Forward to Chapter 29
The Miracle in Our Eyes
Today, the 23rd May, 2020, is the 3-year anniversary of my surgery for a burst appendix and subsequent sepsis. During my recovery, I became very aware of how little time might be left, and what I wanted to do with that time. Faced with possible impending death most of us will wish for a bit more time, and even though I truly felt wonder and gratitude for having existed at all, and the time I had already had, I too, wanted more.
There I was, in hospital, thinking that at any moment I would switch off and be no more. Here I am now, with 3 years extra time, not all of it used as wisely as I promised I would. When we look at what had to happen to bring about the present, we might also want to consider what did not happen and what people chose not to do, that also allowed us to reach this point.
This may seem a bit of a strange way to look at things, but think how many times in a day we decide not to do things. It could be something as simple as not getting up when the alarm goes off, or waiting a bit longer before getting out the shower. Then, there may be far bigger choices, for instance not having another child, not moving house, not telling someone how we feel. I once wrote a song about this, it was called “For What We Didn’t Say”. It was about how our lives have been directed by stifling our voices. The same goes for all those who came before us, we are just as much a result of what they didn’t do or say as what they did. Of course, we cannot know the ultimate consequences of our actions or inactions, we can only pay attention to the more direct ones.
When that German soldier bent down to help my grandfather in the mud of the battlefield, and chose not to kill him, he couldn’t possibly see that one of the consequences would be you reading these words now. If there’s an all seeing being, then they’re probably seeing miraculous consequences all over the place, and likewise they see the tragic ones too. Whether there is such an all seeing being or not, in many ways because we can remember so much of our own lives, we become an all seeing witness, of sorts. Not only can we judge ourselves to some degree, but given the perspective of time, we can also recognise meanings to our actions, or lack of them, that we could never see at the time.
3.5 Million Years Ago “Little Foot”
Between 3 to 3.5 million years ago, one of our possible ancestors, a female hominid, classified by us as an Australopithecus Prometheus, walked on two legs, had similar proportions to present day humans and stood at around 1.35m (4ft 5 inches). She was most likely middle aged, her hands were very similar to modern day humans, but her feet had an extended big toe on each foot that was used for tree climbing. She may have spent her day foraging, and nights sleeping in the trees.
One day whilst out searching for food, she didn’t notice a hole in the ground surrounded by foliage, she tried to save herself, but couldn’t and fell 10 metres or more in to a cave.
In 1997 some of her bones were discovered and over the next 20 years many of her bones were excavated and reassembled by Prof Ron Clarke and his team. Her skeleton allowed scientists to gain incredible insights in to the study of human evolution.
And what of the future? Will the DNA of extinct hominids be used to bring their species back to life, like a cross between Jurassic Park and Frankenstein’s monster?
16 Years of Not So Quiet Desperation
I started writing this book in 2004 which is around 16 years ago now, so it seems appropriate that this chapter is about my 16th year. By 16 I started writing a page a day diary, so, what that means for you is that there’s going to be a lot more to this, and the following chapters. As I read my diary from 1981 there was definitely a “not so quiet desperation” about it, and a resigned impatience for escape.
The Lack of Story So Far
If you’ve managed to get this far then you’re either enjoying or tolerating my digressions and you’ve possibly come to realise that I’ve partly approached this as a metaphor for the experience of living. Sure, there’s a direction this book is going in, but this really is about the journey, not the destination. I have read so many books which take us on journeys that end in reunion and forgiveness. And yes, annoyingly they make me cry (a little). Both a writer and a reader will often focus on the ending of a story. A disappointing ending can take a lot away from an otherwise well told tale. But there is also something rather degrading about merely seeing the end of someone’s life in terms of entertainment or a brief emotionally charged kick for a host of onlookers.
In therapy, we once spoke about people wanting to leave a legacy, to feel that they would be remembered after their death, but who is it that people remember, probably no one resembling the real person. There was something about the process of therapy itself that brought about a feeling of being known, just as we might experience it in a “functional family” to a degree.
For many of us there is probably not just a need to be known, but also to feel connected to others. There was a lack of connection in my life at 16. As I walked the empty streets resembling those I’d recognised in surrealist paintings, I was looking for an open door to a house full of love and connection. Now, almost 40 years later, in my mid 50’s, I’m sitting in a house next to the sea, (which I can hear in the distance), it’s 3:25 am, and I feel connections all around me including you.
1889 Latvia Rēzekne
Winter was drawing in. The ground was wet and the roadway was turning from dry to wet now. Three children, wrapped in shawls and clothes the colour of the muddy road and surrounding foliage, shuffled along, occasionally stopping to jump puddles. An older girl, maybe in her late teens, was ahead of them and shouted without looking around, “Come on, we’re going to be late”. So, the three of them hurriedly, exaggerated a waddled gait for a short while, giggled and then forgot their mission of obedience. The day was almost over, the sky was blue, the sun bright and low, the air cold. The girls marvelled at the length of their shadows as they danced and spun their way.
These were kids from the Jewish neighbourhood, but then most of this town was made up of the poor or thes Jews. During the latter part of the 19th Century Latvia was a rich country comparatively speaking, and Riga, it’s capital, was as grand as many of the beautiful Eastern European cities. Its wealth spread out along the railways. The preceding 30 years had seen the construction of the Moscow-Ventspils and Saint Petersburg-Warsaw railways which transformed Rēzekne from a small country town with a bloody past into a city of distinction. Even so, it’s hard for us to grasp the sense of oppression that hung over the Jewish population in these lands. Technically, most Jews had to live in certain areas in Russia, defined as the Pale of Settlement, and whilst just a few years before this moment, Alexander II had expanded the rights of rich and educated Jews to live beyond these restricted areas, his subsequent assassination (which was falsely rumoured to have been at the hands of the Jews) led to not only stricter adherence to the restrictions on where Jews could live, but even more persecution, such as the rights of peasants to demand the expulsion of Jews in their towns and occasional pogroms (basically killing sprees).
Plans had been made for just 8 blocks of houses to be specifically for Jews when the new city of Rēzekne was being built but by 1889 a large majority of the inhabitants were Jewish. So, as the three girls walked with their older sister to the station, they did not feel the oppression keenly, but they knew they had to behave.
They got to the station a few minutes early, the platform was full, but there was a silence. Everyone was listening for the sound of the train vibrating the railway lines long before it, or its steam could be viewed. It was so quiet, it felt imagined, then as it gave up its warning, some people started to talk and within 30 seconds the steam could be seen and another 30 seconds later, the vibrations far louder now, the train appeared. It slowed and blew its whistle then came to a stop.
The girls and their older sister stood back as people disembarked or boarded. The train was so high above the platform that steps had to be put in place and only the most daring would jump down.
They were here to meet their father who had a dispensation to go to Moscow. He came to them, picked up each child one by one, kissed them on their cheek and told them he loved them. Their older sister handed him a piece of bread, which he took happily, and as they walked back home he told them of his adventurous stay in Moscow, which of course involved fighting off a few dragons and trolls, mainly trolls due to the amount of bridges he’d had to cross there.
* * *
It has been close to sixteen years since I started writing this so it seems apt that this chapter covers most of my 16th year. 16 is a significant age in the life of a teenager, but in a way, it’s just a random year that our culture has decided on. In other cultures, 13 might be more important, but whatever the age they decide on it’s partly because it’s seen as a recognition of important physical changes that in turn lead to psychological and then social ones.
Looking back on it, it was no different to any of my other teen years, they were all times of evolving. When I had my 16th birthday it was just our society’s view of me, that on that day, I was somehow to be treated differently. Maybe it is this process of being viewed differently that triggers changes in us too. At 16 I was told I was no longer a child, but not yet an adult either, 16 was an in between age.
