Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography Chapter 28

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Chapter 28

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Filling the Void

2019

This page was blank a moment before I wrote on it, and before it was a blank page there was an empty space which it came to fill. In time, it will disappear, and there will be a space where it had been, but here in this time, it has a life.  Sometimes, we may prefer to do nothing and avoid the obstacles that life confronts us with, but generally, we tend to avoid empty spaces, our natural “go to” is to fill them.

Much of my life has felt like I was compelled to fill the empty spaces around me, sometimes the consequences of doing so were positive but a lot of the time they weren’t. Part of my life’s lesson was to discover which was which and whether it was better to face the emptiness or try to fill it.

1980 was almost like a bridge between worlds to me, maybe at the time it didn’t feel like that, but now looking back I can see I transitioned between a few different worlds then. Without realising it, I made a decision to fill my time with more meaningful exploits.

*                      *                      *

1979 standing at the bus stop in the rain

I was feeling a bit heartbroken. I’d fallen in love with Annie Monaghan but she told me she wasn’t interested. No one else was at the bus stop so I sang “Sandy” from the movie Grease, replacing the word Sandy with Annie (which was rather fortuitous). The car lights shone on me like theatrical lights, the rain poured down on me, but I wanted to suffer as spurned lovers do. And then the bus came, and I went home and wrote a poem.

*                      *                      *

1980 Spring

Scott and I loved listening to Elvis, most people of our generation didn’t, so even though we liked the music our parents would have liked too, to our peers we were outcasts and we liked it that way. I didn’t need to do anything to become an outcast, I automatically was one due to how I looked. Scott though, had chosen to wear his slightly off black, very slightly green, blazer to school (which should have been a just black one) and this, along with his short quite red hair, assured him his place outside of the general ranks. Ironically, Scott’s choice of career was to become a sailor in the Royal Navy. I doubt there’d be any verging from the uniform for him allowed there.

In my own way, I too would don a uniform of sorts, it was an anti-fashion statement, jeans and t-shirt, it stated clearly that I didn’t want to use my clothes to make a statement about me. We were Rockabilly rebels from head to toe, except Scott also loved listening to Blondie, so we did get to hear other music outside of Rock n’ Roll too. We weren’t just listening to music we were hearing the call of allegiances. It’s as if the adolescent brain suddenly becomes primed to make us take our place in the tribe.

*                      *                      *

1980 Summer

During these summer months, there was a feeling of Scott being in a bit of a no-man’s land. Active times interspersed with very sunny hot quiet periods, and as the holidays drew closer to their end, the quiet times got longer.

During a double decker bus trip to the seaside with Scott, his family, and abut 50 other locals I decided that trying to drop an empty fizzy drink can from the top deck on a child as she ran past was very funny. I soon found out that everyone else thought I was stupid and ignored me for the rest of the trip.  Nowadays people might try to blame the additives in the drink but stupidity and a lack of empathy almost has no bounds. I still hadn’t managed to leave that world, but that social ostracising did have an impact.

*                      *                      *

Scott’s house was part of a circle of houses that looked over a circular area of grass with a road around it. We would spend hours with other children there but we could feel we were getting too old for that world. Sometimes we would end up talking about our friend’s mothers, one of whom would wash her car in a bikini whilst we looked on. Scott’s world was just about to change from the dry grass, sunny days of childhood to the dark, cramped world of a submarine, and mine, I wasn’t sure where it was going but I could feel things were about to change.

*                      *                      *

1980 October

Wilson’s School had partly changed its identity when it moved from Camberwell to Wallington, and similarly moving away from Roundshaw had allowed me to partially reinvent myself. Whilst it’s true that you can take the kid out of the council estate, but you can’t take the council estate out of the kid, karate was a good channel for the part of me that wanted to be a warrior.

One day as I walked across the playing fields in front of St Helier Hospital to Tweeddale Karate club a guy ran up to me, it was a kid I’d had a fight with on Roundshaw some years before. The conversation started cordially enough, but within seconds we were both lining up for another fight. Nothing came of it, but I certainly hadn’t lost my eagerness to get in to a fight, even though I didn’t relish the prospect.

The school set a lot of homework, often 3 or 4 hours-worth per night, and that was enough to even keep me out of trouble most of the time. I would be facing exams in less than a year and a half and these would change the whole direction of my life. But it wasn’t just about logically deciding what would be best for me, there was pleasure in the process of studying. There was the comforting reason and problem solving of maths, the wonder of physics, the artistry of English, the entertainment of literature, each subject had something to offer. The change in my attitude came from a realisation that there was so much more to life than fighting and gaining respect from our peers.

*                      *                      *

1980 / October 2019

Each evening after dinner I would sit in the back room of our house and slowly trudge through my homework. The radio was on in the background, John would tell me to turn it off as he thought it would be distracting me, but mum would intervene so it’d get left on. Of course, it was a distraction, that was the point, but it also offered a communication with other kids at school because I knew they’d be listening to the same programs, so, the next day we could have a laugh together about the phone calls, especially to the sexual problems program on Capital Radio, or talk about the new music that John Peel played.

Now, as I write this in 2019, I’ve got Spotify playing a random playlist {Perfect Day by Lou Reed is playing right now}, and Facebook sitting in the background if I start feeling a bit lonely.

*                      *                      *

1980 Winter

I had spent a lot of time with Scott, but as he was a year older than I, he left school to join the Navy. (He was going to have to wait till after Christmas to do so, so was around for a while still). I knew our time was limited which added a preciousness about it. His parents told me to pop around whenever I wanted once he was gone but I knew it wouldn’t feel right so there. Within a few months Scott was starting his career as a submariner, where he’d be spending many months at sea on a submarine. His crowded house and intense family had probably prepared him well for such a life. In the space that Scott and his family had occupied an empty space confronted me, it asked, “So what do you want to do with me?”

*                      *                      *

August 2019

A couple I know, Ali and Brian, have met up with me in a café in Eastbourne, it’s very sunny on the street, 4 pm, it’s dark inside, coffee, chocolate croissant, a bit of political discussion, everything is Brexit right now. But there’s a bit of a respite, Ali looks at me, tells me she’s been reading most of the chapters I’ve put online.

“It’s very interesting, but lately it feels like you’ve left something out, like a bit of story has ended without you talking about it”

“Is it because I am not writing about my love life?” I ask

“It might be, I’m not quite sure, it just feels like something is missing”

*                      *                      *

2019 October

The slowness of 1980 isn’t going to make for a tense psychological drama, not much action happened either, I could try to do a big build up about my exams, for most 15 year olds that’s the big story, along with their love life, or lack of it, in my case. I could try to paint you a picture of what it felt like to be alive then, after all this was still during an exciting time, especially in the music world. But, it’s probably the same with any era. When we look back at them we get to see the great things that occurred during them in a very concentrated way. We could say the 1800’s had so many great painters, but in reality, if you average out the artists we still recognise as “great” over a hundred years it’d average out at about 1 or two per decade.  Still, the legendary music that came out between the 1950s to the1990s far outstripped what was to come in the following 3 decades. So it’s not so much that there are not richer eras, it’s just at the time things don’t feel out of the ordinary. In fact to really tell a story about a life requires leaving out the space between, but it’s the space between that causes the moments of interest.

1980 December

The image pans around me as I sit at the table doing my homework. The room fades to black so all you can see is me sitting at a table, slowly getting smaller. Roxy music’s 2HB plays…

“Here’s looking at you kid”

The screen fades to black.

