Reminiscing About Summer

As I look out of my office window, I see a steady stream of drizzle. It is dark enough to have the lights on and if the truth be told, cold enough to put on the heating. It’s also august 27th and it has been like this for much of August. What happened to summer this year? From time to time some strange golden ball does appear in the sky emitting something that passes for heat but it is a pale washed out version of those seen in previous summers. If I hadn’t spent 12-days on Kos, I would swear summer was yet to arrive this year.

I guess I shouldn’t moan too much. Maybe I simply betraying my English upbringing with my weather obsession?

I remember as a small child we used to holiday each year in Cornwall or south Wales. I remember it perhaps with the rose tinted glasses of childhood but I swear those were long, hot summers for the most otherwise, how could I be swimming in the sea? Back then, Cornwall was a mysterious place full of small single track tree-lined lanes and small villages. Huge piles of kaolin soil littered the area like white pyramids. We camped and I also remember laying at night in agony from sunburn. Back then, you just stripped off and ran about and then lived with the consequences which invariably was a few nights of discomfort until the skin turned brown. I do not recall the sea feeling cold either. To me, it was simply an amazing time in an amazing place.

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The trip down to Newquay took a long time. There were few, if any motorways in the beginning and getting away from Hull was quite difficult. It was amazingly isolated in the 60’s. The drive would take all of one evening and much of the next day down the A1 and through places with amazing and improbable names. We knew we were getting close when you saw those piles of kaolin standing erect like guardians of holiday land. I also recall how the roadside Cafes were better in those days. They were interesting places with big old jukeboxes serving beans on toast and piping hot tea.

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We were really lucky kids. Back to school in September and I would tell friends about two-weeks in Cornwall and they would look at me rather like people do now if you tell them you had three-weeks in Aruba! Most of my school pals had been to Scarboro, Bridlington, Hornsea or somewhere equally exotic – if anywhere at all.

Yep – they were the days!

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Ghost Stories

As many of you may already know, I had a strange and psychically troubled childhood some of which is documented in my book Inner Journeys. along the way, I bumped into a few ghosts too….

We lived in a typical semi-detached house on the outskirts of Hull. So far as I know, it was built in the 1920’s and had little history that might make you think it could be haunted. I recall my first impressions of the place though as a young boy. It was cold with no central heating, felt damp and gloomy and the bare floorboards and old wallpaper added a certain creepiness to the place. Of course, my Dad was an amazingly resourceful man and very soon, the entire place was redecorated and central heating added. Still, it always had an atmosphere so far as I was concerned. It wasn’t long after moving in that my worst fears were confirmed. I shared a room with my brother Chris. On the other wall, our father had built fitted cupboards with a desk in between for homework. One night as I peeked out from under the bed clothes, I saw a white outline type figure sat close to where the desk was scribbling away. The figure wore a broad brimmed hat and was dressed like a Cavalier. Not being the bravest of souls, after recovering from the shock, I screamed. Chris awoke or stirred at the sound of that and we both watched as the figure turned its head disturbed, stood up and then glided over and out through the wall. Chris still recalls the incident as well as I.

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A few years later, we were camping in the caravan at Hawkeshead in the Lake District. As we walked back from the town to the campsite a couple of miles away it was already dark. As Dad, his friend Jack, me and my brothers and Jack’s daughters were walking in almost pitch black down a country road, we heard the distant sound of a horse its hoofs thudding along as it ran very quickly from somewhere behind us. I recall watching the horse and its highwayman type rider pass us by as if oblivious of us, the road, the drystone walls, the trees or anything. It simply travelled through things as opposed to around them! The thudding of the horses hoofs got louder as it passed us by but there was no doubting among those of us that had seen it – it was a ghostly rider we had just seen.

Many years later, I was traveling with my consulting job back and forth to quite a posh village near Manchester – I forget its name now. I was doing a project at Barclays bank actually on the very first ATM machines to be deployed around the country by the bank. I stayed at a variety of different hotels but there was one in the center of town that I stayed at a few times that was haunted. It had an original central core and then a newly-built wing. I had no problems at all in the newly-built wing but one night arriving later I was allocated a room in the original part of the hotel. I had no clue as to what was about to happen but the room was oak paneled and I thought it very grand. I got into bed more or less straight away and began to read – I recall it was a book by Israel Regardie. I began to feel watched. Its a very weird feeling but it was as if something was watching me. Little knocks and scrapes started to happen and shadows seemed to move around the room with no origin. I never did see a ghost but the noises, moving shadows got worse and worse and then end for me came when the bed clothes were slowly and deliberately pulled off me and the room became very chilly. I packed my bag and went to the reception to request a room change. The man there didn’t seem at all surprised. I found out the next day that the older part of the hotel was reputed to be haunted.