* * *
As they approached their home the three young girls ran ahead, so, that as their father neared, his wife came out to greet them. She looked to him at first, and he to her, but shook his head very slightly, she looked down for a second then straight back up, smiled and reached out to him. He took her hand. She looked at the girl who had led the three to the station, “Chaya, can you go in and set the table while I speak with your father?”
They stood in front of their home. It was made of wood, painted green. Just as all the other houses nearby were. They all had a main door, one window above it and one to the right. You would have thought of them as single level houses from the outside, but the window above the door lit the sleeping floor. The ground floors were not wooden, instead they were packed with earth and stones with thresh strewn across them.
These 8 houses had been built and bequeathed to this man by his father, it afforded him an income but with so many mouths to feed they lived frugally. Having a large family would be seen as irresponsible nowadays, especially if you were poor, but back then, it was the responsibility of families to go forth and multiply, especially for those of a religious nature and Yudith (Judith), his wife had always felt a close affiliation to her faith.
The evening light had almost gone, the air was getting cold and damp, smelling sweet with rotting leaves.
“It wasn’t so bad” he said “I have some extra orders, but I don’t think anyone is going to get permission to leave here for a long time, not without a lot of money”
She paused and said “Come, let’s eat”
To which he replied “We are blessed Judith. Even here.”
As they entered the house the children quietened, except for the baby who quietly murmured.
Yakov and Judith sat down, bowed their heads, the children followed too.
“Blessed are you…”
* * *
If I draw 3 dots your mind will try to join the dots
You can’t help but form a triangle from them.
If I draw a stick person wearing a monocle and hat you’d probably see a type of person.
We naturally fill in the spaces. We naturally join up the dots.
But emptiness itself also informs us of what is there, or at least what is possibly there. As I started to study art more I realised the importance of negative space. It’s the gaps between or around things that we use as cues to suggest the shape of something. A prime example might be the inside of a handle of a cup, or the space between the legs of a chair. If you look at something now, and look at what’s around it, then imagine the thing itself disappearing, would the things around it give you a clue as to what it is? That’s the negative space.
So, one of the themes of this chapter is the effect of something not existing or not happening on what ultimately does happen. For instance, when I start writing these chapters my mind becomes filled with thoughts and ideas relating to them, but if I don’t write them down they rarely get remembered. So, sometimes, by something not happening, something happens that wouldn’t have. Now you could argue that we don’t know what didn’t happen, but there are often moments when you think about doing something, but don’t, and you become aware that you something didn’t happen that could have.
* * *
When Yakov made his way to the station he had two options for his route, they were both the same distance but one passed a bakery, and knowing he would be tempted to buy something to eat, he chose to take the other route. Had he taken the way past the bakery he would have heard the newspaper seller calling out the headlines. Had he heard the headlines, then his future would have been very different.
* * *
Simon: I often feel lonely. Like I’m of no significance to anyone else.
Mrs H: But do you think that’s true, that no one cares?
Simon: Well I know my mum cares about me, but that doesn’t count. And I know some of my friends care a bit. But I feel like I need someone to make me feel loved.
Mrs H: Do you think that there’s a part of you, that no matter how much love you received, it would never be enough?
Simon: Yes, I do, but how can I change that? I feel like I’ll always feel a bit lonely.
Mrs H: Well, do you not think there’s a difference between an understanding that we are individuals that are interdependent and feeling lonely. When you are feeling happy, I could tell you that we are all separate and you wouldn’t give a fig, but when you are feeling lonely, then no matter what anyone says, you’ll still feel lonely. As I have pointed out to you before, we are not dealing with the rational part of you, but your deeper feelings. Where do they come from? You can’t rationalise away a feeling.
I thought for a moment about what she’d said, but I didn’t feel anything consciously, and even though I’d agreed with her, I still believed that finding someone to connect with would help me escape my loneliness. What I wasn’t aware of then though, was a part of me yearned to feel lonely and would even be willing to scupper relationships in order to feel that way.
* * *
I had often enjoyed getting toys, as most kids do, but as I hit 16 mum allowed me to get some of the weekly disability benefit that she had received over the last few years. This meant I would be able to pay for things myself as well as my karate subs and art related purchases. But this also marked the start of me having a bit of an issue when it comes to retail therapy. As soon as I’d got the money from the post office I would often buy an album of music or treat myself to a cuppa in the local café. It definitely made me feel a bit better for a short while, but it was quite literally at a cost. I never learned to save money although it wasn’t always money down the drain.
When Pink Floyd sang “Quiet desperation is the English way” I recognised someone who understood something of my world. So, I just had to go out and buy the album.
* * *
2019 Retail Therapy
Nowadays I keep a list in my notes app of things I’d like to buy. By doing that it takes some of the heat out of actually compulsively buying them, it’s a sort of window shopping or retail therapy porn. Last November I had made a list of things I’d wanted to buy over the previous few months and waited till the Black Friday sales came. Sure enough, lots of the things I’d wanted were reduced in price, so I convinced myself that I had to buy them. They were all related to music making except one thing, a robotic vacuum cleaner which was so much cheaper than normal that I’d be able to resell it if it was of no interest (which is what happened and I did). And within 24 hours I’d loaded an extra £1000 on to one of my credit cards. There was a hum in the background, like a distant foreboding train that I could barely hear, but because I didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t.
* * *
1981 January 1st
My first page of my diary for 1981 listed out some of my hopes for the year, so doing well in my exams, karate, showing off less and improving my relationship with Mum and John were all admirable enough, but it ended with an oh so cringe worthy line: “because I will not lose my integrity”.
I think we had recently read “The Crucible”. A play by Arthur Miller (you know, the playwright who married Marilyn Munroe). It was about a man’s journey regarding his integrity. Obviously, being an impressionable 16-year old this had stuck in my mind. As things go, it’s not such a bad thing to be impressed by, but there is something about the scripts that people latch on to that can be deeply disturbing to witness. It’s as if we’re watching someone detaching themselves from reality and falling in to a world of pretence, and when that happens it can lead to all kinds of trouble. Of course, the scripts we latch on to do say a lot about who we are, or at least who we’d like to appear to be to others. But even so, it’s still…. Annoying.
* * *
2020 “Mark” January 1st 6:30am
I’ve been woken up by loud voices coming from the room below me. It’s a room I had rented out to someone called Mark, but after he had not paid his rent for several weeks and ran up an extra £1000 electric bill over the last 3 months I had gone through the process of evicting him. His leaving date had been December 28th but because I felt sorry for him I said he could have an extra month provided that he didn’t fall any further in to arrears, use any more electricity beyond acceptable normal use (60 kwh/week), didn’t bring back strangers from the pub again and didn’t cause any trouble.
The night before this incident, New Year’s Eve, he told me he was going out for one drink so I told him not to bring anyone back from the pub, he was staying on as a guest and he was on borrowed time. So, when at 6:30am I could hear a group of people in his room I rang him to find out what was going on. The phone rang, he didn’t answer and the loud voices continued. So, I got up, went downstairs and knocked on his door. The voices were so loud, and given there were kids sleeping in the room below his one, I pushed the door open and said “What the fuck do you think you’re playing at? You’re disturbing the whole house and it’s 6:30 in the morning.”
I was confronted by 3 people. Mark, a woman and a man with a beard. They were all a bit drunk.
“Mark, you promised you wouldn’t bring anyone back” I said.
He looked a bit sheepish, sat on his bed and bowed his head. He was obviously the worse for wear.
“You can’t do this” the woman yelled loudly “It’s illegal”
I said “It isn’t, he is no longer a lodger, and even if he was I’d have the right to enter this room to stop this”
The woman continued to shout that I couldn’t do this, and how her sister is a solicitor so she knows “it’s illegal”. I stood my ground and repeated my point. Although, after about the 5th repetition I added that she was an idiot, which didn’t go down well at all. I think it was at this point she put her face up to mine and continued shouting. I was tempted to give her a little kiss and say “Happy New Year”, but I didn’t think that would improve matters either.
