Simon Mark Smith (Simonsdiary.com)

Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography Chapter 35 Ideologies Part 2

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Chapter 35

Ideologies PART 2

Children are their parents’ teacher.

1970 London – Aged 5 – The Battle of Waterloo

The green painted panels, dark red patterned chairs, red leather arm rests and wooden framed windows wrapped themselves around me. Through the rattling panes of glass I watched the blurry grey tunnel walls passing by at dim light speed, my eyes darting from right to left as I tried to still the image momentarily. For a second, the lights turned off. Everything disappeared. This was the dreamy world of the underground. Here past and present met. We were going underground where cigarette butts filled the grooves in the wooden floors and grab handles swayed seductively, they didn’t care who held them as long as they gripped them tightly.

Getting off the train filled me with dread, there was the gap, ‘the gap’, a voice kept reminding me to mind. To fall in it meant certain death. Mum grabbed my arm and lifted me over it, told me not to be scared, but I knew it was was big enough for me to fall through. I took leave of her senses and clung on. Once on the platform we waited for the other passengers to disperse then mum introduced me to the escalators. She held my arm again and told me to step on quickly. ‘Make sure you avoid the line where the steps meet’. I was paralysed by fright, so when she said jump, I did nothing. I felt a sudden jolt and there I was ascending the escalator, my mother looking down at me smiling ‘See, it’s fun, isn’t it?’ Then as we reached the top, she said ‘ready, steady,’ and on the command to jump, I did.

As we came out of Leicester Square station it was already dark, cold enough for snow, but it just rained. We walked a few minutes to the cinema where mum asked for tickets for ‘The Battle of Waterloo’. The man behind glass told mum we were too early, so, we headed back to Charring Cross Road, where a restaurant with red wall lights caught us. Mum picked me up so I could see inside. She kissed me and said. ‘This looks alright, it looks nice and warm in there.’

The restaurant had dark red leather bench seats, low lighting and Victorian era paintings of soldiers in battle upon the walls, I was entranced, but it’s the memory of us sharing a plate of fish and chips that resonates now. Compared to being in Pastens this was a magical world of just mummy and me. This wasn’t the first time we’d travelled on public transport together, but up to this journey she most likely carried me on escalators and across gaps, so this marked a rite of passage.

In my later years, I’d wonder how mum dealt with people’s reactions to my disability back then. On a couple of occasions, I witnessed her get angry when someone stared too much, in a raised voice she’d say ‘10 pence a look’. Had I been more savvy I’d have told her to raise the price, but she was never any good when it came to money.

After the meal, we returned to the Odeon where mum bought some Paynes Poppets chocolate covered nuts, then we entered the cavernous auditorium. It was almost empty. The film may have been exceptional for its battle scenes, but the lack of good reviews partly led to its commercial failure. For Stanley Kubrick, who co-directed it, the projects he’d had lined up were axed, this meant he was forced to take a new path, so he embarked on ‘A Clock Work Orange’. This would eventually be recognised as a classic, but at the time one critic described it as an ideological mess. As you’ve probably realised by now, I tend to think all ideologies are messy, but mainly because they are not messy enough. For me though, at 5 years old, any subtleties of storytelling and film making were irrelevant, all that mattered were the battle scenes. Even so, I don’t recall anything else except a soldier getting hit by a cannon ball and my indignant ‘Where are the spitfires?’ comment receiving a trickle of laughter  from a few audience members, probably desperate for some well-deserved light relief. And partially waking in my mother’s arms as she took me home across gaps, down escalators, and into a taxi from the station to home. She may have felt her struggles went unappreciated, but they were not.

What first reminded me of this experience was how in older tube trains started to be replaced by modern ones in the 80’s. At first the new plastic futuristic design was impressive but it didn’t take long till it felt soulless. During the 60’s and 70’s the designs that permeated our culture were revolutionary, however, they co-existed alongside those from the 40’s and 50’s. It was also common to come across houses and other aspects of life that were stuck in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The 60’s and 70’s sought to dismantle the past in a collective eagerness to change the world, but there was something about the 1980’s that attempted to finish the job off. So, by the 1990’s the modern era had arrived in full and museums were already exhibiting items from the 70’s as historically iconic, however, for many people, Victorian ‘period features’ were, and still are, by-words for classical design.

Things rarely disappear completely. If you look close enough, you’ll catch an echo of their existence. The road we lived on when I was 17 was called Park Lane, and the houses that backed on to our garden fence were on Park Gate Road. For all the time I lived there, I never thought twice about these road names, however, at one time the junction where these two met marked the location of some very austere gates to the grounds of a manor house. The gates had been taken down long ago. They ended up in a scrap yard and were bought for a pittance and shipped to America, where they can still be seen at the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay New York. Ironically, the gates were put in place after a fire destroyed the original main house but before its larger replacement was built. It got as far as the planning stage, but didn’t progress any further. Not every dream house comes to be.

For most of us, if we get to live long enough, we’ll recognise we experienced multiple eras, even if some were just a scent of recently bygone ones. The other day I was talking to a young guy I know, ‘Nathan’, I said, ‘in 40 years’ time, you’ll be my age. Remember this moment, and how different life is now compared to then. Self-Driving and Flying vehicles will probably be the norm’ and the noise and smell of car engines will be a distant memory.

In the 70’s there were still a few horse-drawn carts that’d pass our house, some people gave us lifts in cars from the 40’s with indicators that popped up near the roof, and we’d make patterns in the sawdust coating of pub floors while the adults drank and smoked till our eyes stung. In my father’s childhood days, people lived close to the earth, the floor to his house was made of soil and stones which served as a constant reminder of nature and where they’d end up one day. Nowadays most of us don’t encounter soil much. In fact, it’s avoided, concreted over, and instead virtual worlds or glass towers in the clouds give us a Heaven’s eye view of the realms we’ve created. Design affects how we think, and what we believe affects design.

*                       *                       *

May 1982 Wilsons School

One morning I was informed that the headmaster wanted to see me in the afternoon. I racked my brain as to what I may have done wrong lately, lining up the best ways to react if any should be brought up in the meeting. When the time finally came, I sat outside his office, getting my scripts just right and working out who might have grassed me up. The secretary called me in. I entered his office, approached his austere desk and sat opposite him. He leant back and clasped his hands together.

‘Well Mr Smith, how are your studies going?’

‘They’re a lot harder than I thought they’d be but I think I’m keeping up’ I answered using the slightly self-effacing truth technique.

‘Yes,’ he paused ‘Yes, that’s what I hear’

Here it comes I thought to myself.

‘Well I’ve called you in today because’

There was a knock on the door.

‘Come in’ he said.

It was the secretary, who pushed the door open with her back and spun around to reveal a tray with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits on it. She had the most enormous breasts so how she managed to hold the tray and perform such a manoeuvre was beyond impressive. She placed the cup in front of me.

‘Would you like sugar?’ she asked.

‘Yes, two please’ I said.

‘Goodness you do have a sweet tooth’ she laughed, putting the sugar in and stirring it.

