Chapter 21 Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography
The Near Love Experience
Sonnet 129: Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame
BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
When Shakespeare, or whoever it was, wrote this, they were looking at lust from a before, during and after point of view. Now it’s me, doing a similar thing, but from a more distant vantage point. My own journey with lust became more intense from around the age of 10, after which it became a major influence, permeating much of what I did, until recently, where it began to subside. A line from one of my songs goes “If falling in love is a trick of the mind then why am I not laughing this time”, it’s not as eloquent as Shakespeare’s verse but it does rather set the scene. “Shakespeare” also wrote:
“My love is as a fever, longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease’
To me, our feelings of falling in love are often tied up with our own psychological issues, as well as our biological instincts. This often results in people being a little insane when they are in love. I regularly compare it to how we feel when someone who is manifesting insanity decides to sit next to us on a bus. We get an overwhelming urge to move away, except of course if we are well educated in dealing with mental health issues, or are feeling insane too. So, when someone is in love with us and we don’t feel the same, we can’t help but want to get away from them, because we know they are mad. Of course, if we are in love, we feel sane (although we know we aren’t) and if we are in love with the person who is in love with us too, then we can happily sit on the bus together until the insanity wears off.
There is obviously a difference between loving someone and being in love with them. Perhaps we should be clearer about which words we use, but then to have a word that meant “Love you in an insane way” probably wouldn’t work very well. I mean no one writes infatuation letters, where telling the beloved that “I’m so infatuated with you” is the main highlight, even if it might be more honest, but it’s not as effective as “I love you with all my heart”, which is probably not truthful in the slightest but certainly gets the insanity juices going.
Anyway, from 10 years old my sexual urges grew stronger and my ability to be insane when it came to love and lust increased dramatically.
* * *
It’s been a few years since I wrote the last chapter. There is a reason why I started writing this, it wasn’t to leave my mark or to help others or because I have something special to offer. It was simpler than that, I was facing emptiness. It was a way to fill that difficult time when Monica was leaving me. A whole episode of madness followed by an episode of more madness that I could barely cope with.
That was 13 years ago, now this project has a life of its own.
* * *
May 23rd/24th 2017
I am not unconscious but all I can sense is darkness, I am deep within it, it’s around me, it feels like death. I can see intermittent flashes of purple light. I hear my name being called. Then I am in darkness again. A beautiful purple light is almost blinding.
Then the voice that called my name, I recognise it, it’s the voice of the anesthetist who had spoken to me earlier.
“We had to do the big cut, you asked me to tell you if we did, so I am just letting you know.”
To me it was as if he was telling me it was Wednesday, it held little significance, I couldn’t feel anything.
I nod affirmatively.
There were moments after that I can recall. Being wheeled on a trolley down a corridor, checking arrangements, and then dreamless sleep.
When I became conscious again I was in intensive care. I wasn’t very aware of myself, I couldn’t feel much, but as I started to see, like a distant observer I took in the scene. I was in a hospital bed at the left end of a long desk, a nurses’ workstation, it was daylight, noisy, and there was lots of activity.
A young Filipino man is talking to me “Hi Simon, I’m Leo, I’m your nurse. You’re in intensive care, we’re keeping an eye on you, as your heart, it’s a bit fast and we want to help you heal after your appendectomy. We want to keep an eye on you in case the infection comes back. If you need anything, just call me, I will be close by”
I nod at him “am I likely to have a heart attack?”
“Oh no, it’s just when it’s this fast we need to observe you. That way if anything happens we can react quickly.”
I’d like to say I felt reassured, but just being in intensive care is a sign that things are somewhat not quite right.
* * *
The day before this I had driven to the local hospital after feeling ill for 3 days with what I thought was a kidney stone, but I felt so ill I thought it best to go to casualty, especially as the day before that I’d said “I’m in extreme pain” to the doctor I’d gone to see, responded by saying “Well, if it gets any worse then go to casualty”. I’m not sure how much worse it could have got, but anyway I delayed going to the hospital for another day longer than I should have because of that.
When I got into the Accident and Emergency department I was half expecting to be sitting around for 4 hours waiting to be seen. However, once the nurse started assessing me she said my heart was beating so fast that I had to be put into the resuscitation section immediately.
Over the next few hours I had an Intravenous line put into my arm which hurt, just as one would expect, but then as the doctor pushed it in some more, and a bit more for luck it hurt quite a bit more still. A bit later I had a cat scan which showed I had a perforated appendix. The doctor informed me that I was going to “need surgery at the hospital in Hastings”. “Shall I drive there now then?” I asked the doctor. “You’re not driving anywhere” came the reply. So, an ambulance took us, (I had someone with me), to another hospital in full blue light emergency mode, where were quickly made to wait for over 7 hours whilst a space was “bulldozed” (as the doctor put it) for me to have surgery. Without which, she said, I would “die that night”.
* * *
For a month or so before this happened I had been feeling overly warm, especially after eating and on top of that there’d been a few times when I’d woken in the middle of the night out of breath with my heart racing. I knew something was up, but had I known I had an issue with my heart I wouldn’t have been peddling so hard on my exercise bike most evenings.
I had also thought a few times during that period that I might be facing death shortly, partly because I knew something was up, even if it didn’t feel serious enough to do anything about it.