She had screamed “It’s illegal” so loudly and so many times that the next day the kids downstairs repeated it to their dad, “Apparently, it’s illegal dad”. “What’s illegal?” he asked. “I don’t know, but it is, the woman said so.” They said.
Anyway, back to the night before. The man with the beard was trying to pacify things, Mark was sitting quietly on the bed, the woman was still in my face, and I’m sure was lining up for a kiss too. I decided to show them that I was recording them on my phone. Which I wasn’t but it gave me the opportunity to get my phone out and start the recorder. At that point Mark insisted they go home, so the man and woman left the house, but not without pretty much waking the whole neighbourhood too.
As I walked away from Mark he said “Do you want a fight?”
I probably should have thought about this a little more, but instead I said “Yes”.
* * *
The house we lived in was on Park Lane, which followed the North to South Wallington, Carshalton boundary line. It ran straight through the middle of the road, so our neighbours across from us lived in Carshalton whilst we would wave to them from Wallington.
I once stood on one side of the street whilst rain poured just on the other side. Even nature seemed to respect the local boundaries, well at least once it did. Park Lane became a lot more honest as it went up the hill because at a certain point it became Boundary Road.
It was the first Sunday after the New Year (4th January), Stephen, my little brother, who was now 3 years old, was trying to get in the covers with me, but the cat was already there and given it was so cold wasn’t moving for anyone. The night beforehand I had drawn a few pictures and written a poem, so I was not particularly enamoured with the idea of having to share my cosy nest with any other beings, but in the end, the cat and I made way, and Stephen, who was obviously bored got in the covers, and decided I wasn’t going back to sleep.
When I got out of bed I grabbed the duvet and wrapped it around myself leaving both the cat and Stephen on the bed looking rather out manoeuvred. Stephen got off the bed and started using me as a kick bag whilst I looked on. The sink, half full with slightly soapy water with a film of ice over it. I pretended it was a tile, and in slow motion brought my arm down on it, enjoying the sensation of it cracking. Stephen looked on, then started whacking it a bit too hard. At this point the cat, who caught a few icy drops, jumped down from the bed and walked off, stopping a few steps later to lick her shoulder three times in disgust, then continued down stairs.
“Is John in?” I asked Stephen.
Stephen nodded no.
“Where’s he gone?”
“To the betting shop”
This was my cue to go downstairs in my pyjamas. Mum wouldn’t mind but John would always have a go.
As I got downstairs, I could see mum was looking comfortable watching the TV.
“Can I have some breakfast please mum?” I asked
Laughing she said “You know where it is. Can’t you see I’ve just sat down!” Then in a resigned tone she half whined, half shouted. “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll do it in a minute, after I’ve finished my cigarette.”
I think she intended me to feel a bit guilty, but I didn’t.
Stephen, who was still upstairs shouted. “Dad’s walking up the road”.
I darted back upstairs, and got dressed quickly.
A few minutes later I heard John’s key in the door.
I was just about to thank Stephen when he shouted down to John, “Simon was downstairs in his pyjamas dad, that’s not allowed is it?”
“Was he now?” John said loudly, he laughed the kind of laugh that the cat in Tom and Jerry laughs when he’s caught the mouse. “I’ll be having words with him a bit later then”
“Stephen”, I said quietly, “you’re not meant to grass me up. We’re meant to be a team, and THEY are the enemy.”
“Don’t worry” I said “You’ll see, then you’ll understand.”
As I started to walk down the stairs I felt a book hit my leg. It was Stephen frisbee throwing one of his lady bird books at me. At the top of the stairs was a giant hard backed illustrated Bible. The temptation was there, even the image of Stephen laid beneath it, with just his arms and legs protruding from under it was egging me on, but I was hungry and the smell of bacon had a stronger pull. So, I threw it anyway.
“What’s going on?” John shouted
“Stephen’s throwing books up and down the stairs” I said
“Stephen!” John shouted.
* * *
June 2019 “Mark”
Things were going well with my lodgers, they all seemed very happy. I had even thought that they might stay a number of years, which was great as they were helping me pay my bills and mortgage which meant I didn’t have to work as much and could concentrate on my music more. But I should have known not to think like that because within a few days one of my lodgers said she was going to have to leave as she’d just received a £1000 fine for not updating her driver’s licence address because the person who was supposed to forward her post had not done so. I had said she could use this address for such things but logically, or not, she was moving on and had already put a deposit on another place a few miles away.
So, now, instead of having a couple of hundred pounds extra each month I was going to be in the red an extra couple of hundred. So, I got an advert out and sure enough no one enquired. Well not for a couple of weeks, at which point I started to worry. When someone did get in contact I met them and thought, “Well, they’re not perfect, but as long as they keep their head down and pay the rent, what’s there to lose.”
A week later Mark moved in. A week after that he told me he couldn’t pay his rent on time that week, but he would be able to catch up the following one.
* * *
When there are 15 children, and one baby under one roof then there has to be a lot of discipline. Yakov was too soft hearted, so was used as an abstract threat whereas Yudith was made of tougher stuff. There were routines, responsibilities, and rotas. The three older children were bringing in money and were itching to fly the nest but but they were not of a time that would allow that. The way to freedom was marriage, (which to those who have been married the irony will not be lost), then there was making money or having some special skill or talent that might also lead to gaining an income. But these were just dreams to most people and the children of this world knew the difference between dreams and everyday life.
They were also keenly aware of their place as Jews, here in Rēzekne meant there was always a threat of danger. Even, surrounded as they were, by a largish Jewish community, they became alert from an early age that one wrong word or action could be their last. Each layer of the community was there to cushion them from the next one. Parents, siblings, family members, neighbours, the local community, were part of the protectorate, then the Gentiles, the non-Jewish townsfolk, the country people, the rulers, the Russians and so on, they were dangerous.
Yakov was talented when it came to building, he was good when it came to wood, not just for building but for carving ornate features. And for these reasons he was in demand, but with 16 children, even working all he could, they were still poor.
* * *
2019 Mark’s Routine
Over the next few months Mark would continue to play catch up with his rent, some week’s he’d be ahead for a few days then he’d get two weeks behind. He’d tell me was feeling ill, then spend two weeks in his bedroom recovering. This would become part of his regular pattern of behaviour. Get a new job, work for a week, get paid, then be ill for a week or two and lose the new job. It didn’t take long to see the coincidence of getting paid to getting ill. He was either binge drinking or taking drugs. After a couple of months of this I asked him to start looking for somewhere else to live. He nodded in agreement, but I knew he wasn’t taking it seriously.
There’s something about having someone in your house you’d rather not have, it makes you feel insecure. After another fortnight of not getting rent I called him to inform him I was going to have to give him notice to quit as he was eating too far in to his deposit.
“Stop hassling me. I’ll give it to you when I’m good and ready. Get off my fucking back!” he shouted.
“Are you downstairs?” I said “Because I’m coming down to see you now”
So, I went downstairs, and said outside his door “I want a word with you”
I opened his door and said to him “Don’t fucking talk to me in my own house like that. If you want a fight that’s a sure way to cause one. You should be apologising to me and thanking me for not already kicking you out.” [Lodgers can have notice equivalent to their rent payment intervals, which in this case would be one week.] “Instead you’re giving me lip”
“Sorry mate” he said in his Australian accent. (“Mate” said in such circumstances generally means “cunt” or “wanker”) “but my Aunt’s just died and my mum is calling me all the time, it’s really stressing me out”
I looked at him and said in an incredulous tone “But you’d told me your mum had died last month and that was stressing you out then!”.