Hard white fills the screen, out of focus at first the image shows ice on the windows then pans around to me sleeping.

The clock radio shows 6:30 am, the radio clicks on.

“This is the News. John Lennon, is dead, shot several times by a young American as he was going in to his home in New York”

I pulled the duvet over my face and cried. It was a reminder from the dark side of the street.

*                      *                      *

When someone dies, they don’t just leave an empty space, we also feel an emptiness if they meant something to us, yet, there is so much of them still reverberating in us from then on, and even if, in time, they’ve been completely forgotten, something of them influences this world still. You might think that some people might be excluded because no one ever knew them, but their possible existence was in the mind of their fore fathers just as those people who will exist in the future are in our minds now. The interconnection between us goes forward and backwards in time. We are innately significant but we can’t help but yearn for significance in our life time, but really, we’ll never know the true significance of our life.

*                      *                      *

Saturday 24th November 2018

I’m visiting a friend, he needs some help with his iPad. I’ve gone through the main entrance doors and I’m approaching the lift which is one of those old-fashioned ones where there’s an inner concertina cage type door. As I approach it I feel like I’m being taken back decades in time. It’s nothing mystical it’s just the subdued yellow lighting.

There are many things that define the look of an era but lighting is one that tends to get ignored. Clothing, textile designs, paint colours, wall papers, furniture, cars, and architecture are most likely take precedence over lighting but all those things get bathed in artificial light once the sun goes down and like varnish over a painting give it the colour of an era.

We are now in the era of LED lighting, which can be almost any colour, but the way it radiates is different to other types of lighting, it has a very bright core that will hurt your eyes even if you glimpse at it and a lovely soft light radiating from it. If we go back 10 years there were low energy bulbs, and for quite a few decades before that we were still acting out our lives in the warm yellow light of tungsten filaments. Neon lights also had their cold light era too, especially in the 1970’s, and before the yellow tungsten bulbs there were gas lights, which I had come across a few times as a child. Going back further there would have been various types of lanterns and candle lights, and even further back, fire and fire torches, and before that, the moonlight.

At school, in 1980, we started to study books for English Literature which contained long descriptive passages aimed at setting the scene. I’d often have to read the same paragraph over and over before I could take in the words properly. In a lot of contemporary writing there’s a more minimalist approach, in fact I tend to do the same myself. Instead of painting a detailed image with words a key line is given instead, such as “I entered the dentist’s waiting room” and immediately, with barely any effort, by either the writer or reader, the image is complete. The reader’s version of a dentist’s waiting room appears but it probably bears little resemblance to the one the writer was referring to. Contemporary art in many fields tends to be more concerned with allowing the onlooker to control their perception of the object rather than the other way around.  It’s also possible that people nowadays have a far more extensive internal library of other scenes from life because of film and TV, whereas writers before the era of film had to present a scene more vividly.

There’s still a temptation to evoke a scene when writing, especially about the past, it’s both a sign of literary prowess and creates a reassuring backdrop. But the reality is that one can only do that by looking back at that time from our own present perspective, and the problem with that is it suggests that we were aware of our settings as being different at the time, when at the time they pretty much felt the same as now, they just felt normal. There are moments, of course, when one can become very aware of our surroundings and we perceive them so intensely that not only do we feel as if we viewed that moment from outside normality, but that it was so powerful that it stays with us for the rest of our lives. But generally, our everyday world feels normal, so if you want to know how things felt then, in 1980, they felt the same as things do now. It’s only when we look at a photo from those times that we are confronted with just how different the world was back then.

I have recently been watching a series on TV called Peaky Blinders which is set in my grand-parents era, and it struck me that it wasn’t so much the look of the clothes that were worn, but their meaning. They were uniforms of class and wealth, power or even a disregard for power. Nowadays those uniforms are not conformed to enough for it to be a reliable sign of status.

*                      *                      *

1980

One weekend I asked my mum if I could stay at a friend’s house just down the road. Once there we stayed up all night lounging on their orange and brown woolly sofa, with the gas fire lighting the room up as their female cousins (who were over from Ireland for a week) told us what they could do (sexually) with a bottle. This understandably resulted in us spending hours trying to persuade them to demonstrate this to us, which no matter how drunk they got they weren’t going to do. In the early hours as the sun came up and bits of dull blue sky appeared in the cracks of the curtain the girls decided that we’d all look great with Bryl-Cream in our hair, so, we could look like real Rockers. Deprived of sleep I walked back up to my house knocked on the door and waited for mum to be impressed by my new hair don’t.

She took one look at me and said “Are you stupid, get upstairs and wash that out now”

I didn’t know what all the fuss was about but I went upstairs and washed it out.

*                      *                      *

1985 Tavistock,

Mrs H: You have holes in your clothes, do you think that means something?

Simon: I hate buying clothes, it’s a lot of hassle trying them on, then I have to get them altered, and I prefer spending my money on records.

Mrs H: Aha [she nods and waits for more]

Simon: I think, because I look different, that dressing up in fine clothes would be a pretence, as if I was saying they could make up for my disability. I think people would think I was deluding myself. [I think of a line in a book we studied for English Literature “Clothes maketh the man”]

Mrs H: How do you feel people perceive you when you dress so scruffily?

Simon: I don’t think I care

Mrs H: Really?

Simon: Why should I worry, they are going to make lots of incorrect assertions about me anyway, so I feel I can’t rely on them judging me on how I look.

Mrs H: But your look isn’t neutral, it’s a clear statement.

Simon: Really, I don’t think I’m saying much beyond I don’t really care what I look like.

Mrs H: I think it’s almost as if you choose to look like a street urchin, as if you had no parents to look after you. It’s not so much that you don’t care about what others’ think but quite the opposite, you want them to think you are uncared for.

Simon: I think that’s more your thoughts than mine.

Mrs H: Maybe, but have a think about it.

2019

My artificial leg has a buckle on the outside of my knee that has made a hole in every pair of trousers I have. I haven’t covered the buckle, which would be an easy fix for future pairs of trousers. I still dislike buying clothes, but there’s still a big part of me that can’t get involved in dressing up nicely. If I see pictures of myself in a suit I feel like I look ridiculous, in my own mind I don’t look anything like I actually do. Once someone told me that I looked so scruffy they thought I must be a millionaire, I kind of liked the way I looked then.

*                      *                      *

1980

When I was 15 the world I frequented was often tinted in either a harsh greenish white fluorescent light, yellow tungsten or the flickering light from the TV, often accompanied by a veil of smoke. Once outside though, the sun, clouds, rain, night sky, moonlight, and starry skies cast light upon me just as they do so now.

Sometimes I became very aware of just how empty the streets were. Even up in London one could be close to the centre and the streets would be empty. I often imagined myself inside a surrealist painting of empty streets, strong sun light and long shadows. Those same streets now, for instance, Millbank, near the Tate Britain Gallery, seems to have a constant stream of people passing. It’s as if even London couldn’t bear the empty spaces and filled them with lonely people.

*                      *                      *

2019

Not only are the eras in our life defined by the design of the world we live in but there are whole stage sets in which much of our life takes place. There are the buildings we live in, the schools and colleges in which a lot of our early life takes place, then there’s the places we work in and the methods of travelling we use. These places surround us, often for many years, then one day we no longer enter them anymore, and in time they too become barely a memory. Of course, the stages and set design are also filled with other people, again many of these people we may spend years interacting with, yet eventually we can scarcely remember most of them.