As she went out she asked if the headmaster would like a drink, he nodded his head slightly which I took to be code for something alcoholic.

‘Anyway,’ he said looking at me directly in the eye ‘I’ve called you hear to ask if you would be interested in becoming one of the senior prefects next term?’

All the anxiety dropped from my nervous system and I almost shouted out ‘Yes!’, instead I politely nodded and said ‘I’d love that, thank you.’

To keep me in my place he added. ‘I can’t promise you will be given the position but I wanted to check you’d be interested first.’

I drank my tea, ate a biscuit, answered some more questions about the school karate club, and then was asked to let the secretary know he was ready for the next interviewee on my way out. As I approached the door he cracked a joke about doing a portrait of him. I couldn’t help but think ‘Now I understand just how these things work around here’.

After the interview, I went up to the 6th form department where my Physics master, Mr Jenkins, was coming out of his office. I told him about the interview, and he congratulated me, but added that I ought to understand that if I was to be picked as a senior prefect then it would be on my own merits, and not as a gesture related to my disability. He also said he wanted to talk to me about how he’d noticed some of the boys were having a bit of a go at me recently, and he was concerned it might be upsetting me more than I was letting on. I replied that I wasn’t too bothered because ‘I don’t like ‘em all that much anyhow.’ But obviously, that wasn’t the whole truth. What else could I say? I didn’t want to come over as a victim. I think he realised this, but still wanted me to know I had some support if I needed it?

*                      *                      *

My OCD Part 2

 

The karate club at Wilson’s was a big part of my life. I was only a green belt but was teaching in the lunch breaks and at least one evening a week. As there’d been a few minor injuries we decided to raise money, via a sponsored exercise marathon, to buy ourselves some body armour. This went better than expected, so, once we’d collected the money a small group of us took a trip to a martial arts shop in London to buy the equipment. While there we had a chat with the store keeper. At one point, I must have told him I taught at the school club, it was then he asked what style we did. I told him it was Kyokushinkai, and he asked what belt I was. Little did I know that as soon as we left the shop he was straight on to the phone to the leader of Kyokushinkai in the UK, Shihan Steve Arneil. To make things simpler I’ll refer to him as Shihan here as that was his title back then.

I’d been training at Shihan’s club in Raynes Park as well as Tweeddale for a few months. A couple of the senior students at Tweeddale had told me that I shouldn’t train at both clubs, but I ignored them and did so anyway. Two days after visiting the martial arts shop I turned up at Shihan’s club where soon after the class starting he marched us out to the sports field. He told the class to run around the edges of it, but as I couldn’t run I started exercising on the spot.

‘Mr Smith’ Shihan curtly snapped.

I stopped exercising. ‘Yes Shihan?’

There was a pause. He looked at me, slowly shaking his head from side to side.

‘I’d like a word with you’

‘Uh-uh’ I thought.

His voice took on the tone of a prosecuting solicitor. ‘I got a call from a shop owner who says you’re going around saying you’re a Kyokushinkai karate teacher. Is that right?’

Inside I screamed ‘Fuck!’ but what came out was a timid ‘Erm, well I did tell him I taught at our school karate club.’

Shihan continued staring without blinking, although he may have blinked exactly when I did, obviously in that event, I wouldn’t have noticed.

His case for the prosecution continued. ‘So, is that an official Kyokushin club?’ he looked at me even more intensely ‘Are you a registered Kyokushinkai teacher?’

I did wonder if ‘I think we both know the answer to that’ would go down well but I decided on the better tactic of ‘No Shihan’ and nodding like a toddler caught in the act.

He wagged his finger at me, ‘You know, you’re going to get in to a lot of trouble if you don’t watch what you say.’

I was close to laying on the ground with all four paws up in the air, but I got the feeling that he could see I was metaphorically doing that already. ‘Yes Shihan. I won’t do that again. I’m very sorry’.

He shook his head again as if to say ‘You better not’ then called the others back.

I felt extremely ashamed for some time after this, thinking I ought to give up karate, but I didn’t want to, it had become a big part of who I was. So, I decided it’d be better if I improved myself and made it clear to him I wanted to make amends. A few weeks later he gave me some advice on how I could improve on one of my techniques, I took as a sign of him beginning to forgive me. That, plus him allowing me to continue training at his club and awarding me my first brown belt in the summer of 1983, probably meant he did. Still, this remained a mark on my character even if only in my own mind. However, this didn’t mean I would always be saintly when I trained with him. At one point another trainee (I think it may have been his son) and I got into hysterics as we added loads of kisses to the names of some of the very tough high grades who’d already signed Shihan’s birthday card. Outside of that though, I tended to keep my head down and trained.

This incident coupled with one of our cats disappearing so soon after me deciding not to be controlled by my magical thinking further reinforced the feeling that I should obey it. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have any self-awareness, I had read a little about neurosis and how it can reinforce itself but that didn’t seem to help. I felt as if there was no escape if I didn’t comply.

*                      *                      *

Ruth and Evelyn

On Wednesday the 11th August, a few days after one of our cats went missing, I knocked on all our neighbours’ doors to ask if they’d seen it. One of the doors I knocked on was to the house of the woman who I’d watched getting undressed in silhouette a few weeks earlier. She was very friendly and sympathetic, almost to the point where she was upset too. As I went to go, I thanked her, then she asked me my name. I told her and asked her for hers, ‘Evelyn’ she said.

Later that same day I went to Sutton library where I chatted to a woman called Ruth who was sitting near me. At first I thought she was being very friendly but once we went down to the café for a tea break she started telling me how important God was to her and wanted to know if I’d be interested in coming to her church.

‘No’ I said, ‘but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it with you.’

‘Ok’ she said.

About ten days later I arranged to meet up with Ruth at Sutton library and by coincidence I bumped into Evelyn on the way. She and I caught the bus together and chatted as if we’d known each other for years. As we parted company she invited me around for tea one day. I said I would. She waved and shouted ‘Great, see you soon’.

*                      *                      *

Religion – Pam

One of the women I knew from the morning bus ride to school was called Pam. She was very tall and quite ‘big boned’. We got on well and would often end up in fits of laughter together. As she lived around the corner from me we’d occasionally meet up in a local café or she’d invite me around to her place. Both her and her mother were Jehovah’s Witnesses, but despite the reputation for being extremely evangelical neither Pam nor her mum ever tried to convert me.

I must have been going through a period of being very interested in religion then. This was most likely brought on by me reading a few books by Graham Greene, including his play ‘The Living Room’ and novels ‘The Power and the Glory’, and ‘The Quiet American’. This had been initiated by my English Literature teacher, Mr Kennedy, asking me to write an essay on Greene over the summer as part of a school writing competition. Vernon, the ex-secret agent I’d sometimes stay with had previously mentioned Graham Greene, saying he knew him and didn’t like him much. Despite that, Vernon begrudgingly still recognised Greene’s talent as a writer.

When I mentioned to Pam I was studying these books she suggested I read one of the Jehovah’s Witness ones called, ‘The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life’. I read it but came away feeling far from converted. Its main argument was about living eternally. In other words, it wasn’t about learning to truly love people, but instead it came over as a deal. Kind of on the lines of, ‘If you act in a certain way, then you can live forever’. Even at 17, I recognised this was akin to bribery and had more in common with my own magical OCD feelings than any notion of compassion and love.

