Well, it’s a month now since I became a married man. If a year ago you would have told me that I would be married within the next twelve months, I would have laughed in your face. Then laughed again. And again. Finally, I would have recorded my laughter and paid for it to be scratched into a vinyl record and posted it to you, along with a record player of course. It just seemed inconceivable, as Inigo Montoya once said.
But around June of 2015, things began to pick up in my life. I had left my job in mental health and was unsure of what to do next. The idea of being a counsellor, drawing upon previous skills but also taking on courses that would hone and refine them, appealed to me. Attending Chippenham college to take those courses was a liberating experience, and finding the part time post as a relationship counsellor in Salisbury – even though it was a fair distance from Marlborough – was such a confidence building event that I embarked on the search for a soul mate again.
And then, in late July of 2015, along came Lisa. She blew into my life like a leaf on a breeze, making me laugh, tickling me with her fancies, her ideals, her beauty. She helped me to know myself more, to understand my feelings. All the corny stuff that you might have read in a Mills & Boon novel, but made real. I just didn’t think I had it in me to love again. After a failed marriage and a string of…well, not *quite* ‘one night stands’, more ‘three week stands’, I just thought the whole romance thing was never going to happen again. My heart wasn’t in it. But Lisa saw something in me that made her persist. She was patient, tolerant of my moods, and her being a successful painter helped, as she knew about the artist’s temperament and the dichotomy we all face regarding needing company and needing to be alone.
Our wedding, in late February, in Keswick, attended by a handful of close friends, was one of the happiest days of my life. That train journey (“We’re out of balloons!” – Martin, Jayne and Jezel!!) was like being in an episode of Friends due to the quick wit and banter that we had between us.
And the funny thing is, married life has mellowed me a lot. I have lost some of the drive I once had to write and be creative. I’ve neglected this blog, neglected many of my projects. I just enjoy coming home to Lisa, us chatting, sitting on the sofa holding hands, watching the telly or doing the normal things any couple does. We walk, hand in hand, through Savernake forest on the weekends, pointing out the variety of birds and the multitude of wildlife that scurry about our feet. It’s like a Disney cartoon but hey – it’s still the honeymoon period and I have a feeling this honeymoon period is going to last a long, long time.
I never feared dying alone. I never feared reaching old age and being alone. I just accepted my alone-ness matter-of-factly and that was that. But now I know, in my heart, I will never be alone. That well spring of love that sits within us all has been uncapped once more and I feel alive once again.
With love to you, Lisa.
“You complete me, I complete you.” – Joni Mitchell ‘Court And Spark’.
I have fond memories of the original three Star Wars films. When Star Wars came out in 1977 I was just six years old. I have no idea if I was taken to the cinema to watch it, though I doubt it. My strongest memory of the original three is Return Of The Jedi, as I was eleven years old when that was released in 1982. I can remember stopping at the small shop on Llantarnam Road, on my way to school, and spending my week’s dinner money on a book – The Making Of Return Of The Jedi – which I proudly showed to my friends that day. For its time, it simply was the best science fiction/fantasy film in terms of special effects, which was the main benchmark regarding the quality of a science fiction film in 1982. My friends and I enjoyed films such as Logan’s Run and Silent Running. Even Battlestar Galactica and Battle Beyond The Stars got a nod of approval. And of course, we all watched Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, mainly due to Erin Gray, who played Colonel Wilma Deering. She was the best Colonel ever, in the history of the universe. That’s what me and my friends thought each time our eyes were drawn to her credentials. Even robots weren’t immune…
But Star Wars was in a league of its own. It’s simple story line – farm boy goes on a mission to save a princess – was easily understood. And we could all relate to that, living in Wales. We were all, essentially, Welsh farmers, desperate to rescue a princess. Preferably one imprisoned in a huge metal ball in space guarded by white supremacists. My pocket money didn’t really stretch to being able to buy any of the Kenner toy figures of the late 70s and early 80s. If I had I’d be living in a mansion now, due to the resale potential of those toys. In fact, the only toys I had were two board games, both released in the late 70s. I think one was called Escape From The Death Star and the other one was an R2-D2 themed board game, the title of which alludes me. Seeing as none of my family were ever into board games, I just used to play them by myself many times, enjoying pretending to be a psychotic player two and a delusional player 3, switching between the personalities with a disturbing ease. I do remember the excitement when Star Wars premiered on UK television for the very first time, on ITV. It was an EVENT, in every sense of that word. The run up to the broadcast was excitedly talked about in the school playground, and on the night, I ‘borrowed’ my sister’s small 10″ black and white television and sat in bed, thrilled to be watching Star Wars for what I believe was my first time, Sunday October 24th 1982 (no, of course I don’t remember that date! I just looked it up!).
Like most movie geeks I was excited by the announcement of The Phantom Menace and enjoyed watching it and the following two ‘prequels’ in 2002 and 2005 but in the subsequent years, have thought less and less of them. In retrospect, they just didn’t create the same magic as the first three films did. However, The Force Awakens was a different story as the original three leads – Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford – would be reprising their roles, albeit in smaller parts. THAT is what got me excited.
Now, I didn’t plan on seeing it on its UK nationwide release date. Firstly, it was close to Christmas, and money is usually tight for people anyway. A tenner on a cinema ticket is a luxury for someone who brings in £10 a month as a writer. However, the kind and completely unexpected generosity of a friend allowed me to treat myself to a night out last nigh, December the 18th, to see the film. More on her generosity – and the kindness of certain other friends – in another blog, where I can do them justice. Living in Avebury sort of limits the choice of cinema I go to. I could go to Swindon to see the movie in a huge modern cinema, I guess. But I just have an aversion to Swindon. Travelling to Bath would have been another option, but I’m not keen on travelling long distances in the dark, particularly on a gusty evening when my scooter gets blown from side to side. So I chose the Angel, in Devizes, a lovely olde worlde cinema. I reserved a seat in the morning for the 5pm showing in 3D, and left Avebury at 4:15pm as I fancied a look around the town before going in to see the film.
I’m not a huge fan of 3D. During the initial rush of 3D films, I watched Toy Story 3, A Christmas Carol and Avatar in 3D and the effect was alright, but I noticed that after about 45 minutes, my eyes became so used to it it just seemed like a 2D film again. However, as I had deliberately not watched a film in 3D for some years, I thought I would chance it. I settled down in my seat in the quaint, relatively small auditorium, and waited for the movie to begin. The curious thing is, despite the incredible and overwhelming hype, the cinema was only a quarter full. I was quite surprised by that, but I guess most people would have opted to go to their nearest ultra-modern multi-plex cinema, which is a shame, as the old cinemas are the best.
So, the original Star Wars scroll up the screen, set against a backdrop of twinkling stars, looked very good and again, the 3D effect for the first hour was immersive.