He shrugged and said he’d get the rent by the end of the week.
* * *
The Not So Secret Diary
The first part of 1981 for me was dominated by mock O level exams, this would be followed by a further 4 months of preparing for the real ones. The importance of these exams was not lost on me. Whichever path I wished to follow required a good handful of O levels. So, my life centred pretty much entirely on school work, studying at the local art college for my art related exams, Karate two nights a week, a little bit of socialising and some letter writing in the evenings (there was a lot of letter writing back then, and even now I think many of us write lots of emails and texts each day so not much different really, in fact many of us probably write a lot more now). Oh, there was the poetry writing of course, and recitals on the bus to school. And each night I’d write my diary which nearly always included a line or two about meeting a girl on the bus “who was quite divine”.
I am sure that when Sue Townsend wrote her books called “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole”, a lot of people may well have thought that somehow she had spied on their very own diary. But, whilst there is some crossover between her writings and mine I never came across entries in hers’ that, as you will read below, quite matched the finesse of mine:
We had a hard-ish lesson, in which we did a load of fighting. There was a bloke from a Taekwondo club, he got chosen as a substitute for the team, the cunt. He was a right old cocky sod.
On the way home, I saw Susan Knight, wow! She’s still divine. She’s hoping to become a hairdresser, and when she said “Well I’ve taken 12 O levels” I said “I’m taking 9.”
I felt quite lonely today, but there’s no poems.
25 April 81
John didn’t go to church as Stephen was wearing odd socks
I read a load of good stuff on contraception and the woman’s vagina (??!!). I then settled down to murdering about 100 ants in our garden and kitchen.
[An analyst would have a field day with that one]
11th March 1981
At the bus stop, someone had stuck some racist National Front Stickers on the bus post. Sunil took them down for me. On the bus, I saw Penny, we carried on our discussion about equal rights and politics. I said I didn’t think that there should be seats just for disabled people on buses. I thought all the seats should be available for anyone with greater needs.
On the way to hospital an Arabic man stood next to me and just stared – The ignorant cunt -.
I went to see Bill and Gee on Powell Close, they seemed very racialist
While drinking my coffee just a moment ago I saw a white cloud in it, so if I suddenly stop writing, I’ve been poisoned.
13/10/81 John tells me my photo of a kid having a pee was disgusting! – what does he know of true art?
To be faced with eternal loneliness is the ultimate horror. The day was normal. There was nearly a fight on the bus between two women over a window being opened.
OK, maybe Sue Townsend did sneak a peek after all.
* * *
Winter was moving in slowly, and with seasonal change the daily routine would slowly adjust too. Routine was both constraining and reassuring, qualities the children, and parents, both associated with family and religion. Life for them was full of constraint. It was as if when babies were swaddled, they were being readied for life. But for each of them there was also the desire to escape, to run away from each other, or with each other, away from this house, town, land and life. Each day when they said “One day Jerusalem”, what they were also saying was “We need to Escape”.
As the children slept Yudith stroked them gently. But as they became older, she stopped touching them and instead exerted tighter controls on them. She knew the power of desire, the struggles she had endured, so as her children became sexualised, instead of giving them more freedom, they got less.
* * *
The first part of the year flew by. I had done my exams and felt a sense of freedom whilst awaiting the results and hopefully the beginning of studying for my A levels in September. During this period, whilst going to Roehampton hospital to get my artificial leg repaired I had befriended a nurse on the ward I used to stay on and would still visit to see the staff and some of the regular patients. Her name was Julia, and whilst there wasn’t any romantic interest from either of us, we got on really well, so she invited me to stay with her one weekend. She lived in Shepherds Bush, in West London, which was quite a trek for me, but even so I made my way there and went to the pub she worked in to meet her. This was Friday night, so when she came off her shift we went for a Chinese meal. All of this felt very exotic to me. Now don’t be fooled, there are no sheep or shepherds in Shepherds Bush, although we were probably eating one and I didn’t check out the careers of other people in the restaurant, but I can pretty much assure you the restaurant and the area was a bit of a dive.
We stayed up talking until the early hours, and the next day got up about 2pm and had toast and tea.
“We’re going to have a party tonight, do you want to come to it?” Julia asked me.
‘Yeah. I’d love to” I said.
I was quite sensible for a stupid teenager, so I called home and let mum know I was staying another night. And prepared myself for my first adult party.
* * *
2020 January 1st 6:45am “Mark”
My middle name is Mark, however, I don’t feel it is my name. The name “Mark”, relates to Mars, The god of war. So, it’s apt in some ways. As you may have noticed, I have a war like streak and can be too quick to react sometimes.
“So Mark, do you actually want a fight then?” I said
There was long silence, as I waited to see what he would do.
We both stood either side of the threshold of his door. At first it felt a bit playful, and as he was quite drunk I didn’t feel very threatened. He was quite a bit taller than me, so when he feigned a movement towards me, I parried his arm and put my foot gently to his stomach.
“Careful Mark” I said, “You’re not going to win this”
“You reckon?” He slurred.
I could sense his mood darkening.
There was a long pause and then I could feel his arm move towards my face. I didn’t see it, but automatically turned my face away, and pushed my left arm upwards to block his punch. In the recording when listening back to this it all happens within about 1.5 seconds, but my memory of it was more like 5 seconds.
As I pushed my arm up I imagined I was pushing a bag up in to an aeroplane’s overhead storage compartment. In fact, what really happened was my arm went straight up in to Mark’s neck which pretty much brought him off his feet. I then turned towards him to deliver a strike and even now I can clearly recall me deciding whether to deliver either a fast penetrating strike to his torso, or more of a push. I went for the latter.
The next image I have is of him staggering backwards and falling on the floor, dazed, and almost unable to right himself. During this bit my adrenalin kicked in and I shouted “Do you want some fucking more Mark? Cos, if you do I’m gonna kick you in the fucking head if you try!”
“That’s assault” he said, “I’m gonna call the police”
“You do that, and I’ll play the cops the recording of you throwing the first punch” I said, my voice much calmer. “Just go to sleep and we’ll talk about this tomorrow”.
As I walked off his door shut.
Even though he was drunk, and if as he claimed the next day that he hadn’t gone to punch me properly I was pleased my karate training had kicked in. When I told the police about it some time later, when Mark decided to try to report me for assault, they couldn’t stop laughing, which kind of made it all the more worthwhile. They then informed him that it was going on record that he had committed a common assault on me as he had thrown the first punch.
So, all’s well that ends well. Although, as we’ll see, it didn’t end there.
* * *
When I talk now about my routine in 1981 resembling the daily routine through much of my life, what I’m also talking about is the outer shell of who I am. By 16 it had taken on a much more clearly defined form. Inside, my inner core was by no means anywhere nearly as “matured”, and probably wouldn’t become so for many decades. But the irony of this is that whilst the outer shell was mainly a front, it would be one that would at times keep the inner part of me afloat during some of the very bad emotional times to come. When my inner self collapsed, my outer shell would continue to operate, especially in its creative pursuits, and in that way, I would be able to ride waves of desolation.
Even before coming in to contact with psychoanalysis, I had experienced different levels of consciousness in myself, not in any mystical way, but simply by looking up in to the sky and seeing things floating in my vision, small chains of dots that I could chase around as I moved my eyes, then there were voices in my head that seemed to be independent of my own conscious thought patterns. It wasn’t anything like schizophrenia, just in my half sleep moments becoming aware of my inner world existing. At 4-years old, some of the voices would be saying “The wolf” over and over again. I was trying to get to sleep in the dormitory in Barnardo’s. As I listened to them, I would be pleading with them to be quiet, but they seemed to have a life of their own.
Later, when I was 7 or 8, when mum had her violent boyfriend, Michael, my night terror dreams of wanting to escape the impending train crash or sinking ship, were like films that played out in front of me while I was half awake. I felt I was watching from a near long distance. But there was no way of waking up or escaping them.
