(The True Story Of An Adventurous Englishman Born In 1892)
By Wayland Combe Wright
The Octopus’s Garden
Leopold Aloysius Goldsmith, whom we nicknamed Goldy, was very much a part of our family. He had been born in Birmingham to a good well-to-do Jewish family and he certainly looked very Jewish but I wasn’t to realise that until I was older.
Goldy was a born performer. As a boy he wanted to join the circus and he trained to be a contortionist at home. He was so insistent that his parents let him stay at home on Sundays when they went to church so that he could practice (like Albert Einstein’s parents and many others, Goldy’s parents though ethnically Jewish belonged to a Christian church). Once, he proudly told me that on one Sunday he got to the point of being able to hook both feet behind his head but then he laughingly continued saying that he got locked in this position and couldn’t get out.
He just had to wait in agonising pain until his parents came home from church. What funny faces he pulled to imitate his agony when he told me that story. I could never get him to talk about his family, but he did comment on the amazing poverty of that time, it really seemed Dickensian with abandoned children running hungry and barefoot in the streets even in winter time. His parents would provide meals for them in their house, but when the kids left they took whatever they could with them, even the silverware.
Soon after he left school he met and married a rich and beautiful Duchess but before their hoped-for life of a marital bliss could even start the First World War broke out. Goldy was a pacifist and normally of course nobody even noticed, but when war broke out this was a real problem; there was huge pressure on all young men who were not enlisted; they were decried as “cowards and traitors”. The national war hero of that time was Lord Kitchener, and a famous series of posters were made of him staring out of the paper with penetrating eyes and pointing at you in a very personal way and stating that “Your King And Country Needs You.” They were pasted everywhere as well as printed in all the newspapers.
Groups of apparently sweet young women would walk around looking for young men not in uniform and put the disgraceful “white feather” in their collar and then gather around the poor sod to jeer at him. The “Order Of The White Feather” was started by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald at the beginning of the war. In England this was traditionally the sign of ultimate cowardice and was largely supported and distributed by the suffragettes and other feminist groups. One couldn’t just take off the white feather and throw it away; in those days people weren’t so accepting of others who were different, for example all homosexuals were thrown in jail. It was a question of honour which in time of war runs very deep. In peacetime no Britain would think of hanging a union Jack outside his house though his pants might be decorated with it, nevertheless when it comes to war even over the most ridiculous thing they are suddenly insanely patriotic.
It caused huge controversy when wounded soldiers, or soldiers on leave from the frontline were handed white feathers or when men working in indispensable industries were also handed these feathers. On the other hand those who declared themselves pacifists were given a hard time, the attitude was “if you don’t want to risk dying for your country you may as well die here”. They were sent to military camps where they were kept in prison and regularly flogged. Sects like Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses had a very hard time and even people like Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher.
When I heard Goldy tell us of how he was given “the white feather”, there were almost tears in his eyes and that really brought home to me the meaning of the “white feather”. This was a huge embarrassment; he was deeply ashamed. Goldy was a man of principle but he was certainly no coward.
In the end he decided to take part but as an engineer. He decided to work in aircraft construction and did a training course in aircraft inspection for six months in the north of England. He learned welding and how to distinguish between a good weld and a bad weld and all the different kinds of welds that there are; such as horizontal or vertical and overhead. Also to gauge the penetration of a weld and to detect faults such as occlusions of slag and so on. He had to measure each part up for size to check that each piece was made within the designed dimensional tolerance using various types of micrometer. It required a great precision to see that there were no signs of imperfection or failure anywhere in anything that passed under his scrutiny.
Then he was based in a factory in the North of England and worked on the production of British Bulldog fighter planes until the end of the war. He became thoroughly familiar with the whole process of building these aircraft right down to the process of “doping” the wings. Making and applying “dope” was quite an art form, it is the process of painting or spraying cellulose acetate dissolved in a mixture of solvents such as amyl acetate to shrink the cotton cloth fabric that had been stretched drum tight over the wings. (Previously the cheaper cellulose nitrate had been used but this was, as shown by the plight of the airship “Hindenburg”, to be highly inflammable and it was also softened by oil sprayed out from the engine.)
The bad part of the story, and the part that most concerned Goldy is that the poor guys doing this work were slowly going happily crazy even though they were given pints and pints of milk which was meant to be the antidote. These planes were the most successful British fighting planes of the First World War and formed 70% of all aircraft built. They were also used a lot in the period between the wars and were characterised by their rotary engines and biplane construction. The framework was of aluminium covered with a skin of doped cloth. Planes very similar to these are still to be found all round the world working as crop dusters.
While he was away during the war his wife had met somebody else. Goldy was a very understanding man, and they separated on friendly terms even though she wanted to keep her money and title intact. However even just getting a divorce in those days was another matter. At that time divorce was frowned upon and everything was done to make it difficult. Unless you were a king it wasn’t until 1857 that a bill came into effect to make divorce available, but only to the man and only by act of Parliament. Only recently had it become at all possible to seek divorce through the law courts. However he was able to find a crafty lawyer who arranged a pantomime involving a woman who checked into a hotel room with Goldy and who would later attend court as a witness to say that she had done so, and a hotel waiter who would bear witness that he had seen them together in the hotel room in the morning. This woman and waiter worked for his solicitor who specialised in these proceedings and so they pulled it off with Goldy being the guilty partner and she keeping what she wanted; her title and her wealth.
It is difficult to imagine now how it was for the British in those days at the height of the British Empire. Nearly everyone in Britain was in some way involved, either at home in the manufacturing industries, in the Armed Forces fighting for the Empire, and many of the brightest and best educated where overseas involved in some way to maintain the Empire. England was the manufacturing and financial centre of the world, much as China is now, but it also had the most powerful navy and a willingness to use “gunboat diplomacy”. Even after the huge losses of the First World War this Empire still spread across the whole world, “the sun never set on the British Empire.”
It was extraordinary that this tiny island should exert so much power in the world but the British were powered by “jingoism” (extreme patriotism and an aggressive and warlike foreign policy) and a strong sense of righteousness. The English tended to have large families of 10 to 15 or more which populated this Empire and this sense of “Righteousness”, came from a sense of moral superiority, often called “The Whiteman’s Burden”. (see Rudyard Kipling’s poem in the appendix).
Huge quantities of missionaries were sent out everywhere which helped them to keep such a patronising attitude towards all the conquered races. Nowadays this seems ridiculously far-fetched and stupid, but if you are old enough to know anybody of that era you may know that this was their reality. It is amazing now to see that so few people realised this moral facade covered a whole commercial empire that was actually based on many corrupt businesses, especially the opium trade where the British grew opium in India and then sold to the Chinese by force. Somehow people were accustomed to this and it seemed “Normal” just as the slave trade had seemed “normal” to earlier generations.
After the war his father bought him into a gold and diamond business in India where he did very well. He set off into the “Pearl” of the British Empire in its heyday. He travelled all over India (which included Pakistan and Bangladesh in those days) and China, selling gold and diamond jewellery to the very rich, such as the rajahs of India. He soon had very nice cars such as a Bentley or Hawker Siddley Sapphire and a driver. He learned to speak Hindi and got on well with his driver. His business carried great responsibility, it required what he did best; exercise tremendous precision to measure out gold and jewellery into exact amounts of carats (for gemstones “one carat” is the equivalent of 200 milligrams, for gold it is a measure of its purity and refers to the amount of pure gold in a given object. Measurements are normally taken to the nearest 100th of a carat). His training in precision engineering served him well.
