There are books that inform and books that dismay; and books that do nothing at all.  This book is intended to heal.  To heal me, and perhaps you, and perhaps a subset of the people who eventually read it.  Or even a sizeable seam of our sickly world.  (Of course, our world is ‘officially’ not sick.  It is officially ‘technologically advanced’.  Advanced its machines may be – but our world is psychologically and spiritually bankrupt, in the main!)

~~~

Firstly, I want you to know how this book came into existence.  I have spent hundreds of hours digging up my past, my childhood, my family history; shaping it into digestible stories; processing those stories; and moving on. In addition, I have also spent hundreds of hours studying psychological models of the person, the mind, the family, and human relations.  Furthermore, I have woven my personal stories and those theories and models of human development into a tapestry of rich understanding.  In the process I have produced this memoir/ autobiographical-novel/ thriller/ case-study of the mysterious roots of half a life.

For me, this has been a journey of writing therapy.  My hope is that, for you, the reading of this book could be a journey of reading therapy; and/or personal and professional development, as you begin to re-digest and reinterpret the story of your own journey through your own life’s challenges.

~~~

I have, perhaps, made a mistake in calling this section a ‘preface’, because we live in strange times.  We live in times in which it is highly likely that many people, who see the label ‘preface’ on this section, will want to hurry on to Chapter 1.  They want to get to the meat, the marrow, the ‘bottom line’ as quickly as possible. 

We or bombarded by an ideology that induces ‘hurry sickness’ in most human minds.  A famous business consultant, who should have known better, even suggested that the first principle of time management should be: “Do it now!  Do it now!  Do it now!”  He, not surprisingly, was recently hospitalized for a serious degenerative disease!

Most of the advocates of the ‘hurry up’ commandment will soon reach the last day of their lives, and suddenly realize that they have accelerated that terminal moment into existence.  Why – they will wonder then - could they not have spent more time leaning on a gate or fence, staring into the far distant horizon, at the green beauty of nature naturing?

~~~

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 your heart.

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.  There was only the commandment to obey.  Obey or die!

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 (an imperfect theorist, who distinguished love from biology) 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[1].  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)[2].

Of course, in defence of the religions, it could be said that they mainly condemned sex, and over-regulated it, because it so often proves to be a destructive force in the world.  (Though it could then be counter-argued that it was actually condemned and regulated to suit the interests of the Patriarchs who dominated [dominate?] the world).

But Osho seems to be right about the importance of love, and the withering disease to which we fall prey the moment love slips out of our lives; or fails to find fertile soil in our hearts.

And that was how I was for most of my screwed up life.  Loveless.  Living Dead!  A craven conformist; an obedience machine.  A dried out husk that had no conception of what the word ‘love’ could possibly mean.

~~~

In this book, I undertake a journey that is designed to bring me back to life; to find the source of love within myself.

In the process I hope I can help you to heal and/or grow.

I hope I can find the mysterious roots of the first half of my distorted life.

And I hope you enjoy the journey.

~~~

Daniel O’Beeve

Berlin – March 2015

~~~



[1] This is the only statement in that quote by Osho’s with which I have to disagree: that ‘love is your whole soul’.  If love is your whole soul, then how do you account for the existence of hatred?  Hatred is the core of the dark side of your soul; while love is the core of the light side, the good side, of your soul.  This is the theory of the Good and Bad Wolf, which has been re-discovered and promoted by Dr Jim Byrne’s cognitive emotive narrative therapy.

[2] Osho: Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The koan of relationships.  St Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2001.

~~~ 

Chapter 1

"The children of Ballavita suffer most in the early morning dew; for that is when they hungrily long for the cool evening breeze.  The only time they suffer more is late in the evening, when they long for the early morning dew.  The hornets that sting them, of course, add to the pain".

Paddy-Brennan-ji; The Roots of all Suffering…

~~~

1. Recalling and crafting a story…

Ireland-1.gif

Teenage memories are easy.  I have no difficulty remembering that I escaped from the most oppressive school imaginable at the age of fourteen years; that it was less than two weeks before I began my apprenticeship in metal jewellery manufacturing; and two weeks later I joined an amazing judo club in the city centre.

The memories of the trainers who came from Japan to teach us are still as clear as an old movie.  Slow-moving, graceful men, with sallow skin, and jet-black hair. Lithe men who acted like peaceful but lethal panthers, smiled like reclusive monks, and taught us their strange culture.  Not just judo and karate; but also aikido (fighting with hands and wrists); kendo (fighting with sticks and/or swords); meditation; tea ceremony; and their philosophy of life.

Their philosophy was simple:

“No fight”.  Translated by an assistant as: Do not be aggressive.  Do not attack your opponent.  Use his or her strength and aggression against them.

“No anger”.  Do not allow your emotions to intrude into your judo play.  This is a game of skill; of consciousness; of alertness.

“No pride”.  Do not be pride-ful.  Do not inflate you ego.  Be modest. The world is for everybody.  All are equal.  Do not assume more than your fair share of the space; the air; the action.