I had said to myself that I didn’t fear dying, but when I found myself lying in intensive care thinking I might suddenly have a heart attack, I realised I wasn’t ready to die after all. I imagine most people think the same thing, “just a bit more time please”. There were things I wanted to do before I died, there were essays to write, music albums and e-books to publish, artworks to put out there, and of course, I didn’t want to leave those I love and who love me. Thinking of them grieving made me even more upset (OK, that that might have been a little presumptuous of me). Even leaving this autobiography in the air seemed like a betrayal to those who have spent the time and effort to read it. And so, I thought, just like most people do, “if you let me have some more time I will focus on getting these things done”. So, for now, I have given myself 5 years to finish a set of projects, getting this finished to an extent, was part of the deal. I may think agnostic but I feel spiritual, I expect lots of people do, especially when they think they might be close to death.
* * *
1976 Wallington, Surrey.
In the last chapter I briefly described the new place mum and I moved in to after living on Roundshaw, but I don’t think I mentioned that it didn’t really feel like home, in fact, it would be a long time before I found a place that I’d call home. The place on Roundshaw didn’t feel safe, Gran’s place had felt like home, but I was not allowed to be there continuously, and this place felt very temporary.
If I had been delinquent before this time, then the next few years were to head even further downhill. It’s hard to know why we do some of the things we do, and often the explanations given just don’t have a ring of truth about them. Maybe it’s because there’s rarely just one reason or maybe we know a lot less about such things than we would like to believe.
Just before we moved from Roundshaw to Sycamore Manor something happened. What is strange though, is I don’t remember it properly. I know something happened because about a year ago I found some people on Facebook who I’d known on Roundshaw, a family who lived near to me, so I sent them friend requests. The mother accepted my friend request and sent me a message asking how I was. The next day I went to reply to her but I couldn’t send the message. She had blocked me and her daughters had stopped me from sending them friend requests too. Obviously, I had done something to upset them, so I thought back and remembered the mother calling down to me as I was playing, and when I looked up at her she said I looked like I was in trouble.
I have a clear memory that I had done something wrong, and it did involve her daughter who was about a year younger than me. I am pretty sure it involved me getting her to take off her clothes, but I am sure it didn’t involve penetration because I would have remembered that as it wasn’t until I was 19 that that occurred. But, if something else happened I don’t have any conscious memories of doing anything. It could have been just getting her to undress was the actual misdeed.
I decided to write to her mother from another Facebook account to say that if I’d done something wrong then I would be more than willing to discuss it with them, after all, given their reaction I was worried I had traumatised her daughter and wanted to say sorry, plus I wanted to know what her daughter’s memory of it was. I also didn’t want a posse turning up to string me up for something I had done aged 11, about 42 years ago, which I could not even remember.
Although I didn’t have intercourse till I was 19, there was a moment at around 11 or 12 with a girl of my own age, who I used to play around with, and by that, I mean I used to put my tongue inside her, which she liked. I had seen it done in a porn magazine story from some time before then so I thought it would be a good thing to do. Sadly, it didn’t show me what a clitoris was so I imagine it must have been quite frustrating for her. On this occasion, she and I got into a position where my penis was pushing against her vagina. As I pushed it hurt me, (I didn’t realise till years later that I would have to have some surgery if sex was not going to hurt as the skin that attaches the foreskin to the penis was almost tearing). Even so, I could feel an overwhelming feeling, which I hadn’t felt before. She said, “Stop it’s hurting” and at that point, I came for the first time in my life. I ejaculated over her stomach and groin so I must have moved away from her vagina in the process. She was less than happy with the mess all over her. From then on there a few more sessions of me kissing her between her legs, or rubbing my penis on her thigh, but it ended soon after and was not spoken of again.
* * *
I am currently on beta blockers, and blood thinners. I’m not sure if they have a side effect on memory but for the last year, I have struggled to remember words and sometimes people have recalled incidents which involved me that I have no memory of. Maybe it’s the initial stages of dementia but it got me wondering whether if a person was to suddenly lose a lot of their memories would they become a different person. Even a word we might think of could have a different significance to us if memories relating to it disappeared. Memories may well define who we are but let’s say as we die we let go of all our memories and just the essence of who we are moved on in to the hereafter, would that essence have been changed by the memories we once held, or would we essentially be the just as we were when we first existed? In a less spiritual view, does the upper area of the brain change have an effect on the stem or more primeval parts of the brain? To me, a fully qualified Doctor of Bullshit, the stem would be unlikely to be affected, however it depends on what is included as the “more primeval parts”, for instance I’m pretty sure that the areas that act as our subconscious would be influenced by the interaction of a life time’s worth of experience. But when it comes to matters of the soul, I have no idea.
It is quite a thing to come to terms with, that all these memories that make up our life will almost certainly disappear as we die, and yet when I realise that I have already forgotten much of my life, then I can’t help but conclude that in a way, what we don’t remember we will not miss. It is the thought of losing them before they are gone that feels so devastating.
* * *
Dying to know
As I lay in intensive care I felt I may suddenly pass away at any moment. My heart was constantly beating at around 156 bpm. I have spent quite a bit of my life thinking about the moment of dying. Maybe it’s a way of subconsciously dealing with it because it’s not likely that after I die I’ll have any time to deal with it then. But, the problem with this attempt to pre-empt what might happen, means having to deal with an almost infinite range of possibilities. The most likely experience is a non-experience. Most people are in an extremely unconscious state when they take their last breath. Even getting to that state is often via a process where there won’t be a moment of realisation that “this is it, here I come”. Conversely, a lot of people who survive serious incidents often say they did think they were just about to die. I would hope that my dying thoughts would be “Thank “you” for letting me exist, what a miraculous opportunity it was.”
There is also the fear of suffering, the fear of pain, of panic, as if that which kills us will be more painful than that which can seriously injure us. In that way, it is life that is scaring us. There are plenty of ways to die that are painless, people who nearly died from breathing in only nitrogen say they didn’t even notice becoming faint, they didn’t feel a thing. They were living one moment and very unconscious the next.