Goldy had been born at the end of the era of horse-drawn carriages and the very beginning of motor vehicles. The evolution of cars was just beginning. Unlike nowadays, there were many varieties of systems and experimental engine layouts being explored. Some even had rotating sleeve valves, with slots cut into the cylinder walls to open ports in the side to let gas in and exhaust out. Gearboxes were a bit unpredictable as well as engines. He had one car in which the gearstick used to get almost red-hot and although they took the gearbox apart and examined everything they could never find the reason why.
Driving around so much Goldy learned a lot about the different kinds of cars. Since he was an engineer he quickly learnt from his driver who was an excellent mechanic how to maintain and repair any kind of vehicle. His driver was not only a skilful but also an imaginative and even at times bold mechanic who got them out of many difficult situations. For example: any kind of major engine or gearbox repair to more mundane problems in those days “what do you do when you’ve punctured your tyres so many times that you have no more glue and patches or spare tyres left and you are still a hundred miles or more from possibly being able to get them repaired?” Answer: “stuff the tyre with dried grass so extremely tightly that the car can run on it.”
He lived well when he was in town though naturally travelling around India in those days one had to rough it quite a lot. He revelled in the adventure and adapted readily to the great variety of situations and cultures that he met. Although he himself was an agnostic he was fascinated by the various religions he met. He not only found a world of great beauty that he admired and respected, but also a line of business at which he was well adapted and very successful. Of all the extraordinary cultural expressions that Goldy found in India, there were two Hindu ones that he really did not like, one was the “cast” system. All very well for someone born into a high caste such as a “Brahmin” but not for the poor people born into lower castes all the way down to the “Dalits” (Untouchables) who had to clean the lavatories and suchlike and live in absolute squalor. The other Hindu custom was of cremating a man’s wife alive when her husband died (Sati). Although this practice was made illegal by the British in 1825 it continued in secret. Of all the different cultural groups that Goldy found in India it was the Sikh that he admired the most for their honesty, generosity and although they were generally unaggressive, they were also extremely courageous when provoked.
He only took a holiday once every 3 years which gave him enough time to sail to England and back and still have a few weeks with his parents. It took about three weeks to make the voyage so the passengers had to entertain themselves as these were not cruise ships. They formed little groups and put on shows for each other every evening.
Goldy learned to play the base recorder, he also learned to juggle up to five oranges at once and then roll them around his body: he could put one on the back of his head and run it down his spine while bent over double and catch it in his other hand at the base of his spine. He was a great tap dancer, and he could sing many Irish tunes like “Phil the Fluter”, “Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea”, “Paddy McGinty’s goat” and a whole lot more. He had a deep melodious voice and sung vibrantly or mournfully as required by the song, but he himself was never far away from a laugh.
END SECTION 1 of 10_WORDS: 2,032_STOP HERE (narrator: Rusty)
He fell in love with another beautiful Englishwoman in Bombay, Miss Josephine Hill, and they got married. Soon after they had a daughter, Eileen who was the darling of Goldy’s heart. Meanwhile Goldy was steadily forging a life for himself in the British Empire. He had a gift for money, a brilliant memory that could follow the stock exchange from day-to-day and a wonderfully enterprising mind that delighted in keeping up-to-date with everything that happened and making the most of it. He expanded his business of driving around India to travelling over the whole world selling gold and diamonds. In a few years he travelled twice around the world and did business in hundreds of cities. But just as he was on his way to the top he came to an extraordinary transition in his life; he turned and became a secret rebel.
There was a sequence of terrible things that the British did in India, I only remember the one that most horrified him; apparently there was a big uprising of the Indians against the English in a certain town. To put down the uprising the English blew the live rebel leaders from cannon over the crowd. Blood and gore rained down on them and the rebellious Indians desisted. This was one of the atrocious acts that affected the Indian population deeply as it did Goldy. He came to the realisation that there was something profoundly wrong.
By now Goldy was good friends with his chauffeur who told him of ‘The India National Congress Party’, India’s Peaceful Independence Movement led by the pacifist Gandhi.
Although Gandhi was Hindu he was very anti-cast and anti-Sati. He also wanted a secular India. India, as Goldy knew it was a tremendous mixture of cultures living happily side by side. Even sometimes with mixed marriages between Islam and Hindu or Sikh. Gandhi’s party was democratic, sectarian, progressive, pro-female education and many other positive policies. Goldy wanted to meet him. At the next opportunity they did meet, and they arranged a scheme to raise money for the cause. He would carry on with business as usual, many of the rajahs were sympathetic to Gandhi but they had to be very secretive about this. Goldy was able to collect money from them in the course of his normal business. When he got back to Bombay he would give the money to his driver who was their link with Gandhi’s organisation. He could meld into the Indian population and hand over the cash.
By doing this Goldy had broken the British code of honour, it was tantamount to being a traitor; Goldy was taking a very dangerous path from which there could be no return. This clandestine activity went on for a number of years. Then someone leaked word of his support for Gandhi to the authorities and Goldy came under suspicion and his life went into turmoil. He had to divorce his wife and leave India in a hurry. He handed his business over to an associate who stayed in India. He had made a lot of money but most of it he had to leave with his associate. I believe he never received it, perhaps he was deceived or it possibly went with the rest of his belongings including many photographs which were sent to him by submarine during the Second World War. Unfortunately, the submarine was lost, and so in one fell swoop Goldy lost all physical mementoes of his previous life. From the way he told the story of the submarine it was obvious that this was a tragic event in his life. Something that niggled Goldy was that after gaining independence all British businessmen like Goldy were banished from the land; a cruel irony for Goldy especially as he lost his business to the Dutch who were his most hostile competition in the jewellery business and no less inhumane than the British.
Once back in England Goldy went in entirely new direction. Like many people even nowadays were spent many years and a high stress in the business community once it was free of this found himself longing to satisfy a more bucolic ideal. He bought it a farm on the East Coast near Ipswich. At that time farming was undergoing a revolution, tractors were not around yet but instead steam driven traction engines and new types of farming were evolving. Being a progressive type as always, he started an intensive pig farm. At that time intensive pig farming was quite novel and nobody knew much about it, and to begin with he did quite well. He was amazed at the low salaries that farm labourers received in those days, they lived in the most terrible poverty. He paid his staff much more than the standard which immediately made him great enemies with his neighbouring landowners.
He ploughed his fields with a traction engine on one side and a great pulley on the other and a cable driven plough going backwards and forwards. He had no end of fascinating stories about farming and the problems he had had. Eventually his pigs got swine fever for which there is no cure. Just as nowadays with “foot and mouth disease” in cattle, the government came in and slaughtered them all. He got no compensation. He had no option but to declare bankruptcy. It is worth noting however that nowadays swine fever has now been eradicated from England.
In England if you go bankrupt you are not allowed to start a new business until you have been “discharged” which you get when you can prove you have paid back all your debts. I don’t know how, but somehow he did. Somehow he started over again this time with chicken farming. These days factory farming is frowned upon by many but in his day it was just beginning and once again he was one of the pioneers. Things went well for about five years but finally the chicken caught fowl pest and just as before the government came in and killed every last chicken. In those days there was no known cure for fowl pest and no compensation. This disaster happened near the end of the Second World War so it was probably exacerbated by the loss of all his belongings on that submarine.
