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Alma Mater

May. 1st, 2006 10:13 am
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My old school (which is a "public school", meaning a private school, a fee-paying forcing-house of privilege) sends me its annual old boy's mag. Very glossy. The headmaster lauds his achievements. We are told about exam results, sports achievements, building projects. Yes, yes, yes, I mutter; but why won't you tell me about the real life of the school- like who's hot, who's smoking what and who's going to bed with whom.

At least I'm not having to pay for these ghastly sales brochures. "How about remembering us in your will?" they hint.

In a pig's arse, friend.

The mag is full of faces. Privileged faces. Crusty and ugly and hooting drunkenly at some awful reunion dinner. Oh look, there's Sir Tim Rice!

And here in a single frame are my two least favourite teachers: the baby-faced paedophile and the creepy chaplain. Forty years have passed. The paedophile is no longer baby-faced. The creepy chaplain looks like a lizard.
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Of course my distaste for Christmas goes back to the break-up of my first marriage. After that my kids never ever got to spend Christmas Day with me. I pretended not to mind- but I did.

I've always dealt with emotional pain by stuffing it up my jumper.

The kids are grown up now. One's in Leicester, one's in Japan and one lives with me and Ailz. There are no grandchildren- yet. Perhaps it's time I moved on....


Dec. 15th, 2005 12:45 pm
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It's embarrassing- I just had to email Judy and ask her for her address. This is someone I exchange emails with every day- and I don't know where she lives. Of course, I used to know. I've been in possession of bits of paper with her address scrawled accross the top, but where are they now? Maybe they're buried in the random drifts of paper that lie about the house like untimely snow or maybe they've been shredded. 

I'm terrified of throwing papers away for fear of losing important bits of information, but, wotthehell, the important bits of information get lost anyway. Why don't I keep an address book? That's a very good question.

I think I must be in love with this feckless persona of mine. I don't keep a record of addresses, I can't remember telephone numbers (Including my own), I have a wallet full of silly plastic cards that I can't use because I don't know the PIN numbers.

All this could be rectified.

But it's endearing, isn't it? Poor helpless little fellow. It gets me mothered.


Nov. 7th, 2005 10:20 am
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I've been looking for a line (I think it's from the Ingoldsby Legends- but deuced if I can find it) which declares that a man has fulfilled his duty to the ages if he has

1. Produced a child
2. Written a book
3. Planted a tree.

I've done all three- the first in triplicate. So, please sir, can I be excused, now?

When I was a very small child I wanted to be a farmer. Well, having just spent an hour mucking out the rabbit and the guinea pigs, I reckon I've fulfilled that ambition too. P.S. There's a reason why guinea pigs are called "pigs" and it's not just because they squeak.

Do I have any ambitions left? More pertinently, is it proper for a person in their mid 50s to still have ambitions?

Except to grow old with dignity and grace- and not to hang about too long.
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One of my party pieces when I was a Wiccan was, "Look, Halloween ain't that special. We celebrate eight festivals and they're all of equal importance."

It irritated me when journalists came a-calling and all they wanted to talk about were spooks and skeletons and magic pumpkins. "No," I said, "Wicca is just as much about spring flowers and high summer and icicles hanging on the wall...."

But I was always an awkward cuss. Show me an orthodoxy and my instinct is to start doing some spadework round its foundations.

For example, our temple was dedicated to the Sun.

Hermes, Aphrodite and the Unconquered Sun- those were our patrons- and as often as not we worked in daylight.

I was impatient with the mystification, with the smoke and mirrors, the mind games. I cut that stuff back and cut it back until finally I was standing in an open meadow with the sun directly over head and a clear view in all directions.

Then I shouldered my scythe and left the field, shutting the gate behind me.



Sep. 29th, 2005 10:26 am
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I have one great skill for dealing with the world-out-there.

I can make myself invisible.

I perfected it at school. Mine was what is laughably called a public (meaning private) school and its purpose was to turn boy children into parsons and/or major-generals. Everyone was expected to join a quasi-military outfit and march up and down in brightly shining, heavy boots on a Wednesday afternoon. There was the one get-out- you could opt instead for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. The DEAS regime was hearty enough- you had to read maps and go for long, manly hikes and camp out on foggy hillsides- but at least they didn't put you in a uniform.