However, for all this reassurance, dying, and the process of dying takes up a lot of time, especially as one gets older. When I was young I was mainly preoccupied with sex, and when I became much older I started to spend a lot of time thinking about dying. There’s a connection, of course, procreation is nature’s way of dealing with death, and meditating on death is a way of coming to terms with it too. Death, in many ways, is at the heart of most of our endeavors.
During my hospital stay I ended up watching loads of films and TV programs on my iPad – my 20gb internet tariff finally had some usage -. One program I watched a lot was the new version of “Cosmos”, a series about Science, Space, and the Universe. One message it kept on about related to humans possibly, in time, moving out to other planets. It kind of struck a chord with me, that whilst religious beliefs are a matter of faith, the idea of that humans may go on for thousands, if not tens, or even hundreds of thousands of years, searching for truth was a highly possible and meaningful aspiration. I mean, just fucking up one planet is a bit of a limited ambition for the human race.
I was also struck by the kindness, not only of the staff in the hospital, but friends and family, even my dentist came to help me with a problem with my tooth, and can you believe it, for free! So, to brush up against this world of kindness, a world that permeates many walks of life, drove deep inside me. And it became the world I wanted to be a part of. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m more of a part-time saint so don’t worry I’m not going to go all “goody-goody” on you, but being touched by kindness can have a profound effect. That’s not to say I haven’t come across genuine kindness many times in my life, but up till this moment I had never been on morphine at the same time.
* * *
British society is, relatively speaking, quite generous to people with disabilities, but over the years a lot of people took advantage and claimed benefits even though they were not as disabled as they made out. People involved in the politics of this would argue that the numbers mis-claiming were not significant, and they may well be right on that, however, even if the public perception was incorrect, the result was that the government overly tightened the criteria for claiming benefit, especially around people’s inability to move around.
After mum died and her house sold I received an inheritance. It wasn’t enough to pay off my mortgage but it was enough to help make my home more habitable. Not only did I use it all up doing the work on the house but I ended up in even more debt than I’d started with.
I told the authorities about the inheritance and they wanted evidence of what it had been spent on, otherwise, I would have to lose my benefits for a considerable amount of time. Because I work, my disability-related benefits are not much but I get money for carers and that was what was mainly under threat. So, I spent a month collating the evidence, which consisted of two large files full of spreadsheets, receipts, and explanations which related to the Care Act 2014. When I met the officer dealing with the case I asked them if they had read The Care Act, they told me they hadn’t and with a rather perturbed look on their face went off into the distance with all 750 pages of information to assess my case. Fortunately, they accepted it.
I’m telling you about this because there is a belief that if you look after people then they will feel an allegiance and in turn wish to help with society too. A bit like what I described in terms of my reaction to being cared for. But this doesn’t happen as much as it should, partly because of what I call “relative poverty”. For instance, a person living in the third world might well look at a very poor person in the UK and think “Wow, they live like royalty. They get health care, opportunities for education, money to clothes and food, shelter, clean water, electricity, television, fridges” and so on, but people here will say, “well they’re not that well off really, they don’t have enough money for heating, for a healthy diet”. Again, that’s right too but because we have a tendency to only compare ourselves to those who are richer than us, we veer towards feeling resentful because we are living in “relative poverty”. A millionaire will feel resentful when faced with a billionaire. Not everyone feels this way of course. Many people are thankful for what they have. But if you were to set a bar that represented a level of comfort, some people would be happy with that some would still feel resentful. So, it’s not just about being touched with kindness, it’s also about the personality of the subject.
I did my thesis for my degree on “Beauty and Evil, Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko”, and what stuck in my mind after writing that was how when St Augustin was watching babies suckle he believed he could see that even at that early an age, some babies were greedier than others. If parts of our personality are already positioned by our first few weeks of life, then it’s probably always going to be an issue that some people will appreciate what they have and some will not, no matter what they do, or don’t have.
There’s a reason I’m pointing this out, it’s because I believe that when you’re dealing with humans you should never forget that some of them are very fucked up and will not hesitate to treat others awfully. So, if you want to argue against any political system just add real humans to the mix and watch it disintegrate. i.e. Greedy bankers, corrupt politicians, big companies that don’t care about anything but making money, people claiming money when they shouldn’t. I think you get the picture, and not wanting to be left out, if you recall my misdeeds you can include me at times in my life too.
When I got ill, it was by no means the first time that I came in to contact with genuine kindness, but when one is that ill, possibly facing death, then what was important before is so much less so now, and what becomes important is connection, love, and goodness. It is a way of thinking that comes from an emotional position that made me see my place more set within an interdependent network than I had done before. I had thought it before, but I hadn’t felt it so intimately until then.
* * *
A few weeks ago, I had some surgery on my heart. It was an ablation, which is where the surgeon makes a very small hole in the upper thigh/groin area, and then uses special cables and cameras to get to the heart where they destroy nerves that might be making the heart beat too fast or arhythmically. Afterward, they stop the heart then start it again – hopefully.
During this process, I was sedated, which means that I should have been semi-conscious, but for me, there was the moment when they were putting the sedative in and then when I woke up, at which point a load of nurses were around me stopping my leg from bleeding out. I was oblivious to how serious it was and just thought “I’m sure you’ll sort it out” and went back to sleep. This would have all been fine if the nurse looking after me in the theatre hadn’t asked after I woke up if I remembered “what happened?” to which I replied, “No, what happened?” He laughed and said, “It’s probably better that I don’t tell you”.