In some way he was also swindled either by his associate in India or by someone working with him on the chicken farm, or even by one of his angry neighbours for paying his employees “too much”. By this time Goldy was on his knees and was reduced looking for employment even as a humble ploughman, he even put an ad in the newspaper.
It just so happened that at that time way on the other side of England my father was looking for a ploughman and general farm assistant and he saw Goldy’s ad and asked him to visit him. Goldy came and presented himself to my father as an experienced farmworker and he gave his age as 10 years younger than he was. My father was impressed and immediately gave him the job. My father himself was relatively new to owning a farm but he was very familiar with agriculture and had studied botany at Cambridge University.
His father, my grandfather worked for one of the major London breweries called Combe & Co. which then became Watney Combe and Reid. Later in life he started a large Hop farm in Kent as a sideline which was successful. Meanwhile my father had been working in Malaya (now Malaysia, North of Singapore) as a forester looking after rubber plantations and his younger brother, the family favourite had been working in Nyasaland, ( now Malawi, near the East Coast of Africa), managing the railways there.
As the British Empire came to an end they all came home. His younger brother, who had married a wealthy English woman, got to manage the hop farm along with my father for the first six years. While helping to manage the hop farm, my father also studied agriculture at Wye College nearby. During this time my father met and married my mother Ursula just before the Second World War began. She was a very attractive, feisty and vivacious young lady. Unfortunately, she was also a penniless German refugee and was blemished with a burn mark down the side of her face all of which caused her mother-in-law to despise and treat her terribly and worse she got little sympathy from her husband which made her pine to return to Lausanne where she had left her boyfriend and lover Lucas. She had had to make that painful decision that probably many women have to make at some point, whether to marry a man that she loved but was penniless or a rich man who could look after her and her family to come that she liked. “Lucas was a Russian watchmaker living in Switzerland,” she told me once, “the country most famous for the best watches in the world so what chance was a Russian going to have there?” She knew poverty only too well having been brought up in post World War I Germany where money had suddenly become valueless. However much she enjoyed skiing with him she was determined to find a better match. Now that she had and she was having second thoughts. The first years of their married life were marred by vicious fights.
Fortunately, though she was not Interned as was her brother and about eight thousand other German English living in England, like the Japanese Americans living in the USA. This is because in England at that time a man’s wife was considered his property. Many Englishwomen were interned because they had married men of German origin, and of course their husbands were interned as well. My mother, being considered to be the full property of my father was therefore not interned. My father was not conscripted because he was a farmer and therefore considered essential to the war effort. Unfortunately, my mother never quite lost her German accent which was a giveaway and many English people gave her a hard time which added to her feeling of rejection. Somehow they all lived at or near the farmhouse of the hop farm which must have been close to a madhouse.
Eventually my grandfather and his wife had health problems and needed to retire to a nursing home and left the hop farm and pretty much everything else to my father’s younger brother.
My father was mostly left to fend for himself. Although he was very bitter about his brother getting almost everything he went ahead and bought a farm in Kent that was not far from his parents or his brother. This was my father’s initiation into farming, it was only 90 acres that he bought with a mortgage and he rented a further 10 acres to make it a viable business.
He wanted to be a general farmer and later he kept sheep and cattle, mainly dairy and some beef. He would go on to grow wheat, oats, barley, kale, potatoes and even blackcurrants apart from being an enthusiastic beekeeper and planting trees wherever he could. He was a very busy man starting out on his own but eventually after a few years he was at last in a position to hire someone to help him. In the first two years of their marriage my mother had two baby girls. A few years later my father answered Goldy’s newspaper ad and he arrived on the farm.
Goldy was a very educated man and of course my parents recognised this and enjoyed his company. He used to have breakfast with us, also lunch and supper. In the evening he went home to his room in a cottage just across the way which my father also owned.
END SECTION 2 of 10_WORDS: 2,012_STOP HERE (narrator: Rick)
Soon after Goldy came to work for my father there was a great surprise, five years after having given birth to her youngest daughter my mother found herself pregnant again. A few months later she went into labour and gave birth to me in the nearest town. Goldy was the first to visit which impressed her and he was delighted to see her baby but she was not so impressed by the first thing he said: “What a little monkey!” My mother never forgot that. After the war she returned to Lucas three times over a period of seven years, it wasn’t until I, her third child arrived and a third trip to Switzerland that she had to finally accept her fate, with three children Lucas would never take her back. But she didn’t accept her fate wholeheartedly, she resigned herself to it but when she met Goldy, she recognised someone who had suffered worst calamities than herself and who could accept his fate wholeheartedly and that gave her courage to go on and make her best effort. A special relationship grew up between them. Goldy was a very empathic person and was always there when he sensed that she was in trouble and needed someone to lean on. I saw it happen several times and it really impressed me. As a child I sometimes daydreamed that Goldy was actually my father, I often wondered about their relationship but now I know it was purely platonic.
At first my mother tried to rope in my two sisters to help her look after me but they weren’t too keen on that. According to my mother, of all her three children I was the easiest baby to bring up and I cried the least. She put it to the fact that when she had her first child she knew nothing about childcare and worried and fretted about everything that happened and was always taking her to the doctor. With her second child she had learned to be more relaxed and things went a bit better. By the time it was my turn, nothing I did worried her, it was all a part of normal babies growing up.
However, if I did cry a lot my mother found that she could take me to where Goldy was working. Then magically I would suddenly become quiet. I even remember watching a him vigorously mucking out the deep litter in the cow stalls and pouring with sweat and his sweater strangely turning darker which later on I realised was the result of it getting wet. But it wasn’t my proximity to Goldy that quietened me, it was the impression of seeing him make such an effort that awed me into silence. My attention was drawn from my own discomfort to astonishment at seeing this man making such an effort.
I didn’t show any interest in speaking until I was three years old and as soon as I did my mother and eldest sister were always trying to get me to say words and I would cooperate at least for a while but eventually I would get tired and refuse. Often my eldest sister would never stop, even whilst my mother was trying to bathe me she would keep insisting that I would say “this” word or “that” word and I would just repeatedly say “No” but she famously caught me out, “say ‘No’”, she demanded and without thinking I obstinately replied “No.” She had earned her laugh. Later my mother found there were some words that I just could not say how ever hard I tried. I remember one in particular was “Anemone”.
Goldy was not a tall man, he must have been about 5 foot eight. By the time I knew him he was almost bald, the top of his head was a lightly browned polished pate with a fringe of white hair around the sides which he always kept carefully combed and short. He appeared overweight but in fact he ate modestly and worked very hard, he was actually in good condition. He was a man exuded self-confidence and “savoir-faire”. He had a positive outlook on life which transmitted to other people.
One peculiarity about him was the large quantity of salt and pepper that he always sprinkled over his food. From living in the tropics he was used to taking so much salt, and from eating so much Indian food he needed the peppery taste. Like the rest of my family he smoked a lot. He was a man of habit, regularly going to the barbers, having two boiled eggs for breakfast every day, he always wore glasses both for distance and for reading which he kept meticulously in their cases which he never lost. But the constant effect of gravity and the habit of wearing glasses had over time left a remarkably deep notch in the bridge of his large nose.
His tools, his room and everything else about him were always in order. The lines of his smile were deeply grooved in his face. He normally walked rapidly and sometimes it was even slightly comical to watch him because he would be leaning forwards and his feet would be striding out to stop him from falling on his nose.
