Changes.

At the end of the 1960s, and the mystical hippie dawning of the Aquarius age, we were all Still searching for meaning.

The big four philosophers when I was 18 were Hesse, Vonnegut, Brautigan and Tolkien.

Of course I read other influential writers, but at the time I really believed everything I needed to know about being a decent human being was in the works of those four, though it took me another 50 years to really begin to understand why.

There was another influential book I encountered.

In the course of exploring the world I came upon the I Ching. inevitably. It had a great deal of credibility amongst the hippies of my generation. Of course I looked into it. I still have, in my lock-up in New Zealand, a beautiful translation from Chinese through German to English, of the I Ching by Richard Wilhelm.

Yarrow sticks were hard to come by where I grew up, but I was a numismatist, and had in my collection several of those fascinating old Chinese coins with square holes. It seemed appropriate to use them. Having designated which side was heads and which was tails, I had a culturally acceptable method of obtaining a randomly generated hexagram, in accordance with the instructions accompanying the book.

My youthful, hopeful self was quite surprised to find how seemingly accurate and appropriate was the advice I gleaned from the wise words of the Tao. The last remnants of my Roman Catholic superstition we’re slowly fading at the time (now only the guilt remains) and I could possibly have easily fallen into the woo mentally of believing some spiritual power, something beyond myself, was guiding me, through the words of the book.

But I read something – I don’t recall exactly where – some scientific article, perhaps, that said our brains were hard-wired to look for patterns. We look for visual patterns, such as potentially threatening animal or human shapes hiding in the trees, and we look for patterns of events and try to make some sense, often wrong, of the coincidences and causality.

The evolutionary advantage of this pattern recognition behaviour is in the significance of the value of the false positive over the false negative.

If I see what looks like a lion lurking in the bushes, and run, the likelihood of staying alive is increased, whether it is a real or imagined lion. If I decide it’s a trick of the light, and ignore it, my chances of survival are decreased if I am wrong.

The same principle applies if we recognise a pattern of events that seem to coincide. Should it rain enough times after we ask nature politely for a shower to water the crop, we may come to believe that asking causes rain.

The downside of this, is that as there is, or was, an evolutionary advantage to being superstitious. We suffered from pareidolia. It became an affliction. We came to see those shapes and faces in the bark of trees, as beings, and ascribed to them powers and motives. We recognised patterns of events, some like the celestial movements, or the seasons, quite real. Then some smart arse recognised the patterns of our own behaviour, saw an opportunity for power and put himself forward as an intermediary between the common people and the spiritual world. And we got religion.

But I digress. I was speaking of the I Ching. I recognised that my brain was looking for patterns in the events of my own life. I was taking the words from an ancient book written in Chinese, translate first to German then to English, and gleaning valuable meaning from them. But this was not superstition. The advice the book was giving me was good. Why? Because it was written in such a way that it was inevitable that the reader would apply the general advice in such a way that it would most benefit him. Because the Tau was the way of the upright, it had to be good advice. For a few formative years the I Ching helped me make decisions that brought me to where I am now. I have few regrets.

These musings were inspired by coming upon this following little piece in one of the philosophical emails that turn up in my in-box from time to time.

After a few more hours swimming up and down the Bribie Island pool, I may have more to write on the subject.

The following is borrowed from Psychology Today.

Impact of the I Ching on Carl G. Jung & its implications

Jung, Taoist psychology, and cross-cultural communications

Posted Mar 01, 2017 

Although research has examined how world cultures (e.g., independent vs. interdependent ones) each uniquely shaped psychological experiences, few investigations focus on how cultures influence one another in the psychological domains. This issue is important, because cross-cultural information and knowledge exchange, contacts, and influences, though moderate in the past, have transformed all cultures, including the field of psychology. For example, Taoist psychology is one of the main cultural inspirations for Jungian psychology.

In May 1930, Jung gave the Eulogy at a memorial service in Munich for Richard Wilhelm. Jung integrated the Eastern philosophy into his principles of psychotherapy and human psyche through his study of Richard Wilhelm’s translations of I Ching (The Book of Changes), The Secret of the Golden Flower, and their frequent interactions that lasted from the early 1920’s until Wilhelm’s death in 1930 (Goulding, 2015; Karcher, 1999; Stein, 2005).

Jung said that Wilhelm “inoculated us with the living germ of the Chinese spirit and we found ourselves partaking of the spirit of the East as we experience the living power of the I Ching. It is capable of working a profound transformation of our thought.” Jung said that Wilhelm’s work was of such immense importance to him because it confirmed what he had been seeking in his efforts to alleviate the psychic suffering of Europeans. The book was both a carrier of human experience and a door to the energy of the archetypes. “I heard from him in clear language the things I had dimly divined in the confusion of the European subconscious. I received more from him than from any other man” (cited in Karcher, 1999; also see Goulding, 2015; Stein, 2005).