A few weeks later Pam told me she was pregnant and was extremely worried about what her fellow church goers would think, especially given she wasn’t married. There was also the anxiety she felt in terms of her relationship with God. From my perspective, there was something deeply dysfunctional about this situation, after all this must happen to millions of women every year. Where was the compassion that Jesus spoke of and what practical caring systems had ever been put in place to help these women? There were practical ones, but they weren’t very caring. There’d been places for unmarried mothers for centuries, but their aim tended to be to shame, reject, and damage these women with an intent to teach them, and any others thinking about playing around, a very harsh lesson.

*                      *                      *

Religion – Ruth

There was something of the Bloomsbury set about Ruth. She had a bob style haircut and a slightly angular but elegant look about her. Unlike the Bloomsbury set though, loving God was central to her life. I wasn’t surprised then when she invited me to some of her church activities, a few of which I went to. I didn’t have anything better to do, and seeing as some of them involved going to pubs to try to convert people, I’d go along to see if it’d end up causing a brawl, which, disappointingly, it didn’t. On one occasion, I ended up in a pub near Crystal Palace where a woman did a striptease act. Ruth and her friends didn’t turn up. It was only when we next met up I realised I’d got the wrong pub. I’d have loved to have seen how they fared against a stripper.

One day Ruth and I talked about whether our need to believe in God was evidence of there being one. For me, it didn’t signify anything. As far as I was concerned our need for a God came from a whole host of influences. But to Ruth, our design was intelligent and our need for religion was part of that design.

In recent years, research in to how our brains are affected by religious practices by Andrew Newberg, a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, has shown that praying and meditation change the state of various parts of the brain. The result of these rituals was a feeling of one’s body no longer existing, of becoming at one with the universe. Similarly, some Pentecostal ceremonies caused a decrease in the participant’s frontal lobe activity. This resulted in them feeling as if God was speaking in tongues through them. Of course, these studies don’t say anything about the existence of God, but they do show our brains are hard wired for religious activity.

Another scientist, Michael Persinger, created a device called ‘The God Helmet’. By wearing it some people felt the presence of ‘God’. Richard Dawkins, the renowned atheist, tried it on but only felt slightly dizzy and some twitching in his legs. Persinger argued that some people might be more genetically predisposed to sensing a higher power or God. If this is true, then this might explain why religious experiences tend to be more common when the subjects are close to naturally occurring electromagnetic activity, such as meteor showers and seismic movements. It’s also possible that some humans are more prone to having religious experiences without the trigger of an external stimuli. If so, he asked, is this developed because it’s an evolutionary advantage?’

Further research showed that humans who perceived the nature of their world through a prism of religious beliefs fared better than those who didn’t. If this is true, then is that why most humans have a tendency towards religious beliefs? In that case, if we are hard wired to have a spiritual dimension to our lives, then do we suffer by not engaging with it? Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, certainly believed this to be so. To him, ignoring our spiritual needs and ‘The God image in the human psyche’ would very likely lead to psychological issues. But, is it possible for a person to engage with their spiritual selves even if they don’t believe in God? For some, the idea of merely flipping a switch in our brains so we can benefit from a religious experience would be akin to taking drugs, and certainly connects with the Marxist view of religion being the opium of the people.

Professor Jordan Grafman, from the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders stated that religious belief and behaviour are a hallmark of human life, they are found in all cultures and there’s no accepted animal equivalent. Although a friend of mine did question whether elephants and whales may have religion, after all the latter spend a lot of time singing. Grafman also added that the brain is inherently sensitive to believing in almost anything if there are grounds for doing so, but when there is a mystery about something, the same neural machinery is co-opted in the formulation of religious belief. Grafman states ‘When we don’t have a scientific explanation for something, we tend to rely on supernatural explanations’.

When the Soviet’s did their very best to eradicate religion, they found many of their citizens yearned to have God in their lives. For all of Communism’s communion, singing together, meeting up, moral codes, and festivals, it still wasn’t enough. The people, well at least some of them, still wanted God, for them Lenin just didn’t cut it.

Paradoxically, in the West, church attendances have decreased dramatically over the last 40 years without any overt state policy. There’s a transition of faiths going on. People are moving in mass away from religion, and towards scientific belief, which is supported by consumerism, materialism and ideological/political struggles, although there are also many who’ve move towards alternative spiritual beliefs. Even so, the endemic amount of mental health issues, drug and alcohol misuse, and emphasis on sex points towards a spiritual void. For many in the West, they are trapped in a no-man’s land, between religions which have been hollowed out by science, and a scientific world that leaves them feeling hollowed out.

But, what if, as I’ve mentioned in previous chapters, meaning is more about a feeling than about meaning itself? What if for most of your life you’ve felt full of meaning even though you can’t explain where that comes from. Then something happens which results in you feeling meaningless. If you got what you lost back, maybe a job or a loved one, would you then feel meaningful again? In that case your feeling of meaninglessness is not related to so much to ideological beliefs, but instead a state of being. Conversely you might feel meaningless all the time anyway, and no matter how much religion, philosophy or psychology you study, none of them help. In that case either those philosophies are inadequate or again, your feelings are related to something else. And then there’s another alternative, you feel meaningful because of your relationship with God or another spiritual avenue you’ve taken and without them you’d feel completely meaningless. Whichever way you look at this though, it’s about a feeling that results from multiple stimuli, all of which may be reacted to very differently by different individuals.

If we truly wish to search for meaning, then it can’t be sought when we feel desperately meaningless. Paradoxically, that is when most people focus on such issues. The problem then would be it would end up with compulsive and irrational choices being made. Even those ‘meanings’ presented to us by religions, are, on closer scrutiny inadequate, often coming with the proviso that a deity works in mysterious ways that we as mere mortals could not fathom.

In the 14th Century a book called ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ seemed to tap into a similar approach. Its underlying message was to set aside notions of God’s attributes, activities and so called rules and be courageous enough to surrender one’s mind and being to the ‘unknowing’. Through that process, it stated, glimpses of God may be had. Whilst this is very much on the mystical end of the religious spectrum it does link up to Carl Jung’s own sense that religious experience is just that, an experience, and no matter how much indoctrination, academic study or argument one might have, it’s all pointless without this ‘experience’.

If we’re feeling hungry for meaning, and such desires come from psychological issues rather than philosophical ones, then the first step to searching for philosophical meaning is to address our psychological feelings of meaninglessness. Of course, it’s easy to say ‘deal with a psychological issues’, if only life was so simple. But maybe, keeping in mind that both meaningfulness and meaninglessness are feelings related to psychological dynamics rather than academic spiritual ones may well be helpful one less than sunny day.

*                      *                      *

Edward

My step-father’s, younger brother, Edward, became a priest and eventually became a Monsignor. After he retired he moved into an old people’s home for clergy members. The place resembled Hogwarts. One day I picked him up to take him to a family occasion. When I got to the reception desk a nun looked up at me and asked me how she could help.