A friend of mine sent me one of those Internet posts that do the rounds, it was about a person asking someone what they owned. Everything they listed was shown to be transitory, except in the end only the present moment was accepted as being something we can own, albeit only for a moment. To me, it missed the point partly. It’s true that everything comes to pass and contending with that is a difficult thing to cope with for most of us. Yet, if we are fortunate enough, we will get some time to play our parts in the world, and for a brief period we can savour life and our connection with others. Likewise, we think we own land and properties, but really we are just spending some time experiencing them or at least using them as a means to experience other things in life, even if it’s just to experience feeling significant.

*                      *                      *

2019

If we had been born a few hundred years ago, or earlier, most of us our lives would have been far less interesting than now. Even going back to 1980 I felt bored and lonely a lot of the time. Part of that was to do with me, but nowadays we have 24-hour TV, Instant News, Social Media, the ability to talk and see those we’re connected to instantly anywhere in the world. On top of that, no matter which direction we come from politically, none of us can complain that what’s going on is dull. Whether it’s Brexit or Trump, we know we’re living through a momentous era. We really do live in interesting times.

*                      *                      *

1980 Wilson’s School

I was telling a friend about the woman washing her can in a bikini.

My friend looked at me and told me how she had told him that my arms made her feel very uncomfortable. To me she had never shown anything to give me that impression, if anything it had been the opposite because her own son had a very small disability on his hand and she had told me that I had influenced him in terms of feeling a lot better about himself. But the friend who’d told me this had no reason to lie. At 15 it’s hard to understand why people are as they are. I felt hurt, maybe a bit angry, definitely confused.

I also had another similar experience around the same time. I would often chat to a girl on the bus and one day she invited me to her house, she warned me before we went in that her mother had mental health issues. Everything seemed fine, so much so that one day when I was nearby I knocked on their door and my friend from the bus wasn’t in, but even so her mother invited me in.

A few days later the girl told me not to go there again because her mother found it upsetting to see me. I’m not sure now if it was because of what I said or if it was just my arms. But I was beginning to understand that it’s possible that people are going to find my arms difficult but won’t show it outwardly.

*                      *                      *

January 1980

I had managed to buy a cheap CB radio setup, which John, my step father, was very unhappy about. At the time one had to buy a license, which I did, and a booklet on CB terminology, and set about having my first conversations. If anything, this was a precursor to the Internet, as people could converse with people they’d never met, pretend to be people they are not and share misinformation to their heart’s content.

One evening someone invited me to a party for the following weekend but somehow (no doubt I told someone I had a disability) I got told the party had been called off. But, of course, I could hear via channel 25, 32, and 12 it had not been.

There were many other similar incidents so it was no surprise that over time I grew expectant of people rejecting me whilst at the same time not being overtly clear about that. It was the intimate touch of stigmatisation and I learned to recognise it a mile off.

*                      *                      *

2019 – Policy Think Tank Panel

Someone mentions Diversity.

“Would it surprise you if I said I have a big issue with diversity?” I asked

The person looked a bit shocked

“I’m fully for inclusivity” I said, “But when it comes to Diversity I think we spend all our time looking at the benefits but are too scared to look at the costs”

They still look shocked

“Have you ever looked at the costs?” I ask

“Surely, whatever the costs, they’re worth it” they say

I look them in the eye and say “Well until you’ve looked at the costs, how would you know? Maybe if you did you might have a different opinion”

The person who invited me on the panel told me they wanted diversity of thought as much as other types of diversity. If you have a panel on a think tank who look different, and live differently but pretty much share the same mind set, then what good is that? So, I guess I proved my point, there’s always a cost to diversity, in this instance it was not feeling comfortable, but then isn’t that how most people feel when faced with someone who’s different.

*                      *                      *

1980 Summer

It’s hard to know when boredom ends and loneliness kicks in sometimes. I would wander for miles calling on friends to see if they wanted to come out to play, and my desperation may well have put some of them off, but many felt the same way too, so much so, that even if you didn’t like someone you’d go out somewhere with them just because it was better than nothing. It’s the equivalent of not receiving any emails for a few days, in time you’d appreciate getting spam mails.

I can’t even remember how I met Roberta, but not only did she seem to take a shine to me, but she did Judo, which ok, it wasn’t karate, but it was close enough. I don’t think much happened, maybe a gentle kiss goodbye, but I’m probably even imagining that, anyway, I think there was an indication that we were seeing each other. Well we were until we went to the local disco where we had a slow dance together, which should have been an epiphany given she was about a foot taller than me, but maybe I thought it was to my advantage. And then I noticed my friend Jack was looking longingly at her and when I looked up at her she seemed to be doing the same to him. A bit later she told me had to go home early, and when I looked for Jack he was nowhere to be found either. I was so angry that a bit later, during a group dance (when did I learn those moves?), I deliberately stepped on another kid’s foot. He looked at me and said sorry. For fuck’s sake, I thought, I can’t even redistribute my pain without feeling guilty. I came out of the hall on to Carshalton High Street, it was still sunny, the world kept going on as it does, I could feel the wide empty space of rejection and single-dom ahead of me so went home and wrote a poem. The next day Jack called me to tell me he was sorry, but this was true love and he hoped I’d understand. “It’s ok, it’s better that the right people get together” I said while hoping it wouldn’t last, and sure enough it didn’t.

At karate, the following week I was telling one of the women who trained there what had happened, she was very sympathetic until I referred to the girl I had previously been in love with for a few days as a slag, then I got my first lesson in feminism.

“Hold on Simon!” she said “How comes she’s a slag when if a bloke has more than one partner he’s cool?”

I wanted to say, excuse me, but I think you’ll find we were talking about me and how hard done by I was… but instead what came out was, “erm, I’m sorry, I didn’t think”

“I’m very disappointed in you Simon, I thought you were better than that.”
I tried my best to look sorry, but that didn’t cut it. “I’m sorry”, she was on a roll, “it’s not ok. Just have a think about how unfair you’re being.” And then she walked off in disgust.

I was probably a little tempted to make a high pitched “oooooh” sound, but even I wasn’t that stupid. So instead I did a bit of stretching in the corner.

1980

Life started to take on a slightly repetitious nature by the time I hit 15, which in some ways was good, but there were still a lot of empty “between times” which I wasn’t sure how to cope with. My days would mainly consist of getting up too late, rushing to get to school, having fun with some of the regular passengers on the bus, then there was the mixture of boredom and lawlessness at school, life drawing classes twice a week, karate training 3 times a week, homework, chores, eating, arguing with my parents, watching TV and seeing friends.

During this time in my life and for quite a few years onwards I would write a page a day diary. Now as I write these chapters I am reading through them. Sometimes the repetitiveness of my daily routing almost felt like the film “Groundhog Day”. But when faced with such drudgery, many people, including me, try to inject as much “magic” in to their mundane existence as they can. Even on the bus to school I would read my latest poems to a group of women that Sunil and I would chat to. One of them was called Penny, she had long copper coloured hair and liked to wear green. According to my diary, she was quite up for telling me which poems she liked or didn’t like, on one occasion she told me she thought “To What” was better than “Weekends”, which was very diplomatic of her given they were both rubbish. She was also very happy to discuss equal rights and other political matters. Nowadays any discussion of politics, especially Brexit or Trump, on public transport would probably cause a riot within seconds. But back then we were desperate to break the routine up a bit.