Jung expressed his deep gratitude for what he received from Wilhelm, because through his translations and teaching, Taoist psychology influenced Jung’s theoretical frameworks by facilitating the formation of his chief conceptions: synchronicity and individuation, in addition to confirming his views about the unconscious and nonlinear or circular psychological development for adult (Goulding, 2015; Karcher, 1999; Stein, 2005).

Jung’s comprehension of Tao is much deeper than the conventional translation “the way.” As he commented, Tao is the interaction between the mind and reality. The essential Taoist idea in I Ching suggests that all of the ingredients make up the observed moment. Understanding human experiences involves recognizing a special interdependence of objective events among themselves, as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers (Jung, 1967). In other words, according to I Ching, psychological experiences are determined by the interaction of the mind, time, space, situations, and action or non-action. The mind and reality interaction, rather than being an isolated or independent event, symbolically represents the person’s dialogue with a broad reality transcending a specific moment and space. It is the interactions that serve as the parameter for deciphering psychological experiences.

In short, Jung’s achievements in integrating the East and West demonstrate that psychological phenomena and principles are both cultural and universal.

References:

Goulding, J. (2015). The forgotten Frankfurt school: Richard Wilhelm’s China Institute. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 41:1-2 (March–June 2014) 170–186

Jung, C. G. (1967). Foreword. In The I Ching or Book of changes (C. F. Baynes, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Karcher, S. (1999). Jung, the Tao and the Classic of Change. Journal of Religion and Health, 38, 287-304.

Stein, M. (2005). Some reflections on the influence of Chinese thought on Jung and his  psychological theory. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 50(2), 209-222. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8774.2005.00524

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The Power of Words.

I well understand the power of words. I understand their power to hurt and to soothe.

I know the not-so-subtle difference In meaning and context, for example between Women Being Raped, and Men Raping Women.

Ive been trained in forensic interview techniques. I’ve been lied to, insulted and cursed by the best, in several languages. When this happens, I do almost the same thing I do if I have somehow got myself into a life-threatening or dangerous situation. (I do that now and then. It is part of my nature to see how far I can go).

When I’m insulted, I become calm and analytical. I try to figure out if I am in the wrong, if I deserve the criticism, or whether it is a defence/offence mechanism.

So I was taken aback recently when, after posting an old photo of myself on my bike at Katanning airfield, one of my friends made the comment “Yobbo”.

It seems reasonable enough, one would think. I could be mistaken for a yob.

The comment was surely intended in the humorous vein of friendly joshing we all indulge in. I am sure of it.

So.

I don’t know why I’m so insulted by that comment. Maybe the word is psychologically loaded in my subconscious. Call me a larrikin or a yahoo and I’d probably smile and agree. But yobbo hits a raw nerve somehow. Is there something in my youth or childhood to explain this feeling?

I can’t recall. I have thought about it for a day and still my first instinct is to say “go fuck yourself” or delete the comment. Why? I’m 67 years old, I’ve been successful in at least some of my fields of endeavour, I’ve worked in 7 countries, speak three languages, can say basic phrases or at least “thank you”, “may I have”, and “where is … ?” in another 10. I understand the power of words. Where does this one gain its power over my subconscious?

This is most interesting. It’s like listening to a song that makes you cry, even though it is not the sort you might think would do that. There’s a trigger I don’t recall. Fascinating.

So be aware. “Yobbo”, for some reason I cannot explain is a grave insult to me. As bad as, or even worse than, “climate change denier” , “antivaxxer”, or “creationist”.

Yes. There are songs that make me cry.

A Modest Proposal

At University, so very long ago, we learned about the PTC taste test. We all took test papers home and charted our families’ ability or inability to taste the bitter chemical, which is apparently not found in nature, though the story circulating at the time was that it was derived from horse piss.

PTC stands for phenylthiocarbamide. Also known as phenylthiourea, the chemical structure of PTC resembles toxic alkaloids found in some poisonous plants. The ability to taste it would be an evolutionary advantage. Roughly 25% of the population cannot taste it.

Informally, amongst ourselves, we also discovered there was a small proportion of people who actually liked the taste. Most of us didn’t. I was reminded of this many years later when my younger daughter developed pica, and was prescribed a nasty tasting iron solution to be dispensed only a drop at a time due to its toxicity. I was expecting to have trouble getting her to take it. To me, it tasted Nasty. Very Nasty. On the contrary, she begged for more.

What I am leading up to, is that people are Different. And Different is not necessarily Wrong.

There is a huge difference between liking pineapple on pizza or being gay, and being a paedophilic cannibalistic serial killer. The line is crossed, to my mind, only when someone is harmed.