So, yet again, another moment of my life where my behavior was memorable to others but not to me.
* * *
Now, as I’m older and death doesn’t feel too far away there is a perception of time that feels very different from the long drawn out spaces of my early years. I knew I was waiting for better days. My mother would tell me that school days were the best days of my life but to me, they were not. If anything, I was trying to fill the gaps, and even in a real sense, I became a wanderer, either on my bike or walking, looking for people to engage with. It’s hard to remember how one made friends initially with those who became friends. Often, once you met one person that would lead to meeting others and via that process a network was formed. It was well before mobile phones and the internet and even making phone calls was prohibitive so going around to someone’s house, knocking on their door and finding out if they could come out to play was pretty much the normal routine.
I could possibly blame this feeling of isolation on moving into the suburbs, and there would be an element of truth to that because for all its failures Roundshaw did create an environment where children could play and meet up. But probably at the age of 10 onwards, there’s a greater separation occurring so that one day you find yourself pretty much on your own in many ways. One’s parents are no longer entertaining one as much as they did, if they ever did, there is a lot less affection going on and as much as it might lead to a feeling of isolation, probably nature is pushing one to become more of an individual.
* * *
My mother tells me to get into the shower with her so she can help me wash. For the first time I notice her breasts, I’m curious about the veins about how big they are. I’m not getting aroused but I notice them.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she says sharply.
That was the last shower we took together.
* * *
When I think about this era the majority of memories are pretty much all delinquent ones. I shall list a few for your entertainment below, but don’t forget, there’s a thin line between comedy and horror.
Soon after we moved from Roundshaw I started to get into the practice of playing truant. I had an electric typewriter so would write a letter supposedly from my mother, forge her signature and get out of school for a day. In the morning, I would wait till my mum got off to work then come back home, watch TV, listen to music and have snacks till mum came home. But one morning I saw mum drive towards my school, so at top speed, I took all the shortcuts I knew to get there before she did. But as I arrived, she was walking out.
She looked annoyed. “Why aren’t you in school?” She shouted
“I had a puncture” I replied exasperatedly as only those caught in the act can do.
I got away with it, but it scared me enough to not do it again.
After school, and during the holidays, I would get friends from Roundshaw to come over to our new place. Franny, was a bit younger than me, we once had a secret cuddle in the park which turned out to be not so secret when a load of friends cycled past and shouted “Hello Simon, hello Franny”. She had mimed the whole of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” to me at the youth club a few years later, but whilst she was pretty the age gap between 11 and 13 proved too much. But at this point, it was the difference between 10 and 12, which was ok. So, she would come over sometimes, I would want to have a kiss and cuddle with her (that’s all it ever was, much to my disappointment) as she would want to chat and try on my mother’s jewellery, which was in a dressing table in my room. Maybe mum was hoping I’d turn in to a drag queen. It was the beginnings of me learning that girls and boys can sometimes be very different.
During the holidays, mainly, friends would come around to play on the telephone with me when my mum wasn’t there. We would ring people up, tell them we were a DJ on Capital Radio and they were live on air (at which point they would get very excited), then we would play them a song from the record player, that I’d brought out to the hallway. It was nearly always “Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley that we’d test them with. They had to guess the song and singer, which they always did, and we’d promise to send them a Capital Radio T-Shirt, which we didn’t. Sometimes we’d be a bit cruel and ask people if they had a cat, they’d say yes, we’d ask what colour it was, and when they replied we’d say that is was now very, very red, and dead. At which point they would start screaming at us. Back then, there was no caller ID, thankfully.
We would also run around the flats with air pistols firing at each other, we’d wear goggles to protect our eyes, however at one point I thought it’d be very funny to go a step further and play dead when someone came in. To add realism, I sucked on a red aniseed ball so that I could make it look like blood was coming out my mouth. Unfortunately, the first person to walk in was a pregnant woman pushing a pram, who, unsurprisingly, was rather concerned and asked “Are you alright?” in a much calmer manner than one would normally expect. At which point I jumped up (because even I knew this wasn’t that funny after all – ok, well it is now) and said: “Yes, we’re just playing”. I’m sure she grumbled something at me as she parked her pram under the stairs.
I also saw myself as a bit of a Robin Hood (well the stealing from the middle classes bit at least) and decided on a couple of occasions to steal orange juice cartons from outside other people’s flats and give them to my mother as a present. I really should have joined the mafia with that kind of moral code.
For a short while, I thought it would be worth a shot at looking through people’s letterboxes as I knew their bedroom faced the front door. I was hoping to get to see a woman naked. This came to an abrupt halt when I opened the letterbox only to see two eyes looking back at me. I shot back startled and shouted sorry. Nothing happened, the door didn’t swing open, just silence. So I backed off and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Fortunately, it was only later that I realised it was a reflection that I had seen, but it did the trick. I didn’t do that again.
I would still hang out my window at night, just as I had done on Roundshaw, looking out to see if any woman was going to get undressed at their window for me to look at. Hope obviously does spring eternal because I never saw anything except in the last weeks of living there after 2 years, and that was by coincidence, a woman changing across the road, so far away I could hardly see anything and it was in the daytime.
Then there was the woman upstairs who was married to a man who had no hands who wore artificial arms. He would often give me a bit of a look of disdain which I thought might be to do with me not covering my stumps as he had done, but it was probably more likely because most days I would knock on their door to ask her to take my keys out of my trouser pocket. I would then use this act of kindness as an opportunity to look down her top as she never wore a bra. She would often take quite a while finding my keys and sometimes she would push herself against me, maybe it was nothing, maybe I was just imagining it, but every day we’d do this little dance till eventually, I would get a key put on a piece of string around my neck. From then on I would have to get her to do my shoelace up for me instead, which I couldn’t ask to have done every day, so our dancing days just petered out.
