Daniel O’Beeve’s story, Kulchie Kid, is being
re-written, expanded and thoroughly revised.
The revised version
– which will cover the first 34 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.”
The Mysterious Roots of Half a Life
An autobiographical novel
By Daniel O’Beeve
by Dr Jim Byrne
Published by the CreateSpace Publishing Platform
cooperation with The Institute for CENT Publications
Copyright: The Institute for CENt and Dr Jim Byrne
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.
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, where he is between thirty-five
and forty years of age. 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 investigators to guess Daniel’s identity, I have had to rewrite some of this expanded autobiographical
novel; replacing locations in which Daniel lived with 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. This should ensure that Daniel’s
siblings will never be able to guess that they are reading the life of their brother.
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.
Dr Jim Byrne, Hebden Bridge, January 2015
Preface, by Daniel O’Beeve
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”. (The Uses of Enchantment, 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.
This 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.
The mystery 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!”
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).
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 Spiritual Materialism).
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
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. 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 thirty-five years. Aspects of this story are contextualized by some ideas from modern psychology, philosophy and
But 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.
This 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.
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.)
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.
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?
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…
some rural communities in Europe, there are many stories about family feuds and fallings out, and rejection, dejection, revenge
and retribution. Some of these are told in the form of ghost stories.
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.
with me then, on a cold and dark night of chilly rain and windswept roads and moors, to the village of Crumble, in County
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 shared beds.
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
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.
We 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”.
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 (thought 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…).
His perceived lack of freedom was a result of the controlling ideologies of Irish nationalism and the Irish Catholic Church.
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 tragedies.)
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.
But 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.
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,
That is the end
of the prefatory material for this book. I hope this will help to provide 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.
My debt to
the authors of the many novels that have shaped my adult mind is too vast and indeterminate to be entered upon here.
So let me just say this: Without the classics of modern English and American literature, this story could not have come into
Lime Regis, December 2014
1. 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.
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,
and ordered the crew 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.
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.
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
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.
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
Only two of the younger boys lived to run away, and report back
to the village.
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
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 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 people against the English,
Dutch and French. For this purpose, a large body of well-educated priests were 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 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
The people of
Crumble-Baan were my ancestors! Forged in the fires of insecurity, feudal conflict, human degeneracy, degradation, starvation,
violence and war. 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!
Let me tell you a modern story…
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: “There is no greater
agony”, she says, “than bearing an untold story inside you”.
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…
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.
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
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 conditions.
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.
Out 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…
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.
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 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 was sinful.
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!)
My Khao 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 American coffee.
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.
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, and kissed me on the lips; and whispered “Sugar lips!”. Sitting down, she pushed
her cup towards me for a chai fill, 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
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
“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.
“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 presentations.
We were both quite tense as we click-clacked
our way 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.
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 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!
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.
The sun was shining like a June day. The fields were green and welcoming in a way that rice fields could never
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, 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
Stephen Boyd, Introduction, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Wordsworth Classics.
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