The problem is that too many people draw the line in ridiculously arbitrary ways. Religion and other erroneous beliefs, such as those held by believers of feng shui and by antivaxxers are only of importance when someone is harmed as a result of those beliefs.

Increasingly, the failure to accept ANY difference of opinion or of lifestyle is becoming a serious problem in society. The line is becoming so blurred that it is now my opinion that it should be firmly placed by law, at the place it should be; where beliefs and practices cause harm to others. Intolerance of racism, paedophilia and homicidal behaviour must be encouraged. Intolerance of sexual identity, the telling of Irish jokes, or belittling those with a fondness for pineapple on pizza should be considered as hate speech and acted upon accordingly.

Lofty Purpose

Once, with lofty purpose, I set out
Of a mind, and with a will, to conquer
I saw the world with scientific eyes
And shunned the superstition and the lies
That I learned from the pulpit and the cassock.

In the real world that I found awaiting
The simplest task was fraught with ignorance
Of those whose fears and faiths, irrational
Denied the possibilities of science
Demanding asservation of the unknowable.

Unprovable tales; Insane conspiracy
Demands that I Believe a Prayer
Offered to some omniscient being
Who until that moment unaware
Of my desires, might choose
To grant or deny, by chance alone, at whim.
And yet ignore the needs of millions.

Thus, and thusly, I cannot feel reverent
To your Lord of superstitions and of lies.
Vonnegut was right
The God of the Utterly Indifferent
Has no interest in his creation.

© 2019 ARF

Bridie

Feb 1 is St Bridie’s day.  In the Middle Ages, the goddess Brigid was syncretized with the Christian saint of the same name. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian “monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart,” St. Brigid of Kildare.
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Irish Medieval History·

Happy St. Bridget’s Day (1st February) – There are many traditions associated with the day but perhaps the best known is the making of the iconic St. Bridget’s Cross. The following article explains some of the traditions…

Saint Brigid’s Day – Beliefs and Customs by Sile Healy.

In ancient Irish folk tradition St. Brigid’s day on the 1st of February heralded the first day of spring and thus of the farmer’s year. It is a festival which honours our venerated second patron saint, as well as that of dairy work and cattle. Tradition states that the saint promised fine weather after the harsh winter. Farmers expressed their wish for fine weather for ploughing and digging by turning over a few sods in the tillage field. People who lived in coastal regions were of the belief that the spring tide nearest the festival Rabharta na Féile Bríde the great spring tide was an occasion for gathering and cutting seaweed to fertilize the crops. The days lengthened and the day was used by many as an occasion to do stocktaking on the farm.

The housewife used the occasion of St. Brigid’s eve to ensure the house was respectable and tidy, a festive supper was also prepared consisting of apple cake, dumplings and colcannon irrespective of the financial situation of the household. Allied to this all farmer’s wives made what was known as a báirín-breac, neighbours were invited around and engaged in drinking and merrymaking. On St. Brigid’s eve it was generally believed that the saint travelled around the countryside, bestowing blessings on the people and livestock. Various elements were used to indicate that her visit to the house was welcomed. A common practice entailed the placing of a cake or pieces of bread and butter on the window-sill outside. Often this offering was left to be collected by a tramp or impoverished person. In other areas it was brought in the next morning and shared between the members of the household. Often a sheaf of corn was placed beside the cake as a refreshment for the saint’s favourite cow who accompanied her. Other households placed a bundle of straw or fresh rushes on the threshold on which the saint may kneel to bless the house or on which she could wipe her feet before entering. Further traditions include that dishes of water, salt, pieces of meat or butter being left outdoors as an offering for the saint, after she had passed by these would have acquired medicinal properties and were used to ward off illness.

The most common custom associated with St. Brigid’s eve was the making of the cros Bríde or bogha Bride, which was hung in homes and often in the byre also. Tradition states that crosses were made for protection against fire and lightening as well as illness and epidemic disease could be held at bay. If the cross hung by the door evil spirits couldn’t enter. The residue left over after the cross was made wasn’t thrown out but placed on the floor by the hearth, often covered by a white cloth to form a bed for saint. In other areas the straw left from ‘Brigid’s bed’ and from the making of the crosses was believed to have healing powers. Strands were preserved and tied around an aching head or limb at night. The following day the wearer would place the strands on the fire, where if they burned quickly there would be a rapid cure. Some put the straw under the pillow to ward off disease and in Donegal fishermen used it for protection.