So, on to the plot. Some of the same themes and motifs from the very first film became apparent. It starts with a character (Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac) hiding top secret information in a droid (BB8) and then setting the droid free. The droid is eventually discovered by scavenger Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), who is clearly the equivalent of farm boy Luke in the original film. Rey then comes across a stormtrooper ( Finn played by John Boyega) that has become disillusioned by the whole storm and trooping thing and together they try to return the droid back to General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). On the way they pinch the Millenium Falcon only to be subsequently boarded by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Now, I hadn’t seen or heard any spoilers about the film. I am not a ‘fan’ in the sense that I frequent Star Wars websites or go to conventions or anything like that. So I knew nothing about the plot except for what I had seen in the official trailers. Even so, the ‘twists’ weren’t really twists to me as I had speculated on the fact that Rey was probably going to display elements of ‘the force’ – though I thought the way this was done was well executed and there was certainly a dramatic, on-the-edge-of-your-seat quality about the climatic fight between Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver), Finn and Rey, particularly when Rey has that meditation moment and harnesses the force in her mind, so she can kick the ass of Kylo. That Han Solo dies was something that I suspect Harrison Ford pitched for. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the ‘trump card’ that J.J.Abrams, the director, pulled in getting Ford on board with the project, as Harrison wanted the character killed off as far back as 1979, during the making of The Empire Strikes Back.
Kylo Ren is probably the most interesting character, as he clearly struggles with a ‘calling’ to the light side – initially at least. The fact that he kills his own father, Han Solo, sort of gives the viewer that in the act of doing so, his journey to the dark side is complete (in the same way that Yoda’s plea to Luke to ‘confront his father’ would of been Luke’s final step to becoming a ‘good’ jedi, maybe?) but as there are two films to go in this current trilogy, then I am sure Kylo’s story arc is going to develop in a very interesting way. Daisy Ridley gave a fine performance too. My hunch is that she is Luke’s daughter. Luke Skywalker only appears in the last two minutes of the film, as Rey has tracked him down to a cliff that looks like it’s somewhere in Ireland, and hands him his father’s (Darth vader) lightsaber. He doesn’t say a word. In fact, he doesn’t even take it off her. She holds it out to him, he gives her a lingering stare, and the film ends. I think the beginning of the next film will be him saying “Wassap!!” and doing a moonwalk or something, before telling her he’s her dad and to go and clean her room.
Score – 3.5/5
Verdict – Worth watching. A bit of fun and harmless escapism. An extended Blu-Ray edition would hopefully flesh out the characters and fill in the plot-holes to provide a more rounded experience.
Ernie Wise opened the Argos store in my hometown of Cwmbran. I think it was around 1981 although I’m not completely sure. What I am completely sure of, however, is that I was there. It was a Saturday morning and like most Saturday’s I was in town with my Nan and Banp as it was pocket money day and I often spent the weekends with them. The part of Cwmbran Town Centre that hosted the Argos shop was new. A large area, all sloping up to a huge Woolworths store, had brought new life to the shopping centre. The area had been under construction for a year or more. One by one the empty units had been leased to various retailers and the Argos store was one of the last to open. It was a sunny morning and I remember standing there, holding my Bamp’s hand, while Ernie Wise gave a little speech before cutting the blue ribbon to a round of applause.
I would have preferred to have seen Eric Morecambe of course – he was the funny one. I think if it had been him cutting the ribbon, he may have performed a prat fall and included other bits of comic business, but Ernie was a genial, unassuming chap and I gazed at him with my ten-year-old eyes, enjoying the fact that I was looking at a celebrity, in the flesh, for only the second time in my life. The first time was when Nicholas Parsons, presenter of Sale Of The Century, hosted a fashion show at Woolworths some months previously. But I’m not ready to talk about that yet.
Argos, of course, brought a new method of shopping to the masses. The public area of the store was relatively small, just a few tables and stools. On the tables were Argos catalogues. You would flick through the pages, choose what you wanted, write the code down on the pre=printed order forms that would be stacked neatly on the tables, and then take the slip of paper to the counter. They would ask you for money corresponding to the cost of the item (this was the worst bit) and then in five or ten minutes, sometimes longer, your order would roll down a little conveyor belt and would be given to you by a smiling, large-breasted, staff member. And that was just the men. But the Winter Argos catalogue became essential in our household – as traditional as our Christmas Day dinner. I would spend many happy hours pouring over its pages, scrutinising each picture, reading and re-reading the descriptions. It was like being on holiday, but inside a book. One of the first things my ten-year-old mind being preoccupied with were binoculars.
Yes. Binoculars. I’m not sure why. I guess I just wanted to make everything in life a bit bigger. It certainly wasn’t to spy through my neighbors windows. Of course not. At least, not for significant periods of time. And receive them I did, for my birthday in May 1982. I would sit on the windowsill in my bedroom, using the binoculars to look up and down the street. Often I would end up zooming in on the little red brick wall opposite me. I could see the cement between the bricks in details, all the little pock marks and dirt and grime. Binoculars were just amazing!
In October 1982 when the Winter catalogue mysteriously appeared in our house, I claimed it for many days. I was completely mesmerised, enraptured, bewildered and captivated by these new ‘electronic’ games that were appearing. My toy cupboard, that was full of board games such as Buckaroo, Mousetrap, Operation and Snakes & Ladders was suddenly looking very dated indeed. Electronic games and game consoles were starting to appear. I knew that there was never a chance of my owning a console. Most were close to a hundred pounds, some of them well over that, and I knew my mother, dogged with mental health problems and often having seizures due to her epilepsy, could never work, although she seemed to be doing alright for our family of three (my sister begrudgingly included). We never went hungry or cold. But I just knew that anything luxurious – like a game console – was out of the question. But it didn’t stop me looking at the pages, over and over and over again.
At the time, there was a toy shop in Cwmbran called Shorts. It was magical to me and all other ten-year-olds that lived in Cwmbran in 1981. It was a fairly large shop. Walking through the entrance, the first third of the shop, way before you came to the payment desk, was full of bicycles. There was a red carpet between the door and the cash desk and walking down it was a bit like that procession scene at the end of Star Wars, except that instant of rebel fighters either side of you, cheering you on, there were bicycles.
Cheering you on.
Once you reached the cash desk, usually manned by an elderly chap with glasses and white whiskers, the path split to the left and right and each path led to an aisle where on either side were shelves, ten foot high (at least, they seemed ten foot to my four foot self) and stacked with toys. There was a glass cabinet there which had all of these consoles on display – the Philips G7000, the Intellivision,the Aquarius, the Atari 2600 – all of them switched on and hooked up to their own television which would be playing a demo of one of the many games. I could stand there for ages. I did stand there for ages. I was hypnotised by all the colours and moving shapes on the screen. But as I say, they were way too expensive. I wondered if I could choose something a little less expensive for Christmas. What about a small tabletop arcade game? Like Astro Wars?
So my Christmas wish list of 1982 – which I handed to my mother and grandparents instead of Santa, as they assured me they would ‘forward it on’, looked something like this.