‘Hi’, I smiled, ‘I’ve come to pick up Edward Hill’

She looked sternly at me. ‘Do you mean Father Edward Hill’

I raised an eyebrow, as in ‘challenge accepted’ and added ‘No, uncle Edward Hill’.

She picked up the phone, I was half expecting Voldemort to come sort me out, but within a few minutes Edward joined us.

Later that night, on the way back from the event, we all felt a bit peckish, the catering had been delicious but lacked bulk. So, I suggested we stop off at McDonalds.

‘Do you want anything Edward?’ I asked

‘Erm’ he paused a bit too long ‘no I don’t think so, I’m fine’

I knew he’d give in if I pushed a little more. ‘Are you sure, how about a burger?’

‘Err’ he paused, but not so long this time, ‘ok then, yes, that would be lovely. Thank you.’

A few minutes later, the other passengers and I got back to the car with a bag full of politically incorrect goodies.

‘Here Edward, here’s a cheeseburger’

He took hold of it, turned it over a few times as if it were a foreign object which he’d never come across before, (which it was), then unwrapped it and took a tentative bite.

‘I say, this is delicious, what did you say it was called again?’

I slowly enunciated ‘A cheese-burger’

He was almost ecstatic as he repeated the word ‘A cheese-burger, goodness, I shall have to make a note of that, it’s absolutely wonderful.’

I decided to deliver the last temptation. ‘When you’ve finished that, I’ve got you a hot apple pie’

The other passengers and I all looked at each other and smiled.

He didn’t stand a chance.

*                      *                      *

Religion – Veronica W

Around the same time Pam was coming to terms with being pregnant Ruth asked me if I wanted to accompany her to a spiritual healing session. This was to involve going to a woman called Veronica W’s flat in Epsom where the attendees were going to pray to help alleviate her agoraphobia and anorexia.

Everything proceeded as planned. They prayed, she prayed, I watched, nothing much else happened. During the tea break I got chatting to her and asked if she wanted to borrow one of the books I’d recently bought (stolen) from the library sale. She said yes and asked me to write my address in it so she could return it to me in due course. I asked her if the praying helped, she said it had. I had my doubts it would make any difference in the long run and wondered if those doing the praying got more out of it than she.

About 10 months later she wrote to me, partly to return my book and partly to ask if I wanted to visit her. I’ll tell you more about that another time, but what I came to learn from her was these weekly attendances came to an end a few months later as the ‘healers’ realised it wasn’t having any meaningful effect. At one point, they blamed her for the lack of success, insinuating that perhaps she was too evil. I’d eventually get to know her over several decades, she was a bit fucked up, but as far as I could tell she wasn’t evil. In fact, her favourite artist was Cliff Richard and the name ‘Veronica’ has significant Christian links as well as meaning ‘she who brings victory’. Which was rather ironic as far as her healers were concerned.

The connections between her name and Christianity include the story of the 6th station of Christ’s journey to his crucifixion, where a woman gave him her veil so he could wipe his forehead. When he returned the veil, the image of his face was miraculously captured on it. In the 11th century the story was further elaborated to include the Emperor Tiberius being cured by the veil. It’s also argued that the Latin ‘Vera Icon’ which means ‘true image’ became merged to form the name of Jesus’ helper, Veronica.

As for Veronica W, she had a stunningly beautiful face, so when I gave her that book it wasn’t for any altruistic reasons. In my own way, just as the healers had their own agenda, I did too, and so did Veronica W.

*                      *                      *

In Graham Greene’s ‘The Living Room’, his main message was Catholics fail but Catholicism doesn’t. I initially agreed with him on that, but in time I came to the conclusion that a system that sets its followers up to fail is a failure to a point too. That isn’t to say there aren’t lots of good things in Catholicism, but just like all those other ideologies and belief systems that set unrealistic aspirations, it’s as if something at the core of it has been corrupted. Jesus may have washed the feet of a prostitute, but a thousand years on and most of his followers would rather nobody needed cleaning in the first place, let alone tend to them.

Setting very high aspirations is all well and good, but to not care for, or even hold a place within the system, for those who can’t reach these higher levels seems cruel to me. From the Salem witch-hunts, to the Soviet Gulags, to the persecution of unmarried pregnant women, the abuse of those who ‘failed’ a failing ideology must be close to endless.

Anyone who has studied theology, especially the historical developments of religions, will have noticed doctrines get modified, reinterpreted, and ‘adjusted’ over time, often to suit those making the changes. Even God got a make-over. The God of the Old Testament seemed far more human and less divine than the God of the New Testament. And when it came to doctrinal changes within Christianity throughout the last 2000 years, there have been a lot of revisions.

The more involvement I had with religion the more I came to believe that most of what was deemed ‘the truth’ wasn’t, and ultimately people believed the things they did because of the time and place they lived in. As you’ve probably guessed, I developed a bit of an aversion towards organised religion. However, even though I still had no idea how to define what God was, I felt a part of me related to something I considered to be God. As I’ve already said, this didn’t mean I’d ever argue that God exists, but I accepted that parts of my mind felt otherwise.

*                      *                      *

The Truth Part 1

Yuri B points at a black board with ‘2 + 2 = 4’ written on it. ‘Would you be willing to die for this?’ he asks the audience. They all laugh. He shakes his head slowly. ‘Of course you won’t. But maybe you should’.

*                      *                      *

The Soul and Near Death Experiences

December 2021

Tracey Chapman, the famous singer who had a worldwide hit with ‘Fast Car’ in the 1980’s recently asked her Facebook followers which of her songs was their favourite. I answered ‘All That You Have is Your Soul’ was mine. Many people believe we have a soul, a part of us that exists independently from our body, and when we die, it lives on. Different beliefs maintain the soul continues to exist, and depending on each belief it will do so within varying circumstances. These may include becoming part of a larger entity, being reincarnated, getting trapped on earth, going to Heaven, Purgatory or Hell as well as innumerable other scenarios.

For some, our soul influences our personality, and to them this is a major factor affecting who we are, more so than our nature or nurture. At the other extreme, the more scientific minded tend to think of humans as meat machines. However, even within the scientific community there are those, such as Dr Sam Parnia, who are intrigued by Near Death Experiences (NDE) and what they may indicate in terms of continued consciousness beyond our death. After all, if ever there was an argument for the existence of a soul, it’s the recollections of people whose ‘brains were not functioning’ at these moments that brings up a whole host of issues, especially those who claim to have had out of body experiences where they’ve seen things that should have been impossible from their physical body’s vantage point.

NDE’s commonly involve travelling through a tunnel towards a beautiful light and meeting loved ones who have already passed away or significant religious figures. NDE’s are not a new phenomenon, Socrates spoke of a warrior called ‘Er’ who, after being resurrected, recounted going to a mysterious place with luminous beings descending from above. For many this is merely a trick of the mind that kicks in due to a lack of oxygen, a by-product of a brain in the throes of death, but Dr Parnia, thinks there might be more to it and his mission is to get a better understanding of what’s going on.