Many young people going from house to house with a symbol of the saint, ‘The Brídeóg’ this was an effigy supposed to represent St. Brigid and made according to the local custom. It was usually a straw doll, dressed to portray a human figure. Often small children went to the neighbours houses and were given money. In some areas unmarried girls carried the effigy bestowing Brigid’s blessing on the house, often they handed out crosses to the head of the houses they visited. It was accepted that the girl who carried the effigy was the most beautiful and modest of all. In other regions no effigy was used, the girl dressed in white and carried a locally made cross to represent the saint. Those who carried the ‘brídeóg’ were called ‘brídeóga’, ‘biddies’ or ‘biddy-boys’.

This Brat Bríde consisted of a silk ribbon placed on the window sill at night to honour St. Brigid. It was said to lengthen during the night and was used as a remedy against headache. The general belief was the saint on the eve of her feast went around the country would touch the brat and endow it with healing powers. Some said it healing power was strongest after 7 years. The brat could be a ribbon, a piece of linen or cloth like a scarf or handkerchief, thus touched by the saint would keep the wearer safe from harm especially on a hazardous or long journey. In Munster it was tied to the doorknob so the saint would touch it when entering the house. It was said to cure bareness, help women in childbirth, to ward of magic, the evil eye and fairies. If a farm animal became ill the sign of the cross was made with the brat over it which was then laid on the animals back to ensure the saints intervention on its behalf It helped animals to give birth and have a plentiful supply of milk.

The residue from the crosses was often added to the bedding of the horses and cows to ward off illness and danger. The crosses were often taken down from the byre to bless an ill cow or one who was producing little milk. Another custom was the making of spancels and cattle tyings on St. Brigid’s eve into which portions of Brigid’s bed or the threshold sheaf were woven. They were often used to lead animals to the fair and to calm fidgety animals as well as to ward off danger and evil magic.

Marriage divination was practiced. Imitation ladders and spinning wheels were woven from the rushes. The men would sleep with the spinning wheels under their pillow and the girl would sleep with the ladder under hers. They would see their future partner spinning the wheel or at the top of the ladder. Later the man and woman exchanged them as tokens and if they dreamed of each other they were sure to marry. If the lark or linnet should sing on Brigid’s day then it was a sign of a good spring. The dandelion was known as St. Brigid’s flower as it is one of the first wild flowers to bloom after her festival. It has medicinal value and forms the base of a potent wine. The saint entertained in a regal way and was known for homemade ales which she gave to all visitors regardless. Others gathered hoare-frost from grass on the morning of St. Brigid’s day as an infallible cure for headache. Many people got water from a well dedicated to Brigid and sprinkled water on their fields, livestock and homes to invoke the blessing of the saint

Sile Healy,
http://www.kilmurry.ie/newsletter_2011/st_bridgits_day.htm

Approximate pronunciation guide

Rabharta na Féile Bríde –- rav-arta nah faye-ah breed-ah
Brídeóg –- breed-ogue
bogha Bríde –- bug-ah breed-ah
báirín-breac – -baur-een brack
cros –- krus
Brat Bríde –- brat – breed-ah

John 8:32

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Starting the year with this resolution, formulated for me by Annie Reneau.

A belief, opinion, or viewpoint based on verifiably false claims is not worth my consideration. Period. Refusing to entertain them doesn’t make a person intolerant, it makes them reasonable and intelligent. Tolerating lies is ridiculous and illogical. And if your opinion is based on lies, it is invalid and it should be called out as such.

A viewpoint based on verifiably false claims is not worth my consideration.  Period.”
Especially when that opinion causes or permits harm to others.
With so many opportunities to learn the facts, crosscheck and verify them from independent and expert sources, it takes a particular combination of stupid and cognitive dissonance to continue believing bullshit.
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Even an atheist can quote the book.
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My Autobiography – Loosely Based on a True Story. Part One.

I have been waiting for a few key people to die before I really get started on my autobiography, so that I don’t get sued.  They are taking their time about it.  If they don’t get on with it soon I may beat them out the door.  In the meantime I shall have to stick with the relative safety of what I recall of my early childhood and younger days.

This is not written to entertain anyone. That comes later when I revise it and start making things up.  In the meantime I am just jotting down some dot points to jog my memory so I can expand more fully some of the stories later on.  It is pretty random at this stage.

Draft 1.  My Autobiography, Part 1: The Early Years.

Chapter 1:   England and Beyond.

Around 1:15 in the early morning of January 16 1952, my grandmother woke my father from his no-doubt sound sleep to tell him that he was now the father of a baby boy.  Dad didn’t need to ask how she knew this.  She is Irish.  Later that day he visited Woking Hospital and learned that his mother was correct both about the time and my gender.

That was me.  Born.

That is how the story was told to me.   Once, many years later, over a teacup she was reading, my Irish Nanna told me she had the sight, and she thought I did too.  She was pretty guilty about it because it rather clashed with how she was raised a Catholic.  That is why I know she really believed it.  Because it made her feel guilty.  Me, I have my own theories on how some people seem able to work out what’s going on when others can’t.  It involves the subconscious processing power of the brain.  If tea leaves or some other form of pattern recognition process helps, well who am I to argue.  At least not with my grandmother.