CHRISTMAS PRESENT WISH LIST 1982
- The Topper annual.
- The Beezer annual
- The Whizzer & Chips annual
- The Buster annual
- The Beano annual
- The Dandy annual
- The Whoopee annual
- The Cor! annual
- A selection box.
- An Intellivision games consoles but if it’s too expensive then Astro Wars.
Lists were always up to 10 of course. It’s just what boys do. Whatever the subject matter of the list, it has to go up to 10, else bad things might happen and the universe may crack.
School broke up sometime in early December, thank goodness. Since September I had started comprehensive school, which happened to be Llantarnam in Cwmbran. The school closed down in the summer of 2015 but since the 1950s it had been one of the biggest and best comprehensive schools in Cwmbran and I have many fond memories of my five years there. But in 1982, during my first few months, I was petrified by the hugeness of it. It was the sort of place which didn’t need binoculars as it was big enough already. So I was glad when the Christmas holidays commenced and I could while away the days at home, reading comics and keeping a careful eye on my mum in case she had another nervous breakdown.
On Christmas Day my sister and I rushed downstairs and tore open all our presents. I had my beloved comic annuals of course, and also Astro Wars! Gifted to me by my wonderful Nan & Bamp, who arrived shortly after and took the three of us to their house for Christmas dinner and a day of warmth and love. Or at least, they would have given me warmth and love if they had been able to tear me away from Astro Wars. For many months afterwards I would enjoy sitting in the dining room, with the lights off, my face illuminated by the blue, green and red of the LCD screen as I battled aliens and docked rockets using the little plastic control stick. My Nan & Bamp were never critical of my obsession. They would pass through the dining room to the kitchen and pause, a smile on their faces, as they watched me, completely engrossed in my game. I can still see them looking upon me with love. As adults we all miss that unconditional love that we once had. Love we never seemed to have to work at.
My Mum, Nan and Bamp have all since passed away, but these memories, as all my memories of them, I cherish.
The aim of this blog is to empower people who are unemployed. Not to ‘go out and get a job’ – that’s a different topic entirely. I mean empower them to realise there is nothing wrong with being unemployed. That you are doing all you can and don’t let others pressure you into doing anything you do not want to do. Their stigma is their stigma alone – it doesn’t have to be transferred into you. Their criticism is a reflection of themselves and the way they see the world, not a reflection of you or any perceived failings you might have in their eyes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself now. Let me backtrack, rewind, and begin again.
It’s 8:45 on 15th December 2015 – ten days to go until the big day!
Today’s blog is going to be about being unemployed. A contentious topic for some, but let’s see where we go with this.
Yesterday morning I had my fortnightly job search interview which went very well. No, there’s not a hint of sarcasm there – it did go well, as it always does. When they see that you are trying your best to obtain a job, and are also striving to better yourself in other ways (my writing aspirations and my Indian head massage business) then they treat you as you deserve to be treated – with respect, courtesy and decency. My ‘coaches’ (as they like to be called – the way that job titles have changed over the years could make for a funny blog in itself) have never put any pressure on me, never criticised my efforts and never have said a negative word to me. Neither have my friends – whether they have been the vague, half-known friends on social media, or proper friends that I have either met or built up a more meaningful relationship with me. Not one criticism. Not one word of advice to do this or do that or ‘step it up a gear’. But more about that later.
That said, I think there are a small minority of people who don’t try. I believe it’s one of those strange myths of British society that there are many people who enjoy being unemployed and make no effort to find work. It’s not as simple as that. I think some people lack the confidence and self-esteem to continue trying for employment. I think there are some people whose ‘life story’, to use a common phrase found in the psychology books of Eric Berne and others, who have fallen into their own ‘internal script’ (another Eric Berne phrase) of living in a certain defined way that they find it hard to break out of. But I’m going down the route of psychoanalysis now and I don’t claim to be an expert in that whatsoever. There are some who manipulate the system of course, and do their best to benefit from benefits.The con-artists and so forth. But generally, most decent people do enjoy making some sort of valued contribution to their ‘society’ and to the world at large.
Okay, let me reminisce, as you know I am good at that.
The last time I was unemployed was around 1988, if I recall. I left school in 1987 and I think, within two or three months, I was on a YTS scheme – that’s Youth Training Scheme for those whose memory don’t go that far back! My first one was with JHP Training Ltd, situated in the middle of Cwmbran town centre. The town was unusual in that above many of the shops was office space that was not connected to any storage areas that the shops might have. Along one arcade which had a Marks & Spencer’s, Timpson’s and River Island, was a little alcove with a small unassuming door that led into Powys House. Going through those doors was a bit like entering Doctor’s Who’s Tardis. “There are shops either side of this door,” I used to think, “so how come the inside is so incredibly big!” There was a lift that went up three floors where eventually you would step out into JHP Training, a training provider specialising in Information Technology. It’s where, in 1988, I learned out to use Wordstar (which was *the* word processor of the time, long before Microsoft Word took a stranglehold of the market) and spreadsheet and database programs. I think I was paid £27 a week for joining that scheme. These days, for mature adults, I don’t think there are any such schemes that give you a bonus for attending them. Their is a company called LearnDirect which are closely affiliated with the governments ‘Job Centre’, and they provide English and Maths classes, refunding your transport costs.But back to the 1980s Youth Training Schemes – the downside to spending a month at your ‘base camp’ learning these interesting modules, was that you were then sent out on placement. That’s when the resentment would arise, as for the same money of £27 a week, you were expected to do the same work as another staff member in that job, who might be getting £100 a week (or whatever the average wage was back then), which prompted a lot of protests. Particularly from these three lovely ladies. Bless ’em.
So, let me speed up this history of mine somewhat. A year or so later I started college – taking English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre at Pontypool college and then a year after that attended another training course, although this time it had nothing to do with going out on placements. It was an enjoyable three or four month course where I was learning more about Information Technology. I attended this one with a college friend, Lisa Osmond. Lisa, if you are reading this, I’ve thought about you a lot over the last twenty-five years and have tried to track you down but to no avail. Would love to hear from you again!
At the time I was living with my grandmother who was slowly becoming more invalid. By around 1992 it reached the stage where I officially became her sole, live-in carer. living with her and doing everything that she needed – cleaning her faeces from the landing carpet when she was incontinent, for example, during the many times she couldn’t make it to the toilet on time. That went on for years, with me having restless nights as the slightest sound from her room would make me wake up and remain on edge, thinking “Am I going to have to go and clean poo from the landing carpet?” at 2 or 3 in the morning. I was scared to leave the house in case she moved and fell. And then she passed away in 1998 and I worked in nursing homes, cleaning the faeces from elderly, dying, fellow human beings before I obtained a different job where I cared for adults with severe learning disabilities and then adults with acute mental health illnesses. So nobody can tell me that I haven’t earned a period on ‘benefits’, no matter how long it lasts for, because I’ve done a lot of good for other people and am just *needing* this little period of ‘time out’. Besides, as far as I was concerned, seven weeks ago I landed a new job and it was only because of a malicious bad reference that caused my new employer to retract the offer – but that’s for another blog post too. I am confident I will land another job early in the new year.