As I grew I enjoyed myself a great deal around the farm. Goldy was a man of many talents, he built most of the farm buildings and did a lot of concrete work and I was always nearby. Once he mixed a little mortar and with a trowel carefully fashion it into a little boat, I was absolutely delighted. After a few hours when it was hard enough I slid it off the board he had made it on. I was amazed to see how the soft mortar had solidified and become just what I wanted, this little boat, it seemed like magic. I joyfully ran around with it.
The younger of my two sisters saw me and begged to see my little boat but even though she was smiling and light-hearted I was suspicious of her, but finally after continually pledging that she would not harm it I gave it to her whereupon she immediately raised it above her head and smashed it down on the concrete pavement as hard as she could. I staggered backwards, I was speechless, I wasn’t angry at her, I was totally devastated by her deception.
I had really felt that I could trust her and in a flash she had gleefully shown me how mistaken I had been. In a moment I realised that this lively, pretty, blonde, happy girl was actually a totally loathsome creature that never missed a trick to put me down, (she was jealous of my relationship to Goldy). Totally distraught I turned and ran to find Goldy to tell him what had happened. To my amazement he just laughed and said “don’t worry we’ll just make a new one”. I was immediately consoled but more importantly I began to learn never to take other people’s abusive actions to heart, or to take myself too seriously.
Often I would go with Goldy when he was ploughing, he made a comfortable seat for his tractor from an old Indian motorcycle seat and I fitted there between his legs with my hands on the steering wheel. My father had a little grey Ferguson tractor and a big old Shire horse called Prince. He was huge and Prince was used for lighter tasks like seeding, spreading manure but once the tractor got stuck in a very muddy spot on a steep slope, and much to Goldy shame it took Prince to pull it out.
Leaving Goldy’s Realm
Realising that I was so happy playing on the farm and being around Goldy my parents didn’t send me to kindergarten until I was a bit older, perhaps five or six. There was a beautiful kindergarten school made from two old round oast houses and a barn just down the road which is where my mother taught. (Oast houses are very common in parts of England where hops are grown, they were originally made to dry hops before being sent off to the brewery). I was quite familiar with this picturesque school with its curious round classrooms because both my sisters had been there before me, and they had made friends with other girls of their age in the area.
One afternoon they turned up with three sisters one of whom was adopted. She had gorgeous brown skin and jet black hair, one of the sisters told me that she was from Bhutan. Her name was Geraldine. When I saw them they were sitting on the edge of the bed in their room and this girl was in the middle, as soon as I noticed I walked straight up and stood in front of her, momentarily spellbound; I was mesmerised by her beauty, she was the most wonderful girl I had ever seen and I fell immediately “in love” with her. Then I suddenly came to my senses, I was very embarrassed because she was at least twice my age and size so I felt out of place. I was standing in front of her and yet I was only her height, I was looking at her eye to eye. I ran off.
That’s all I can remember of her now, but my elder sister tells me that I was always around her whenever possible and that I was obviously in love with her and that my behaviour towards her was delightful. I do remember that for many years my daydreams revolved around her, not in a sexual way, I was still too young for that, but in a romantic way: I would be saving her from dragons, rescuing her from towers in Castles, taking her to live on an island with a bay in a house with massive pink granite walls 3 feet thick safe from whatever storm. From then on I never missed an opportunity to sunbathe, I wanted to be brown like her.
My mother Ursula as a young lady had studied the Frederick Froebel system of education when she lived and studied in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was Froebel who introduced the “kindergarten” system so you would think I would do well at school but when the eventful day came and I started school it was soon obvious that I was having problems. The day would start off well with assembly in the large ancient barn. We would sit on the polished wooden floor and I would choose to be in the centre of the front row right in front of the lady conducting the event; this was because there was a wide leaded glass window behind her and through it poured the most incredible sunbeams which lit the whole place up in beautiful mellow colours. Meanwhile everyone sang cheerful hymns like “All Things Bright And Beautiful” and also the inspiring “Onward Christian Soldiers” which left me feeling a little uneasy. (We had just come out of the first and second world Wars; did we really want to do that again?)
Ironically, in class I was devoted to playing fighter aircraft with my next-door neighbour who was called Terry. We would open our notebooks, and then each of us would draw an aeroplane and then a line from one to the other’s aeroplane and at the same time we would both declare “now you’re shot down.” and since that was inconclusive we would have to do it again. So we would go on endlessly drawing lines and declaring each other “shot down”.
Our teacher, Miss Stanford who was generally a kind and helpful woman was very disapproving of our continual aerobatic activity and was always trying to get us to draw something else but we never would so she took us out one morning on a walk around the school’s beautiful gardens showing us especially the flowers. When we got back she asked us to draw something we´d seen on our walk like a flower. We both got the message and dutifully drew a flower each which pleased her and as she walked away we excitedly started shooting each other down again. They got a child psychiatrist to come and see what we were doing and I think we were declared mentally deficient.
After a year or more I still couldn’t read anything, not even the word “the” and I couldn’t write out the alphabet in order. I would just go ABC XYZ and whatever letters I could think of in between. I couldn’t learn any sequence whether it be the ABC, the months of the year, the times table, the words of a poem or whatever. Finally even the headmistress, Miss Parker had a go at trying to teach me to read. I drove her almost to desperation especially trying to read words like “the” where the letters have little relation to the sound of the word.
In the end she took me by the hand and walked me all the way home. I was in a strange state, almost in a state of “heightened awareness”, having spent the last 20 minutes or so under such duress and now here she was gently holding my hand as we were just silently walking along. I can remember almost every step we took, the feel of her hand at my shoulder, the beautiful day, the hedge, each field that we passed and so on. I was in a state of suspense, the quiet before the storm?
I knew something important was going to happen but I had no idea what. We walked into the house through the back door and on into the dining room where we found my mother up on a step ladder busily roller painting the walls a really nice bright canary yellow. At least in the area were the paint was wet, I noticed that further across it had dried to a disappointingly pallid colour. I recognised the smell, a strange fresh watery smell of a paint that my mother always used called “distemper”. I was sent out of the room and the two women talked for a while. I don’t know exactly what they said and to my relief nothing was said to me afterwards. However the next day I didn’t go to kindergarten, nor did I ever again.
My sisters were of a similar age and much older than myself so they had their own group of friends and led a very different life. I would love to explore the woods, climb trees, dam streams and make waterfalls and so on. The only time I went with them for a walk to the woods we had not gone further than 5 yards when we came across a green grass snake coiled up fast asleep in the undergrowth, I was astonished at how they screamed and how fast they ran all the way home saying that they had seen a poisonous snake, probably an adder.
The grass snake was the Guardian of my territory and I lived in Goldy’s realm and I made things. They went to boarding school where they studied hard and excelled at languages, literature and theatre. I usually saw them during the holidays at mealtimes. They were clean, orderly, pristine and sophisticated. I was either muddy or oily and in a mess with dirty fingernails. They were more like my cousins than sisters.
However, once when my sisters were on holiday from their boarding school, one of them (the elder one) was trying to get me to write my name. She wrote my name in large letters in joined up script across the top of the page. I was really interested in this, I felt that if only I could write my name that would be a start. I would carefully copy the lines that they had made below their writing and show it to her. Then she would correct what I had done and I would do it again.
After having done this four or five times I really carefully examined what I had done, I was convinced that I had really done it right this time. However, when I showed it to my sisters they just laughed scornfully at me as if to say “So you think you’re so clever.” I was totally bewildered. Then one of them said “I can also do mirror writing if I want to.” Finally the penny dropped, I looked back at what I’d written and realised that it was all back to front, then I closed my eyes and looked again and it looked perfectly correct. It was like looking at a drawing of a 3-D cube and sometimes seeing it coming out towards you and sometimes seeing it receding into the paper. I could see my name either way.