Only last week  I put extra food in the slow cooker one morning because I had a feeling I would have guests that evening.  Sure enough two tourists I had met two days before turned up.  They had to turn back on the Canning Stock Route after one had a bike accident in the sand dunes.  They were most surprised when I told them I had been expecting them and I had a hot meal ready for them.  But I am digressing sixty two years ahead already.

Now read on:

By describing to older relatives the houses, events, pets and locations that I recalled,  I have been able to place my earliest memories to when I was three years old or younger.

Some of them are pretty hazy, like waving bye-bye to my dad, held in Mum’s arms outside a house I could partly describe.  Others are very clear images even now.    Why I remember particular things I don’t know.

I remember:

My cousin Dawn and I both sitting on a potty beside each other, in front of a blazing fire at my paternal grandparents’ house.

The very first time I wiped my own bum all by myself.  Mum had left me on the loo and gone next door.  Such pride.  I had to go over next door to tell her and everyone else about my achievement.   I don’t think Mum was all that impressed.

My Irish Great Grandmother, Granny Coffee (nee O’Brien) sitting on a high backed chair like a queen on a throne in an ill-lit room and giving me a ten shilling note.  The only memory I have of her.

Fireworks and a bonfire in the snow.

Silver threepenny bits in Christmas pudding that flamed as it was served.  The only time my Irish grandmother ever used alcohol was that little bit of Brandy on the Christmas pudding.

The pine smell of Christmas. A teddy bear.  A koala made of kangaroo skin from Aunty Berys in Australia.  I gave them both away to a collection for poor kids when I was 15.  Many years later I saw the koala, or one exactly like it – even down to the worn patches – in an antique shop.  I couldn’t afford to buy it back.

Picking blackberries. Scratched hands.  Blackberry and apple pie.

Rhubarb.  Custard, Lemon Curd.  Cherry pie.  Counting stones to see who got the most.  Nanna always made sure it was me.

The huge copper in which Nanna did the laundry.  The mangle which squeezed the wet clothes dry when you turned the handle.  Blue in the rinse water.

Riding on the back of Nanna’s bike as she took me to work at her cleaning job.

Hiding under the table with my mother when some chap came around to collect half a crown that mum didn’t have.  It seemed half a crown was a lot of money. Grandad Ayres gave me one whenever we visited.   Once he asked me “Double or nothing?” I asked what that meant and he explained that if he tossed the coin and it came down heads, I would get two half crowns.  If it came down tails he would keep it.  I knew I was onto a sure thing because granddad would never let me leave without my half crown.  So I agreed.  He tossed. I lost.  He kept the half crown and then gave me the best advice I’d ever had from an adult. “Never gamble son”.  The sting of it stuck.  I have never been keen to part with money on a bet.

There was a silver birch tree in our front garden at the Balmoral Estate, Woking.  i loved its white bark.  I visited the house in 2008 with my Aunt Anne. The tree is gone.  The old lady who lived there wanted to know why I was photographing her house.

Snow so deep Dad’s car was just a white mound.  I made a tunnel in the snow.

I remember an uncle’s wood shed, his saw-horses, axes, files and saws.  The delightful smell of rotting sawdust that I still love.  They had a big black dog and I still love dog smell too.  I must have liked it there. There was an open space and woods behind their house.  We walked the dog and explored.

Picking bluebells in the woods and catching sticklebacks in a stream with my aunts, who were not that much older than I, though they seemed so much older at the time.  Collecting acorns.

Conkers.  A Horse Chestnut on a string.

A shady lane walking with my aunts as a girl rode by on a horse.  The horse dropped its doos right near me. I liked that smell too.  And the spring smell of the woods.

Walking round Horsell Common.  There was a huge pond which I was told was a bomb crater.  It had a wrecked fighter plane in it.   There had been a war not long ago. Right here.  Later, somewhere else, I saw areas of broken houses and piles of bricks that Dad said had been houses that were bombed. There was a war there too.

Being told that Horsell Common was where the Martians had landed and not yet being aware that some stories are true and others are not.

That pond on the common had frogs in it.  That is where my interest in frogs began.

Waiting outside the Cricketers Arms while Dad talked to a man about a dog.  He brought me out a glass of lemonade sometimes.  I waited patiently but I never ever saw a dog.

Fishing in the Basingstoke Canal.  A cousin singing an Elvis song, – I’m All Shook Up.  We used floats that bobbed on the surface.  I don’t remember catching anything but I was really interested to see the canal locks in action.  I watched a small motor boat be lowered from one lock to the next.  There was duckweed on the water.