“No look for trouble”.  Do not fight outside of your club, in your daily life.  Do not seek trouble or conflict.  If confronted by an attacker in the street, choose to run away, as fast as you can, if you can.  If you cannot run away; or they pursue you and attack you; then, without any emotion, disable them; render them powerless to harm you – swiftly and without ceremony.  Then walk away, with no more agitation than if you have just brushed some autumn leaves from your garden path.

~~~

On special occasions we all sat in silence – twenty or so young men aged fourteen to forty - while they whisked hot, green tea for us, until it was frothy on top.  Then we all sat, crossed legged, with tiny little cups, sipping the tea in silence, and meditated on ‘Big Mind’.  It was stranger than being observed leaving my mother’s uterus by two blue aliens and a green one, who peered at me through a steerable wormhole in the fabric of intergalactic space-time, and looked so sad about at the way I arrived!

~~~

Stories of infancy are much more difficult to recall; to reconstruct; to validate.

~~~

But it is not just a problem of memory.

Many great stories remain untold, because the potential author has no voice; no words for the things they have seen and felt.  Some potential stories are stillborn because the potential storyteller gives up on life and quits completely: dying into drugs, alcohol, gambling, ‘business success’, sex addiction, or warmongering.

Some stories emerge later in the day because a tired and weary wanderer accidentally stumbles across the secret vault in which the truth has been dumped, and locked away, in the ordinary course of a timid, half-lived life.  Such is the source of this story: my story.

~~~

We remember so little of our infancy.  Sometimes nothing.  Sometimes little snatches of sound or feeling, or snippets of imagery.

I don’t know how often my mother sang songs when I was a babe in arms, but one such song did stick in my mind.  This is how it begins:

“It was early, early in the spring

The small birds whistled and sweet did sing,

And changing their notes

From tree to tree

The song they sang was Old Ireland Free”.

It was a sad song.  I did not know what the words meant – did not know what “Ireland” was; or what “Free” could be.  I may have had some vague idea what a bird was; and a tree; perhaps.

But it was a sound of deep, mournful grief, the way she sang it. Even despair.  It bored its way into my heart, like a sick worm, looking for somewhere comfortable to die!

~~~

What else did I absorb from my mother’s culture?  Perhaps everything!

So if you are to understand my personal story you need to know something of the culture from which my mother emerged – for I almost certainly inherited whatever she had inherited.

2. A legend of old Ireland…

Before I can tell you anything about me and my little life, then, I need to give you a broader context.  So, to begin, 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 fast.

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’.

Then 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 their enemies.

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 club.

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 warrant.

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 community.

Now, in total defeat, the people of Crumble-Baan were harsh and broken.  Bitter and unforgiving.  And they passed that down to their offspring.

~~~

3. Subsequent history…

In 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 guilt-ridden about sex.  Some of them were innocent, repressed homosexuals, who were denied any kind of social life, because they did not wish to marry and reproduce. 

Some were evil paedophiles who wanted to locate themselves in roles where they could prey upon children. 

No doubt there were many other kinds of socially-unaccepted - and I really mean unaccepted, as opposed to unacceptable! - sexual deviants. 

These priests, each with their own (guilt-driven) reason to deny human sexuality, spread their (official, public) dread of sex among the people of Crumble, along with the crazy story of Redemption by Christ’s Crucifixion!

And in denying the legitimacy of sex between men and women, they inevitably denied the value or importance of love between men and women.  Men and women were to be kept far apart from each other.

~~~

The people of Crumble-Baan were my ancestors! Forged in the fires of insecurity, feudal conflict, and intense grief; the violence of colonial warfare, oppression, lawless victimization, degradation, starvation, and casual death.  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! In the process, love was crushed out of them.  ‘Love’ became the dirtiest of dirty words!  It was so dirty, it was never spoken.

~~~ 

 

Chapter 2

"In most of the families we followed, for more than two decades, there was a constant mystery related to these three central questions: Why did their heroes not come from their own social class, or their own clan or region?  How were they persuaded to worship such alien ghosts from amongst their oppressors and exploiters? And why were they so insensitive to the emotional needs of their own children?"

Micky J. Moran, A Very Peculiar Tragedy… 

~~~

1. More modern stories…

Thailand.map2.jpg

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.

~~~

I 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, where she writes that: “There is no greater agony 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; you can feel the denied pain from the past; and then 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 – if only because you, like them, are human and frail. 

~~~

2. Regarding the storytellers…

Thank god for the storytellers, for they give us the plotlines of our lives. Without them, where would we live our precarious existences?

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.

In 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.

And, even worse: the voiceless people bowed down before the hollow effigies erected by the victors.

~~~

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 reputation.

~~~

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…

After reading 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, laid out on the floor of his plane, 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 the surviving crew members 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!

~~~

4. 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 have already presented you with the ‘prequel’ to my life – the context contained in the battle of Crumble-Baan.  I then thought of ‘starting at the beginning’ - like the King advised the White Rabbit, in Alice in Wonderland – but instead I followed the lead of 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”.

The middle of my life, roughly, was the year in which I turned thirty-two years of age.