Even the bus driver had a similar mind-set. One day he pulled up, got off the bus, a woman approached him, they kissed passionately for a minute or so as we all looked on. He then got back on the bus and drove off to a round of applause. He took his cap off and gave us a little bow. Nowadays every driver is probably tracked and filmed, it’s as if humans are being forced to act like robots until the automation era really kicks in, then robots will try to be as human as possible, only without the dodgy humanity that deep down we love.

*                      *                      *

It seems to me that the world is divided by those who want to inject the extraordinary into the ordinary, and those who might feel that way but somehow think it’s best to curb such behaviour for all sorts of sensible reasons. As the world has become more technologically adept and correct procedures have become the main requisite of managerial agendas it’s as if the possibility of adding some sparkle to life has been curbed to such a point that it’s no wonder that people don’t want to experience real life and instead gaze in to their phones where indeed in the private circles of “friends” they can laugh at inappropriate things, discuss what they really think about politics and look for the magic of the world that is all around them, but looking at the screen is far safer. To me, the more honest a society is the more humorous it is, whereas our world has become so scared of offending people that no one dare say anything, especially as the consequence of being “outed”, as it were, would be to possibly lose one’s job, or be socially ostracised amongst other things.

*                      *                      *

2019

I was in a café the other day and one of the very young waitresses had come in on her day off to chat to one of the good looking waiters. She sat on a stool at the bar leaning at and laughing with him. Then an old man who I’m pretty sure has some mental health issues came and sat right next to her. It was all a bit awkward, and in time she moved away. After a while he walked off.

“I felt so uncomfortable” she said

So, I looked at her and said, “If that happens again, get the person’s attention and say “”Excuse me, but you are in my personal space, what you’re doing is inappropriate””. Then, if they don’t move, say quite loudly “FUCK OFF!””

She laughed but looked horrified, this was not just a clash of how different personalities deal with things but also of different eras. During the 1970’s and 80’s assertiveness classes were prevalent. Women, especially, recognised that they were rarely taught as a matter of course to stand up to inappropriate behaviour (especially within certain class strata), so these courses helped to try to redress that situation. So, 3 decades later, it’s hard to fathom why that hasn’t become part of the school curriculum. It’s as if just like the way I have forgotten a lot of my life as time passes, society forgets the lessons it once painfully learned too.

*                      *                      *

1980

IBM building East Croydon

As part of our studies we were encouraged to join a scheme called “Young Enterprise”. The idea of it was to show us how a business worked. Working in a group of kids from a few other schools we would have to come up with a product, work out how to produce it, sell shares in our “company”, sell the product and distribute the profits, as well as do the accounts.  IBM were happy to host it in their building near East Croydon station. So, once a week we’d go up there over a three-month period.

Our group came up with the stunning product of a spoon rest, which one could, surprisingly, rest a tea spoon on. What was underwhelmingly different about our spoon rest was that as they were made from Perspex (one of our group had bought a Perspex paperweight making kit), we could personalise them by putting a photograph in the spoon rest. “This time next year, we’ll be millionaires” we all didn’t think.

It was like being on The Apprentice program, so, after 2 or 3 meetings of listening to the group arguing over how they were not going to go about things, I decided to explore the IBM building. During my reconnaissance mission, I discovered two major attributes. The first was the staff canteen which was open throughout the night. The serving counter was lit and gleaming, while the rest of the canteen was in darkness, but best of all, and to my amazement, the food was free. The second discovery was the photocopy room where not only was I able to copy 300-page karate books I’d borrowed from the library, but I could bind and laminate the covers too. By the time I’d finished I’d saved myself (ok, mum and John) about 10 evening meals and I’d copied about 7 books which would have cost me hundreds of pounds in today’s money. So, all in all it certainly taught me how to be enterprising as well as how to photocopy my face, that was possibly my artistic side breaking through.

*                      *                      *

1980

Although much of this period of my life was set within the walls of Wilsons School you may have noticed that I have barely focused on the staff or other students there. There were plenty of interesting people and no doubt many a tale to tell, but I did not come up against any awful persecutors and was not aware of any salacious goings on (although there may well have been plenty of things happening behind the scenes). For me, school was just as much a part of the mundane world as was most of the other sections of my world then. If anything, the greatest drama that was playing out was a conflict that nearly all of us must face and that was How do we cope with the empty spaces and the mundanity of life?

In 1979 Pink Floyd’s album “The Wall” was released and whilst most of us focused on the hit record “We Don’t Need No Education” there was another track that held an equally pertinent message. The song was “Empty Spaces” and consists of a list of things people may do to fill the empty spaces they can’t bear to face in their lives. The list consists of things such as seeking adulation, possessing things or others, going to war and fighting, travelling and a host of other things.

A few years later I would become one of the many millions of people enraptured by “The Wall”, but I don’t think I ever took from it an answer to the question: Is there a way to cope with the empty spaces, or, indeed, should we learn to stop trying to fill them?

2019 September

I’ve just cancelled my Netflix subscription for a few months as a protest because they cancelled finishing a series called The OA which I had invested 20 hours of my life watching. So now I only have Amazon Prime to watch, and just like that Bruce Springsteen song about there being 57 channels and nothing’s on, I spent quite a while searching for something to watch and ended up watching a program about Pink Floyd’s album The Wall. As I watched it I saw a friend of mine who I sometimes write songs with, who had been part of the live version of pink Floyd for “The Wall” tour. When Brexit came about we stopped working together, possibly because we took different sides in the debate, and whilst that is only one of several reasons, one can’t help but recognise just how divided society has become. If it wasn’t for the army I’m pretty sure civil war would have broken out by now.

That same thing that has brought us closer together, the Internet, has allowed us to recognise that we are actually quite different too. I know this is a bit political but to me it seemed that the same people who were telling me that we should see what it is that unites us are the main protagonists when it comes to avoiding those they don’t agree with. It’s all very well pointing out how great it is to have diversity, but when it comes to diversity of opinion, then that’s another matter. At my birthday meal, earlier in the year I could identify that the group of attendees was pretty much split equally between Leavers and Remainers, and fortunately it didn’t turn in to a brawl, but when you start scratching the surface you get to see that people are generally not as tolerant as they’d have you believe.

All you have to do is mention any of the following to see people get quite uncomfortable in 2019: Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, Jacob Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson, (Politicians in general), Transgender issues, Islam, Mass immigration, Racism, and of course, environmental issues. Now if you’re reading this years later you’ll probably have completely different points of contention, but these are the ones that haunt us now.

1980

On Saturday mornings, I’d go to a life drawing class in Sutton College of Liberal Arts (SCOLA). Afterwards one of the women, Margaret, would give me a lift home. One day we got on to the subject of black people coming in to Britain, her position was that there were too many. I got very angry and said something like “Well, if you don’t like it maybe you should go live in another country”. There was complete silence for the rest of the journey and I’m not sure if I ever got offered another lift, but even back then there were some highly charged topics, and since then the issues of immigration and race have not seemed to have lessened in emotional intensity either.