Playing with my cousins David and John.  They had a cool collection of military Dinky toys, and toy soldiers.

On a double decker bus singing Last Train to San Fernando and some other song of which I can now only remember the line  I’m only a poor man how much can I take?   I thought the line referred to how much money was the singer allowed to have.

Lonnie Donnegan. Skiffle groups.

Sitting upstairs on the bus at the front, pretending to be the driver.  I also seem to vaguely recall holding up the bus once for someone to get on, until my mother explained to the conductor that I was talking about my imaginary friend.  Or perhaps I only recall this because I have been told the story a few times.  Either way, it really happened.

I had an invisible friend, not an imaginary one.  Apparently I passed on some pretty interesting stories that he told me.  I can’t remember what he looked like, but he was adult.  I believe he was Irish and may have been one of the Sidh.  Sometimes I am pretty sure he is real.  Just really good at not being seen when he didn’t want to be.  Plainly I could see him, or I would not have been talking about him.  I did, therefore he was.

I remember buying a Minnie Mouse shaped ice lolly from the man with a horse-drawn ice cream cart.  It cost a penny, which was very expensive in those days.  My mother complained.  Disney.  I recall the coin was enormous in my hand.   I also recall I didn’t want the Minnie Mouse one, I wanted Donald Duck, but Minnie was all that was left.  Someone else got the last Donald Duck.  I saw it and I thought it had a much better shape than the Minnie. Funny what you remember.  I don’t even know what flavour they were.

I remember pedalling my jeep to the corner sweet shop to buy sweets I paid for with farthings from the money pouch on the holster belt of my cowboy outfit.  Farthings were a much more manageable sized coin and everyone gave them to me to put in my pouch.  I learned that four of them were equivalent to a whole penny.  Sweets were sold by the ounce and it seemed to me that a few farthings bought quite a lot of sweets.

Trebor Chews,  Lemon Drops, Smarties, Rowntree’s Wine Gums.  Licorice Allsorts.

I remember painting my grandparents’ garage door with an old paintbrush and a bucket of water dyed with laundry blue.  The garage door never changed colour no matter how many coats I applied.  I wondered why my grandad wanted me to do it.

I remember picking plums with Grandad, and him telling me they were Victorias.  He said Nanna made him send some to the Queen at Buckingham Palace every year, because the song says “Send her Victorias”.  I didn’t get it.

Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men.  Forever associated with that potting shed at my other Grandad’s place.  It had been a Bomb Shelter in the back garden and was now used as a toolshed and storage for flowerpots. The dim light and dusty petrichor smell.

Picking peas and digging potatoes with my other Grandad.  The smell of  freshly dug potatoes (and the taste of them cooked) also lives in my memory.   New potatoes.

Shucking peas with the other Nanna. The taste of raw peas.

Cold sausages and cold cooked new potatoes. With butter.

Crying over cooked liver because I simply could not eat it without gagging (I love it now).   Sent to bed with no dinner and served cold liver next morning for breakfast.  More tears.  Nanna sneaking by and eating it for me.  Mum suspicious.

I seem to recall spending a lot more time with my paternal grandparents than my mother’s parents.

I remember having for a short time a pet grass snake that Dad caught on Horsell Common.  I learned that there were other dangerous snakes called Adders, or Vipers.  So I should leave strange snakes alone.  There is a tortoise floating in my memory too, but I am not sure if it was mine or a neighbour’s.  I think the latter, because it slept or hibernated in a glasshouse and I don’t believe we had one.

I had two goldfish called Wally and Sammy that we brought home from a fair in plastic bags.  I remember getting lost at the fair and the panic I felt until I found my parents. Or they found me.

Wally and Sammy had a glass fishbowl to live in.  I left them with my Aunt when we went to New Zealand.  She wrote me a letter to tell me when they died.

I remember toys and books that would be worth a small fortune if I still had them.  A Muffin the Mule marionette, Dinky toys, Matchbox toys, an electric train set of the London Underground.  I never understood why the set didn’t come with tunnels.  It was, after all, supposed to be under ground.   A battery powered army tank.  A rubber band powered submarine that went up and down in the bath.  A tin ray gun that fired sparks.  A wigwam.  A wind up monkey that played cymbals.  A bow and arrow with rubber suction cup tips on the arrows. A little milk truck with tiny crates of bottles, some white and full of milk, some clear. Empties.  I remember one of the empties had a bubble in it that spoiled the illusion.  A toy shop in which all the jars and packets of fruit and vegetables were actually tiny sweets.  It even had little scales and weights for measuring out the groceries.

A yoyo I couldn’t do anything with.

I remember Noddy books and Rupert Bear.

 

Rupert was smart.  Noddy was a bit silly.