* * *
My first two years at Wilson’s continued to take a nose dive, that lack of basic skill kept tripping me up along with my preoccupation of trying to be tough when I wasn’t. Any fight I got into around this time, I nearly always lost and with it my confidence. In every class I mucked around, even in art, which I had a flair for, I was more interested to see what would happen if I poured powder paint into a fan heater, than actually painting or drawing. Although in a way I was ahead of my time as no doubt a fan heater blowing paint on to a canvas would probably have got into the Tate Modern Gallery at some point pre-post Modernism, unfortunately, I used the teacher’s back rather than a canvas.
I think I may have told you about that before.
I was also a slow reader, and still am, hence me not reading my previous chapters to check what I’ve already covered. Yes, there is a plan… Somewhere. So, reading books for school was a trial even though I liked it. Nowadays I get my Amazon Alexa to read me my Kindle books when I get up in the morning, or my iPhone to read them if I drive on a long journey. I’m definitely not a bookworm.
This world, the one we are in now, is so permeated by technology that going back 40 years it is hard to remember just how much more isolated we were. Sure, we had phones, but they were not cheap to use, as mum would find out after my escapades, TV finished around midnight, the radio was there and was very popular. Evenings were rather dull, after tea, a bit of TV, a bath, play around with my hairstyle in front of a mirror, occasionally write a letter and maybe listen to an album of music in my room alone. For both me and my mother there was something of an aloneness.
One of my mum’s friends thought it would be a good idea for mum to go on a blind date, and so she did and that’s when she met John.
* * *
Before I bring John in the story in more detail I’m going tell you what I thought of him. When he first appeared, I wanted him to be the father I never had, but in my own way I had set him up to fail. As time went I clashed with him a lot, but later I started to feel for him, I recognised a lack of confidence in him too, so whilst at times he was infuriating for me (I think we all know he must have felt the same) I did learn to have some empathy for him, but that would take quite a few years.
* * *
When mum came back from the blind date I asked her how it went.
“Well, he’s not really my type, he’s not very tall, but he’s very polite and courteous, but I will see him again. Anyway, your mother’s getting on a bit, I have to take what I can get” she laughed. So, it began, they started to date and within a few months he proposed to her and a wedding day was set.
“Oh I can’t wait till we get married,” mum said, “he won’t have sex till then” and she laughed. Mum, as you probably know by now, was not great on boundaries.
John, my mum and I did a few things together as “a family”, like going to watch Star Wars at the local cinema or having a meal out. It was exciting to think I might have a new father figure but there was an unease between John and I.
John was about 5 foot 6 inches tall, slightly built, always wore a suit, spoke with a posh accent and came over as very well to do. His father had been the local mayor, as well as being active in politics and business. His brother was a priest, his sister, who was very down to earth and friendly had a large family, and his mother was a powerhouse. In later years, I would come to the opinion that having such strong people so close to him would cause him a sense of self-doubt. It was safer to speak in terms of clichés or to repeat the lines he had heard from them, but when push came to shove he couldn’t logically argue them out. Faced with a delinquent child of 11 going on 12 he had no chance, as even most therapists wouldn’t either.
Things didn’t go well also when they found that the first photograph they’d had taken together had had the eyes pierced out with a compass needle.
“Why did you do that?” mum said, shaking the photo at me
“I didn’t” I exclaimed as only a lying 11-year-old can.
“Of course you did,” said mum
“That was our first photo together,” said John – going for the guilt card which was actually a good strategy. I probably felt like crying at that point.
“Why did you do it, eh, why?” said mum throwing the photo at me.
Had I had a few years training in psychology I might have been able to come up with some victim riddled reason, but as it was, I didn’t know why I did it at the time. For me, there was a photo in front of me and I thought it would look better with eyes you could see light through.
During this courting stage, I turned 12 years old, which as anyone who has 13-year-old kids will know means the intensity of irrationality goes up a notch on a dial of 10, to, well, 12. The disagreements became more common and the arguments all the more intense. When John tried to put his foot down mum would often take my side, which brought a wedge between them. To a child, there might be a sense of power that comes from that dynamic, but at the same time, possibly a measure of guilt that cannot be dealt with easily. Even if I thought I was doing the right thing by showing her that John might not be right for her or me, deep down I must have known that I was making her unhappy, and although I may have wanted that on some subconscious level, there would have been a price to pay, and that price may have been feeling even more isolated.
Possibly in a desperate attempt to get some time alone with John, mum booked me on a load of holidays, including another school trip abroad. This time it was to be in Italy, and interestingly, possibly because the price of chocolate had skyrocketed, the school endeavoured to find a way for me to be included. But maybe, maybe it was because mum, out of kind, loving feelings, wanted me to experience something she thought might stay with me all my life.
* * *
The night before the wedding John came around and they had an argument during which John looked at mum and said, “There’s going to be some changes around here after we’re married”.
“Well in that case maybe we shouldn’t bother.” She shouted back at him.
But they did, and there was.
* * *
Mum, who was extremely proud that I had got into Wilson’s School, thought me wearing my school uniform for their wedding would be somewhat sophisticated, possibly even trend-setting. She’d bought me some new trousers but didn’t get time to alter them so, in all the wedding photographs that I appear in from that day I looked like I had elephant’s feet, even though flares were still all the rage, this was taking it literally one step further.