Okay, let’s get to the meat and two veg of this article. Some of the replies to the ‘worst things’ are going to replicate some of the points I have already raised above.
THREE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU CAN SAY TO THE UNEMPLOYED
1. “You need to get out more!” – Really? Why?Don’t you hate it when people tell you to ‘get out more’ ? And more so, to ‘meet new people’ ? Because I guess there perception is, if you are unemployed, your social circles suddenly (and inexplicably) shrinks! You are not at work and therefore you are not mixing with enough people anymore. Well firstly, I very rarely make friends at work. It often leads to trouble. Work is just work. I *have* made a few friends over the years but they are the rare ones, and I have been very selective. I have enjoyed working with many people over the years and many old colleagues I respect and hold in high regard, but being at work certainly never felt like a social event to me. Sitting in an office listening to a bunch of people criticise their partners or other staff members was always a pet hate of mine!
I like my own company, I like isolation, I like quietness and solitude. Leave me be to enjoy my cat and my writing. Each to their own. Why do some people find it hard to believe that a person can be happy spending long periods on their own at home? Is this another sad product of the current climate we live in, with these terrorist atrocities going on all over the world, and so people become more suspicious of ‘the quiet ones’? Maybe that is a factor too, though some would deny that. But as a child, although I did have a number of very close friends (Andrew, Martin, Royston, David, Paul, Wayne, Lisa, Eirwen, Janet – love you all!) I would equally love being in my room, aged ten, reading Enid Blyton, Michael Bond, E. Nesbitt and Lewis Caroll. I’ve always been comfortable with my own company. Plus, I’m sure I’ll be successful getting a job in the next few months so I’ll be meeting new people again that way anyhow.
I’ve spent fifteen years working on busy mental health wards, both acute wards and rehab wards, where day after day my mind has just been subjected to noise. Just noise from all directions and constantly being busy. I never enjoyed that side of things and I’ve loved the last five months where the majority of my time has been spent quietly, just listening to the wind through the trees, or the birdsong in the mornings. I needed that to heal anyway, and I know my mind is still a little fragile when it comes to stress and pressure.
2. “You need to step it up a gear!” – Well, personally, as I have mentioned above, my friends who know me and believe in me, know this is just ridiculous. They know I am doing everything, within my capabilities, to get a job. And most of all, those people who have the power to change my benefits and impose sanctions – my job coaches at the job centre – know I am doing everything in my power to get a job. They often commend me and are visibly impressed at the way I write and upload books to Amazon, at my Indian Head Massage business, and at my pursuit of a job in the care sector. They are lovely to me, supportive and encouraging, and not once have they put any pressure on me by saying “You need to step it up a gear.” And my friends are the same. Knowing what I have been through in life. They know we are all built differently and have different personalities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the *right* job, no matter how long it takes. There is absolutely no way I would take a job just for the sake of it as it would damage my mental health. If I was forced to work in, for example, a busy supermarket, with tons of bustling shoppers around me each day, stacking shelves and so on, I think my health, mentally and physically, would suffer a setback. As I say, we are all built differently and most of us reach an age where we are fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
3. “People may resent you being on benefits, while they are working hard.” – Oh hang on a minute. Hang on one cotton-picking minute. What right does someone have to make this sort of comparison? Why do people assume that because you are not employed, you are therefore not ‘working hard’? Do people equate ‘working hard’ with physical labour? Is that the only hard work around? If so, that is quite a naive criteria to base hard work on. I work damn hard – both in my writing aspirations and in my search for the right job. And again, it’s not to do with the *time* you put into it either. Whether I work two hours a day or ten hours a day on my writing, I may still only come up with one page of material, but both times I have worked equally as hard. As any creative person knows, creativity, inspiration and imagination is not something you can force and somedays I may struggle to compose a paragraph. I might spend a day on it, mostly thinking or pacing the room as I try and articulate my thoughts and transfer them to the page in the best way possible. So for that day, where I have produced one paragraph, I have worked damn fucking hard.
Now, on to the ‘resentment’ bit. In an article by Deborah Orr in The Guardian today, titled ‘The real benefit cheats are the employers who are milking the system’, she points out that ‘just £8bn on benefits goes to the unemployed, while an estimated £76bn, according to James Ferguson of Money Week, goes to people who are working.’ So you have the irony of a Labour government supporting employers with huge benefit handouts to help them pay for their employees. There is something intrinsically wrong with that. ‘Employing someone has come to be seen as such a noble pursuit that businesses are paid to do it.’ continues Deborah Orr. Yes. Well put indeed. The full link to her illuminating article is here – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/26/benefits-cheats-employers-milk-system-in-work-benefit
Resentment from anyone about anything is more a reflection of them than you. Remember that. It is more a reflection of their perception of life, their own standards and their own internal script. Their standards aren’t your standards and they have no right to try and impose them upon you. Remain courageous in the face of criticism. And the people who say these sorts of things, I am sure that they mean well in their heart. I’m sure it isn’t out of malice. It is, however, out of a lack of understanding, empathy and compassion.I was a bit cross to be on the receiving end of such a comment recently and here is my reply, drawing upon my personal experience that I mentioned previously – from 1992 to 1998 I was the sole carer for my grandmother. For those six years or so that I was looking after my Nan, all I had was Invalid Care Allowance which basically was £10 a week on top of my dole money. So I think that weekly amount came to £60. For being on call 24/7 to my beloved Nan, attending to her personal hygiene, I was paid £60 a week as far as I can remember. For cooking all her meals each day, cleaning up after her, emptying the commode every few hours that she kept right by her chair in the living room, doing the weekly shopping for us, keeping her company, holding her hand and telling her I loved her as she lay dying in a hospital bed for three weeks at the end of her life, I got £60 a week.
So how can anyone resent me enjoying a government handout now, via an unemployment benefit, when I received such little financial help for those six years I worked in the 90s? And those years took their toll. On reflection, eighteen years after she passed away, I now know that those six years did affect me mentally. They were hard. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything. Most of us, whether we deny it or not, are often trying to make sense of our past. Writing blogs like this, and even through my works of fiction, is a continual exploration of themes, ideas and problems I have personally encountered in the past.
So there it is. I hope anyone who reads this that are also unemplyed, are inspired. Inspired in the sense that you know if you draw upon your life experiences, knowing what you have done, then you can hold your head high. There is nothing wrong with being unemployed. Do things at your own pace as your health *must* come first.
And on that note, Merry Christmas!
Through the years
We all will be together,
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
Yeah, right. It’s Saturday, 10.30pm on 12th December 2015 and it’s been a quiet day. I’ve done some writing, done some sleeping, done some eating. The world carries on.