When I got to 16, I was aware of my outer and inner world being very separate parts of me. I thought, just like the songs and movies promised, that love would be the answer, yet I also felt that if love was to ever come along, I knew deep down, it wasn’t going to be, or at least I would never let it.
I once heard in a film about Freud that he had stated that we struggle in life to avoid manifesting the negative aspects of who we truly are, yet for most of us, it is unavoidable. I was never able to substantiate if he actually said that, but it did resonate with me, in fact, it scared me. I have lived my life worrying that the anger in me could be so strong that it would destroy me, especially through an act of rage. It’s a bit of a simplistic view but even now this notion still shakes me.
When Mark faced me off, I was just as worried about what he might do to me if we fought, than what I might do to him if I lost control. As he hit the ground, I looked at his head and had he appeared to me to continue being on the attack I would have kicked his head with force. Fortunately, he didn’t.
* * *
Simon: I had a dream about a train running people over.
Mrs H: What do you think it means?
Simon: I don’t really know.
Mrs H: Can you remember anything else?
Simon: I felt disturbed by it. I was on the train in the dream, and when I woke up I felt relieved it was just a dream but I still felt a bit depressed by it.
Mrs H: Do you think you felt guilty, after all it was your train that went over them?
Simon: Well I didn’t choose to do that
Mrs H: But it was your dream. Maybe you were trying to tell yourself something. Do you think it might be reminding you that sometimes we are part of something that has consequences for others that we find difficult to cope with?
Simon: I think that’s true in a lot of ways, even being part of our society means people suffer as a consequence of our gains.
Mrs H: But on a more personal level, can you see any parallels?
Simon: Like the tracks?
Mrs H: It’s interesting that you make that connection
Simon: Are we playing railway metaphors?
Mrs H: It’s interesting that you use humour to avoid the feelings brought up by this dream.
(I would come back to this dream in a few artworks and songs. It was the beginning of understanding that sometimes it was my own behaviour that would lead me to feeling lonely or depressed. Even so, it didn’t stop me from acting in such a way)
* * *
After the exams two months of no school sprawled ahead of me. And beyond that, going in to the 6th form part of our school would be very different. I could feel the touch of freedom and I loved it. But this 2 months of emptiness was a negative space that had a shape too. The shape defined what had been and what was to come.
In the first week, I sat out on the concrete paving in the back garden (It was a small fully concreted triangular shaped area), the sun shone hard, I tried to read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette but the white of the paper was so bright my eyes watered so I lay back and thought about how I could fill this time.
On the last day of term, I had gone to one of my school friend’s house. When we got there, he showed me a camera he was selling, it was a Chinon CS SLR 35mm camera with a built in light meter and fully manual override mode. It was one notch up from the bottom rung but I knew I had to have it. That marked the beginning of my interest in photography. Once we’d secured that deal he tried to sell me a synthesiser, but “what was I going to do with that, I can’t make music” I thought. And until computer controlled music became available, I was right.
Even so, during this break, there was a moment when I came in to contact with the songwriter in me. One of the other boys in my year, Daniel, was a very proficient musician for his age. He had heard me imitating Elvis and said I should come around to try recording something. So, we met up and whilst he played on a guitar, I adlibbed lyrics and vocal melodies which we recorded on to cassette. They weren’t any good but being able to come up with lyrics on the fly as well as melodies is something I still utilise sometimes to get ideas for songs. So, by 16, I discovered an interest in song writing, writing, photography, painting, karate, and studying.
* * *
Although religion figured heavily in nearly everyone’s life in Rēzekne, many Jews were not part of the Orthodox section of the religion, so, they dressed similarly to their Christian neighbours, socialised, danced together, watched plays, and were entertained by musicians and singers, and tried to live their lives to the full as best they could together, but it was a precarious truce.
Even so, life was mainly dominated by work, family, and the practices of the Jewish faith. Families would meet up, the children would play whilst the mothers would look out for possible matches, and when later their children would become young adults they’d either choose each other for marriage or the decision would be made for them. This was the outer shell of their world, but their internal worlds were filled with dreams. During daylight, people were acutely aware that they could be seen, but at night, on their sleeping floors, there were the silent stirrings of dreams that must never see the light of day.
* * *
Peggy Waites, who was the widow of a building tycoon, invited my mother, John and I over one afternoon for tea. Whilst they chatted in the house I had a swim in her outside pool. There was no one else around, so I lay in the water looking up at the blue sky. I swam a few lengths under water, looked at the sky, took in the deep colours of the trees, then realising that this wasn’t so much fun when alone I went to the dressing room and started to change.
A minute or so later the door opened and a woman, probably aged between 45 to 50 walked in. “Sorry” she said “Do you mind if I come in. Don’t worry, I’ve seen it all before.”
“Yes, I don’t mind” I nervously answered.
She started to chat to me as she undressed, although I was soon disappointed to see she had her bathing suit on already. I, however, had my towel strategically, yet precariously positioned. She kept chatting and looking towards me. She even asked me if I needed any help and I stupidly said “No I’m fine thanks”.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit turned on, there was a part of me that wanted to be physically desired, and the notion of that was arousing.
“What’s your name?” She asked
“Simon” I said
“I’m Jean” She said “Pleased to meet you”
I asked her where she lived and found she lived not far from me, so I asked for her phone number and said I might visit one day if that was ok.
“Yes, that’d be lovely. You can come and meet my husband and my children, they’re about your age. I’m sure they’d love to meet you.”
This really wasn’t going the way I’d hoped it would.
* * *
Simon: I feel that women have the power when it comes to relationships.
Mrs H: What do you mean?
Simon: Well, a man might want to go out and have sex but unless he finds a woman who wants him it’s not going to happen. Unless of course he rapes someone.
Mrs H: That’s an interesting connection you’ve made there.
Simon: What do you mean?
Mrs H: Well you’ve connected rape to a man not getting their way.
Simon: Well, I didn’t mean that’s an option I’d consider.
Mrs H: It’s worth noting the connection though.
Simon: What are you getting at?
Mrs H: I’m wondering if the idea that you’re powerless in some ways causes feelings of anger in you. In a way, it’s an echo of most children’s experience. Most children will, at least at some point, experience having a tantrum when they don’t get their way. Even in adults, you can see this happening all the time when people have road rage.
Simon: I suppose you have a point, it does make me feel a bit resentful towards women that they have the power in this situation.
* * *
One of my clients was quite a famous journalist and TV personality. I quite like showing off that I know some famous people, I expect that’s another trait that you hadn’t noticed. Anyway, I won’t say his name as I don’t want to be prosecuted for misquoting him and before he was a journalist he was a gangster, so I’ll leave it up to you to work it out.
One day he and I were chatting about women’s sexuality. He started telling me that when men witness women’s unbridled sexuality they find it threatening, not only does their orgasm look far more overwhelming than a man’s one, but to see in a woman an equal amount of relinquishing control to nature makes them realise that they are up against a formidable foe. If a woman is free to do as she pleases then any man she is linked to will recognise the potential for all kinds of desires for others which he may prefer her not to have.
Afterwards I thought about the irony of men transferring the responsibility on to women when it comes to the men dealing with the aftermath of their own desire. So, with one hand men want to curb women’s sexual freedom, and with the other they want to give them the responsibility of causing men’s lust.
Now, this might all come over like I’m virtual signalling about an area of politics which isn’t really my domain, but I’m partly bringing it up because as time went on I’d become very aware of just how central this theme was to me personally.