I could probably write a whole book on such subjects but for now I’ll leave you with a paraphrased line from a song (so I don’t get clobbered under copyright law), and whilst this is not likely to resolve anything it’s always worth keeping in mind. “Everyone is a little bit racist sometimes, it does not mean they go around committing hate crimes”. Now, anyone who’s a bit politically correct will probably find even that a bit offensive…My main issue though, is political dogma tends to stifle truth, and in terms of even subtle oppression, such as offensive jokes, it often absolves the offended from taking any responsibility to stick up for themselves and fight their corner. The result being everyone walks on eggs shells trying to second guess who might be offended by what they say or think. And, the worst thing is, dogma, especially political correctness, would mean I’d have to forego 99% of my jokes if I cared about it.

In a way when one digs deep in to this argument it comes down to whether you see everyone as a victim or as having some degree of self-determination. To me the answer lies somewhere between the two, but I still think that generally speaking, people should be taught as a matter of course to defend themselves when it comes to social issues as well as being able to turn to the law for help when matters go too far. In the world I live in now, 2019, there is another law to be wary of, this is the law of reputation, it’s always been significant, but right now, speaking out of place in terms of some political narratives could mean you lose your job, and consequently your livelihood. Back in the 80’s oppression was a big problem, but people were able to speak more openly about what they truly believed. It wasn’t until 1982 that women could get a mortgage without a male signature!

In 1980 the disability movement was beginning to get stronger in the UK, the USA was some way ahead due to the number of disabled soldiers recognising the stigma and barriers they faced after returning from the Vietnam War. As I got older I started to experience overt as well as day to day discrimination but even now I still like jokes around disability issues, and it’s not because I have internally inverted the oppression, in other words become the oppressor to avoid feeling oppressed. It’s just I recognise the truth in humour, and no matter how much you try to socially engineer people to act in a certain way you can’t change how they naturally feel. For instance, if someone sees my arms, can I stop them from automatically getting feelings relating to their own limbs being cut off? Some people will react that way, it’s human nature. I can choose to either be offended by their reaction or try to understand it. The other side of the coin is when people create barriers that inappropriately stop someone who has a disability from living their lives as fully as possible. So, staring overtly at someone, making jokes about someone to their face, and drawing attention to someone is bound to make them feel uncomfortable. In turn, this might mean they don’t go out and live their lives as they would have done, because they feel persecuted by such behaviour. So, I accept there should be some balance. But there also ought to be room to allow people to say what they really think too without being pursued by the thought police, at least that way people can argue with them. Pretending that people are different from what they really are is not going to help in the long run. We all want to laugh, and laughter requires truth, but that doesn’t mean laughing directly at people, because as the song says, that’d be a hate crime.

*                      *                      *

Daily Routine 1980

As I went through my mid teenage years a routine started to develop. Most mornings I would oversleep and then go through a quest to get to school on time. As I read through my diary for this period there would rarely be an entry in which I hadn’t recorded the adventure I had in order to get to school. It was only by seeing it in relation to trying to make my day more interesting that I could see that I was artificially and purposefully creating a drama. The consequence of getting up late wasn’t just being late, it was about creating a struggle, so if all else failed, at least there would have been one highlight to the day. Living “uneventfully” was proving to be somewhat of an anathema to me.

There were other patterns that seemed to occur regularly in the diary for this period, namely: “got up late”, “saw some friends”, “wrote a poem”, “fell in love”, “made a fool of myself”, “did some karate”, “watched TV”, “listened to some music”, “wrote a letter to someone”, “went to bed”. I pity any historian who thinks reading my diaries will enlighten them.

*                      *                      *

Daily Routine 2019

In my mid 50’s I get up late because I like working into the early hours, there’s no distractions then and I don’t feel the urge to socialise late at night. So, I normally get up quite late but still don’t get enough sleep and ever since the surgery or maybe it’s the medication I normally have to spend a few hours getting ready. Once up and breakfasted I’ll often go to a local café and chat with some of the regulars, then do some paid work, if I have any, and then I get on with my own projects. It’s humdrum too, but I like it now. After nearly dying I feel I’m on a mission to finish off a few things whilst I still can. Getting ill reminded me that there’s an end date.

*                      *                      *

Making Music 2019

The empty space created by not making music and having to do marketing.

A couple of months ago I finished a music album I’d been working on for several years called “Dangerous Things”, I then spent two months promoting and marketing it. During that process, I discovered that the current way of marketing music is to release every single for an album individually as and when they are ready, in other words before the album is completed. This is done so as to maximise the way streaming services like Spotify automatically share new releases. So, if I release an album Spotify will only put one song from it on their “New Music” playlist, whereas if I release 10 singles I will get on that playlist 10 times, thus getting me long term exposure. This in turn will also affect how people make music, and whilst it’s possible that in a year or two the system will change yet again I’ll be forced to dance to a different tune, but at least I’ll be dancing.

I tend to find promotion and marketing a bit soul destroying in some ways. There’s a lot of people competing for attention, (about 24,000 song releases per day) so most of my efforts just hit a brick wall, but I feel that if I’m going to create things then I have a duty to get my work out there so people who might appreciate it can find it, and although I know it’s a bit arrogant to think that people might even be interested in it, to just hide away for fear of appearing arrogant seems a bit self-centred too.

People think that they define who they are, but it’s the other way around, our peers decide if we should be allowed to be seen in a certain way. So, it’s no wonder that the laws of reputation are so important. For instance, I could think I’m going to be a doctor, but there’s a long process that determines if I would be allowed to be. Likewise, with art and music, I can put my stuff out there, but if people don’t react to it positively in enough numbers then I would be seen as being delusional. The problem is, there’s only so much room for people to be successful on a commercial basis, and most artists do not earn enough from their art to live from it. So, if one doesn’t earn a living from one’s art but can still sell some of it, then it seems reasonable to take it that one’s peers have accepted one as an artist and technically a professional.

Then you get someone like Van Gogh who was not recognised properly until after he had died. So, even if someone’s not successful whilst they’re alive, they can still hang on to the notion of possibly being posthumously recognised. It’s no wonder that so many people in the art world feel doubts about themselves, and alternatively why there are so many deluded people in the art world.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Tate Britain in London to see the Van Gogh exhibition and one of his Starry Starry Night paintings was on display, it was the one across the bay. The difference between seeing it in real-life and seeing a print was astounding, I was blown away by the colour and feelings I felt while viewing it. I loved it so much I came up the following week to see it again just before the exhibition ended.

Most nights before I go to bed I watch a bit of TV. It’s the adult version of a story before bed. Maybe we know, at least subconsciously, all the archetypal stories, but it’s the way they are told to us that is most important, whether it’s a voice, a paint brush, or a song, we are looking for a connection across the empty spaces.

1980

From the age of about 10, I had been listening to music on my headphones before I went to sleep. Probably for a lot of people there was a ritual in terms of listening to music in their room, in the dark, where a kind of transcendental process would take place, moving them between different outer and inner worlds.

The Sony Walkman had been released the year before but was quite expensive so I put together my own version by using Michael’s (mum’s psychopath boyfriend from a few years back) cassette recorder that he’d left behind, then buying a 5 pin din to female 3.5 jack adaptor from Tandy’s (the high street shop for all things technical and rubbish quality electricals), to which I connected my headphones, which were also rubbish ones I’d bought from Tandy. The cassette recorder was quite big but came with a shoulder bag, so along with my bag full of poetry books and karate photo albums I rarely travelled light, but I suddenly found I had a soundtrack to the world.