So let me begin with the trappings of my life at that time (back in the summer of 1978): 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’.

~~~

5. A waking nightmare…

"The Bothers of Christ produced ten generations of boys and men who could neither think nor feel.  They were crippled leftovers from the failed feudal revolt against British capitalism".

Micky J. Moran, A Very Peculiar Tragedy… 

~~~

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 by lunchtime.  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.  I can’t wait!

At the moment it’s Chinese Thanksgiving, which is the Thai’s 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.

6. 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 Bakelite phone, tapped the internal call button repeatedly, 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 and flip-flops; crossed to the entrance hall; and 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 blinding yellow sparkles of sunlight bounced off the rippled surface of the pale blue 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.  I could not swim, but I had learned how to float on my back.

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 who 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!  Because I knew the mercenary reasons the American state, on behalf of American corporations, had gone into Vietnam with tons of bombs and burning napalm, and killed thousands of innocent civilians.)

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 conditions.

7. 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.

Out of the pool, I walked to the shower at the end, washed the chlorine off with some local soap; walked back to the apartment, bowing to the Thais in the pool, and 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: short sleeved, open-necked, waisted, and with flared trousers.  I had had my long hair cut back to collar length, and my beard trimmed.  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.

8. 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. It took me three minutes to eat it, and then the sam lor drove me up to the Dorchester Hotel, near Saphan Kwai, where I ordered breakfast.

I 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 fees.  It was very expensive living in Bangkok, and also 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 was sinful.

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 and prepare for 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 Yim Huai Heng 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 iced tea (‘cha yen’) was the drink of choice in that city.  Such cultural deprivation!)

My Khao phat arrived, with a strong smell of lemon grass and ginger; along with a big jug of freshly brewed, strong iced tea – like masala tea with coconut milk, crushed ice and tons of sugar.  I got stuck into the rice, with a fork in my right hand, while pouring the iced tea with my left.  The tea, when well made, in reputable establishments, was almost as strong as coffee, and I slurped a couple of mouthfuls back, in an effort to wake myself up fully. But the cognitive boost was less than half that of a good American coffee.

9. Juliet arrives…

The cha yen 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 iced tea was a poor compensation for the lack of her preferred home-percolated American coffee.

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 some cha yen, while pulling some documents from her briefcase.

Placing the 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 the tea.  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.

She looked 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”.

“Is that all?” I asked.

“That’s it!”

“No detail on what the offer is likely to be?”

“No”.

We had made a pitch for half a million US 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”.

~~~

10. Getting down to work…

In the air-conditioned taxi on the way to the DPW directorate, I was able to cool down.  The soreness of my hives was receding slowly. 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 presentations.

We were both quite tense as we marched into the director’s office. 

~~~

Kun 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.

The director 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 February.

The room was aglow with a celebratory mood.  Everybody expected this to be a great breakthrough for the people of the Northeast; and to help 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.

Once 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 – Cat’s Cradle

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.

Anyway, on 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 an agitated chirping 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!

He 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”.

Why 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!’

Shit!

What a mess.

I 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.

“You’d do that?” he asked, with a big look of relief on his bearded face.

“Male solidarity”, I said, thinking back to when my wife, Ramira, had an affair, just three to four 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).

But 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 funds!

“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.

Saying 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 circles?

I was finally, totally lost!

The 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, in a perverse kind of way; though 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, manipulative 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 song 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 sat down and tackled the coffee and toast.  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 grey afternoon rain. As I turned left to walk up Botley road, I looked up at the rainy sky and saw three aliens staring at me.  (I swear to god!) About thirty feet ahead of me, at an angle of about forty-five degrees, there was a strange circle of fluffy cloud; and in the middle a kind of porthole.  And through that porthole I could see three bizarre aliens, sitting at a desk, staring at me.  (They seemed slightly familiar, like figures from some vague dreams or nightmares that I have suppressed!)

The one in the middle was tiny, about the size of a human child of ten or eleven years of age, with a blue furry face, with a third eye in his forehead, and long white hair like a judge’s wig. To his right was a larger being, about the same size as an adult human.  S/he (?) had a green head like a cross between a lizard and a sheep. And on the left of the blue midget was a giant, about one and a half times the size of a big human male, with a blue head which reminded me of a mixture of fox and dolphin, with slimy blue skin.  I could only see their shoulders and heads.  They seemed to be looking into our world through a hole surrounded by a wispy circle of fluffy cloud.  They were peering directly at me through this strange hole in the sky.

“Mierdaz!” exclaimed the little blue furry one, pointing straight ahead. “He can see us!  Switch the viewer! Switch the viewer!”

The green lady leaned forward and I heard a loud click. They all disappeared.

I looked all around me.  Everything seems normal now. But I know they’re still there!

~~~

I have not smoked any Thai grass since Christmas Eve.  I have not had any speed or tranquillizers since then either.  And I only had one glass of white wine, to wash down the dry turkey, on Christmas day; more than a week ago.  So why am I seeing things now?

Perhaps this is just withdrawal symptoms?  Or a psychotic break?

~~~