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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It Doesn’t Really Matter Any More

I’m resigned to a lot of things, many of which I could never come to terms with before.

It has been hard letting things go. Letting people go.

But when the world as I know it is coming to an end,

and those who can do something about it won’t;

Nothing really matters.

Living Alone.

THE MORE LOVING ONE

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

By W.H. Auden

Vai

The video is out.

You can buy it here or here on line, or ask your local dealer to get it for you.

I think you should.

Vai is a “portmanteau” film made by a group of female Pacific filmmakers, filmed on seven Pacific islands, and In New Zealand. It is about the journey of empowerment through culture over the lifetime of one woman, Vai. The theme of water, it’s ubiquity, it’s power, spiritual significance, connectivity and adaptability is a metaphor throughout the movie for the feminine and for the feminist principle.

Vai

One review includes this comment:

The filmmakers developed the script together but nevertheless, the consistency in their interpretation of her character is remarkable. Fierce, stubborn, passionate and strongly connected to her environment wherever she is, she (Vai) pushes at the limits of what women are expected to be at the same time as embodying the traditional feminine values of the region.

There is another very good review here.

Another here. So far I’ve only found very positive reviews.

One of my daughters is one of the directors, so you might expect me to say that her segment was among the best parts of the film, but I am not alone in that opinion. I have heard that said and seen it written by others.

For anyone not familiar with the diversity of cultures around the Pacific, the movie may seem a little bewildering at times because there are not too many specifically scripted explanations of the significance of what is happening in a cultural context. It is all decipherable in context, however, and the one thing viewers need to be aware of is that these cultural differences exist.

One importantly positive aspect is that despite the film being in segments that relate the experiences of the lead character (whose name varies slightly but always translates as “water” in the language used) and despite the character being portrayed by eight different actors of different cultures and different ages, it is easy to follow who she is each time.

What impressed me most is how beautifully this film was shot, with some exquisite camera work and direction, especially considering the limited budget and even more limited time available for rehearsal and shooting. More than one promising young director was involved in making this movie. And some very promising young first time actors also.

Eight and a half stars out of ten, seven if you discount the bit my daughter is responsible for.

🙂

Circumnavigation

Writing my short piece of blank verse about my expedition into Mayor Island reminded me of another small odyssey undertaken in the same month. I was camped in South-east Bay for a couple of months. I had originally gone there with Glenn for a fortnight but I was having such a good time I stayed on after he went home. I was getting on right well with some of the other campers in my own age group, though I don’t recall their names now. We dived and fished together, shared meals, and drank at the big game fishing club where we also traded crayfish for supplies. The demand was high and the payments in kind were generous.

It was mainly through that illegal activity I was able to stay on camping so long, though at one point when the weather was bad and I couldn’t fish or dive, I was down to half a bag of onions and a loaf of mouldy bread. It was then I learned that if I trimmed off the mouldy crust and the black fruiting bodies of the mould, I could fry the bread in butter and it tasted like Madeira cake, because the hyphae of the fungus had grown through the bread and turned a lot of the starch to sugar. Fried bread and onions. Great sustenance.

I was even recruited as deckhand on a charter boat for a couple of days. I worked for food. The skipper loaned me a dinghy for a day. I took it out to the eastern side of the island where I caught the largest snapper I had ever seen. I took it back to the big game club and they weighed it for me. It was, as I recall somewhat over thirty pounds in weight. There was much excitement and the manager went off to consult the books (no internet back then).

It turned out I had caught a pinfish. A new weight record. Unfortunately as I was not a member of any fishing club it did not count. No pin. No record. But for a time I unofficially held a record. I heard later next year that a larger fish had been caught. The internet tells me that the latest record holder is Kiwi angler Neil Gorringe who caught a 32.5lb (14.75kg) snapper on 8kg line in 2016.

The biggest adventure was a snorkeling morning that turned into a bit of an odyssey. Five of us set out from western bay and at some point, far from where we had entered the water, we wondered how far we had come. I decided it was far enough to have go at continuing all the way around the island. The others were not so keen. In the end, being young and foolish, I decided to go it alone. The others turned back.

I was fit, I had flippers. I knew I could make it, though I had no real idea how far I had to swim (turns out to be just over 11 km).

It was an adventure. I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip and logged a lot of new sightings in the logbook I kept in those days. Particularly on the ocean side of the island, where the cliffs went deep below the surface, there were species I hadn’t yet encountered. Morays, congers, sharks, grouper. Most notably an electric ray. One of about 14 electric ray species in the world, Torpedo fairchildi, is found only in New Zealand. Exciting.

I was in the water seven hours or so, without a wetsuit, and even though the water was warm I was pretty drained by the time I got back to camp. The others said they had been about to send out a search party. As I said, I was young and stupid then. Now I’m old and stupid because I’d probably try it again. The sea is still my spiritual home.

Now that I think about it, I did not really complete a circumnavigation after all. I set out from Western bay and emerged in south east bay. I didn’t swim round the promontory between the two bays. I may have to go back, and do it again.

Tuhua

The trail leads up a bush-clad mountainside
Singing with birds, redolent with earthy attar
Rustling with hidden afternoon activity.
I catch an occasional glimpse
Of furtive feathered ground dwellers
And fleeing lizards.

The path is rough; rock and root-strewn
I need my stick to steady my steps
The summit touches the sky, above the highest trees
Which are shrouded in evening mist that washes
In slow floating waves as on a time lapse shore
Branches reaching out like dark coral rock.

Above the washing white tide
Here at sunset, I made my camp
With one desire;
To sleep, and awake at dawn
To the bellbirds’ famed chorus.

The morning came bright
The birdsong, sublime under a clear sky, echoed.
The island below me a taonga of poenamo
Set in lapiz: Around my camp
Came curious weka
Enquiring after crumbs from breakfast.

On my descent I followed no path.
I had set my course on line of sight
Towards the green and black lakes
And beyond, to the obsidian cliffs
My second objective.
Though taking the obsidian is forbidden
I had set my heart on finding a piece
Suitable to nap a knife.

The going was slow. The bush impeding.
I came upon a place of silence
No birdsong, no rustling in the undergrowth
Eerie. The nape of my neck tingled
I fell into a hole
Unhurt I climbed out
And saw the overgrown hole was regular, square
And there were more; many more, man made
It was a place where people had once dwelt.
Lived and died.
I moved on as swiftly as I could

One lake was black, one algal green
I cooled myself but did not drink
I had a feeling Lethe might live within
At the foot of the cliffs I found
Tumbled shards of shining atramentous
The volcanic glass I coveted.
I took some; perhaps there and then
Began the curse that follows me yet.

I cannot return the tuhua; I no longer have it
I left it somewhere, some time, I don’t recall.
It is lost. It does not matter.

 
© 2019 ARF

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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.

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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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