On the journey to the church, the chauffeur decided it was imperative that he show me he had a finger missing, which did create an immediate allegiance between us. This meant we chatted quite a bit, probably because I didn’t want to be there. Not so much because it was mum and John’s wedding but I disliked being on display. Outside of saying hello to the cousins it was the same questions from the adult relatives as always, who probably didn’t want to ask them either.
“Shit” – I thought. “Good” is what came out.
“What’s your favourite subject”
“fucking about” – ok what I actually said was “Art”
“Well it’s worth doing well in other subjects too then you can become a lawyer or doctor and be very rich”
“ Thank you for your insightful careers advice but I’d rather rob a bank, it’s quicker” – ok you’re getting the hang of this now… Reality was more like… “Oh I don’t think I could be that clever”
To which there was a pause while we all agreed that was actually very true.
“Oh I’m sure you are” and off they’d wonder, probably thinking “No chance”
But at least that day I had the all-unimportant job of being a page boy. This meant standing around feeling embarrassed and doing nothing useful but at least it kept me out of trouble.
After the ceremony, we went to the Cavalier pub, which was a pub near an over the shopping center carpark in Wallington. All I can remember from that was getting the barman to give me a couple of cherry brandies. Initially, he refused to serve me, then I told him I was the child of the woman getting married. He obviously took pity on me because he served me 2 double shots.
Mum and John were driven off to the cheers of the well-wishers, whilst I went to stay with mum’s sister Yvonne for the duration of mum and John’s honeymoon in Torbay.
* * *
7th September 2018
Last night I wanted to find a photo from the wedding to show you just how bad my trousers were. Once I found the wedding photos I put a load of them on Facebook for just family members to see. Quite a few of the comments on the photos were about those relatives who had passed away, and how now, it is us standing first in line on that conveyor belt to who knows where.
The last few days my heart rate has been very arrhythmic. One of the main dangers that poses is having a stroke because the top and bottom parts of the heart are likely to be beating at different speeds which means some blood might not pass through the heart so smoothly and may, if it pools, coagulate thus causing a clot. Hence, the blood thinners.
When I first got ill and thought I might die, I did think that if I was to do so now, aged 53 that I had had a good run and should be thankful for all I have experienced and it would not be a tragedy as such. Somewhere between 40 and 50, there is a point where dying is less tragic. Of course, that depends on other factors, for instance, if you still have young children then that would add a tragic element to the situation.
A few years ago, a friend of mine called Valerie sent me a few messages which were a bit flirtatious. My reaction was to not engage, and I didn’t continue messaging with her. About a year later I found out that she had committed suicide by breathing in the exhaust fumes of her car. She left behind a 10-year-old son. I have no idea of the story behind why she killed herself, one can only assume that she was feeling very mentally unbalanced at that moment. I also felt a twinge of responsibility, that maybe, if I had made more effort to stay in contact then she may have turned to me for support. Anyway, it hit me quite hard.
At 53 I can think of quite a few people I’ve met who died young, (nothing to do with me). So, whilst I don’t want to pop my clogs just yet, I am still grateful for the time I’ve had and any time I may have left.
* * *
My brother suggested that we go to the Spiritualist church where mum collapsed. It wasn’t far from where she lived and it was more about getting an idea of the setting where it happened than to try out a session of spiritualism. In both our minds eye, when we described to each other how we imagined it, we agreed we thought it would be quite church like, dark with wooden benches, but when we got there it was a house that had had its back room and front room knocked in to one and then had the front window blocked in leaving just 3 thin upwards windows of stained glass. With yellow walls, a fluorescent light and plastic chairs it had more of a feeling of a waiting room (there must be a joke there) from the 1980’s.
Being new visitors we sat at the back, but sure enough, we were the speaker’s prime target. What she said to us didn’t seem to apply, there were three of us sitting together and what we thought afterward was that had her messages been switched around between us, then they would have been more apt. With the closest match being a person who was murdered and a person who committed suicide which would have fitted with the guy I mentioned a few chapters back who killed his drug dealing mate then killed himself shortly afterward. But it’s easy to find a meaning in hindsight, so we went away a little disappointed but glad to have got a more accurate vision of the place.
* * *
It’s very easy to dismiss psychic phenomena, likewise, it’s very easy to accept it unquestioningly. A few years ago, I got in contact with one of my old medical doctors from Roehampton Hospital, his name was Ian Fletcher. The Welcome foundation has a recording of an interview with him that you can hear at:
When I met up with him he was 92, I picked him up in Trafalgar Square, just near to Admiralty Arch, from there we drove to The Chelsea Arts Club for a meal. At one point, we got on to the subject of telepathy and ESP and whilst I’m paraphrasing somewhat, this is very close to what he said to me.
“I spent many years debunking so-called psychics. I was in the magic circle for 70 years and knew many techniques that were used, but after all that time looking into this subject, I came to the conclusion that what most of us would describe as telepathy does exist. James Randi had offered a million-pound reward for hard evidence of psychic abilities, I realise that for now there is no consistently provable evidence, but I do believe that one day we will be able to understand this phenomenon more fully.”
He then told me of a few examples he had experienced. But to anyone with a scientific leaning, there is no hard evidence, yet often in our lives, we come across situations that seem so improbable that we can’t help but wonder if there are other factors at work beyond coincidence.
I will give you a couple of examples that stick in my mind. A few weeks ago, I went to see some friends in Cornwall. At one point, we spoke about someone called Pino who lives in Italy. I haven’t heard from him in years. Within an hour of that conversation I noticed a message from him on my WhatsApp messenger saying “I bet you don’t know who this is J”. Well my app kind of gave it away because his name was on it because his number was in my phone book already. He’s not on Facebook or other social networks, he just thought about contacting us at almost the same time the three of us in England were thinking about him. Coincidence?