In some ways I have nothing, but in other ways I have, well, nothing too. Maybe it’s the pre-Christmas blues I have. Once the Christmas blues and the post-Christmas blues are out of the way, I’m sure I’ll feel better.
Anyway, let’s crack on. I have a lot of thoughts to regurgitate in this blog. Things could get messy.
So, it’s been a funny old year. New Year’s Day 2015 I was here in Avebury, having shortly come back from spending nearly a week in Abergavenny over the Christmas period with my friend Sarah . Sarah had played an important part in my life throughout 2014 and the depth and complexities of our friendship is way beyond the scope of this little blog piece. Suffice to say that by the end of March our friendship was over and I had entered a dark period of depression.
Depression is a funny old thing and this blip was a combination of several factors.I hadn’t been happy in my job for a while. I had been working in mental health for over fifteen years and in the care setting in general for over twenty. It’s not something I aspired to do or necessarily wanted to do as a child. When I was seven I wanted to be an astronaut. This was in 1978 when being an astronaut was quite a cool thing to say to people, particularly when you are seven. By the time I was nine I wanted to be a writer. Maybe a writer based on some orbiting space station – that would have been really cool. But I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t realise at the time you could be a writer just by calling yourself a writer. It took me nearly thirty years to work that one out. I thought there was some sort of test you had to pass, or x amount of stories you had to have published. Then I discovered that when I started telling people I was a writer, they believed me. Not once did they say ‘show me the proof!’. They might say ‘what have you written?’ and that would open up a world of possibilities and the alarming prospect of thinking on my feet. But now, I tell others that I am a writer first and whatever day job I am in at the time, second.
I had had a long period of sickness that began, I think, in late February. I never went back to work after that. I can’t actually remember what triggered it. It may have been a cold, wet winter’s morning and I just might have thought ‘I’m staying in bed’. Now people who have never experienced depression or a significantly low mood, may think I am being flippant here. Those who have experienced depression know exactly what I am talking about. Everything seems overwhelming and the slightest obstacle in your path, be it the weather, or the coffee jar lid becoming stuck, becomes a catastrophe from which there is no way out. That stuck coffee lid could result in six months on an acute mental health ward. Luckily for me, it didn’t result in that. In April I had a sickness review meeting and it was agreed that I was burnt out. I acknowledged that. I think I had been in denial for a long time. Things at work bothered me, people irritated me. I even hated my shoes. I felt like Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ – initially I enjoyed the quiet monotony of the job but by the end I wanted to spread my wings and fly. So to cut a long story short, my job officially ended on the 7th July. I was free.
Meanwhile, I was also looking for love. I joined POF (Plenty Of Fish) again, which was a dating site. A free one too,which I had joined the previous year for a few months. I joined in February of 2015 and in a few weeks, a lady from Bournemouth became interested me and foolishly, I said yes to her request to come and stay with me in Avebury for a few nights. I hadn’t even spoken to her on the phone. In the middle of March, she came to stay. I met her at Swindon train station and a bright, bubbly, bouncy person met me. As we walked to the bus stop she kept touching me and saying “I can’t believe your real,” which was sort of sweet and endearing, but twenty minutes later I just wanted to say “How many touches left before you decide I’m real? Because frankly, your touches are becoming rather tiresome and I would like you to reflect on your tactile proclivity.”
That night, I turned over after sex and she blew her top. I would have turned back to her, but I was exhausted and just needed a minute or two to catch my breath, but the fact I hadn’t immediately cuddled her after I came, triggered a sort of King Kong/Godzilla/Megatron/Giant Mutant Fish response and she walked off into the other bedroom. The next morning she came back into the living room and spoke at length about how she believed I was on the autistic spectrum and possibly had a personality disorder. She then said “Well I think that’s cleared the air. Can I stay tonight?” It was a few seconds after I said “No.” that she banged her fists on the table, screamed a bit and banged her fists on the table a bit more. When she realised her banging and screaming wasn’t going to get her anywhere, she became quiet. She remained quiet all the way to the train station. As we stood on the platform I tried to give her a goodbye kiss and hug but she wouldn’t have it, so I left. Over the next few weeks I received many accusatory texts and emails and countless voice messages on Wattsapp, before she asked if she could visit me again so that we could enjoy the summer solstice together. I queried her use of ‘enjoy’ and told her it would be best if we never spoke to each other ever again. Unless it was an emergency and we were both desperately lonely.
Then, in May, I began a relationship with another lady. She was an alcoholic and, well, I guess I am drawn to damaged people, and maybe they are to me too. There’s different levels of ‘damaged’ though and I think I’m a high functioning damaged person.
That relationship ended and in July I began another, this time with a massage therapist. She also did reiki healing, hot stone massage therapy, reflexology and ear candle therapy. I just don’t see how lighting a candle and sticking it in your ear is going to help you heal. At worst, you’re just going to get hot wax in your ear. At best, your hair may catch fire. I just don’t buy it. The same goes for reflexology – how can areas of the feet correspond to your brain or heart or liver? I acted as a model several times for her reflexology students who practiced reflexology on me and while the actual foot massage was very nice, my liver, brain and heart remained completely unaffected by the experience. That relationship ended in November and I have come to the conclusion that I’m just not cut out for relationships. I don’t think I can love again and I am going to be celibate. Actually, does celibate mean refraining from wanking too? It does doesn’t it? What’s the word that means you don’t want to engage in sexual practices with another human being but you’re not opposed to a good old wank? But in all seriousness, I just don’t think I have it in me any more.
“All romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk
And boring someone in some dark cafe.”
Joni Mitchell – ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’
I also had a number of friends visit me this year. Wayne Weston and Paul Silcox, both friends from the early 1980s, came to visit me in Avebury in early April when I was at my lowest point. I hadn’t seen either of them for several years, both of them still living in Wales. I messaged them out of the blue, chatting in a quite pithy and glib way about ending my life as I felt everything was just hopeless, and before I could say “Terrahawks!” they had both arrived in Avebury and we spent a great weekend together, drinking, talking and laughing, just like old times. In November I had a friend and fellow writer, Charlotte, visit me all the way from York, and just a week later, out of the blue, Magdalene, a friend from London, came to visit too. Both visits were wonderful and I value their friendship immensely.
That more or less sums up my year. I guess the most significant one was the four month relationship I had. No matter if a relationship ends, no matter if you never loved that person in that romantic, passionate way that they may have hoped for, you can’t deny that it still has an effect on your life and they have made an impression upon you. As in the old Alanis Morrisette song ‘Unsent’, “I’ll always have your back and be wondering about you, about your career your whereabouts…”
Anyway, let’s end with a nice picture of good old affable James Stewart. Because actually, despite everything I have gone though over the years, it is a wonderful life.
It’s the 7th December, 2015. I am 44 years old, writing this from my little flat in the village of Avebury. I am single, living with a cat, and currently unemployed. As Fat Boy Slim once said, “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.”