Dr Parnia believes he has evidence consciousness may continue for up to a few hours after apparent death. The definition of death lies at the heart of this argument though, as some would argue that if someone can be resuscitated then they weren’t dead, even if their heart as well as their breathing had stopped. Parnia asks, if consciousness continues during these periods when the brain is apparently not functioning, then can we be definite it will disappear later? The issue remains of whether the brain may still be functioning even though on the surface it appears ‘dead’ lies at the crux of this debate, and right now it’s not possible to measure such subtle brain activity at the depths required. Currently, scientists such as Parnia are open to learning more about NDE’s, but so far, as you won’t be surprised to hear, there is no hard evidence to prove the existence of a soul. We will have to wait to see what scientific developments come about in time, but if you can’t wait that long you’ll probably get to find out, one way or another, for yourself all in good time.

*                      *                      *

Sacrificial Lambs

Just as religions involve sacrifices being made, so do ideologies. And just as with religions those sacrifices can be our own or made by others, whether they choose to be involved or not. Was Veronica W a sacrificial lamb for those who prayed for her. She didn’t live up to their expectations so she was left to deal with it herself, she may not have died but she didn’t really live either.

One of the hardest things for us to admit is that for us to live as we do, sacrifices must be made, and usually it’s not us who suffer. In the past, sacrifices were made in front of the whole community, and involved killing animals or an ‘honoured’ human. Nowadays this still goes on, only it’s hidden from view and doesn’t involve a ceremony. Most of us are aware that people in poorer countries suffer so our economies can grow, are these not sacrifices made on our behalf, for our benefit? Then there are more subtle victims, such as those who become ill or die because of pollution, man-made disasters, wars, economic policies, and corporate strategies. And what of the consequences of ideologies that are closer to home? The victims of terrorism, the fate of people who are cancelled, the lack of care for mental health sufferers, the effects of poverty, lenient prison sentences and so on? These are the sacrificial lambs, placed on the altars of our belief systems, economies and ways of life.

One thing that helps us to care about others is them being close to us. If those who get sacrificed or suffer for our benefit are far away, then that makes it much easier for us to avoid feeling guilty. Deep down we all know these sacrifices are being made, and even when we consciously recognise this, somehow we’ll find a way to deflect the blame, and if we choose to recognise these sacrifices, it won’t help in the grand scheme of things, but it might keep us closer to the truth.

Of course, we can also recognise that we too are sacrificial lambs, just as our ancestors were cannon fodder for meaningless wars and slaves of Capitalism.  We too are manipulated to live and die for the benefit of a minority. ‘Power to the People’!

Bleet bleet.

Sorry, I don’t know what came over me just then!

*                      *                      *

The End of Suffering

If you could choose whether to cancel the existence of all life on earth in order to stop suffering would you? What about if you could choose how much suffering would be allowed, would just one bit of suffering be too much, would you pull the plug on all life forms, or would you accept that if life is to exist then so must suffering?

When it comes to ideologies, people make the same decision. As far as they’re concerned there’s a certain amount of suffering that is for the greater good, and that amount is often way greater than you might expect. The problem is, when someone decides to save 100 people by allowing one person to die, how can they know if by letting that individual live, millions of others would have been saved? When it comes to sacrifices, whether it’s to gods or ideologies, we have no idea whether it’s worth it in the long run.

*                      *                      *

Supernatural Part 2

Jung and the Mosaics

Soon after I wrote the section about Barry and Barbara in the previous chapter I came across a similar story about Carl Jung believing he had, along with another person, viewed four long-destroyed mosaics from the Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista. He mentioned this incident during several lectures, saying he and his ‘friend’ Miss Toni Wolff, had both looked at and discussed 4 mosaics which they were to find out at a later date didn’t exist. To Jung, this was one of the strangest experiences of his life. Unlike Barry and Barbara though, he didn’t investigate it further.

As I researched this it came to light that this might be more a case of mistaken identity than a supernatural occurrence. The place Jung and Wolff visited could well have been a different location to the one they thought they were at. When Jung asked his friend Dr Meier to bring photos back of the mosaics when he visited Italy, he was astounded to hear Meier declare, ‘they do not exist’. Wolff immediately reacted with ‘That’s ridiculous, I saw them with my own eyes and you [Jung] talked of them for about twenty minutes.’ ‘Never the less’ Meier said ‘there are no such mosaics’.

Instead of wondering if there might be a reasonable explanation they rushed to conclude they’d experienced a supernatural phenomenon. However one investigator, a Mr Purrington, decided to examine this further and suggested that Jung and Wolf had most likely visited another building which had very similar pictures in to those Jung had described. He also believed that with the passing of time Jung and Wolff’s memory had altered certain things, such as the pictures being mosaics, whereas the ones he proposed they’d more likely viewed were murals with some sections rendered in mosaic. Of course, it’s possible this explanation isn’t what happened at all, but it did put an element of doubt in to my mind.

Just as with politics, when it comes to the supernatural I try to have a cynically open mind. You may remember my friend Dr Ian Fletcher who I mentioned in a previous chapter. Not only was he a consultant for the National Health Service, but he was also a member of the Magic Circle for over 70 years. During this time, he researched psychic phenomena, including debunking many so-called psychics, worked with the famous sceptic James Randi, and was involved with testing Uri Geller. At the end of this journey he believed that telepathy may well exist.

During my research for this section I read through some of the e-mails between Ian and I. Most of them were written around the time we met up at the Chelsea Arts Club for dinner in September 2011.

Shortly after that evening he wrote:

‘Hearing about your psychic experiences fascinated me, particularly because they take various forms. Telepathy, precognition, ESP, & astral travel… When Uri Geller was first on TV in [the UK] I was in the Studio Audience and I had two steel rods. One was ‘ordinary’ and the other was tempered but they looked identical. Uri was some distance from me and I challenged him to bend the rod I held up. He promptly said ‘That is a rod of tempered steel and it would take me a long time.’ Later, when talking to him I saw the hand of a watch bend while under the glass. Also, one of his telepathic feats is to draw what someone has just drawn – often with marked similarities but not identical BUT always exactly the same size. I could tell you of other remarkable occurrences which I have personally witnessed. Perhaps at a later date we could again, compare notes.’

Sadly, we didn’t get to meet again.

Within the scientific community over the last few decades there has been much debate regarding telepathy. Daryl Bem spent many years researching and collating data which he then presented to the scientific community. He felt that there was some evidence to suggest ESP existed, but the scientific world did not react well even though a few of the peer reviews were able to repeat some of his findings.

*                       *                       *

James Randi

James Randi was a celebrity both in the UK and the US who was known for debunking ‘psychics’. He challenged all the big players such as Doris Stokes and Uri Geller and offered a million dollars to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal ability under scientific testing conditions. Over a thousand people applied, but none were ever successful.

James Randi and Ian Fletcher knew and worked with each other at times. They were both involved in debunking psychics, both members of the magic circle and both died aged 92. However, when it came to the subject of telepathy they came to very different conclusions.