My mother had seemed to abandon me, maybe in my subconscious it was for another man, so maybe I was a more primed to feel jealous and possessive, to me, something had made her not look after me properly. Then, as I got older and became interested in sex, not only did I realise I was powerless to a large degree when it came to attracting women, but I understood that some women might be just as unfaithful and lusty as myself. To make things worse, if I was to try to tie a woman down then that would in itself destroy the relationship, and the final icing on the cake was that a lot of women felt the same way as I did about men, and indeed there were some men who were just as attractive to women as women were to men, men who could pretty much pick and choose who they wanted, and worst of all I wasn’t one of them.
Unfortunately, no one taught me about those dynamics. I had to learn the hard way, that if I felt the need to exert control, I’d already lost. If I couldn’t let go of my desire to possess then I’d already lost. If I couldn’t love someone enough to just let them be who they really are, then I probably didn’t love them, and if I felt such a strong feeling towards them that I couldn’t accept they might not stay forever, then these might not be feelings of love either.
All these ideas went completely against my natural instincts or inclinations. I can’t blame anyone who feels such feelings too, as for many of us, this is how we experience “love”. But the point is, these feelings are probably just as destructive as the things we worry about, so it’s worth paying some attention to them if you think they might be your undoing.
This desire in me to control and possess, it wasn’t just a socially learned way of thinking, nor was it just a primeval biological process, it was also partly a result of the way I had reacted to my relationship with my mother and my absent father. Please note that I would like to emphasise the words “the way I had reacted”, because who I intrinsically am is part of all this too.
* * *
In one of my poems I wrote, “What if what I do, kills the love of me in you”.
* * *
In 1981 I would often write letters. And now in 2020, I write emails and send instant messages and texts as most people do. But lately, I have been delaying my replies to some people to bring back something of the delay of letter writing that I’d experienced before the Internet came in to my life. If you haven’t tried doing it, it’s worth a go, but of course let the person know what you’re up to beforehand otherwise they’ll probably call the police to check you’re ok.
When email became popular it changed the nature of writing. The speed in which a reply would come back meant the nature of the communication changed too. In some ways, it was a bit oppressive, or at least it felt demanding. Instant messaging isn’t so bad because it often doesn’t require a reply or if it does, it can be concise. But writing a letter requires time to reflect more deeply upon the feelings, words and thoughts being sent.
* * *
2020 Gurdjieff and the Essential Self
When I think about my outer shell becoming distinctive at this point in my life I’m reminded of the philosopher George Gurdjieff, who was very preoccupied with trying to find our essential self. He believed that the soul we are born with, gets trapped by personality and is kept hidden and unexpressed, leaving us not truly conscious. He felt we must free our soul. I mention this because no matter how happy or oppressed we find our lives to be, there will often be a desire to escape. It might be something obvious, like pain, but then it could be death, and for some even, life.
As the seconds pass us by we don’t notice the erosion or build up of that which covers who we are, but in time we recognise the changes. We see what is and what was, and the more we lose our self the harder it is to connected to who we truly are.
* * *
2020 Looking at a photo of Esther
I’m looking at a photo of my grandmother Esther Berzin, she’s probably in her 40’s in it. There is something disingenuous about old photographs of our relatives, they look so stayed and posed, yet if they were to jump down from the photograph in to our life now we could see them as the animated humans that they were, we could see that in so many ways they’re just like us.
When I look in to Esther’s eyes in this photo, I see her pain, I don’t feel it, but I can see it’s there. There must have been many moments of happiness too though. Looking at her in her mid 40’s she looks so weighed down that it’s almost impossible to see her as a young, hopeful, laughing, in love, lusty woman. She would come to have 5 children, were they borne of love and lust or was it duty?
As she got older she would enjoy growing produce that she’d sell from a table in front of her house, just as her mother had done from the same house too. Her life in many ways was simple, but even a simple life can be filled with complexities and suffering. As the Nazis grew ever more powerful she knew she would have to leave her homeland. Even though she had yearned to leave it for so long, leave behind all the hatred towards her and the whole Jewish community there. When the time finally came to step upon the boat, with her 12-year-old son Boris by her side, it was as if, as she looked back, and all she could see was herself standing on the dock, waving goodbye. And from then onwards she felt a hollow space inside where once she had existed.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that many people fall ill, especially with cancer, around a year to 18 months after they have suffered a psychological trauma. Even the word Cancer connects to the notion of a crab, just like it does in astrology, but in medicine it’s partly because there is a hard-outer shell to many tumours, then there is the sensation of being pinched or gripped by a painful unyielding force, and with many tumours there’s the protrusions, just like the legs of a crab. On top of that, crabs will often seek out empty dark areas to inhabit. Now, the reason I’m ramming this home, possibly, a little too harshly, is to bring attention to the physical repercussions of psychological trauma. One might argue whether it’s a good idea to burden someone who is recovering from a difficult time emotionally, but to me, just being a little bit more vigilant during such times (indeed anytime) is probably a good idea.
As Esther approached her death, she cried out for someone to kill her. My father would often say that he would have done it for her, but he wasn’t allowed to. This was a time before palliative care.
* * *
2020 The Crow (Part 1)
I can hear the noise of a bit of debris falling down the chimney, I’m on the first floor, it sounds a bit like an animal is moving around in there, like there’s a struggle, but I’m not sure.
Later, I am in the room below the room I’d been in when I heard the noises. I’m sure I can hear a sound, but it’s quiet and repeats twice, it’s almost computerised. I pull out the tumble dryer which sits below the chimney stack (the bottom part of the chimney was taken away years ago). I get my mobile phone and take a photo up the chimney. I’m a bit scared that if there is an animal there it might attack me. But there’s no noise, and the photo doesn’t show anything out of the ordinary.
The night before I’d dreamt I was speaking to a crow, but maybe it’s all in my imagination.
* * *
1981 Queen Mary’s Carshalton
I knew I ought to fill some of the summer holidays doing something worthwhile and because I’d applied to do my Duke of Edinburgh award I went to the local volunteers’ association and asked them if there was anything I could do. By the way, I never completed the Duke of Edinburgh Award due to the expedition section of it becoming a bit difficult for me to do, plus I had a very bad attitude.
I got a phone call from the woman at the volunteers’ association and she said that I could go to the patient’s class room at the hospital to meet the teacher who would discuss with me some possible work.
* * *
1981 Summer – Meeting Anya
Sunil and I have gone to the local park, his friend Pete has joined us. Pete has a perfect Elvis quiff, every time I look at it I feel a bit of envy. He has a big Rock n’ Roll Jacket, it’s not leather, but he looks the part. There’s another kid with us who’s very tall, well built, he’s got bright ginger hair, he seems a bit of a gentle giant, but he’s slightly dislocated too, but then none of us seem to fit together, we were misfits in the purest sense. We’re a little gang of teenagers hanging around the play-ground who wouldn’t normally have had much time for each other, but the empty spaces around us, just pushed us together.
I’ve got my camera with me, it looks the business, even though it’s not. Having a camera kind of sets me apart.
There were a couple of girls sitting on the roundabout chatting whilst slowly pushing it around with their feet. A small child stood waiting for them to get off, but they didn’t so he got on and started trying to push it faster. The girls just used their shoes as brakes while they continued chatting. Sunil knew one of the girls.
“See the one with ginger hair, she’s up for it” he said.
“Have you got off with her then Sunil?” Pete asked
“Nah” Sunil said laughing
“Well how do you know then?”
“I hear things, I’ll call them over, you’ll see”
“Hey, Karen, come over here!” he shouted.
“Fuck off” she shouted back.
“Let’s go and chat to them” Sunil says.
So, we all coolly dismounted from the swings and ambled across to them.
“You got a fag?” Sunil asks
“I don’t smoke” Karen says, as she flicks ash from her cigarette.
“I don’t either” he says.
We all climb on the roundabout and start pushing it in the opposite direction.