I was born in Wales, raised in Cwmbran, a small town in the south of that beautiful country. Small to me, of course, as during the thirty-odd years I lived there, I explored the vast majority of it. I know about the two small lime kilns on Garth Road that were restored in 1988, for example, that not many Cwmbran-ites know about. Though I only know because I lived around the corner and stood there as it happened, my 17-year-old eyes watching inquisitively as the workmen attached the round ‘kilns of historical interest’ plaque to the knotted stone wall. I’m not sure if knotted is the best adjective to describe a stone wall, but as I say, I’m 44 and I’ve got to that age when one’s adjectives slowly run out.
But this is a blog about my Christmas memories so I need to curb my digressions. You know I love a good digression, and this is one right here, but it’s going to hit a kerb right now, so to speak.
I never remember my father around much for Christmas. Probably because he buggered off when I was 9 years old. I have no memory of sitting at a table and eating a Christmas dinner with him, and that realisation just occurred to me, out of the blue. Where does the phrase ‘out of the blue’ come from? Why not ‘out of the green’ or ‘out of the that peculiar shade which is in-between orange and black’? Anyhow, I have no memory of enjoying that special Christmas moment with him. I have no memory of waking up, opening my presents, and then running into his arms to thank him. Because I don’t think he was ever there in the morning. He may have slouched downstairs, sometime in the early afternoon and then hogged the telly. Mostly – and this is an odd thing – he wouldn’t mind my mum, my sister and I going to my Nan & Bamp’s for Christmas day and enjoying dinner with them. That’s where the real magic happened.
One year I remember asking not only for a TomyTronic 3D Sky Attack game but also Demon Driver. Now I just did a little research on those two games on the internet, which leads me to believe this must have been the Christmas of 1983, when I was 12 years old. I loved being twelve. The last year before being a teenager. Once I was 13 I knew I would be expected to start smoking, drinking and having sex, and the thought of it petrified me, especially if I had to do it all at the same time. So being 12 was the last year in which I could still enjoy reading Whizzer & Chips without being ridiculed, or to hopefully play Demon Driver on the morning of Christmas Day without being scoffed at. I was sensitive to scoffing. A scornful scoff is just the worst thing. Nearly as bad as a laudable laugh.
Of course, the way I got to know about Demon Driver was through the Argos catalogue. These days, I guess kids know about the latest toys through adverts on social media, or just adverts in general, targeted at ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’ web sites that kids visit. Back in 1983, all that any kid needed was an Argos catalogue. I would spend the weeks, if not months, leading up to Christmas reading the Argos catalogue. While my mum and sister would be watching Rising Damp or The Six Million Dollar Man, I would be sat there, with the Argos catalogue open on my lap, scrutinising all of the toys. Demon Driver must have stood out at me that year due to the little wheel controller that it used, which was quite a novelty back then. Even if the size of the wheel was the size of a ten pence piece, it was still a wheel, and that’s what mattered. And the idea of racing formula one cars, with a wheel, was just too good to miss! Demon Driver was at the top of my Christmas wish list.
So on the morning of Christmas Day, 1983, I awoke. I’ve no idea what the time was. Probably 7am or so, and then I would just count down the minutes, one by one, waiting for my mother to stir. I would never, ever race into her bedroom, shouting “Merry Christmas” and all that jazz. I wasn’t an exuberant child. No. The way I would try to get attention would be with a cough. Just a small one to begin with. Just one cough, every five minutes or so, getting louder and louder until I actually started coughing for real and would end up convulsing on the floor, screaming “Water! Water!” between trying to gulp down mouthfuls of air.
Eventually my mother called out to me and my sister that we could get up and she followed us downstairs. I, of course, took four or five steps at a time, holding the banister with one hand and the wall with another as I took great bounds down that staircase that seemed so steep at the time. We would then race into the living room. My sister’s presents would be all piled up on one part of the sofa and all my presents would be piled up on the other. I tore open a few parcels at random – 1983 annuals of my favourite comics – Whizzer & Chips, Cor!, Buster, The Beezer and The Topper. All well and good.
I tore open another parcel.
There it was. Demon Driver. Demon fucking Driver. It was mine. It was mine and I had batteries for it too. I hurriedly opened the box, took out the little console, inserted the batteries. Demon Driver. I actually had it! Wait until all my friends in school heard about this. I owned Demon Driver! I flicked the on switch and raced my little 12 year-old guts out for five minutes.
Right. Got it. Next.
I began opening the other presents. This was turning into a great Christmas!
When we are young, many of us have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We want to know everything about everything. Often we end up knowing nothing about nothing, or even something about anything. But none of us ever reach the stage where we know nothing about something, unless everything was anything anyway.
“Hmm,” I thought. “Interesting.”
What made it particularly interesting was that I was browsing the Enid Blyton section, so what it was doing their God knows. Not that I believed in God back then, but if I had, then he would have known. That is, he would have known how that book got there, not known that I believed in him. Though he would have known that too. I guess I need to stop drinking.
So I picked the book up and perused its contents. I read the back cover blurb and then read the inner cover blurb. I randomly flicked through the book, picking out a few other blurbs of interest until finally I parted with £6.99 and bought the book. Now I need to say something here. £6.99 was a hell of a lot of money in 1988. I could have bought around 50 copies of Whizzer & Chips for that amount of money and STILL had some left over for a Mars bar, a packet of Monster Munch and a pair of tights. It sat on my bookshelf for a while, along with Nietzsche’s Critique Of Pure Reason and Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. I did eventually read it a few weeks later and although some of its themes and ideas were difficult to grasp, I enjoyed it, particularly when Moon-face slid down the helter-skelter in the middle of the tree.
Many years later in 2009 I left Wales and moved to Wiltshire. The NHS Trust I worked for was excellent at providing training for staff, allowing them a degree of control over which training courses they attended. One day, upon browsing the courses, I noticed a two day event in Bath titled Enhanced Communication. It was held in a huge hotel, high on a hill near the city centre. On arrival, I was greeted by the facilitator, Alison Barclay, and joined a happy throng of approximately fifteen other people; some students, some nurses, some support workers like myself, and we began the course. Day two featured Transactional Analysis and for the first time in over twenty years, I heard the name Eric Berne again. Alison was a great facilitator, helped by the enthusiasm and knowledge of a couple of psychology students that were also on the course. The three of them were able to put forward the theory of Transactional Analysis in a lucid, entertaining and engaging way – no small feat considering they just had half a day to do this. Squeezing over forty years of theory into five hours is tricky, but they did it and I found it engrossing. Subsequently, when working on the rehab ward that was my main base, I was always very observant regarding the way my colleagues would interact with the patients. I, too, became more thoughtful and reflective about the way I project myself.
So here is my take on it, in a nutshell.
There are three ‘states’ that we can adopt in any given human interaction.