I just could not tell my left from my right but nobody had noticed that because I had always found some way to deal with the situation and then this nearly led to an accident. My father was driving us home, I was for once in the privileged position of sitting in the passenger seat in front and behind were sitting my mother and Goldy.
We came up to a T junction into a village and my father told me to check if anything was coming from the left. Being in the front passenger seat (which in England is on the left) it was my responsibility to help the driver; I looked carefully but mistakenly looked to the right and I said “all’s clear”. But in actual fact there was a car coming from our left. My father started to pull out and at the last moment saw the car and stopped suddenly just in time to avoid a collision.
Everybody gasped and looked at me in horror as if to say “How could you do that.” And suddenly the gravity of my mistake burnt itself into my mind. From that moment on I could tell my left from right but to do so I would always have to remember this incident when I had looked the wrong way. It might mean that it would take me half a second longer to know my left from right but generally it worked well. It still does.
When I did learn to write it was with my left hand but for anything else I was ambidextrous whether with a saw, chisel, hammer or whatever and this was a big advantage because some jobs can only be done with one hand or the other and also if I get tired of hammering with one hand I can give it a rest and just hammer with the other.
END SECTION 3 of 10_WORDS: 2,901_STOP HERE (narrator: Dylan)
The remarkable thing about Goldy was that he never got angry with me. Everybody else might tell me off angrily, but he was my safe haven. At an early age I began to be obsessed with the question “Why?” I wanted to know about everything and I would drive everybody mad. But the one person I could rely on to take me seriously was Goldy. I wanted to know about everything he was doing, and especially about the tractor he drove, the engine and how it worked.
Even so I have to admit I drove him I once drove him to the edge of his patience getting him to describe to me how a crankshaft worked, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how a zigzagged piece of steel could resist the torque of all the pistons pushing down on it. He finally convinced me by getting me to bring him a piece of bailing wire and he made a little model.
Unfortunately, I do remember that once I really did embarrass him; he had taken me shopping in a nearby town and before going home we went to a very posh tearoom called the “Spinning Wheel” where we were going to meet my mother who had been doing her own shopping separately. As we walked in we heard only the quiet chatter of many rather posh people quietly talking, it was just that suddenly I got the bright idea to ask him in a clear loud voice “And why do women get pregnant?” There was suddenly a complete hush in the cafe. It’s the only time I ever saw Goldy really embarrassed, he quickly turned to me and quietly went “shush.” I realised that a lot of people were looking at us and we marched on stone-faced and sat in a corner.
Another detail was that I had no sense of time. Unless carefully tended I would miss any appointment unless bundled up and sent off in time. My mother always had to hustle me to be ready in time to go to school. Something that drove my Germanic mother crazy. I could quite easily miss meals if I was busy, and she had a cowbell that she would ring to bring me in. Goldy had a more humorous way of looking at things; “You’ll be late for your own funeral” He’d say very seriously.
From time to time he would buy me circus type toys to play with and even made a pair of stilts with the top steps set really high. One amazing thing he suddenly produced after lunch was a gyroscope, I found its apparently mystical stability totally fascinating and spent hours playing with it trying in vain to figure it out. He knew a lot about gyroscopes because they were often used instead of magnetic compasses. Magnetic compasses have the great disadvantage of being deviated by the presence of iron in their vicinity which is inevitable in modern aircraft and ships.
I knew by this time that the world was spherical and spinning. So why didn’t we just all fly off into space? Why were we held to the ground? This had been on my mind for some time because I sensed that it would be a difficult one to answer. The moment I asked the question was when my mother, Goldy and myself were just walking into the back porch of our house. Goldy didn’t answer me for a moment, I was mystified. I was just going in the back door as he was stepping onto the porch, I turned to look at him and for the first time I saw frustration on his face. Suddenly he reached out for the basket of clothes pegs that was hanging on the wall just beside him and he vigorously swung it round in circles, “you see” he said “the pegs didn’t fall out”.
He was demonstrating the effect of centrifugal force which seemed to be just like gravity but in the wrong direction, and in the same instant I realised that even Goldy didn’t know what “gravity” is and that it was senseless to push the question further, I turned sheepishly, opened the door and walked into the house. This question bothered me for years until I eventually learnt to read and was able to study physics. After studying Newton and then reading books on Einstein I finally realised that still nobody really knew what gravity is. And to my great disappointment I came to the sad realisation that science can only offer us suggestions of “How” these things work, not “Why.”
My parents were not going to give up so easily on my education. My mother was always trying to teach me to read but when I couldn´t she’d get desperate and angry with me because she thought I was not paying attention then finally I would collapse crying. I came down to breakfast one morning and they’d obviously been discussing me. Goldy declared that there was nothing to worry about, that, like Winston Churchill I was a late developer and that I was “word-blind” and for them just to be patient.
The idea of word-blind meant to my mother that she and our family were somehow genetically deficient which was a terrible insult. Even now it’s hard for me to understand, but she’d been brought up in times when disabled children were considered better hidden away. My mother who was German was very influenced by continental ideas. Even long before Hitler arrived on the scene the genetic selection of humans, eugenics, was considered an important development contingent with the discovery of evolution.
She decided that I was just resistant and should be sent to a proper school. Not so far away was a private school called Coursehorn, it was a subsidiary of the famous public-school in Dulwich College London. There they even tried to teach me Latin. It took them a while to realise that I couldn’t even read English because I always imitated the actions of other students well. For example, after lunch break we had reading time. Every boy could choose a book from the library and sit down and read. I chose a book called Swallows and Amazons which had really nice pictures. I would sit down and look at the page and every so often turnover to a new page keeping more or less in time with the other students.
At the beginning of the second term the mistress of our class gave a roll call reading out the name of each student and asking us to reply giving the date of our birth. I had no idea of my birthday, not even the order of the months so I listened to the dates the others were giving and when my name was called, I called out a date within that range to be safe. My mistress called me up to her desk and she pointed to the ledger in front of her, she pointed to my name saying “this is your real birthdate”. I was dumbfounded, why on earth had she been asking us for our birthdays when she already knew? I had been discovered. I was very embarrassed and mumbled “I didn’t know”. She gave me the most critical weird sideways look and told me to sit down. I did.
I got caned, shouted at, just about every insult you can imagine but the worst of all was from the other kids. In playtime I was mostly taunted, pulled to the ground then a whole bunch would walk over me. I was too depressed and timid to stand up for myself. When I complained to the mistress overlooking the playground I got a terrible shock, she just told me that I “should learn to look after myself”, up until that moment I had always expected help from an adult in a position of authority, I was desolated, suddenly I realised that I had been wrong, I had feelings from a flashback to when my sister had smashed my little concrete boat, but this time there was no one I could run to for comfort or solace.
In class they were trying to teach us the times tables. I could only do up to the four times table because I could work it out in my mind and give the answers but I could never remember the answers for any of the higher tables. I just couldn’t do mental arithmetic. After one of these sessions my teacher was furious and hit me. The female teachers were the worst, they interpreted my inability to answer their questions as a form of “silent insolence” and would decide to take revenge on me somehow or other – I went into a kind of despair; I had continual diarrhoea and thankfully my parents eventually took me away from that school.