Technology had changed the music world dramatically at different times throughout the 1900’s, whether it was via new ways to record music (e.g. multitrack recording), or new types of instruments (electric guitars, synthesisers and samplers) to new ways to distribute it, (Vinyl records, 8-Track, Cassettes, CDs, Mp3s, Streaming services), but the time between the 1960’s to the mid 1980’s possibly saw the most era where these had the most dramatic affect, especially in terms of stylistic development. By the mid 1990’s there were very few new great advances, and even now, 25 years later it’s hard to hear anything that hadn’t already being done during that period. What this all meant for me was that my own world became even more enmeshed with music, I was filling the silence with something that was nourishing (overall), and filling it so much that I starting to appreciate silence.

Within Youth Culture there was excitement still during the 1980’s although the 1970’s had been more intense, especially with punk rock and rock, and all their spin offs, but the music world in the 1980’s was still heaving with great music and interesting artists. If you were a teenager then you’d probably remember just how significant it was. Nowadays music is still very important to young people but there’s a lot more formulation going on. If anything, as a metaphor to the world we seem to be living in now, there’s a sense of sanitisation going on, both in terms of style and content. Ironically though, the people in charge of society now mainly consist of people who were teenagers then. It’s as if they’ve distilled their past and are feeding the kids of today a more purified, more profitable version.

1980

As I began to go up the belts in karate I came to realise that teaching might be an area in which I could perform on an equal footing with other people. I was far from qualified to be doing this and in time I would get in to trouble for doing so, but for a few years I ran a karate club at school. It started with me showing a couple of kids how to do basic techniques in the corridors. Whilst doing this we’d get loads of other kids watching, both curious and taunting us. One day, Mr Parr, who was one of our very old teachers, (he was actually about 80), told us it was unacceptable for us to do this in the passageway, so, not to be discouraged, I asked the sports master, Mr Sollis, if we could use the Gym to practice in and if that was being used then could we use the storage room. He gave us permission to do so, so from then on we trained every lunch hour for 30 minutes, and after school some days. The club grew but had a core membership of about 8 dedicated practitioners. We eventually ended up doing a demonstration for The Duke of Edinburgh at Heaver Castle as part of The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, after which he spoke to us, and we received a big round of applause as well as ending up in the newspapers.

So even the spaces between lessons couldn’t be left empty.

I was recently chatting online about this time with Lee Proctor, who was one of the other kids in my year at school. He said: “I saw you 100 times eating alone in the dining room, I never joined you once, I’m still ashamed of myself for my shallowness.” I reminded him that I was quite difficult at the time so I didn’t blame him for not approaching me. But maybe I was a bit more aware of the empty spaces because there was an element of being avoided, partly because of my personality, but also because of some social stigma relating to my disability.

*                      *                      *

People react to empty spaces differently. They, no doubt, not only perceive them differently but their reaction to their own perception will vary considerably too. Some might experience it as boredom, some as loneliness, some as an existential threat, for some it may even be an opportunity for peace, introspection and spiritual development. But either way, a lot of people will try to escape the empty spaces when they can.

I have a theory about adolescent loneliness, which was something I definitely experienced. When we’re children we can be left to our own devices and will probably enjoy playing and not feel bored. But as soon as we hit puberty our reaction to being alone is far more acute. This might partly be because our nature is driving us to find a mate, therefore we feel bad either because we aren’t getting on with the job in hand, (although I’m sure many were) or we feel we are failing to do so because we feel we are inadequate in that sphere. It’s a base way of looking at it but it probably does have some resonance of truth.

On a more existential level, is it partly because we associate empty spaces with death, or could it also be that when we are faced with an empty space we are faced with ourselves and it’s that which we find difficult. Whilst that might sound like a bit of a cliché maybe there’s some truth in it. If we are literally with no one else but “ourselves”, if there’s nothing to distract us, what is it about being with ourselves that we find so difficult? Maybe it’s the thought patterns that go around in circles without any sign of resolution. Maybe it’s so many dark feelings that without the help of others it’s so hard to face alone. When we are in an empty space it’s really not that empty after all, it’s as if we opened a door to a room filled to the ceilings with clutter and we just don’t know where to start. We’re literally “by ourselves”, and on our own. When I was recovering in hospital a few years ago, the night times seemed so long, it wasn’t just that I was alone but I could feel archetypes all around me, there was something heavy about them that scared me, maybe it was because they faced me with questions I either didn’t want to answer or just couldn’t.

*                      *                      *

Sometimes, well actually lots of times, when I was alone and feeling lonely I would write a poem. I don’t know if it was so much a cathartic experience but maybe a way of feeling like I was no longer alone, but instead communicating with others and that way I managed to side step feeling alone. Later, I would become more interested in the artistry of poetry, how words can be used to communicate ideas or feelings in a different way to straight talking language, but it started off as a means of escape.

Now, as I write this in the early hours, I’m thinking about you, wondering what you’re thinking and what your life is like. When I’m writing this it’s as if we together in some way.

*                      *                      *

2018

For decades now there have been growing concerns about addictions to computer games. I have been through it myself (that will have to wait for another chapter) but it’s easy to see how they’ve become so seductive. They can take a player out of their humdrum world straight in to an exciting, magical world that triggers all kids of powerful primeval feelings and satisfies our need to feel significant. There in front of the player stands their own archetypes in virtual flesh and blood. When Keats wrote “Ever let the fancy roam, pleasure never is at home” he wasn’t wrong. Fantasy becomes even more attractive when faced with a stark reality. At the same time the online players are connected to each other not just via the internet but in many other ways too.

*                      *                      *

2018 2nd December.

My friend Gregory has popped around to see me. He’s quite tall, white hair, thick rimmed round spectacles, long coat and a hat. He’s sprawled across my little sofa.

“I had to go to audiology the other day” he says in his strong sing song Irish accent. “I asked the bus driver to tell me when to get off. But when I thought it seemed to be taking us a long time to get there I asked him how far we had to go. He told me he’d shouted out to me 20 minutes ago. I don’t think he knew what I meant when I said I was going to audiology. Anyway, I got off the bus and found I was in the middle of suburbia. I mean it was completely void of human life. Not a soul could be seen. Eventually a car pulled up with an old couple in, I mean they must’ve been old if I thought they were. I asked them if they knew a number for a taxi firm so they gave me one which I tried dialling but couldn’t get through, and they tried too but to no avail.”

“Did you dial the local number?” Gregory asked them

“No, were we supposed to?” they replied perplexed

“Yes”

“Well they did the same thing. Anyway 3 old people and a mobile phone is not a good combination. Anyway, they asked where I was going and when I told them they offered me a lift. I would love to send them a thank you card but I could never find their house again, they all look the same in suburbia”

And to the untrained eye, they do, that’s true.

But even in that story I could feel their offer of a lift was just as much beneficial to them as it was Gregory. When you live in suburbia and an opportunity of adventure arises one learns to grab it with both hands (or paws in my case). Anything to break up the routine.

*                      *                      *

1980 Front room at home Wallington

An episode of Hill Street Blues started on the TV. As I listened to the music and watched the opening credits I could feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and joy. The images showed a police car pulling out onto the cold grey rainy streets of a Chicago-like city. The music was full of sadness and heroism whilst the characters, who I’d come to know and love, were introduced one by one. In that opening scene, I recognised part of my own internal landscape, one of grey skies and connections.