I was so determinedly useless that the DEAS threw me out after a year. The final straw for them was when I and a group of my mates took a long and manly hike across some guy's private land and he effected a citizen's arrest and caused the school embarrassment. Thereafter I became invisible. While everybody else was shouldering arms and stamping their feet whenever a French master (pretending to be a sergeant major) told them they had to I was free to slope off down to the artroom and look at pictures of naked women.

I pulled the same stunt with organised sport. I was so determinedly useless at football and cricket that after a term or two the captains of sport stopped bothering to pick me for their teams and I was free to slope off down to the art room etc...etc.

You keep your head down, you pull your aura in and everybody else is so busy dreaming of goals or worrying about the polish on their boots that they just don't notice you're there (or not there, as the case may be.)

The problem with being invisible is that you never become rich or famous. The benefits are incalculable.
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When I was a kid I used to wonder what it was like to go into a pub and order a drink. And I used to worry that, when my time came, I'd do it wrong and be found out

I've always felt like I was bluffing my way through life. Like I'd missed out on some absolutely vital briefing session.

Keep your head down, imitate the natives, don't do anything to give yourself away.
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I was just out of school and waiting to go up to uni and I took a job in a Sheffield hospital working with paraplegics.

It's a part of my life that has brackets round it. There's little connection with anything else before or since.

I'm listening to Billie Holliday and that's what brings it back. It was my Sheffield landlady who got me hooked on Billie Holliday.

Her name was Maureen Tingle. She was a young widow. Irish. With bright red hair.

I was too young for her and she was too old for me. It never crossed our minds.

She had the sight. The Virgin Mary appeared to her just before her husband died to prepare her for it.

The Virgin was very little and appeared in a vessel of light. I'm not sure it was the Virgin. I think it was more probably the Banshee.

He dropped dead suddenly in the kitchen doorway. I wish you hadn't told me that, Maureen! There I was cooking my egg and chips in the evening- all alone in the house- and I had to keep glancing over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't standing behind me.

She was very lonely. She was very highly strung. I liked her as one would like- what- a crazy aunt.

But now I think of her as younger than me.


Jun. 29th, 2005 10:37 am
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The window goes white. I listen and listen and finally the thunder happens- like someone muttering and chewing at the same time. Not close. But the lightning was so bright. They say you should turn your computer off when there's thunder around.

The way I picture it the electicity comes surging up the cables, gathers in the monitor, then leaps out at your face.

I was in a car once sitting on a hill top watching a thunderstorm come up the valley towards us. "We're safe," said my wife. "The tyres will earth us." The lightning came nearer and nearer.

It's odd but I don't remember any climax. Just the storm coming, not its passing over. Maybe we were hit after all and I'm writing this in some sort of an afterlife. No, that's silly.

That wife (the first one) had a cousin whose husband and child were killed by lightning. They were out swimming in the lake and the storm snuck up without them noticing it and...... my wife's cousin wasn't there on the beach; the news had to be delivered to her. (Picture the sherrif driving up. His walk to the door.) Afterwards people were always muttering about her just out of her hearing.

I turn off the computer. It takes so long to close. As it goes through its procedure I feel like we're running ahead of the storm. Only not running- dawdling. Your settings are being saved. Yes, yes- come on!

Blue screen.

Blue screen

Blue screen

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The newly appointed Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has given an interview attacking homophobia in the church. Good for him!

And now for a little reflected glory. I was at college with the guy- Westcott house, Cambridge, 1973-76. Trouble is the glory ends there- I can't come up with a single anecdote- I guess we just didn't move in the same circles. (Actually, I didn't move in any circles at all- I was more the moody, doomed, outsider type.) I remember him as cheerful and toothy- and somewhere in the archives there's a photograph of his equally cheerful wife, Margaret, enjoying a picnic lunch with my first wife, Becky, on the lawn of the old vicarage where we had our student digs.

(Ah, the old vicarage! It was a tumble-down ruin- it's been demolished since- but it had a garden full of the most amazing, long-established apple-trees, including some rare if not otherwise extinct Victorian varieties.)