For Ian, the watch hand bending under glass and the drawings experiments, both of which he’d witnessed with his own eyes as well as the Stamford Research Institute’s tests convinced him that if these were just tricks, then he couldn’t explain how Geller had performed them. Randi on the other hand, dismissed the Stamford Research Institute’s tests, saying they were invalid because they were not affiliated to the university and the testers were in no way qualified to do such tests. Again, this still leaves matters unproven.

I decided to turn my own cynical eye on Randi and noticed that when he tried to explain and duplicate Geller’s drawing ‘trick’, he wasn’t able to do so, despite him stating that he had. When Geller did it he revealed his drawing first, then the original drawing was shown. However, in Randi’s demonstration the original drawing was displayed first and in the moments between then and him showing his version, he surreptitiously drew a similar picture, either with a mark making device lodged under his finger nail or possibly by using his belt buckle. Either way the quality of the drawing was faint and nowhere near as developed as Geller’s. My point is Randi should have concluded too that Geller’s drawing ‘trick’ was unproven and his method unknown, instead Randi deceived people by saying he had demonstrated how Geller had performed the ‘trick’ when he clearly hadn’t. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPt-7j3ahP0&t).  In his own way, Randi, was as much a public performer and promoter of his own ideology as Geller was.

Jonathan Cunnigham – 1981

In 1981, a fellow pupil at Wilson’s, Jonathan Cunningham, was killed in a tragic accident just opposite Wallington Girls School whilst cycling one morning. He was a very sweet boy who I’d chat with sometimes. I was also friendly with his older brother and wanted to remember him somewhere in this book. But there’s also another reason for doing so, as will become apparent.

In 1987 a famous ‘Medium’ called Doris Stokes died. This was probably fortuitous for her as an exposé of her methods was published later that year. One of the techniques she used was to invite people to her shows who she knew had lost loved ones. She would get hold of information about them from newspapers or other members of the Spiritualist church, then act as if she was being contacted by them via the spirit world. Jonathan’s parents were chosen by Stokes to attend one of her meetings, and sure enough she gave them and the audience the impression that she was in contact with Jonathan. One could argue it gave them some comfort, but in terms of providing evidence of consciousness beyond death, it didn’t help whatsoever. 

Just as the scientifically minded can benefit from being open to possibilities, the overly open minded can also benefit from a measure of scepticism. Whether it’s science, religion, ideologies or the occult, the truth is the first casualty of both war and peace.

As Bob Dylan sings, in his song Licence to Kill, ‘All he believes are his eyes, but his eyes keep telling him lies’.

*                      *                      *

Friends – 1982 – Part 2 – Abbie

After Jules and I broke up I stayed friends with Abbie, she was one of the group I encountered on the first day Jules and I met, so I felt I had a right to stay friends with her. I’d often go around to Abbie’s house where we’d chat and take turns stroking each other’s necks. Even though I fancied her, I was sure the feeling wasn’t mutual, so, I was happy for us to ‘just be friends’. As the saying goes ‘It was my choice, but not necessarily my first one.

There was something of the ‘outsider’ about Abbie, maybe that’s why we identified with each other. People might think it’s common interests, politics, and culture that are the primary bonds of our relationships, but for me, it’s always been humour. Even though Abbie was far more interested in and knowledgeable about politics than I, if I said something she vehemently disagreed with she’d still laugh (both at and with me). But sometime during the 1990’s there was a change in the air. She invited me to a party and warned me I shouldn’t flirt with her friends. I said I didn’t want to walk on egg shells worrying what people might be upset by, and they were totally entitled to tell me to my face if they didn’t like my behaviour. That didn’t go down well. So, I didn’t get to go to the party.

This marked a point in history when the notion of political correctness became a buzzword. At the heart of it was a conflict between two opposing viewpoints. On one side was the pre-emptive consideration and presumption of caring for other people’s needs, on the other, was the belief that people should be assertive enough to say when they were being offended. In the mid-1990’s I was of the latter school of thought whereas now I’m somewhere between both.

*                      *                      *

25/8/1982 Wednesday – Diary entry

I watched a bit of Miss UK, there were loads of demonstrators trying to muck it up.

Did we go through a process of demoralisation?

In times of peace, the war like man will attack himself – Nietzsche

During the 1960’s, the world changed so rapidly that the older generations were left reeling. This wasn’t particularly due to well-placed Marxist sleeper agents, but a burgeoning young population. The post war baby boomers were hitting their 20’s and along with new methods of contraception, the relaxation of laws around obscenity, abortion and divorce, as well as pop culture being increasingly accessible through TV and radio, there was a feeling of ‘a change for the good’ in the air. On top of that scandals such as the Profumo affair and the proliferation of satirical publications and clubs, caused anti-establishment resentment to grow. By 1969 Theodore Roszak coined the term ‘Counter Culture’ which particularly focused on civil liberties, women’s, race and gay rights.

Even though laws, such as the Sexual Offences Act had been created over a decade earlier, the Police tended to ignore its existence. This coupled with overt police corruption and racism meant that for many young people the police were the enemy. Once demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, and nuclear weapons policies led to significant clashes with the police these feelings grew dramatically.

Thirteen years after the Race Relations Act of 1968 the police were still brutalising people of colour, so when rioting in 1981 engulfed parts of Brixton in London it came as no surprise to many. Now, almost 50 years later, after many more riots and incidents of police brutality towards people of colour (and non-colour too), especially in the USA, it’s still a big issue. There was a feeling that things were going to change for the good in the 60’s, but the 70’s saw a resistance to this throughout many strata of society and the police were no exception, especially when it came to racism.

Another big influence on social change during these decades was the recreational use of drugs. Again, this was nothing new, opium use had been prolific from the 1840’s, then curbed in the early 1900’s. During that period, it influenced cultural figures such as Freud, Cocteau and Picasso. Likewise, as drugs permeated society in the 60’s, artists such as Leonard Cohen, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles were all heavily influenced when under the influence too.

By the 1980’s the baby boomers’ children were reaching adulthood, so, if ever there was a time to take the great leap forwards it was then. Still, while many things changed for the better, in other ways it got worse. Where communities had once been knitted together before the 1960s, even if divided by class, the ensuing decades saw them fray and eventually tear apart, especially around ethnic divisions. Whole areas in major cities in the West became defined by colour, culture, and ethnicity, whereas previously affluence and class had been the traditional tribal identities. Of course, there were some areas that experienced good versions of multiculturalism, but still many others became insular and segregated.

As the 1970’s moved forward the political spheres of national and local party politics became far more blatant, even within offices and canteens dogma and intolerance resulted in people no longer expressing their opinions openly if they didn’t fit with the official line. It was as if Leonard Cohen’s lines ‘I fought for something final, not for us to disagree’ were not tongue in cheek after all, but the new National Anthem.

The result of this was a silent majority who may have agreed a lot of changes had been good, but to them, some had gone too far. When it came to openly arguing their point of view they felt inadequate and scared. So, quietly they marked their cross in the centre right parties boxes on their ballot papers and the Conservatives ruled from 1979 to 1997, much of it under the iron fist of Margaret Thatcher. And even then, when the Labour party eventually got back in power, it only did so after it had become a left of centre right party too. When it comes to the free exchange of ideas, people might be able to do it online, but in real-life people still feel very inhibited, and in recent years it has only got worse.