*                      *                      *

2019

I’m 54 now, my own feelings of lust have been waning for a number of years. They are not completely gone, and sometimes when faced with a bit of time to kill I can feel not so much a desire for sex, but more a feeling of wanting to do something that is self-destructive. When I was younger I wouldn’t have hesitated at the opportunity to get myself in to a difficult situation.

2014

I was still with Sue in the spring of 2014, but I knew what she needed wasn’t me. I wasn’t with anyone else so said that she could stay with me until she found someone else. I didn’t want to abandon her, I felt a lot of responsibility regarding her feelings, something in her resonated in me too, but in the same way I felt what she desired was desire, what she needed was need, but I didn’t feel those things anymore.

One day she said that she had met someone and was going to go on a date with them and was I sure I wanted her to go, and I said yes. But after she went I cried, not because I didn’t want her to go, but because I didn’t want her to feel rejected.

This happened just before my mother died, so by the time the funeral came, things had become more defined between us. We were no longer together.

The empty space in my story that Ali noticed in the café was the sudden lack of focus in this story on the subject of my love life, because where there had once been desire there was now an empty space, well to be more accurate an emptier space.

There was some flickering at first, an Internet relationship that became too complicated and developed in to a relationship about connection, but wasn’t going to come to live in life. And after a while I realised I was happy with the companionship of a friend, someone to cuddle up to and share life’s experiences with.

I often hear people complain that they have fallen out of love with someone and no longer want to be with them. But what I think they are saying is, they just don’t want to be with them anymore. The reason why I take issue is that I think for many people the process of learning to love someone requires falling out of love with them. That is not to say they won’t feel sexual desire for their partner again but the texture of it will change. I once wrote in a song ‘If falling in love is a trick of the mind then why am I not laughing this time”, because to me there’s an element of nature coming into play within the infatuation process, but from that experience we can connect with someone on other levels too, and the main ones to me are compassion and friendship, as well as finding them attractive too. There were many times when I thought I loved someone, but really I wanted to keep hold of them so I could keep myself “happy”. But loving someone may well mean having to balance out both of your needs even if it means losing them.

This story is not about a finale or a destination, it’s about the journey and what was learned or reflected on. If I tell you my most private, shadiest secrets, would it help us feel less alone?

When I write, I can feel you too, your needs and desires, and even the disappointment of there not being a happy ending or conclusion, but there’s a lot more to come so don’t feel too despondent. Have nostalgia for the future. I can feel my time fold upon itself. This moment now in my life touches this moment in your life, I can feel the connection even if you didn’t exist when I wrote these words and I may not exist as you read them now.

Sometimes the feeling of loneliness resonates with the idea that we are not significant in the minds of others. Especially those people who matter to us. That we aren’t loved, or that our feeling of purpose has diminished. It is as if the part of us that helps us feel buoyant is punctured so that we end up feeling empty.

The empty spaces that we face in life often come from inside of us, even if we see them as outside of us. Sometimes, the empty spaces we feel are a result of our own behaviour. It doesn’t matter what ideologies you choose to help you feel less isolated, whether they be religion, philosophy, addictions, or causes. If you are separated inside, they may help you feel inflated for a while, but it’s just a temporary solution. This was the journey of understanding that I started when I sat opposite Mrs H and stated something was wrong, even though I didn’t know what it was.

*                      *                      *

1986 Tavistock

Simon: I was reading a book on meditation, it said that if someone feels lust then they can move that energy upwards to their mind and higher spirit.

Mrs H: Is that a bit like avoiding living?

Simon: It might be useful if you can’t cope with lustful feelings

Mrs H: If they are that strong, maybe there’s a reason that if identified could help lessen them

Simon: But in the meantime it might be useful

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meditate my lustful feelings away and consequently I got myself and others in to a lot of trouble. Maybe living a full and interesting life involves some amount of trouble.

*                      *                      *

2019

My Alexa smart speaker is reading a biography of Leonard Cohen to me. It’s telling me about how he had spent 10 years in a monastery, but even then, he would sometimes go home so he could be really alone.

There have been long periods in my life when I have suffered almost debilitating loneliness, but often, even through those periods would often come late at night, I would become creative and after a while feel content. The next morning, I would wake up, feel ok for a few seconds then feel a sense of dread and for the rest of the day I would feel down or eager to escape feeling like that, until once again, late at night, I’d start wanting to be by myself so I could be creative. In time those dark times went away, but even now I tend to work from 10pm to 3:30am.

After 10 years in the monastery Cohen decided to live in the outside world and share his gift of a golden voice. If part of our inner significance comes from helping others then sometimes there are good reasons to vacate the empty spaces, but then it’s no longer about avoiding them out of fear. It’s probably good for others if we develop ourselves, to spend some time outside of our normal life and to understand ourselves more (emotionally rather than intellectually), but ultimately one must enter life and feel it deeply to know it.

After my foot had been amputated I used crutches to allow me to move around until I had healed enough to wear a prosthesis. Likewise, as we heal and grow emotionally there are good crutches that allow us to do exactly that and then, of course, there are crutches that trip us over, injure us and stop us ever healing. It would take me years to stop damaging myself and even now there is often a temptation to do so, but maybe because my own feelings of lust have waned so much as I’ve aged, the temptation is far less now.

2019

I’m arguing with people on Facebook about political issues. At one point, someone starts swearing at me.

“I think we should meet up” I write

“Why?” they ask

“Because I don’t think you’d be so rude to me face to face” I say, to which they say

“You’re probably right”.

I have checked them out to see what they look like, I feel like I’d stand a good chance of beating them in a fight. Part of me would like to smash them in the face, teach them a lesson for being so rude. But I’m calm on line. I won’t lower myself to their level, well at least not outwardly.

1980

A kid from school started calling me names but when I went to kick him up the arse he ran to one of the teachers, who when I protested the kid’s provocative behaviour threatened me with a severe punishment if I was to do anything to him.

After school, I got on my bike and followed the kid from a distance. When he got to near where Scott lived I knew a way I could cut him off. I raced around, got off my bike and looked around the corner to see him coming. As he approached I stepped out. He saw me then started to run, I chased after him. He decided to run to someone’s front door, maybe it was someone he knew. He rang their bell as I ran towards him, he was trapped in a glass porch way. No one came to the door so I ran up to him and kicked him in the shin, the kick didn’t land well, and although he yelped it was more a call for help than of pain. I then swung my arm towards his face, missed and as I spun around my left arm (which was far weaker than my right one) caught his nose which suddenly pumped out a lot of blood. He started to cry and scream. I felt a bit sorry for him but still said, “This is what you get for calling me a name then thinking you can hide behind a teacher”.  An old woman from the house next door started shouting at me to leave him alone, so I did.

I was surprised by my feelings of sorrow for him, I hadn’t felt like that before when I’d got in to fights. Maybe I recognised my own feelings of despair when I had been beaten up. Even so, he never called me names again. So, in time my feelings were somewhat mixed. Whilst my compassion for him stuck in my throat a bit I also recognised that sometimes there’s a case for a bit of natural law.

*                      *                      *

2019

I checked out the big guy who swore at me online during our political “debate”, I could feel he was probably not a fighter. Seeing that took the wind out of my sails, which was probably good given I was tempted to find him and see if he was willing to be as rude to my face when I knocked on his door.

It also meant that when, a bit later on, he started advocating violence in terms of political struggle I said “Be careful what you wish for”, which I didn’t mean in a nice way, but was still far more restrained than my fantasy version of a response, which rather resembled a scene from a Tarantino movie. In some ways, the whole episode with him was beneficial because at the end of the argument, which had lasted a few days, I was exhausted. I just wanted to be left alone.