Tessie Bear gave me a squishy feeling when she gave Noddy a hug.

I thought Mr Golly was so nice to give Noddy his first job.

noddy and mr golly

I never really trusted BigEars. He seemed rather grumpy and judgemental, though I could not have expressed it that way then.

The Rag and Bone Man came round with his horse and cart swapping stuff for Mum’s rubbish.  I never understood why.

I remember the first time I saw floaters in my eyes. It was bedtime and the light was dim.  The floaters seemed to drift downwards.  I told my mother it was raining in my room.  She told me not to be silly.  I knew then I could see things other people couldn’t.

I remember watching the track on a gramophone record roll into the centre of the record.  I pondered for a long time about where it went.  I concluded at last that it went under the label, through the hole in the middle and continued on the other side.  Nothing I have learned since disproves this theory.

The record label said Capitol.  I was sure it was spelt wrong.  It looked wrong.  See? I was smart.

Mum packing me a tiny suitcase and putting me out on the front doorstep to wait for the man from the Naughty Boys Home to come and take me away.   Tearfully begging forgiveness and promising to be good if she let me back in.  Waiting in fear until she did.  I don’t remember what I did wrong.

My parents once drove me past some huge creepy looking old brick building and told me it was the naughty boys home.  I didn’t want to go there.

I remember the milkman coming round with an electric powered cart.  I wondered how he made it go so I took a look while he was talking to my grandmother and mother.  I deduced that if I pulled down the handle, it would move.  I tried it. The cart jerked forward and all the bottles rattled.  I let go immediately, and the cart stopped.  It scared the daylights out of me.  No one seemed to notice and as I calmed down I felt a little pride in my reasoning powers.  I had figured it out by myself.

Soft drinks delivered by the crate in a truck.  The scent and taste of orangeade.

Orange juice in waxed cardboard boxes.

The scary face in the woodgrain of the toilet door at my Maternal Grandparents’ house.  I can still see it.   My first remembered experience of pareidolia.  But to me then, it was a face in the door.  I was afraid of it but could not stop looking.

Fantasia and the terrifying Night on Bald Mountain scene.  My Dad told me his horror childhood film had been The Wizard of Oz, particularly the flying monkeys scene, but I don’t recall that being very scary when I saw it.  I just liked the movie transition to colour and the green flames in Oz.  Green flames seemed really cool.  I didn’t understand the story at all.

Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Robin Hood, Zorro.  Andy Pandy.

Feeling sick after a trip to Brighton (?) and throwing up all over the kitchen floor after Nanna made me drink lemonade.  She always knew what to do.

A hot bread poultice on a festering sore on my knee.   The distinct phenol and oil of wintergreen scent of thick, pink Germolene ointment, from a round tin.   Germolene cured everything a poultice couldn’t deal with.  Or maybe a poultice cured everything Germolene couldn’t handle.  In any case, both together were a powerful combination.

Being put to bed in a strange room upstairs at Nanna and Grandad’s place when it was still daylight.  Unable to sleep,  watching from the window and seeing my mother go out.  Wondering where she was going and if she was coming back.  The clock’s tick tock as I lay in my bed waiting for sleep and darkness – which in summer could be as late as ten pm.

A Christmas party in an aircraft hangar where my dad worked.  There were trestle tables of food and drink, and an enormous plane.  Father Christmas gave me something.  I don’t remember what.  Maybe that submarine.

I had a sailor suit which formerly belonged to Prince Charles, given to my mother by a friend or relative who worked at the Palace.   It was too tight and I hated it. I only remember wearing it once to some wedding or similar event.   There is a photo somewhere of me wearing it.

I collected tokens of some sort from a cereal packet. We posted them away and soon after in the mail I received a toy telescope.

One kid who lived near my grandparents’ home in Russell Road, Horsell, I think his name was Billy Cotton, had a new pedal car in the shape of a racing car.  It had a bonnet that opened and an engine with little spark plugs and wires and everything.  It was so cool.  He challenged me to a race around the block, certain he would win because his was a racing car.  My jeep was lighter to pedal and I won easily.   My First Victory.  After that his didn’t seem so cool.

My aunts playing hopscotch on squares drawn on the pavement with a piece of brick.  Me not understanding what was happening or why they were doing it.

I remember watching ants on a dog turd by the brick wall on the pavement outside my Grandparents’ house.  It was fascinating to watch them.  I wondered why they found a dog turd so interesting.  It smelt.  A few days later I saw the turd had turned white and crumbly.  I wondered how that happened.

I wondered about a lot of things.  Like where were the ladders that my mother and aunts talked about?  “Oh I have a ladder and I only just bought them”.  What?

What was a stroke, and why did you whisper about it. Did it have anything to do with stroking cats and dogs?