Brexit, Trump, Black Lives Matter, Police Brutality, statues of celebrated figures being torn down, Cancel Culture, Trans issues, Islam, Immigration, 5G, the Green Agenda, Vaccinations, Lockdowns, Social Media Fact Checkers, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, election fraud, distrust in politicians and law and order, these are all subjects that can spark a vehement argument between friends and family members at the slightest mention.

Was this all the result of a cunning plan executed and encouraged by the KGB, or has society always been divided, and we’ve just forgotten it was so? A few weeks ago, an eminent member of parliament was exposed as receiving large amounts of money from the Chinese government and it’s common knowledge that people in power tend to get financially lobbied. So, it’s not impossible that external bodies have deliberately influenced the direction of travel. Whether they have or not, for the last 20 years we have been in a state of ever increasing social division. There is very little trust in authority and our ruling bodies, and there are plenty of people looking towards radically changing ‘our way of life’.

Considering Yuri’s words about an enemy begging to be taken over, it seemed very fitting that Russia’s propaganda channel RT has a very large following in the West, and when, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently spoke about Western societies it resulted in many in the West feeling more of an affinity towards him than their own leaders. This is part of that speech.

‘The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past — such as Shakespeare — are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood, memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what colour or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.’ (http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66975)

So, did we go through a process of demoralisation?

*                      *                      *

Stage 2 Destabilisation

Yuri Bezmenov and the interviewer are chatting as the lights fade up.

The interviewer turns to the camera. ‘Welcome back to part two of our talk with ex KGB officer Yuri B. Yuri, why don’t you tell the audience what you were discussing with me during the break?’

Yuri, pulls down one of his sleeves and straightens his back.

‘Thank you’ he bows slightly to the interviewer ‘I was just talking about the next stage. We call this the destabilisation stage. This one is much quicker than the demoralisation one, it only takes 2 to 5 years.’  He smiles, and a few of the audience members laugh with him.

‘The kind of things that we’d see as a manifestation of destabilisation would be a faltering economy where the principles of the free market are eliminated. Often this results in less money going towards defence, and law and order.’

The presenter interjects ‘Do you think the United States would ever stop having a free market?

‘Probably not completely, well not for a long time, but regulations, unions, currency values, there are many things that can constrain the market, and in turn these may lead to a weaker economy. Also, one must remember that often far weaker countries are targeted, and for them this process works very well. Once a country becomes economically vulnerable its relationships with other countries flounder. After that, it doesn’t take long for them to feel isolated.’

He pauses, purses his lips together and stands up.

‘On a smaller scale, the aim is to divide the nation, the greater the radicalisation the better. Families and friends should be divided, as should neighbourhoods, workers and managers, teachers and students, all of them should be at odds with each other. We want everyone to see each other as enemies.’

He approaches a blackboard and takes a piece of chalk.

‘At this point our agents may well become active, especially in terms of encouraging social unrest. As things start to become more unstable the activists should take on the role of becoming unelected representatives so they can cause further descent when appropriate. And all the while the promise of Heaven on Earth should be used as the justification for this short-term hell.’

Under his earlier drawn ‘2+2=4’, he draws a square and then places a big X through it

‘As society becomes even more antagonistic the media should be sympathetic to the values of the revolutionaries. Again, the 5th column will make that possible and at this point a society is no longer stable’.

*                      *                      *

It’s tempting to dismiss this as preposterous but recent high profile movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Extinction Rebellion’ are openly anti-capitalist and have a good proportion of Marxist members who, at the very least, see this as an opportunity for further destabilisation.

Ironically, Yuri B, often mentioned the negative influence of corporations on the general populous, especially when it came to getting people to buy into consumerism. He openly called for private companies to be stopped from raping the minds of people to buy things, and for people to exercise some self-restraint. I am sure that most of us, and not only anti-Capitalists and Extinction Rebellion followers would agree with him to a point on that.

This year I’ve had a tumble dryer, washing machine and boiler all break down. Why don’t governments insist on 20 year guarantees? Surely faced with such legislation companies would build obsolescence out. The first fridge I ever owned was 30 years old when I was given it and it lasted another 20 years, at which point I passed it on to someone else. Nowadays you’d be lucky if a fridge lasted 10 years.

The interviewer touches Yuri’s arm. ‘But Yuri, what can we do about this?’

‘I’m not sure you can do anything. Things can be done in Russia and China, but in an open, democratic and ‘free’ society, these things would not be acceptable. Ultimately to survive, a society must identify who’s an enemy of the state. But most people here would feel such approaches to be a slippery slope towards totalitarianism.’

The presenter pulls one side of his mouth down then says ‘Wow, you’re not giving us much hope are you Yuri?’

Yuri tilts his head towards his right shoulder slightly. ‘You know, an open society must be willing to argue its own destiny out in the open, but I don’t know if people still do that kind of thing anymore.’

The interviewer nods in agreement. ‘Well that’s what we’re doing here, we’re talking, we’re getting things out into the open’

Yuri looks at the audience, ‘I was once told, a society that allows itself to be destroyed lacks intelligence. Now I know that the people of the United States don’t lack intelligence, so I think there is hope. As you say, we’ve got to keep on talking and discussing these things openly.’

There’s a slight pause, the interviewer looks off screen for a second then smiling, says ‘On that note, let’s take another break’

*                      *                      *

Science (Part 2)

Common sense is a valuable commodity and has aided our survival for thousands of years, but it relies on senses that have limitations. Common sense knows little of the cosmos or of the sub atomic world. When we look at the night sky we may see thousands of stars but we can’t see that in every moon sized section of the sky there are at least ten thousand galaxies.

Nasa has just launched the Webb Space Telescope, who knows what new revelations that will bring. Likewise, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has recently had a breakthrough regarding matter and anti-matter. For most of us, and indeed a lot of scientists, these areas of science are well beyond comprehension.

In 1982, the week before we went on holiday to Devon I watched Cosmos and was blown away by how big and small things were. Likewise, when I was ill in hospital in 2017 I watched the more recent version of Cosmos, and again was moved to my depths.

As soon as we employed the scientific method our world changed beyond recognition (for both good and bad). Now, in 2022, ideologies, money, and social status are exerting pressures on the scientific world that are eroding its very foundations.

*                      *                      *

Propaganda

No matter who brings us information, or when its brought to us, it’s important to keep in mind that ideologies and belief systems always influence its delivery. In other words, propaganda is always a part of communication. Often it’s indecipherable, sometimes obvious. If it’s something we agree with we tend to be unaware of its presence. It’s only when it’s something we disagree with that we feel it bearing down on us. Of course, you have nothing to fear in this book, there’s no propaganda here, oh no, none whatsoever.