Back at home I was happy again, by myself I was always busy. My father’s farm really was my “kindergarten” and a kind of paradise. I invaded my father’s workshop; it was a big dusty workshop with a huge wooden bench, metal workers vice and also a woodworkers clamp vice and under it all was a tantalising array of stacks and stacks of offcuts of wood of all shapes and sizes that were just begging to be cut up and made into something. It was very well equipped with all sorts of fascinating tools from those times which was before there were any power tools not even chainsaws: it was all hand saws, chisels, hand planes, (his grandfather’s hobby had been cabinetmaking and many of his smaller handtools were in a neat box) and then there were draw knives, huge two handled tree-felling saws, axes of all sizes, scythes and so on.
I had a great time making all sorts of things, little boats even little submarines, especially making rafts to sail on the pond, inventing pistols, mostly made of copper tubing and using the powder from penny bangers as gunpowder. Later on when I had learned to read enough I looked up the formula for gunpowder in the family encyclopaedia. I managed to accumulate the necessary ingredients assuming that charcoal would serve for “carbon”. However I didn’t realise how fine one had to grind up the charcoal, but when I finally did, it went off with such a bang that it nearly blew my hand off. I suddenly learnt the acrid smell of powder burning. This experience completely cured me of trying to make guns and gunpowder.
END SECTION 4 of 10_WORDS: 1,762_STOP HERE (narrator: RUSTY)
(USA readers Please Note: in England “corn” means in general “grain” and more specifically “wheat”. What they call corn in the USA is actually “maize” and was not grown commercially in England until recently when a new faster ripening strain was developed, there are too few sunny days in the year for normal maize to fruit. Surprised?)
Nowadays everybody seems to be supersensitive about “child labour” because we hear so many terrible stories of children being sold to such people as carpet weavers or brick makers in various parts of the world so that any thought of having a child do anything that is actually constructive and useful is out of the question. Fortunately, I was born before these times and was often called upon to do useful things on my father’s farm.
The earliest times I can remember like this is at harvest time when we would all go down to the field being harvested, my mother, father, Goldy and myself. My father would hire a contractor who had a “reaper binder” machine, an incredibly ingenious machine that would cut the corn, bundle it up into sheaves and bind them with twine and toss them out. We would go round to the places that it had missed like the corners of the field and with enormous but light and ingeniously made wooden rakes collect the loose corn up and hand tie it into sheaves. We would stand the sheaves together in groups of five or six to form stooks. Of course I was too small to do anything very useful, I could just about dance around with a sheaf in my arms trying to get it to the nearest stook.
When the corn was dry we would all go out again to pitch the sheaves onto a trailer, and then stack them in the “stack yard” to make a stack that looked very much like a small house. Then it was just a question of seeing how soon my father could get the contractor with a threshing machine to come round and thresh our corn, we would stand on top of the stack and pitch the sheaves into the hopper on top of the threshing machine. It was very hot, dusty and noisy work and I was too small to do anything very useful but it was exciting and I certainly enjoyed participating. Also I was fascinated by this terrifyingly noisy, huge and complex machine and tried to figure out how it worked. Wheat poured out of a shoot at the back of the machine which we collected into sacks and from the other side mountains of straw were blown out ready to be bailed.
When I was about six or seven my father bought me a black pony called Timor. She was very obstinate but I managed to get her going although I fell off her dozens of times, often in the mud, I eventually got to have a fabulous time galloping around on her. It was my duty to bring the cows up at milking time.
Haymaking time in England is a very risky business, farmers have to run the gauntlet with the weather, one had to cut the grass, leave the swathes of grass to dry on one side then turn it over to dry on the other side. Once completely dry it can be bailed and carted back to the safety of the hay barn in the farmyard. Unfortunately, at some time in this process it will probably rain at least once which means turning the grass over and over again until at last it can be bailed and carted.
Goldy always did the grass cutting and I would take him down his lunch, often with other kids. It would always of course be a hot sunny day, and we would play in the beautiful long cool grass while Goldy was meticulously sharpening all the triangular cutter blades with a three-cornered file. Then it was up to Goldy to sort of “nurse” the grass, turning the swathes with a “swath turner” over and over until they were dry and ready to bail. As soon as the hay was bailed it was “all hands on deck” and every vehicle and trailer we had, every able bodied person was hauling hay and everyone was either loading hay with pitchforks or stacking hay in the barn until dusk if necessary which in England in summer time is about 11 o’clock. Mind you, my father did have a big barrel of cider so we could all rest for a moment and drink a mug full before going off for the next load.
When I had to go to school and then do my homework I often didn’t have so much time to help with the dairy. All the same I was fascinated by the process and would help whenever I could. Some cows wouldn’t let all their milk down with the milking machine and had to be finished off by hand and then “stripped” which is just a more vigorous form of milking by hand. All of this gave me a sense of belonging to my family and the farm and of being useful which is actually a very important but very undervalued quality for a child to have.
Every Christmas Goldy always gave me a really nice present, usually a tool of some kind. This December I watched Goldie make a very neat little shed. I never guessed it was for me until Christmas time when a little treasure hunt led me to it. It was like paradise for me, Goldy had fitted a large bench at one end of it, it was not a shed but a workshop. My parents had paid for it and Goldy gave me a hand powered grinding wheel. I fixed the grinding wheel up on my bench.
Soon after I was playing with it, seeing how fast it would turn and enjoying the sparks it would make when I held a piece of iron to it, and I was making ever bigger sparks by turning the handle faster and faster when suddenly the handle broke off. I you very the you are (you you go to sleep go to sleep was desolated. There was no way I would tell my father or mother about this. After an hour or two I plucked up courage and went to see Goldy. I fully expected to see him get angry for the first time considering that I had been stupidly playing around with it, but sympathetically he said there must have been a fault in its manufacture, “don’t worry we’ll get a replacement”. Now I was crying in relief. He told my parents about it in such a way that they were also sympathetic and he did get a replacement, how exactly I don’t know.
Goldy was a very dignified man who had a very endearing way of complementing young ladies such as my sisters. When they appeared with a new dress or something he always noticed and he had a special way of saying how beautiful and attractive they were without any overtone that there could be any sexual motivation on his part. When shopping he would often make light but complimentary comments to the shopkeeper and anybody else he came in contact with.
He had a way with money, after every village fete to raise money for the church, he was the designated banker: he would count up all the money, and I would watch him in awe. The speed at which he would flick through a stack of £1 notes or 10 bob notes defeated the eye. He would take a mixed stack of coins and separate them out into separate piles with amazing speed, and each pile he would hold in one hand and run the fingers of the other hand over the coins and know how much was there. He would do the same with each pile: the half crowns, the florins, the shillings, the six prince’s, pennies ha’pennies and farthings. Then like magic he would just tell you how much was there altogether. In a certain way he had the “power of money”.
Not long after that Christmas my parents found another school not too far away, my mother just had to bite the bullet, she sent me to Kingspost school: it was for the mentally retarded. There were kids with Downs syndrome and everything else you can think of here and also one or two more kids like myself. It was a completely new experience of education for me. I walked into my first class, the man giving the class was the owner of the school; Mr Boyd, an old retired military man, basically a kind old man who was partially deaf. He gave me a a copy of Macbeth and a seat near the front of the class and continued with his attempt to reenact the bit about the three witches. I looked at the boy next to me, he was masturbating. I looked around, they were all masturbating!