Whenever we communicate/chat/gass/gossip/chin-wag/converse or chew-the-fat with someone, we unconsciously adopt one of the three states – Parent, Adult or Child. That bit is easy, right?
So what happens when we are in Parent mode? The other party can adopt one of three positions.
Let’s invent a conversation.
Person 1 (politely) : “What time is it?”
Person 2 (impatiently) : “Haven’t you got a watch?”
Person 1 (sarcastically) : “Sorrreee! I was only asking!”
So person 1 starts out in Adult mode and asks a question. Person 2 responds in Parent mode. Maybe they are in a rush. Maybe they have things on their mind and their mood is out of sorts that day. But for whatever reason, they don’t respond as an adult. Person 1, reacting to this unexpected reply, turns into a Child, using sarcasm to deflect away the hurt that they felt in being told off (as their first memory of being told off was by their parent, when they were a child, so becoming a child again is easy when dealing with an assertive, slightly impatient adult.)
So you can see where this is going can’t you? You have all the permutations of those three states – parent/parent, parent/child, child/parent, child/adult and so on.
Another example –
Employee (meekly): “I am wondering Mr Hamish, if you would possibly consider giving me a raise, as I have worked so hard for you this past year.”
Manager : “You stacked cat food on the rack of seamless stockings this morning. That’s just stupid. Can you imagine if a lady had actually bought a packet of Whiskas instead of the Pretty Polly sheer nylons they wanted to buy? They’d end up with mechanically recovered meat all down their legs.”
So here we have the employee adopting the role of a child, only to be greeted by an admonishing adult. However, this script is one that had probably been thought out beforehand. Many of us may unconsciously (or not so unconsciously) adopt a child-like stance when attempting to gain something from someone whom we know is in a position of power. It is a strategy that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. But these scripts and strategies are used over and over again throughout our lives, each of us adopting a certain stance, be it adult, parent or child, depending on external variables.
The most interesting thing is this – none of the positions are empirically correct. You are probably thinking “So ideally, I should always be looking to be an adult? That’s the most mature position to be in during all human interactions, right?”
Eric Berne took great pains to point out that it isn’t the case that we should always strive to be the ‘adult’. It’s simply about being mindful and aware of those times when we adopt a role, and being aware of when the person we are interacting with adopts a role. And roles can switch mid-way through a conversation too. It’s just about being aware. Because sometimes it is useful to be a child, or useful to be a parent, depending on the person we are interacting with.Many of us have become petulant children when other people have not been able to meet our needs. And sometimes that can work.Sometimes we can become admonishing parents in the face of an admonishing adult. Sometimes that can work. The word ‘manipulation’ can automatically invoke negative connotations in many people but the fact is, we manipulate our environment the best we can all through our lives. Eric Berne has merely written about this in an extremely thorough and insightful way.
Of course, this blog is just a soundbite when it comes to transactional analysis. It obviously goes much, much deeper. For example, the diagram below shows how the categories can be broken up further still –
So hopefully, this little taster has whetted your appetite for Transactional Analysis and you will now pursue a career in psychology. Alternatively, you may just switch on the telly and watch another repeat of Bullseye. If you do, then I will adopt the role of the admonishing adult and say “What are you watching that nonsense when The Walking Dead is on the other side?”
I can’t believe I haven’t written any blogs about 8-bit computers or games yet! I was looking over my posts today and in the three years since I set up this website, there’s not a single hint of 8-bit love! So I shall remedy that travesty of a mockery of a sham today by creating a whole new searchable category – 8-bit love – and writing a blog post, beginning fittingly with the first ever computer I owned, the Amstrad CPC464.
Now before this computer, I wasn’t a gaming virgin. In late 1983 I was bought a Vectrex and that console is worthy of its own blog post, so I will say no more about it here. However, I yearned for a proper computer. My good friends at the time all owned computers. Paul Silcox owned a Vic-20, Wayne Weston owned a Spectrum 48k, Mark Cooper owned an Oric and John Brooks was a proud owner of the only 8-bit computer to originate in Wales – the Dragon 32. Many parents ostensibly bought computers for their children because they were seduced by the “Mum, it will help with my homework” argument, that echoed throughout every home in the early 80s, even homes that didn’t have children. But the truth of the matter was that once the computer was unpacked, the child would then type in
10 print “Big tits”
20 goto 10
and then run out of the room, shouting happily “I’m a programmer! I’m going to be a millionaire!”
So in the Autumn of 1984 I started my ‘I need a computer to help me with my homework’ campaign. My mother often had shopping catalogues in her house such as Littlewoods and Grattan, mail-order services that were immensely popular throughout the 80s and 90s. This, my thirteen year old mind reasoned, would be a great way of obtaining a computer. My mother was on benefits and had little money and I knew that she couldn’t afford to buy me a computer outright. £299 was an awful lot of money in 1984. I could have bought 900 comics for that amount. So I would leave the Grattan catalogue open, with the Amstrad computer circled in thick red felt-tip, hoping that Santa would surprise me at Christmas.
I had to wait a while as that bastard known as Santa welshed on the deal, leaving me with a Tomytronics 3d Space Attack game, and not the computer I was hoping for. In the end, it was my dear Nan and Bamp who stepped in for my 14th birthday in May 1985 and turned me into the proud owner of an Amstrad CPC464. It came with the infamous 12-pack of games. Infamous because they were mostly crap. But to a 14-year old who had yet to develop a discerning eye, they were all gold. Roland on the Ropes, Oh Mummy, Sultan’s Maze and others, gave me hours of fun.
Once, during dinner break at Llantarnam School, I persuaded my friends Wayne Weston and Paul Silcox to come back to my home in Southville, Cwmbran, so I could show off my new computer. We ran from Llantarnam to my home, which took about fifteen minutes. We then waited ten minutes for the Roland On The Ropes to load. When they asked what sort of game it was, I replied “Neo-despotism” which was a phrase I had picked up from last week’s issue of Whizzer & Chips comic. The game eventually loaded and we played it for five minutes and then ran back to school again, just making it back in time as the bell rang.
Technically, the Amstrad was far superior to the Spectrum and Commodore 64, its two main competitors. The Spectrum, at that time, had very limited colour capabilities and suffered from something known as ‘colour clash’, which meant it couldn’t be set on a mahogany table against a magnolia wall, as it would just look simply awful. You may read other articles stating that ‘colour clash’ was to do with the Spectrum’s idiosyncratic display memory layout and it’s pixel bitmap attributes. But those articles are wrong.
Now I was going to flesh out this blog by also mentioning several games that I bought for my beloved Amstrad, in 1985. However, as I am aware there is a huge market for retro-gaming and a very large fan base out there, I think each game is worthy of its own comprehensive installment. So in the near future you can expect blogs on Manic Miner, Marsport, Jet Set Willy, Sabre Wulf, Elite and a host of other games that I loved during my teenage years.