Over the years, I have become better at blocking out things and it is a rare occurrence now to have such an experience. Despite that, when my brother first moved into his house years ago, I had to tell him after my first visit that that their was a little old man sharing the house with him and it didn’t like him being there. I understand that they did have a few strange experiences there in the first few years.

I have always had a sort of morbid fascination for ghosts and I love a good ghost story. I’d just rather not be in the story.

Songs from Another Era

I started writing poetry or more accurately perhaps lyrics, at the age of about 12. At that time, I had just received my first acoustic guitar for Christmas and had already formed a ‘band’ with Andy Wells, my next door neighbour. Andy has, I think, played around bands ever since in the USA where he now lives and owns a huge collection of guitars. We would sit in our front rooms strumming the odd malformed chord and dreaming in the way only adolescents can dream. Of course, the early 70’s really was a great time for this with wave after wave of new bands coming through and cranking out three chord singles by the bucket load. I particularly loved T.Rex I recall and fancied myself as another Marc Bolan. In the room I am writing this there is a folder of old foolscap papers with scrawled handwritten lyrics dating back to 1972. Precious to me but are those awful lyrics or what and I wouldn’t dream of forcing them on all of you.

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I did play in several bands in my teens. My taste in music migrated to Status Quo and I got locked into 12-bar as a guitarist and never really progressed much. I am a competent rythym guitarist but thats about all. My acoustic from Woolworths graduated into a CMI Telecaster deluxe electric in black with a maple neck. I worked two years doing a paper round to buy it and I still have it. In fact, it is behind me. It is the only guitar I have ever wanted.

Where am I going with this story then? Well, my first book of poetry – Weird Tales – published in 2006 contains a few of those early sets of lyrics. I sat and ploughed through the teenage angst and the teenage crushes and actually found a few that I thought were good. The first collection of poetry that I published then contains my work from 1972 through to 2005. Here is one poem from 1972 that if you came for a visit, I could still sing to you with my guitar….

Changing

I feel the cold breath upon my naked face
And the dark shadows in my heart
Watching – with heavy lidded eyes
I realize – that what I see
Is only there for me to see
And life is another mystery

Time lies heavily upon us all
And yet in the future I can perceive
The winds of change for good or ill
Changing – the things living around me
And slowly – I see again all the steamy rain
The pain, and anguish overrides hope

When I re-read this poem this morning looking for inspiration for a blog article, I suddenly realized that nothing much changes at all. Here is a poem written at age 12 that talks about….. reality and life. I was already obsessed with what constitutes reality and our experience of it – even all of those years ago. This is echoed in many of the songs and poems that form Weird Tales including this little ditty that I wrote at college in around 1980.

Gone Again

Gone again
Hardly a moment to spare
I don’t know where life is leading
And I don’t really care
Gone again
Was I ever really there?

Slot machine bingo
Maniacal stares
Readily unfolding
In front of me
Unzip and down to flesh again
Automatic eyes
Lasared to see

Pull another cocktail
Molotov type
Shoving it down inside
Deep inside
Dilation and comforting sensation
Try me
I am on your side

Gone again
Not a moment to spare
God only knows what I am doing
And he doesn’t care
Gone again
Was I ever really there?

Both poems from Weird Tales published in 2006.

Weird Tales Cover

My Short Acting Career

Many many years ago, when I was about 13 I think, I was persuaded to appear in the school play. The play, and I will never forget it, was The Snow Queen. I managed to land the part of the Story Teller which, looking back, was a bit contrived but I guess was meant to be a parody of Hans Christian Anderson or similar. I played no role in the action but introduced the story and then popped in and out to explain what was going on, help the characters make key decisions and harass the audience. I can still recall part of the introduction where I was engaged in dancing a little dance while reciting a poem….

Snip, snap, snooper
Pooper bazalooper
Snip snap snooper

It went. Did I feel daft singing that? Yes, I did. Pooper bazalooper indeed! It sounds like something you do in a bathroom.