At that time I didn’t yet know what masturbation was all about but I was about to learn. I knew that touching myself would give a pleasant feeling but my mother had seen me do this and given me such a vigorous telling off so I knew that this could only be done in absolute secrecy. I looked around again and to my amazement everyone in the class was openly masturbating and giggling. Meanwhile the old man went on obliviously, getting three unfortunate boys to stir the imaginary cauldron. On other occasions he gave us history lesson about World War 1 , mostly about “Wadi Halfa” (a dried up riverbed in the Sahara desert) were I later realised he had been stationed.
When the class was over I got to begin to know some of the other inmates. I was pleased to find my old friend Terry was here. The other kids here were mostly friendly in one way or another and it was fun to be here. Except when Mrs Boyd, the owner’s wife, took the class. She always had a ruler in her hand and when she thought someone wasn’t paying attention she’d neatly slap him across the knuckles with the ruler and that was painful, I got hit so many times because she was always thinking that I wasn’t paying attention, she even slapped me across the face until my nose bled. I still could not read even the word “the” or anything else for that matter. Obviously the Boyds knew nothing of teaching retarded kids.
A few weeks later a new teacher arrived at the school, his name was Mr Bailey. His arrival was about to revolutionise our lives. I never saw him get angry. He was always alert to what was actually going on. His first lesson was teaching us mathematics; long multiplication, long division and so forth. When I couldn’t get it he from his desk towards me which was a bit scary, then he sat down beside me in a friendly way which was very unexpected, and asked me to start from the beginning and explain to him what the problem was very calmly, and so very calmly that is just what I did and he took me through the whole procedure so by the end of the lesson I amazed myself by being able to do not only long multiplication but also long division.
Once a week he would read to us. He read books like “The Saint” that were exciting to us and we enjoyed them. I still don’t know how but I guess he got me to read the word “the” and then a few other words so by the end of the year, quite painlessly I could more or less read and write. I could go home and write an essay on some history topic that he had talked about. Learning to read opened a new world to me, suddenly I was enthralled in books like “Treasure Island”, “Robinson Crusoe” and many more, not to mention the ability to use a dictionary and our famous family encyclopaedia. I just couldn’t stop reading everything I could find.
My eldest sister got a bee in her bonnet about me not being able to pay attention. I considered this ridiculous because I could take a bicycle apart, clean it up, oil it and put it back together again without stopping. In fact I would be completely engrossed in what I was doing. Nevertheless, she got my parents attention and they hatched a plan. Every evening, after supper they wanted me to go to the cottage where Goldy lived. They got their way, Goldy was in agreement so that’s what I did and I was quite happy doing it, I enjoyed being with Goldy and his room seemed like magic to me, the cottage he lived in was very old indeed, perhaps 2 or 300 years old I thought.
Because of subsidence the floors were tilting in various directions, his floor tilted down towards the window really quite steeply and was covered with green linoleum with yellow flecks, I loved rolling marbles down it to see how fast they would go by the time they reached the window wall. His room had a special smell that had a touch of carbolic soap to it. He had no running water, just a marble slab for a counter top with a very large white porcelain bowl and a jug full of water. He washed in cold water every day. Downstairs there was a kitchen with running water and an outside loo.
He always had a table and chair prepared where I would sit and do my homework and he would sit in his armchair in front of his gas fire and read the newspaper. And when I wanted a break I would go to his bookshelf and look through his notebooks that he had made when he was studying engineering. They were full of his very neat drawings of welds and all sorts of bits and pieces that make up an aeroplane. This started my fascination with blueprints and the realisation of the power they had to depict a three-dimensional object accurately into dimensions so that it could be really made. High on another bookshelf was a very neat hard covered blue book, it was Cook’s Codebook and this is what he used to communicate with his headquarters in South Africa when he was doing business in India or China. In those days all communication was in Morse code and sent by cable, and there would be many opportunities for other people to read your message so if it was to be kept at all secret it had to be in some kind of tight code.
On the wall above his gas fire he had a huge map of the world, on it he had drawn in blue and red crayon his two journeys around the world including offshoots all over the place in India and China to the places he’d been to. There must have been a million stories there. I only got a few and they were either hilarious or horrific. Like his adventures travelling on the trans-Siberian railway where it got so cold that if you were to touch a doorknob with your bare hands, your skin would instantly freeze and stick to it.
In India he came across the “thuggees”, these were groups of guys who are expert robbers and bandits and assassins. One of their tamer exploits was to be able to get into your room at night while you slept and steal your sheets, even the one underneath you which had happened to him. He had also seen a magician performing in a restaurant who was able to whip the tablecloth out from underneath your plates and glasses and everything else so fast that nothing was disturbed. Not to mention the embarrassment of being in a very high-class hotel and accidentally walking in to the lady’s bathroom and meeting certain very important ladies, and other stories that I am sure were apocryphal such as sitting at a table where one woman to his right was happily winding up a ball of wool until the woman opposite her discovered that her dress was unravelling.
From I also learned some more serious things about Goldy, the one that most amazed me was that he absolutely hated Winston Churchill. He is the only person I have ever met with bad feelings for this famous man who brought England through the Second World War. I didn’t know that he also fought Gandhi’s Independent Movement so fiercely and for so long. Gandhi organised demonstrations of thousands of people to march and point out the various bad things the British were doing. They would be stopped by British troops and the ones at the head of the march would be beaten and brutally knocked down whereupon more marchers would peacefully walk forwards and be in turn beaten and knocked down. Gandhi had also organised groups of nurses to carry off and attend to the beaten marchers. In this way thousands of Indian demonstrators were severely beaten until the British troops were exhausted. I was both amazed that Gandhi had been able to raise such a dedicated force to sacrifice themselves to demonstrate peacefully, and also by the British brutality.
March 17, 2018 END SECTION 5 of 10_WORDS: 2,913 STOP HERE (narrator: JANE)
Goldy only really got angry was when someone mentioned “Winston Churchill”, then his face would go red and he would look like he was going to have an apoplectic fit. This always mystified me because everyone else talked of Winston Churchill as our hero who guided us through to win World War 2 despite all odds. I couldn’t talk to Goldy about him because he would get too upset, all he could say where things like “that inhuman disgusting man” whom he accused of genocide in India. At school we learnt only of the magnificent historical account of Winston Churchill and his inspiring quotes. It wasn’t until I got away from school and into the libraries that I found out that it was he who had invented the infamous concentration camp and applied it to great effect in the Boer war, South Africa.
Then I discovered Churchill had a visceral loathing of Indians: “Hindus,” he said to his private secretary in 1945, “were a foul race protected by their mere pullulation [rapid breeding] from the doom that is their due”. Churchill’s refusal to heed the advice of his Indian administration was instrumental in the death of between 2 and 3 million people in Bengal where he had enacted a scorched earth policy; British soldiers were sent into all the villages to burn and destroy their harvests and food stocks which resulted in this disastrous famine. This is typical of Churchill’s disdain for foreign cultures. When the British were first experimenting with chemical weapons the Minister For War asked him “who can we test these weapons on?” “Oh, find some Arabs, there are far too many of them anyway” he replied. Many of the disasters that we live through today in the Middle East were partly due to him.
Eventually Gandhi won and Churchill had to step back and the more pragmatic Lord Mountbatten took over moving the British out and preparing India for independence.