*                      *                      *

1980

If in 1980 I was to know how much of an adventure my life was going to be I probably would not have written so much poetry, which to many might have been a blessing, but for me it was good training. If I had been more content, then would I have listened to the words of songs with the same eagerness to find solace?

On boxing day (the day after Christmas day) I took a bus to Croydon, went to WH Smith’s and sold my Book Token presents to people at the cashier till. Then with the money I bought a Roxy Music record.  It was already getting dark, it was cold and wet, but the whole mission was imbued with meaningfulness. I knew that when I got in I would put the record on, put my headphones on and in darkness meditate on what I would discover in the music and in turn what I would discover in myself. It was both a shallow retail therapy type experience as well as having a spiritual dimension too. What more can a 15-year-old ask for?

*                      *                      *

1980

Just before school broke up for the Christmas break there was a disco at the school where some of the parents turned up too. At one point one of the mums who had been drinking a bit too much, grabbed me, pulled me on to the dance floor, and held me to her bosom, which was actually quite flat but I was still very grateful. (I’m only mentioning it to keep it real for you). Even though I was sure she was only doing it because she felt sorry for me I was prepared to forgive her because as a male I would do anything for some female attention. I could feel people looking on in, well I’m not sure what they were looking on in, amazement, incredulity, pity, glee, laughter, but within her “cleavage” I felt a moment of connection, because even if she was feeling sorry for me there was some kind of dialogue going on between us, and whilst I would have preferred it not to be pity, I felt her compassion, and felt sorry for her too.

Even now, when people feel sorry for me, I feel sorry for them because I know they’re suffering a little and it’s unnecessary. Later, when I would become more immersed in the disability issue based political and art world this double view approach would generally help me avoid the “us and them” dynamic that typifies so much of the political world. Although there were a few exceptions. What’s significant about this approach, is it came from a feeling rather than a thought.

*                      *                      *

2019

After going through my diary for 1980 I decided to try to find a few people from those times. My life drawing teacher was one of them. She was a very measured person and she emitted a feeling of caring and empathy. When she painted every brush stroke was considered and her final piece felt as if it had been nurtured in to being. My paintings are both measured (that was her influence) and full of fast dynamic brush strokes that almost shout “let’s see what will happen if I do this”, if one could see painting as an economic theories, Melody’s was cautious that saved for a rainy day, whereas I would take a punt on something and deal with the debt afterwards. That’s probably why I’ve never been good when it comes to watercolour painting.

*                      *                      *

2019

Some friends and I went to the Hydro hotel the other day for afternoon tea. In 1980 much of my time would have been spent with friends too, especially on very sunny days like this. But back then the time alone felt far more lonely, desperate even, at times, whereas now, there are things to get done and the world is far more entertaining, all one has to do is reach for one’s phone to feel some connection.

This meeting wasn’t one in which we sat staring at our phones, as is very common nowadays, but instead we were discussing the subject of choice. Fred, who is a friend’s 20 year old son did not agree that we have any choice in our lives, that because of what defines us, (our species, genetics, experiences and all that makes us who we are) means that we do not have any choice in what we do. His point being that we cannot control those factors so whatever we choose to do is completely influenced by those factors.

“Well, doesn’t this come down to how we define the “you” or the “I”. I argue, “If I accept that we have no choice in the factors that make us, do we not, well at least most of us, end up in a position where we have the ability to make some choices at least, even if those choices are highly influenced by consequences beyond our control?”

“Yes, but you don’t get it” he says exasperatedly. “You believe that the choice is yours, but it is determined by so many factors beyond your control that it can’t really be seen as your choice. If a computer is programmed to make a choice based on certain parameters can you really say it has choice?”

“But part of our programming is built on moral codes, and our own reaction to how we make others feel, so to a point we have some choice.” I say

“No, not really, you just don’t get it” He says.

*                      *                      *

At 15 I was beginning to have to make some tough choices in my life. I was approaching the exams that would act as a gateway to the next level of education, and / or the world of work. Karate, Vernon, my school, the other students there, friends and family all played a part in giving weight to the importance of study, but perhaps the most important factor was enjoying studying too.

We were often set a lot of homework, so once back home there was time to eat and relax a bit, but then I would sit in the back room with the radio on and work through my homework. Again, a routine set in and it was one I liked. I’d listen to the radio programs about relationship issues on Capital Radio, then music programs, whilst problem solving, trying to learn things and writing. Instead of wandering the streets looking for company, I’d found a good way to fill my time.

If ever there was single factor that I could identify as being the main reason I didn’t go downhill in my life it was this one. It was that I enjoyed living, I enjoyed learning and I recognised the significance of connecting, not just with others around me but with humanity, the world, nature and with some kind of notion of “God”, even if I didn’t believe in “God”.

*                      *                      *

Tavistock 1986

Analyst: “Do you not think that by doing this it causes you to worry”

Me: “Not really, I don’t really think about it”

Analyst: “But you tell me you feel alone a lot of the time, don’t you think that the way you act contributes to how you feel? It’s easy to rush towards something in order to escape inner pain only to find that what you rushed towards just makes things worse. I mean, if you were under nourished and went in to a food store you might grab a doughnut, or a burger but if you took more time and effort would it not be better to buy some healthy food, take it home and prepare a good healthy meal? Sure, it would take longer and require more work, but all that effort and time could be seen as caring for yourself”

Me: “I can see what you’re saying is right, but I often feel compelled to do what’s not good for me”

Analyst: Well, that’s partly why you are here, to try to find what it is in you that doesn’t want to do what’s best for yourself. It’s not just laziness, it’s a deliberate choice”

*                      *                      *

2019

There’s a parable known as the allegory of the long spoons. It states that in Heaven and Hell the inhabitants’ arms are spoons, in Hell no one can feed themselves, whereas in Heaven they feed each other.

When I was ill I was touched by the kindness of those around me, and it reminded me of how important it is to decide which side to try to be on. Such things are never simple because, for instance, we may help one person but it may be at the expense of another.

I started writing this for reasons I’ve explained in the past but now I probably write it for other reasons. In the same way, we fall in love with someone for reasons that are often different to the ones that cause us to stay together. I liked John Lennon because I liked The Beatles, then I listened to his solo albums and I liked him for those, then he got killed and I felt sorry for him, then I found out he’d been terrible to one of his wives and I had to admit I still liked his music, but now I realised he was a weak man like most of us, and then someone asked me what I thought about his killer and I had to accept that he was fucked up too.  As time passed and I learned more about John Lennon I realised he was just like most of us, a mixed bag. He wasn’t very nice in some ways, but was incredible in others. The same could be said about many of those we see as heroes including the likes of JFK, Martin Luther King Jnr, and Churchill, who were all imperfect heroes too.

There’s something in society at the moment that isn’t willing to accept that nearly all great people had very bad sides to themselves as well. It’s as if we can’t accept the truth about people. It reminds me of Soviet Art, it could only show one version of the world, anything else was intolerable.

At 15, the way I viewed others was probably limited in many ways because I hadn’t even confronted my own dark sides. It had never crossed my mind that for some people seeing my arms might cause psychological distress, and given that information I could choose to react differently to it than just feeling rejected. I hadn’t quite taken on board that people, including ourselves, are complicated.

*                      *                      *

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