We visited one of Mum’s uncles who didn’t even have water in his house. There was a pump in his front garden with a handle that went up and down.  I couldn’t move it.

My first day at school.

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That kid in the sleeveless pullover could be me.  It’s not, but I looked exactly like that.  I even seem to remember school being like in that photo.  Big low tables. The smell of paint and crayons.

I wasn’t at school long in England but I seem to remember being able to read my Noddy and Rupert  books even before I went to school.  I do know I that in NZ I thought the Janet and John books I was introduced to at Ohariu valley School were pretty lame in comparison.  But then I met Dr Seuss in Palmerston North.  But I digress once more. That is later.

At the end of 1957, my parents emigrated to New Zealand.

When I found out, I followed.

No, seriously,  just kidding.  They took me with them.

We travelled from London by train overnight to Glasgow to embark as assisted immigrants on the TSS Captain Cook.  I remember the Johnny Walker statue at Waterloo station in London , and wondering why he was famous.  Also why he was dressed in that silly fashion.  Tearful farewells from the adults.  I just thought it was an adventure.  Oh, lets get on with it.

I was sorry though, that I had to leave Wally and Sammy behind.

But I had a new Rupert Bear Annual from Aunty Doris to read on the way.

rupert1956

Some time in the night Dad told me we were in a different country now, called Scotland.

Salty porridge in Glasgow.

The TSS Captain Cook

Being on a real ship. The smell of bunker oil, paint and ocean.

Separated in a cabin on one side of the ship along with all the women, girls,  and small children.  Men and older boys on the other side.  I was the only boy in a cabin of maybe six. All the rest were women and girls.

My hand jammed in a door when I tried to go into the cabin when someone was changing.   Pain and swelling.  Tears.  A visit to the infirmary to be sure nothing was broken.   Bandaged.

Some stupid girl in a bra.  As if I cared to look.

A storm.  Everyone locked in and not allowed out on deck.  Being sick.  Falling out of the top bunk and being relegated to the bottom one.  The shame of it.

Lifejackets and lifeboat drill.

I enjoyed the meals in the dining room.  I don’t remember being served anything I didn’t like.  There was a distinct smell of eggs and steam and fish and white sauce.   There was a similar but different delicious steamy hot food smell in the galley when I wandered in there later on my explorations.   The kids menu was not the same as the adult sittings.

Sneaking down to the crew-only afterdeck at the stern, which seemed to me to be only just above sea-level.  Watching the waves rise higher than where I was standing.  Awe at how much water was out there.  Making friends with the sailors. No one minded I was there.  When I look at the photo of the ship the deck doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as low as I remember.

I found my way to the galley.  The cook (there must have been more than one!) was friendly and told me he would cook me something special if I brought him all the flying fish that landed on the afterdeck.  He gave me a bag.  I remember seeing fish come flying over the ship’s side and flopping about on the deck.  I gathered lots of fish.  I am pretty sure someone was helping me collect them.  That part is hazy.  The cook gave me fish and chips and cream scones.  Maybe not both at the same time.  I am pretty sure I went there quite often whenever I could escape.  I probably stank of fish every time mum found me and herded me back.  What a give away.

My mother was really irate every time I disappeared.  I disappeared a lot.  There were some pretty cool places a small boy could get to on a ship and be hard to find.

I was only five. I was curious.  An explorer.  It was an adventure.  I can see now why my mother was so pissed off.   At the time it seemed to me she was being most unreasonable about it.  That ship was the absolute best time of my short little life so far.  Watching the sea roll by was never boring.

Roses lime cordial in icy cold water from a water cooler and with clinking ice that had bubbles trapped in it, and which had just the faintest hint of a metallic taste when you crunched it between your teeth.

Hot salt-water baths.  Not enough fresh on board to waste on baths.  Another strange steamy smell. Odd smelling soap that lathered in salty water.

Shark fins in the harbour at Curacao.  A crocodile in the river leading up to the Panama Canal.   Gun towers around the Pepsi Cola factory where we went on a day tour.  Beggars in the street. Shoe-shine boys.

The Crossing the Line ceremony at the equator for which my mother cut up my favourite Disney tablecloth to make me a costume.  It was wasted. I didn’t win a prize.

I took it so very seriously when as part of ceremony I was awarded a certificate that said I now had free and safe passage throughout the whole of Davy Jones’ realm.  I believed it implicitly.  Ever since then I have felt at home in or on the sea.  No matter what crap has happened to me at sea – and quite a lot has – I have always been calm and self assured, and handled it.  I am at home with the sea.  I have never doubted that this equanimity is entirely because of what I was told when I was only five.

That is how important an affirmation can be.

And I had one in writing.  Signed by King Neptune himself.  The ocean was mine.

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