In 1996 I felt very depressed and decided to try out a free psychic healing offer. During the process of the session, I was put in a darkened room whilst a woman passed her hands over me. As this went on I went into a kind of trance/dream state. The first thing that happened was I felt like I shot up in to the sky and was looking down over London, then I felt myself move to where I lived, I could see my girlfriend, I said hello to her, then moved off again. A few other things happened after that, firstly I went to where a house, road, and woods were, then I had a vision, almost like a film where frames of a comic are shown in fast sequence. In this series of frames, I saw a plane crashing into a bay as the sunset.
Afterward, I went home and the first thing my girlfriend said was
“Did you come back earlier and call up to me? I came down to see where you were but I couldn’t find you.”
I spoke to her about the other bits of my trance/dream and this could be more a case of her making tenuous connections but when I drew out the layout of the woods, the roads and the house she said it matched exactly where she had lived before she came to London, and of the comic strip imagery she said she had been to a bay where there was a monument to a pilot whose plane had crashed there. As I say they may be coincidences.
What was interesting about all this though was that later when I decided to study a bit about parapsychology I realised that there was a parallel between the process I went through and the development of the spiritualist movement which had a connection with mesmerism. The mesmerists believed they could heal people by passing their hands over people without touching them and by putting them into a trance they could transfer energy to them. Something akin to modern day Reiki or Chinese medicine involving Chi and Chakras. Sometimes during this process, people would go into a trance and supernatural powers, precognitive visions and instances of telepathy seemingly occurred. It was so popular at the time a leading medic, Professor John Elliotson was sacked from his post at University College Hospital. In fact, Charles Dickens, who saw himself as an authority on Mesmerism was one of Elliotsons biggest defenders. From these “Supernatural” episodes the seeds of the Spiritualists movement were sown.
I’ll give you one more example. I was sitting at the bar in The Chelsea Arts Club eating some supper when a woman I had spoken to before came up and started talking to me. She started to tell me about something that had happened to her son. I said, “You’ve told me this before, he fell out the window and landed in the bushes but was still seriously injured”. She looked at me aghast. I thought, “Shit I’ve said something really wrong now”. As she went pale and started to shake a little she said: “I couldn’t have told you that, I haven’t been here since that happened”. But to me, there was a real memory of her telling me about this.
I don’t conclude anything from these kinds of things, which happen a lot to me, but it does make me wonder if there are other dimensions in which consciousness can exist without the mechanics of the body and mind, or at the very least some telepathic abilities are real.
* * *
Many people reading this will have a complete belief that there is life after death, conversely many others will believe that we simply switch off and are no more. I am agnostic on this subject. I can accept that it is entirely possible that before us was eternity, in which we did not exist, and beyond us is eternity in which we will no longer exist. If that is true, then given one’s life is not full of suffering then I think that within a caring community one can find heaven on earth. Amos Oz writes “A little wickedness and people are hell to each other. A little compassion, a little generosity, and people find paradise in each other.” It’s like the Chinese version of Heaven and Hell where both places are the same, everyone has arms that are chopsticks. In Hell, everyone starves, but in heaven, everyone feeds each other”
I also have space to accept that there may well be consciousness after life. Indeed, given I can barely remember a lot of my life and have complete black spots in my memory, as well as watching the memory of dreams disappear before my eyes, I can accept it’s possible I existed before this life but have no memory of it. But, then I would say that given I actually don’t have a memory of that.
Even if we say this is it, this is our one shot at existence, then for those of us who do not live in great continual pain, or in extreme deprivation and suffering, then for us, to have existed in this universe, on this planet and especially during such a magical time of technology, communication and interactivity, then what a gift it is to have lived. To be able to sense the world, to feel so many things, to have connected on so many levels with others. What a blessing that is. When doing the simplest of things, for instance breathing in fresh air, eating some food, one can take a moment to savor being alive.
I am not advocating hedonism, in fact, the opposite. Service to one another, whether there is God or not, and wanting to serve others is what it is about, but it should come from a feeling, not a thought.
* * *
The first day after the surgery was not so bad, I was not in much pain considering my stomach had been cut open from just above my groin to just under my solar plexus. A few months down the line after the swelling had died down the scar was not as long as it had first appeared. Even so, I wasn’t in that great a shape, I could hardly move, I felt like I had a big metal plate attached to my stomach, which was probably as a result of 70 staples holding my stomach together. I had 5 tubes coming out the right-hand side of my neck, a drainage tube coming out a hole in my side, and a catheter attached to a bag at the end of the bed, which when moved gave me the feeling that my penis was going to be torn off at any moment.
I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink or anything, so my mouth was very dry. Occasionally the nurse who was a very flamboyant man from the Philippines would dab a small sponge filled with water on my lips as he danced and spun gracefully around my bed. In the evening, a few friends popped in, which at first made me feel a bit tearful as it was a reminder that in many ways I was a long way from home and normality. Then at one point, someone on the ward started to be sick which made one of my friends turn pale and look quite ill. As they looked towards the person being sick and shook their head in disapproval I started to laugh, “Don’t make me laugh, it hurts” I said. Of course, this made them laugh. For a moment, there was normality.