Having looked up the play on the internet, I am reminded the last part of my introduction went as follows;

Crippety! Crappity — Ugh! {As he fails to get
the right step.)
{He snaps his fingers and begins again.)
Snip! Snap! Snooper!
Pooper, bazalooper. {Quickening.)
Snip-snap-snooper —

Crippetycrappity — BOOM! {He succeeds with
his feet.)
{He hears the audience and slowly turns.)

No comment but the analogy definitely works doesn’t it?

Anyway, I recall learning these and other silly lines and rehearsing and rehearsing and…. The big day arrived and it seemed to go quite well but then how would you know. An audience of parents isn’t he most critical of theatre goers now is it?

Apparently, I did so well that I was invited back for the next school play – Time and The Conways by JB Priestley. I recall none of the lines from this one but I do recall that I played Earnest Beevers – a nice man! This one I found difficult. Ask a 14-year old to act the part of a young man then transition into a middle aged self-made man and then go back to a shy young man again…. I didn’t have much fun. I did like the play though with its messages about the nature of time and reality.

time

And this is the rub.

There are still nights when I wake up drenched in sweat and experiencing palpitations because I dreamed that I forgot my lines. Forty-years afterwards I still dream about my fear of it all going wrong. That pregnant pause and rising embarrassment as you realize the poor kid can’t recall what to say next…..You know, I don’t think I forgot my lines. To be honest, I recall very little of it now at all in normal consciousness but somewhere, deep down inside my psyche, I am still there, frozen in time, petrified that I would forget my lines.

A Barren Day and My Roots

Its one of those days when I am uninspired and don’t seem to have anything to say that I haven’t said before. No poetry, no bursts of irked energy for a good old rant and certainly no spiritually uplifting thoughts or feelings. These sorts of days happen. Perhaps its because I have done nothing but write anyway – white papers, Analyst briefing notes, articles, presentations etc. etc. I really do write for a living it seems – if you are interested in those professional writings take a look here).

So….

What then?

Just recently I have been feeling a bit homesick for Houston. I mean, Houston was home for 17-years and after being away almost 8-years, I do miss it from time to time. I miss the heat would you believe and I miss the general ambience – the buildings, restaurants, bars…. but not enough to go back and live there.

I left home when I was 18. I couldn’t wait. There was nothing wrong with home nor family. I adored my parents and have two lovely brothers. I miss the hell out of my Dad and can’t wait to see my Mum here in a few weeks time. But, I wanted to stand on my own two feet and sooner rather than later. So off I headed to Birmingham and Aston University and the to Leeds for a year and then Glasgow for two more until, with Ph.D. done, I started my career in Aberdeen. Three years in, I moved to Sunbury on Thames and two years later to Ottershaw in Surrey then on to Basingstoke, Hampshire. From there, I was off to Houston and then Dallas before returning to Hampshire only to head back to Houston again. And from Houston I went to Brno spending a couple of years in Prague along the way.

You see, I got itchy feet!

I haven’t put down roots. I like all the places I have lived but none of these places is HOME. I don’t know where home is to be honest.

They do say home is where the heart is but where is my heart? Its physically located in Brno – which is home for me at the moment – but it is rootless as I am. Perhaps this is why I see things differently sometimes. I owe and have no allegiances (save to Hull City AFC) and my passports are to me simply papers of convenience. I am not to be labelled by nationality. I am me and me is fine thank you.

But roots? I’m unsure that I will ever find my roots this side of Neverland. I still remember something from my childhood… memories of somewhere else. That somewhere felt real to me and this one just doesn’t. My roots are there wherever there is…

Perhaps my roots are to be found towards the second star to the right, and straight on till morning………

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Chat – Its Fate

One benefit of having a publisher is they do manage to get publicity you may not have been able to get yourself. In this case, the story published is honestly inaccurate and very sensationalized. The stories are loosely based on those I talked about in Inner Journeys: Explorations of the Soul (Thoth, 2006) but you know what, it has close to a 100,000 circulation and who knows…. maybe it will help sell a few books and add a few blog visits. There I am holding a copy of my novel – The Last Observer (Roundfire Books, 2013) in the lower right hand of the article. amazingly, what I was actually holding in that photo was a beer but I guess they photoshopped it…

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