“Don’t go fast” says Karen
“Go fast” says the kid and so we all hold on tight and put our head near the middle to make it more bearable whilst Pete and Sunil hang off the edge performing acrobatics.
The other girl says “Fucking hell, I feel sick, can you stop please?”
She’s tall, long dark hair, slightly Indian or Middle Eastern looking, she’s voluptuous.
“What’s your name then, Mr photographer?” She asks
“Simon. What’s yours?”
I take a photograph of her and the others.
“Oi! I didn’t give you my permission” she says
“I don’t need it, we’re in a public place”
“Well it better look good or else I’m gonna sue you”
“How can it not look good?” I say
“Charmer” She says as she looks me in the eye, then she asks “Do you lot want to come back to my house, my mum’s not going to be back for a few hours, we can have some toast”
And so, we did.
* * *
1981 Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children Carshalton
It was a hot June afternoon when I visited the woman who ran the class room. I’d turned up topless, my T-Shirt in my bag, my bag flung over my shoulder. It didn’t even go through my head that this might be inappropriate. The woman was called Jane, she had copper coloured hair cut just above her shoulders, and was slightly big built.
We got on straight away and made a plan that I would come back over the next few weeks and help paint cartoon images on the windows. Which I did. The pictures came out far better than I thought they would, and when we finished I asked if there was anything else I could do. So, Jane called a few of the wards to see if they had any opportunities but when I called Jane to find out if there were, she said that the hospital had refused my offer because they were worried that due to my disability I might get injured and they couldn’t take that risk. After our conversation ended I called the Volunteer association and spoke to the woman in charge. Before I managed to get a word in she told me she was very shocked and disappointed to hear that I had turned up topless for my interview, “Shit”, I thought “you’ve got me there… And thanks for grassing me up Jane, don’t come begging on your knees for forgiveness when I’m a famous painter and you want your portrait done!” When we finally got past that minor faux pas the Volunteer Association lady said there was nothing she could do and put the phone down on me.
I was so annoyed that I walked down to the Art Shop in Carshalton High Street, who had kindly put my rubbish portraits of Charles and Diana in the window to sell, well actually they weren’t that bad, but I had made Diana’s teeth look like she’d been chewing liquorice, so needless to say, they didn’t sell. Anyway, I often chatted to Charles, the owner of the shop, not the prince who was just about to get married to the wrong woman. So, I thought I’d get his opinion on the whole issue of not being allowed to help because of my disability. The thing is, for people who haven’t spent a lot of time studying these issues it’s hard for them to be able to offer anything unexpected, so I came away just thinking that this is the way of the world, and life’s not fair. But I knew it wasn’t right, so I went home and wrote an essay about it. I was beginning to take on board that society can choose to make provisions for all kinds of human needs, and it’s less about natural law, and more about what we believe society should be about.
Here’s a few lines from one of my early disability issue based songs:
We don’t live in a jungle
We’re here to live by the law
We’re here to give and to gain
But who is all of it for?”
This was still an era when single women trying to get a mortgage for a house had to get a male to sign for them, but, it was a time when things were beginning to change. In 1982 the mortgage laws changed so a male signature was no longer required, and the disability rights movement began on its long road towards legislation.
* * *
1981 Summer – Anya’s place
We’ve all crammed in to Anya’s bedroom, it’s cluttered full of patterns and posters. A few minutes later Karen and Anya come in with some mugs of tea and a plate full of white bread toast soaked in butter .
“So, you got a boyfriend Karen?” Sunil asks
“What’s his name then?”
“What, don’t you believe me?”
“Yeah, just wondering if I know him” Sunil says
“Nah, you won’t know him, he’s at the college, he’s a man, not a boy”
Everyone goes “oooh” and laughs.
“I’m a man, I’ll prove it if you want” Sunil says slightly irritated.
Karen laughs, “Yeah you’d love to try. I bet”
“Don’t flatter yourself” Sunil says raising one side of his top lip.
Anya decides to take things on a different tack.
“I just got a new guitar, can anyone sing?”
“Simon can impersonate Elvis” Sunil says
Pete looks a bit put out (to my delight).
“Oh that’s good, I’ve got an Elvis song in my guitar book”
She pulls out a “Start Playing Guitar” book then strums a few chords from “Can’t help Falling in Love”, her playing is stilted and slightly out of tune but I sing a few lines.
“Go on, do some more” says the big guy.
So, we do.
I take a photograph of her playing.
As we all got ready to go, Anya put a bit of paper in my pocket and whispered “call me”.
* * *
2020 The Crow (Part 2) May 22
The room where the tumble dryer is, has a door to the back yard. As I walked back in through that door I was sure I heard that noise again. Was it the freezer making a noise? I tried to imitate the noise, but nothing came back. I wasn’t certain but I got the feeling there was something trapped in the chimney. That night I looked online to see how to deal with trapped animals in the chimney, the solutions either involved big costs or putting up with unseemly odours and guilt for some time. I was sure the chimneys had cowls on them, but the winds are strong here so maybe they’d been damaged.
1981 Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children Carshalton
During the days I had been painting at the hospital I had gone to the staff canteen to eat and had met a few nurses (I know what you’re thinking) and a few other volunteers. So, after I’d been informed my services were no longer required, I popped back in to share my good news and to say goodbye. However, one of the nurses I spoke to was a sister on one of the wards and she told me she hadn’t been asked and would be more than happy for me to come on to her ward and play with some of the kids on it. So, over the next few weeks I popped in and helped break up the monotony for some of the long-term patients, who I became quite attached to too.
After these sessions, I would go to the staff canteen for some cheap hospital food which I liked due to my years at Roehampton Hospital and became friends with a couple of the staff members, especially one called Gill. And during my “work” on the ward I became friends with one of the other volunteers who had bright red hair, called Lisa. Both would feature in my life a lot over the next few years and through them I would get to meet other people of significance too. I was beginning to make connections away from my school life.
* * *
1981 Ann and Paul (mum’s cousin and his wife)
I have already mentioned Ann and Paul to you. Ann became a second mother not only to me, but to many other people too. She was the one with the naked photograph of herself that I would spend time studying whenever they were out of the room. It was probably around this time in my life that I would visit them more frequently. They lived a short walk away from the hospital where I was doing my “voluntary work”, and outside of feeding me up they were very happy to either listen to my tales of woe, admire my artworks and poetry (just for that they both deserves sainthoods) and then they’d drive me to my local friends or home afterwards (I don’t think I put reading my poems and suddenly being offered a lift together at the time).
* * *
1981 30/7/81 The Commission
One of the boys at school, Cameron, had told his mum that I was becoming quite good at Art so she asked me if I would be willing to be commissioned by her to paint a landscape of the Gower Peninsular. I agreed to it so she came to the art shop and bought £9’s worth of materials, which was quite a bit of money back then.
The thing is, I couldn’t do it. For some reason, I just put it off and it never got it done. Letting them down still haunts me today, so much so that almost 40 years on I feel I ought to do it now. I’ll let you know if I ever do.
* * *
1981 Summer – Anya
A few days later Anya and I met up.
“What do you want to do?” I ask
“Let’s go up to London” she says excitedly.
“And do what?” I ask
“Walk around a bit then come back home” She’s still excited
“OK” I say, thinking, “Well, it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do”
We take a bus to Morden Tube station then the Underground up to Leicester Square.
Just as promised we walk amongst the crowds and the dodgy street vendors, then after an hour of sitting on benches, walking and talking, we head home on the underground.
She sits opposite me at first, tells me all about a great new band she’s seen a few times, The Jam (who I don’t know anything about), and while she talks wildly she puts her foot gently between my legs. She’s wearing a bright yellow T-shirt and jeans. I don’t feel any in-love feelings towards her, but she turns me on.