After they went it was back to the process of healing, but as the evening became night I started to feel ill, being sick constantly and unable to sleep. Not that I would have got much sleep anyway as the Intensive Care ward was constantly noisy. The next day the doctor explained that because my intestines had slowed down so much, the liquid in my stomach, which is created normally as a by-product of digestion, had nowhere to go. They were scared that it might start filling up so much that it would enter my lungs and cause further complications. The solution they suggested was to put a pipe up through my nose into my stomach to act as a drain. I agreed to this and soon after a nurse came over to fit it.
The initial feeling of it going up my nostril was quite uncomfortable, but as soon as it hit the back of my throat I started to be sick and retch violently. “Just try to relax and swallow” the nurse instructed in a typical exercise class manner. Somehow it seemed to go into position. It was uncomfortable but at least we got there. The nurse looked at me, nodded her head from side to side and said “I don’t think it’s in properly”
“Really?” I croaked. I wanted to ask if she had X-Ray vision.
“I am sure it’s not in correctly, we will have to try again”
She pulled it out, which wasn’t the most joyous of experiences either.
The second attempt was far worse, I was so sick and that she had no chance.
The doctor who’d done my surgery came in, gave me a verbal warning, and said they would try again tomorrow.
So, another sleepless night, full of being sick and then came the third attempt. This time a young male doctor came over with a tray of equipment including anaesthetic gel. “This should make it a lot less difficult,” he said. He covered the tube in anaesthetic and started pushing it up my nose and down my throat. Again, I started retching violently and loudly again, at this point a large blonde woman opened the curtains and said “It’s very important to relax and swallow”, fortunately I was in a choking not joking mood.
“There we are, all done” the doctor said.
I tried to speak but I couldn’t as my mouth was full of the pipe which had wrapped itself around into a mess in there. I looked at him and opened my mouth. He looked a bit surprised and started to pull it out again. I had had enough.
“I’m sorry doctor, but I would rather take the risk of being sick into my lungs than continue trying this.”
“Ok, we will leave it for a day and re-assess things then”
I could see in his eyes a look of sorrow and failure.
At this point I hit a low, and in a rare move posted on Facebook that I was feeling bad and that in some ways it had been one of the worst times in my life. I think when the blonde woman stuck her oar in it took me back to being in institutions where I had no control and had felt completely on my own. As a way to get some balance, I wanted to connect with people for some support.
Maybe my retching was disturbing others or maybe I was recovered enough to be taken off the Intensive Care Unit, either way I was moved to The High Dependency Unit, which was about 10 metres away and this time there was one nurse for two patients.
I didn’t get to sleep till about 4 am, at one point I had to ask the nurse to move one of the square syringe bins because it looked like a “Robotic Fertility Earth Mother”. A bit later security had to be called when one of the patients became aggressive. He couldn’t talk, I think he had something like a tracheotomy and was very emotional and restless. On top of all of this, a temporary filling was disintegrating in my mouth and felt like fine hairs touching the back of my throat.
When I finally did get to sleep between bouts of vomiting, I had a couple of dreams which seemed to signal to me that I was going to turn a corner in my recovery. They felt almost magical and even now I feel like I can’t reveal them to others as it might negate their healing properties, which sounds mad, I know, but I don’t even want to take the risk of betraying those dreams even now, a year and a half afterward.
Sure enough, the next day I stopped feeling sick and was able to start eating. After a few more days, I was put into a room of my own on another ward. I kept myself to myself, and in time yearned to go home. Through that week they pulled the tube out of my side and left it to heal. The Catheter had failed on the high dependency unit so they didn’t bother replacing it, which was a relief when I saw them pull about half a meter of tube out. No, I’m not trying to make up for having a big car.
My legs had become so weak I could barely stand so over the last few days, the physios prepared me to return home. On the final day, they took out my staples, which didn’t hurt much but felt strange and I half expected my stomach to split open as an alien to pop out. The last thing was to have IV lines pulled out my neck, again I worried it would hurt, or suddenly I’d pass out as blood would gush from the wound, but I didn’t feel anything and there was very little bleeding. I was free to go. A porter wheeled me and my bags to the ambulance at which point I said: “I’ve just had Munchausen, what am I saying, I’ve just had an appendectomy”. I could almost hear him think, “Mentally and physically disabled.”
Just like a horror movie, there was more to come, the ambulance driver was obviously on his last run and drove like a maniac which was quite hard to stomach. Once home it was a while before there was any semblance of normality, with nurses coming in to redress the wounds and check my vitals. Even so, being back home felt wonderful.
After a week or so my medication came to an end, but about a week later I ended up back in casualty with a very fast heart rate. They put me on beta blockers and blood thinners which have quite an impact in terms of side effects. Won’t go there though.
I waited a while for an appointment to see a coronary consultant and after some waiting, I called the hospital who informed me that I was correct an appointment should have been made, however they had forgotten to make one. Eventually, I got one, but that’s for another chapter.
The healthcare we have in the UK is a miracle. In most other countries if you get ill, you die, especially if you are not well off financially. One of the nurses said to me that in a staff meeting they had said how I was so easy to look after that they wanted to put me in their pocket and take me home. As a child, I had been very difficult to look after, but now, touched by kindness I wanted to think about their needs too.
Even when I needed help in the toilet, (I could barely move so I really did need help), if a young nurse came in I would always say “Look I wouldn’t normally do this on a first date but could you just wipe my arse… with those expensive wipes if you don’t mind?” See, I was consideration personified.
* * *
Before I got ill, as I mentioned earlier, I thought that I might die soon, I had been feeling off-colour for a while. In a way, I was right because after it happened my life was not going to be the same ever again. In fact, even now it feels like a race against time to finish some important things off in case time runs out shortly.
Sometimes, you wake up and find it wasn’t a dream, but at least you woke up.
* * *