It was the magical era of computing. In my opinion, those five years between 1980 and 1985 were the golden era when it came to the 8-bits. From 1986 onwards, they still evolved and were still extremely popular, but the 16-bit computers such as the Atari ST and the Amiga, along with the NES console, started to slowly make the 8-bits redundant, though their real death wouldn’t arrive until the early 90s.
But even today, on this sunny morning in July, 2015, I have an Amstrad emulator installed on my laptop and at least once a week I fire it up and play games such as Head Over Heels, Get Dexter and Chuckie Egg, losing myself in the golden glow of memories that still remain, thirty years later.
In 1989, a year when Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers urged us to Swing The Mood, Black Box insisted we Ride On Time, and Technotronic ordered us to Pump Up The Jam, I was caught up with the sounds of the sixties. I was eighteen years old and my record collection was full of Fairport Convention, The Beatles, The Incredible String Band and Donovan (the one responsible for Hurdy Gurdy Man, and not the one who banged Charlene in Neighbors). The era that the music I loved came from shaped my ideologies and interests and a burgeoning interest in the paranormal and spirituality began to develop, one that even Rick Astley couldn’t diminish.
One day in the summer of 1989 I was walking along one of the smaller side streets in Newport, South Wales. I lived in Cwmbran at the time and Newport was my favored port of call if ever I wanted to pick up books or music. The small independent bookshop I was heading for was called Bookworm and actually, just now on a whim, I googled it to see if it was still there. Apparently so. There’s a sort of comfort in the knowledge that things from the past can still remain, even when forgotten about for so long.
I wandered in and as usual, lamented the fact that there was no porn section, before moving on to the philosophy and psychology shelves. All through my life I have gone through phases where I have suddenly become interested in a new sphere of knowledge – whether it has been philosophy, psychology, evolution, religion, the paranormal, the history of thimbles – I may spend a year or so reading books on the subject and then move on to something else. It’s just my nature but luckily, suits the temperament of a writer as you can then draw upon a broad spectrum of knowledge. For example, if I wanted to write a novel where my main protagonist was a zoologist who stumbled upon a secret sect of the Mormon church whose members worshipped thimbles, then I wouldn’t need to do a great deal of research.
So I browsed the shelves and noticed the book by Susan Blackmore. I had already bought the book Life After Life by Raymond Moody a couple of years previously, so was already aware of the phenomena of Out Of The Body Experiences (I will contract this to OOBE’s for the rest of the blog, not just because it saves me typing, but also because OOBE’s sounds like the sort of purring sound of gratification that someone would emit after having gone through a perverse sexual fetish). I flicked through it, it seemed interested, so spent £6 of my hard earned YTS money (Youth Training Scheme – I got £27 a week for being forced to go on various training courses) and left the shop one book richer.
I don’t have the book anymore and my memory of the content is vague, but I do have a strong memory of one chapter that attempted to teach people how to have an OOBE. It involved starting with relaxation techniques, such as lying on your bed, tensing and relaxing each muscle in your body three times, beginning with your toes and working up to your head (not that your head is a muscle, of course. I would just flex my ears three times and wiggle my nose, like that hot sorceress in Bewitched) and then using visualisation techniques to imagine your body slowly rising off your bed and possibly floating through the window and drifting off into space and shit. Sadly, no matter how many times I tried, it never worked for me. I would just become very relaxed and fall asleep, often waking up just as Moonlighting was starting.
This interest, along with dowsing, crystal healing and John Noakes, lasted for a few years until other things began to interest me more, particularly when I commenced college in 1990 and discovered crazy goth chicks.
However, approximately five years ago, my interest in the phenomena was re-awakened when I stumbled across the Near Death Experience Research Foundation website, which contained a huge amount of accounts of NDE’s. I found it hard to believe that it was some organic process that caused these extremely lucid and real experiences. If all or most of the accounts focused on the generic points – the white light, the tunnel, the feeling of love – then yes, I could be convinced that the experience was a by-product of some strange effect of consciousness, triggered by the extreme stress and shock of the near death experience. However, the accounts were not generic at all. Most contained very specific and detailed experiences – interactions with ‘spirits’, whether they were family members past or present, or other beings that were not part of the person’s extended family on the earthly plane, but were definitely part of their spiritual family. Their were many common denominators that intrigued me and yet also just seemed to instantly fit with my own beliefs about life and death.
- There was no judgement by some external omnipotent (yet benevolent) supreme being. Unlike Christianity and many other faiths, were fear is drummed into the believer that you will be judged upon death, and so must be ‘good’ in this life else you will enter some sort of purgatory when you die, NDE’s did not reflect this at all. The majority of accounts stated that YOU were given the opportunity of judging yourself. A ‘3-d’ playback of moments from your life would begin, where you not only became the person you were at that point in time, but you would also enter their heads of the people involved in that experience, understanding their thoughts and how they interpreted your actions. And this would happen many times, as you viewed and experienced many parts of your life, leaving it up to you to draw some conclusions about your own behaviour. This makes perfect sense to me.
- It is often revealed to the person having the NDE that time isn’t linear and that also we re-incarnate. So we can re-incarnate into the past as well as into the future. And, very importantly, we choose to do this. We chose to come to Earth to live the life we are living. This doesn’t mean we know exactly how life is going to turn out. There is no pre-destiny and there is freedom of choice. However, we understood, before coming to earth, that there would be certain experiences made available to us on our life path, that would be essential for our overall arc of learning.
- Love is the glue that binds the whole universe together.
There are many other bullet points I could add, but this is the sort of topic that I know I am going to revisit again and again, adding (and maybe subtracting) to more core beliefs until the time comes where I can publish a manifesto on it and become a millionaire through the donations of my followers, just like L.Ron.Hubbard did.
Flippancy and genius comedic sensibilities aside, it is something that forms the core of my spiritual beliefs. In my early twenties I explored many different religions, mainly denominations of the Christian faith – Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, Bagpuss – and none of them satisfied me. All of them were focused on being a good person, and their idea of goodness was very strictly defined. Again, through the accounts of NDE’s I have read, being ‘good’ is neither the way we think it is nor as important as we think it is. In fact, during one of our life cycles, it may be important for us to be a ‘bad’ person, simply due to needing the experience of it.
Yeah, I know. This is challenging shit and many people reading this may be taking a defensive, protective stance now, dismissing these ideas. But I believe in them wholeheartedly, which also has a negative aspect – if I believe that I am just going to come around again and again ( by my choosing) then what does it matter whether I achieve anything in life? How do I know that during this cycle, the fact that I become enlightened and start questioning the purpose of my life and the validity of all I do based on the fact that any failures aren’t failures as I can just come back again to remedy them, isn’t a necessary part of my journey?
It’s a paradoxical conundrum that has the word ‘enigma’ splattered all over it!
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I actually bought most of the content at Lidl’s yesterday. They sell pre-made blogs, next to the packet of crisps that are designed so much to look like Walker’s, you actually think they are Walker’s, until you take them home and eat one and realise they are Smith’s.