I hadn’t listened to The Jam because I was a rocker and that style of music belonged to The Mods who were technically enemies. The 70’s and 80’s were full of rivalry associated with music. Was it partly because once army conscription ended the pent-up energy and anger of young men had to be redistributed, or was it also related to a once proud empirical nation wanting to reinstate its prowess? Whatever was behind it, the music world was extremely demarcated in to style related camps, which you could only choose one from, and all others were off limits.
Later on, I would come to love different styles of music but even now some musicians are seen as cool, whilst others are off limits to those in the know. Likewise, in the art world similar snobberies exist, maybe even more so, and in turn they partly relate to class. So, if you are working class, ballet, opera and classical music will probably feel inaccessible as will a lot of conceptual and abstract art.
In the late 1970’s and 1980’s there were a lot of developments in the music world. It was partly driven by technological advances (synthesisers, drum machines, samplers, digital recording and music technology becoming available to more people). By the mid 1990’s there were very few big developments within the music world in terms of style, although other things had a big effect, such as home studios, MP3 files and the Internet. But music was a massive part of many people’s lives in 1980, and for some reason I started to allow myself to listen to many other artists apart from Elvis and Dire Straits. Music would continue to fill my life, not just for the sake of filling an empty space but because it was so full of nourishment for the body, mind, heart and soul. Even if music resounded the deepest pain it made it clear that pain is an important part of our lives and shouldn’t always be avoided.
* * *
In Britain and other Western European countries people had started to move away from the countryside and in to the cities. For centuries, if not millennia, people had lived a life of subsistence. But in the more industrialised countries farming was becoming industrialised too. While this inevitably lead to less opportunities for land workers, it also meant there was more surplus food which in turn meant greater opportunities for people to follow other careers. But in Rēzekne the Berzin family’s paths were very much set. Instead of learning to read, the children learned to forage, not just for food but also for medicinal bark, herbs and plants. Instead of doing sport, they were physically exhausted by the end of each day from dealing with the family’s small holding, or delivering goods to local customers.
The Family had acquired a few musical instruments over time, some of the flutes had been carved by Yakov, and a battered fiddle and bow had been a part of the family from before his birth. The children had all, at some point picked them up enthusiastically, but after a few minutes of nothing sounding good, they’d put them down, much to the relief of everyone else. Yakov lived in hope that there would be at least one child who would persist and magically learn to play by ear, but it didn’t happen.
Yakov and Esther’s large family was very unusual, most Jewish families had 3 to 4 children during this period, so just by their size they were well known in Rēzekne. Yakov was popular, and given Rezekne had such a large population of Jews, there was a sense of mainly being safe.
In Riga, the capital city, the Jewish population had secured some rights, which after a period during Nicholas I reign, when he had decreed over 600 laws over a 30 year period that regulated Jewish life, was in some small way, progress.
Whilst the Jews in the countryside mainly focused on providing essential goods to each other and non-Jews, the development of large-scale trade and industry was more the domain of those who lived in the city. Wood industries, flax processing and even alcohol production were particularly successful. One Jewish merchant built and ran the largest match factory in Russia. Whilst others focused on the buying and selling of grain. By the end of the 19th century the ten banks in Riga were owned by Jews.
However, after the murder of Alexander II in 1881, there were outbursts of political and economic anti-Semitism followed by Anti-Semitic riots, in which over 40 Jews were killed and hundreds of women were raped. On May 3, 1882, Alexander III demanded that the Jews of Riga, Jelgava and Liepāja who did not work in officially registered professions had to leave the cities. Even four years later, the newspaper “Dienas Lapa” underlined that Jews “clearly show us how a small and despised people can become strong. Their example overtly shows what people can achieve through care, patience and a strong community.” So, to be able to live in relative peace, when such hatred was only a train ride away, was a gift that Yakov and Yudith did not take for granted.
* * *
After Mark moved out, he left his belongings in situ. I legally had to give him 14 days to remove them, although I didn’t have to leave them as he’d left them. I got a few people in to clear out the room, all of which had to be videoed as evidence in case he was going to make a claim against me for any losses. After the 14-day period the law states that the belongings can be given away, thrown away, or sold, if not kept. Any revenue collected from sales must be kept for 6 years, and small expensive items should be kept for the same duration too. A night after he’d moved out he called me at 2am insisting he pick up his medicine, and if I didn’t allow him to do so he might die and I would be responsible for his manslaughter. I was up anyway, so let him in and as I sat and watched him get a bag full of pills he told me they were illegal drugs, prescription opiates that he’d bought from dealers. “I’m a dead man walking” he said. “I’m sure that’s not true” I replied, hoping I was wrong.
For the first few days after he’d left he came back to pick things up, when he asked me if he could take a shower I relented, but a few days later he also asked to do his clothes washing. I told him that after that there could be no more showers or use of the facilities. Maybe it was that which set him off, but he decided to pick a fight about cleaning the microwave, because, “someone else had used it”. When I told him that he was wrong, that he was the only one to use it, he then called the police because I wouldn’t leave him alone in the room. When they turned up they spoke to both of us separately, then told Mark that he must organise getting a van to take all his belongings in one go. He agreed to this, but didn’t do anything, so after a week of not hearing from him we emptied out his room, put his stuff in boxes in another room, and started the clean-up job which was costly and disturbing. There were blood stains on the bed, and lots of other unsavoury things to be dealt with.
During the clear up it came to light that Mark was on migration bail, which means he’d over stayed his visa but was awaiting trial. He’d been prosecuted for trying to blackmail a woman with video he had of her doing something sexual. Plus he was charged with beating her as well. He also had 2 drink drive prosecutions and one for a racially aggravated attack under his belt.
About a week after we’d cleared his room he telephoned me and threatened me, but I didn’t record the call so the police said there was nothing I could do.
Three months passed, and during this time his belongings ended up being put in the back yard, which was accessible to hi so he could pick them up, but outside of a few bags, he didn’t.
And then in mid-April he called me and threatened me again because he believed I had stolen some diamond earrings from him. I was recording the call this time so asked him what exactly he meant by his threats, to which he said “Well you’ve only got one head and I’m gonna cut it off”. So, once again I went to the police. This time they said that they couldn’t do anything because I had goaded him by asking exactly what he meant. Since then I have received a few more messages, mainly insisting on his diamond earrings, and being certain I’ve taken them, to which I have informed him I have not.
* * *
1981 Summer – Exam Results
It was a beautiful sunny summer’s day. It was the day before my exam results would be posted. I sat in the park and thought about my life, what would happen if I’d failed them.
* * *
2020 The Crow part 3
I had a client over, we were talking about setting up her blog. When I went to set it up I found we’d already started this process a few years ago but she hadn’t gotten around to posting anything on it. I hardly had any memory of doing it, but I could see by the way it was set up that I’d done it. As we approached the end of her session I suddenly heard the sound I’d heard in the chimney, but this time it was much louder.
“Excuse me for one minute please” I said
“Sure, is everything ok?” She asked, a bit startled.
“I think I’ve got a bit of an emergency. I’ll be back soon”
* * *
2020 Story Time
Most days I spend a few hours watching something on one of the streaming services, and when I get up I either listen to talk radio or a story book on my Alexa. I think most of us love to listen to stories, it’s a way to get to know people, and to be reassured by tales we have heard thousands of times
When I felt like I might be dying 3 years ago, I imagined that if there is to be a life after death, then, if we’re lucky, there might be people who will surround us with their love as we leave this world and loved ones waiting on the other side to welcome us. The idea that the story ends abruptly is almost inconceivable to us. But is our incessant recounting of stories with meaningful endings a way for us to avoid the feeling we hold deep inside us that there may be none? It’s as if the idea of reconnection, is at the heart of our lives. Whether there’s an afterlife or not, much of the life we do get to live is concerned with us connecting to others and ourselves.
* * *