Sentamu has a reputation for standing up to dictators. He came to Cambridge as a refugee from Idi Amin's Uganda and recently opposed Tony Blair's war in Iraq. It doesn't seem as if time and high office have blanded him out any.

So, well done the Church of England! Now how about appointing some women bishops?
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I haven't been out of the country in ten years.

When I was younger I did a lot of travelling. At nineteen I hitchhiked from one end of France to the other. I set out on my own, but by the second day I'd met up with a French lad called Henri Mouillefarine (Dampcorn) and somehow or other he attached himself to me and we completed the journey together. I didn't like him much.

I've been to
Germany (just about)
The Czech Republic

And now we're going to Spain. It's ridiculous how nervous I am about it. Is this a regular thing- that one becomes timid as one gets older- or have I just let myself go?

This will be my last post for about a fortnight. We're leaving first thing in the morning.
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I woke this morning and there was something strange about the light. I thought at first that the lights were on in the house next door and they were shining in though our windows. No- I looked and next door was dark and the sky was simply grey, nothing unusual about it all. And then I worked out what was different. It was the angle of the light. It was coming in low from the east. I don't often see the dawn.....

I went back to bed and remembered how they made me go camping when I was fourteen. Me and this other boy. It was something that was required of us from the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme- a sort of scouts-lite outfit we'd been compelled to join at our boarding school. The alternative was the Officer Training Corps- and I was determined that no-one was ever going to get me into a soldier-boy uniform....

He and I should have been friends, seeing as how we were both outsiders. But I guess putting two outsiders together is like putting two positively charged magnets together. We were polite to one another and that was that. Polite in a surly, moody, James-Deanish sort of a way.

So we had a miserable time up on the hillside under canvas. And to make it worse it rained. Obviously I didn't sleep much.

When the dark started to wear away I left the tent and went out into the mist. I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of my face. Then the mist went from grey to gold and very quickly dissolved and I was looking down on a sea of cloud, all bumpy like porridge, with a hilltop or two rising out of it to one side and the sun coming up over its edge. Then, a minute or two later, the sea of cloud blew away and in its place was a sunlit valley, all sparkling greens and yellows and bright blues, the most amazing thing I'd ever seen in my life.
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I take down my paper diary and browse. I do this every once in a while. I think it will be amusing to drop in on my former self.  It never is.

It's more like wading through a morass.

Did I have a sense of humour in 1995? I certainly believed I did. But where's the evidence?

What makes the past such a gloomy place? I think it's the earnestness, the solemnity my past self displays in relation to things that just don't matter any more.

1995 is another century. Unreal. A world of ghosts.

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I dreamed that I'd been given three quarters of an hour to devise an entire church service. And I was having to do it while travelling to the venue. My daughter was with me and I was bouncing ideas off her. We decided on an opening hymn. One down, five to go. And then it suddenly hit me that I'd have to deliver a sermon.

My anxiety dreams almost always return me to my life as a clergyman. Frantic days. I was close to panic all the time. Stretched, stressed, stifled.

I was two weeks into the job- in the heatwave summer of 1976- and cycling home from morning prayer, when it first occured to me that I'd given my heart away. Down the hill I went with the sun on my back and the wind on my face and it was almost as if I were free- only these weren't my own clothes I was wearing but a black uniform shirt with one of those white, slave-collar things around the neck.

I pushed the thought away. But once you're wounded by the truth you stay wounded. I had ten more years of thinking other people's thoughts and speaking other people's words before I got myself into such a pickle that I had no option but to walk away.
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When I was a small child we had this dentist who didn't believe in using the drill on kids.

He was a nice old man. My dad played golf with him.

If I got a cavity he just filled it full of hot metal. When friends complained about the pains of dentistry I smiled indulgently. They should go see my dentist. He didn't hurt.

Then our man retired or dropped dead and we had to move to another practice. This new dentist (Dr Dresner- he had a glamorous blonde assistant and an Errol Flynn moustache) spent a year- and more- undoing everything the first dentist had done. And what he did involved drills, big needles, the works.

It left a mental scar.