*                      *                      *

The Truth Part 2

‘The Truth will set you… back’

Lucifer (From the TV series Lucifer)

*                      *                      *

The Falklands War Part 2

The Falklands War lasted for 10 weeks. It took some time for the British to assemble and position their task force. Once they did though it would only be a matter of time before the Argentinian army would surrender. Their military consisted mostly of conscripts whereas the British comprised of highly trained professionals. Even so, for both sides there were many tragic losses and serious life changing injuries.

As far as I knew at the time, my friend Scot was on one of the submarines there so it felt a bit closer to home than just being a news story. It filled the papers, TV and radio, as well as our heads and it divided people. A lot just wanted us to hand over the islands whereas even more wanted the Argentinians put back in their place. So, when the BBC put our people at risk there it gave even more credence to those who believed that the BBC had been infiltrated with anti-British ‘agents’. For instance, at one point the BBC World Service revealed that there had been a lack of detonations by the Argentinian’s bombs. This then led to the Argentines changing how their bombs worked. In his account of the Falklands War, Admiral Woodward, described the BBC as being more concerned with being ‘fearless seekers after truth’ than the lives of British servicemen. Colonel ‘H’. Jones also made comparable allegations against the BBC after they disclosed the imminent British attack on Goose Green by 2 Para.

As with most wars, there are many aspects that remain hidden. The USA had been involved in destabilising South American countries for decades, so when Britain decided to go to war against Argentina the higher echelons of the US government were split. At first they refused to take sides, and had Secretary of State Alexander Haig had his way would have chosen to support Argentina, by giving ultimate sovereignty of The Falklands to the Argentinians. This wasn’t due to matters of principle, but because Argentina was governed by an anti-communist regime which suited the US’s needs. In a recently released declassified report Haig told U.S. congressmen that the principle of “self-determination” did not apply to Falkland Islanders, he then made an off-colour joke about their sexual practices.

There may have been a special relationship between US president Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, but in the background, there was another war going on between the different factions in Reagan’s own administration. One contingent was worried that if the war became protracted then the Soviets might get involved. As far as Jim Rentschler, a White House staffer in Haig’s entourage was concerned, this “South Atlantic caper” would clearly be a “close-run thing”. When Thatcher showed Haig and Rentschler around Downing Street before discussing the Falklands situation, she pointedly showed him portraits of not only Nelson but also Wellington, who she mentioned, famously described Waterloo as ‘a close-run thing’.

*                      *                      *

Trip to Exmoor 1982 Part 2

Mum thought it would be a good idea if we all went out together to a nearby coastal town called Bodmin. Things didn’t start well, mum’s car’s engine wouldn’t turn over, it probably didn’t think us all going out together was a good idea either. John, who had no mechanical knowledge started to play around with the engine to no avail, at which point the guy with the dog called ‘Pup’ turned up. John was obviously not comfortable in his presence, and even mum’s attitude changed towards him when he shouted out to her ‘C’mon you stupid woman!’. Mum looked at me and raised her eyebrows, I think the words ‘Fuck off you fucking [BLEEP]’ were on the tip of her tongue but given the possibility that he was the cottage owner’s son, (you never knew who was related to who in these country villages), she held back. OK, I’m putting words in to her mouth, but her eye brows did go very high, very high indeed.

After finally getting the car working it didn’t take long to get to Bodmin. I decided not to spend time with the others and immediately sought the local library, old habits… Once I found it I was disappointed beyond belief, there were no kids with makeup, nor was there a café, all they had there were books.

I got down to working on my Graham Greene essay, hoping that someone I could chat up would sit nearby, but that didn’t happen, so I packed my bag and went in search of food. I ended up in a grill bar where I had a very healthy burger. As I ate, a woman kept looking at me, and I at her, but nothing came of it. Had I been older I’d have called her over, but back then I was 17 and not quite as self-destructive as I was going to be when I ‘grew up’.

On the way back to the car, I decided to phone Abbie, but the phone box door was very stiff so I couldn’t get it open. I was just about to give up when a passing motorcyclist stopped, got off his bike and opened it for me. I thanked him and just as I did a driver in one of the cars trapped behind his bike in the narrow street honked their horn. He looked at them, pointed at me and shouted ‘I’m just helping this spastic kid’, and then after mounting his bike he couldn’t get it started.  I was utterly embarrassed, touched and annoyed all at once. But when I called Abbie and told her what just happened we couldn’t stop laughing.

*                      *                      *

2004 – Noodle Bar – Fulham Broadway

The incident of the woman making eyes at me in the burger bar in Bodmin reminded me of this.

I was single and couldn’t be bothered to cook for myself so went to a noodle bar in Fulham Broadway. As I ate, a woman I’d noticed at the front counter ordering a takeaway walked up to me.

 ‘Hello’ she said in an Irish accent. ‘My brother has got arms like you’

One inappropriate deed deserves another, I thought.

‘So, does that mean I can chat you up then?’

‘Yeah, sure’ She laughed.

I thought I’d push it further. ‘So, does that mean you’ll come back to my place after I’ve finished this?’

‘If you’ve got a plate and cutlery so I can eat mine, then why not’

So, I finished up a bit quicker than I’d planned, and we set off for my place.

As I pulled up she looked at me with a surprised look on her face, ‘Is this where you live?’

‘Yep, why?’

‘I’m your post woman. I’ve always wanted to see inside the houses I deliver to’

‘Well, this is probably not the best example, I’m a bit messy.’

‘By the way’, she added ‘normally I’m a lesbian’

‘Is it your night off?’ I joked. She didn’t laugh.

I started to feel an unwanted pressure. It was bad enough her being my postwoman. If things went well she might be inclined to check my personal letters, and if it went badly, she could ruin me financially by withholding bills, red letters and eventually the resulting court summonses. Then there was the minor matter of being compared to her previous female lovers.

Once we got in to the kitchen, I passed her a plate, and asked if she’d like a cup of tea, surely that’d dispel any possibility of any remaining chemistry I thought to myself.

But then she bounced the words ‘Have you got anything stronger?’

I shook my head. ‘Not really, unless a decaf coffee or chocolate Nes-quik is what you’re after?’

Disappointed she sighed. ‘Tea’ll be fine, ta’

As much as I tried to get out of it she wasn’t letting me off the hook. It was only when we finally ended up in bed and I was obviously not into it that she sat up and said ‘This isn’t really working is it?’

I felt bad and gently kissed her back.

‘Fuckin hell’ she said ‘Now you’ve done it, I love my back being kissed’

‘Fuck’ I thought,

She grabbed me and pulled me back down.

To cut a short story shorter still, it didn’t go much further. Maybe fate was trying to teach me a lesson about being so forward and flirtatious. As much as I could see a valuable point was being made, I continued to be just as bad for many years after. As for my postwoman, I’d sometimes look out for her, but I never saw her again, and even though she gave me a number, we didn’t ever get in contact.

There was something very exciting about flirting, but it nearly always led to trouble, but maybe that was the point. When the woman in the café in Bodmin stared at me in 1982, she might have done so with romantic intentions, but deep down we both knew we were looking for trouble. As Elvis put it, ‘If you’re looking for trouble, you came to the right place, if you’re looking for trouble, just look at my face’.

When it came to trouble, there was plenty coming my way.

*                      *                      *

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