Guess where I'm going this morning.....
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You may have gathered that I'm against The Man. Show me a Pope or a President or a Prime Minister and I want to know what vile sores he's hiding under his natty threads. Human beings are nasty, insanitary monkeys and I don't want one of them telling me what to do.

Guess this makes me an anarchist.

OK, I understand that anarchy isn't practical politics. The Anarchist State is a contradiction in terms. So what's the point?

The point is to keep things moving. To make sure no uniformed ape stays in office too long, because the longer they stay in office the more arbitrary and offensive they become. Anarchy is about stirring the mix, poking the fire, salting the wound.

In the hope that out of the ferment and perpetual motion something better might come.

Because I'm not a cynic. In fact I'm an optimist. I think human beings are at a very early stage in their evolution and that things can only get better. One of these days we'll be sitting in the lounge of the Sirius Hilton, gazing up at the night sky, enjoying our umpteenth century of unbroken peace and harmony, and we'll make out old Sol faintly twinkling among the stars and I'll turn to you or you'll turn to me and say, "Jeez, baby, but we've come a long, long way."
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An ice cream van just went down the road with its chimes playing a song I remember from my 1950s childhood and which I can't think I've heard since. The chorus goes something like this.

You, me and us;
We are my favourite people
we both go together like peaches and cream
And bells and a church and a steeple.


Is it a Doris Day number?

Ice cream vans never play anything up to date. I guess it's a copyright thing.

But now I can taste the tinned peach slices in syrup, with cream from the top of the milk bottle, which my mother used to give us for dessert.

"What's for pudding, mumma?"

"Peaches with top of the milk."

"Oooh-  super!" 

So Secret

Apr. 5th, 2005 09:59 am
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I was lying in bed last night thinking of two things that happened when I was approximately six.

The first thing was I told myself a story about a hermaphrodite (a little girl with a penis) who was murdered and torn apart by the other kids for being too pretty.

It was a thing of beauty and shame and so secret that I wince at telling it even now.

I identified with the murdered child.

And the second was how, when I was sick, I asked my grandmother to get me a Bible. She sat by my bed and started reading at Matthew I i. and I said "No, start from the beginning." So we went all the way back to Genesis.

I dodn't think we ever progressed beyond the seven days of Creation. But the point is I didn't want to start in the middle. I wanted the whole story, the whole secret. I really wanted the low-down on this God fella.....

Even if my attention span was this (***) short.

Sex and religion.......

Story of my life.
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I take down my journal for 1981 to find out what I was saying about the Pope 24 years ago. I know there's a sentence in there somewhere which calls him the "the greatest man of the age", but I forget the context.

Ah, here it is. An entry dated 15/8/81.

If Anglicanism is legitimate it derives its legitimacy from its Roman roots, and I cannot pretend that the schism between Rome and Canterbury is anything but a tragedy. I long for reunion, but also for the kind of central authority that Rome posseses in the papacy. What movement, I wonder, is possible at present? Is there any chance of Rome recognising Anglican orders? I caught myself, the other day, wishing that the present Pope (who is, is he not, the greatest man of the age?) might not live long- a thing of which I am deeply ashamed. I do not see him changing the church's mind on "the separated bretheren."




Yes. That was me a quarter century ago.

I was 30. I was illogical. I was a prig.



Feb. 22nd, 2005 08:37 am
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The Moai of Easter Island are huge statues, with elongated faces, jutting chins, heavy brows and ski jump noses. They look a bit like Richard Nixon and a bit like the Frankenstein monster.

There is nothing like them anywhere else in the world. These days we know something of the culture that produced them, but back in the 1950s no-one had a clue. I decided they were supernatural. Perhaps they came alive and stomped around their island when the sun went down.

They were just about the scariest thing I knew. As scary as ghosts. As scary as the very tall half-woman half-rabbit person I once saw in a dream.

I was afraid of them turning up in my bedroom. But that was bearable. I had a strategy all worked out. Obviously they could only appear on the left hand side of the bed. If I lay on my right I wouldn't see them.

Perhaps they were already there, looming up behind me. But that was bearable because it was seeing them that would do the damage. I didn't try to imagine what would happen after. Seeing them would be enough. One glimpse of those craggy, eyeless faces and I would dissolve in terror and cease to exist.


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