One of the saddest things that he told me is that Gandhi was assassinated in his own garden during a meeting with his supporters. After having united India (which then included Pakistan and Bangladesh) and receiving such support and triumphantly winning independence from Britain I found it hard to believe that anyone could want to kill him. Of all people, it was an extremist Hindu who saw Gandhi as being too soft on the Muslims and other religions! After Gandhi’s death his Peace Movement was overcome by religious fanatics and all hell broke loose when both Muslim and Hindu fanatical leaders demanded that Lord Mountbatten should partition India before the British left.
This was a tragic process in which more than 1 million migrating Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other. Unfortunately the partitioning of India was done in a rushed and ill considered way which led to the ongoing conflicts of today. To my deep sorrow I now find that the portrait of the assassins accomplice now hangs in the Indian Parliament and that the political party of the assassins, the BJP are now in charge of India which is fast becoming an extremist Hindu theocratic culture.
While I was doing my homework, Goldy would read the newspapers, always the Telegraph. I noticed that one of the things he would always do was go through the prices of items on the stock exchange, especially the price of gold but just about everything else as well. He would even remember what the price was days before and he knew if the stock was going up or down. One would think he was a stockbroker, he understood how the national banking system works, that they weren’t nationally owned, but privately owned by the very richest people, banks like the Bank of England and the Federal Bank of America, that all money was debt owed to these banks although he never explained this to me in detail.
I did overhear him discussing this with my mother and it wasn’t until much later that I realised that he had been talking about “fractional reserve banking,” the huge dividends that the bankers received and the inevitable constant devaluation of money over the years. I remember him mentioning that even the Romans did this and chipped a little piece off their gold coins each year. He laughed at the system with a strange kind of resignation which was strange from him, as if it was the inevitable cross every man has to bear perhaps without even knowing about it. Perhaps for him the omnipresent power of the banks made them “right” as in “might is right.”
In England there’s a system of education, which for reasons only known to the English, some schools are called public schools where the parents pay for the education and there are grammar schools which are government run imitations of public schools where the government pays and the education is free to the parents. But only those who can pass a kind of intelligence test, an exam called the 11+ get the privilege of going to a grammar school but not so many do.
Then there are also the “Secondary Modern Schools” which are also free for those that fail the 11+ and for those whose parents can’t afford a “public school”. These schools carried at the stigma of being more inclined towards manual skills such as carpentry, metalwork, electronics and it is generally deemed that the kids who go to these schools are less intelligent than the others, and were probably “working class”, but this is not actually so.
Parents go crazy coaching their kids to pass this 11+ exam. My parents had never ever even considered this to be a possibility for me so I was totally surprised to come home from school one day and find both my parents waiting for me with the strangest bewildered look on their faces. Mr Bailey had called my parents and told them he wanted to enter me for that year’s 11+ exam; he thought I would pass. Naturally they thought he was completely stupid but as taking the exam didn´t cost anything there was no harm in trying.
The village school where the exam was given was a 20-minute walk away. The exam took three days. Every morning Mr Bailey took me and two other students of his up the hill to the school and we sat at a desk each with a paper booklet to fill in. Part of it was a plain intelligence test; like this is to that as that is to which of these? I couldn’t believe how easy these were so I was afraid they were trick questions but even when I went over them several times I couldn’t find an alternative answer.
The really difficult one for me was comprehension when we had to read an article and then answer questions about it. I could understand the meaning perfectly well, the difficult part for me was to get the spelling right when I answered: I kud spel the saem wurd a dosen difernt waies in won esa. On the therd day ther was no tym limet: I staed thier determined too anser all the cuestions, I wurked hared at getting the speelling rite, going ova it agane and agane untill I was absolutly sertan I had dun my best; I was the larst won too leaf and the kaertakar was wayting pacently bye the dor with his kies in his hand.
(In case you couldn’t get the previous paragraph I have translated it here: I could spell the same word a dozen different ways in one essay. On the third day there was no time limit: I stayed there determined to answer all the questions, I worked hard at getting the spelling right, going over it again and again until I was absolutely certain I had done my best; I was the last one to leave and the caretaker was waiting patiently by the door with his keys in his hand.)
I had been put in the category of students considered possibly worthy of passing but needing to take an oral examination. Dutifully my parents drove me to the nearest town on the specified day and hour and I waited in line to take my oral exam. I wasn’t at all nervous, why should I be? Nobody expected me to pass, having no high expectations gave me a kind of power. When finally, I walked in I sat in front of a forbidding bench of headmasters, I sat erect and alert but not afraid and waited while these men looked me over carefully.
Suddenly one of them asked me if I was riding in a car and it stopped what did I think would have caused that? I thought for a brief moment, without even realising it Goldy had given me a good education in mechanics, I told him that the engine had probably seized up. One of the men asked what does that mean. I looked at the man like he must be an idiot; but I went on respectfully to explain that if an engine runs low on oil or if the oil pump is damaged or an oil line is blocked then the pistons are no longer properly oiled and the heat of friction causes them to expand and since the tolerance of piston in its cylinder is very small it is easy for it to jam and that this causes the car to stop.
The man looked at me curiously, “Don’t you think it could have run out of petrol?” he asked in what I suspected to be a sarcastic tone of voice. “Unlikely”, I replied, again with respect; “If a car runs out of petrol it starts to cough and choke and eventually comes to a standstill when the engine finally stops. It doesn’t just stop at once.” I felt pleased with my performance and walked out confidently. A few days later the morning post arrived as usual at breakfast time. A few moments later I looked around to see my parents staring in disbelief at a letter my father had just opened. I had been accepted into the local grammar school. I enjoyed this feeling of success at last, it wasn’t until much later that I realised I would have been better off going to a Secondary Modern School.
Once I got to grammar school I found my way to the school library and I was able to read enough to really enjoy the books I found there and the world opened up to me. Even at night after lights out I would read in bed using a torch. I found that at school the boys entering each year were divided into three streams: A, B and C. The brightest were in the A stream, and the dullest were in the C stream. I had just scraped through into the C stream, but in the second year I crossed over into the B stream. I really enjoyed and excelled at the sciences but I was excluded from literature and language because however hard I tried I still could not spell well enough. When I finally left school I was one of the ones with the highest grades and my way was open to go to university, but I didn’t want to. I really wanted to design and make things.
During the school’s holidays I hitchhiked around Europe and this compensated to some extent on my concentration on the sciences. At first I stayed in France which I loved, then I went north through Germany, Denmark and to Sweden. Finally I went on a voyage east to Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Turkey to the mountainous Kurdish area north of Syria where I had amazing experiences meeting very poor but extremely hospitable and proud people who made everything they needed from the most basic and simple materials from the most beautiful elegant coffee pots to water turbines and even guns. Then I went on over the mountains to Anatolia. Also my elder sister and her husband got me to the Festival d’ Avignon which was a very intense experience for me that opened my eyes to a side of life and culture that I had never seen before and that also had a major effect on the direction of my life moving me from the sciences towards the arts.
March 24, 2018 END SECTION 6 of 10_WORDS: 2,066 STOP HERE (narrator: LYNN)
In my family there were all sorts of hidden feelings that were carefully kept out of view but did become perceptible at moments of crisis. For example my mother would swear that she was not anti-Semitic, yet in moments of crisis when she was really angry with someone she would call him a “Bloody Jew.” We would all laugh at her, and slightly ashamed she would once more swear indignantly that she was not anti-Semitic.
When Charles Darwin came out with his theory of evolution it had had a tremendous effect across all Europe. People understood that we had evolved through natural selection, the survival of the fittest was often expressed in clichés such as “nature red in tooth and claw,” and that “might is right” and they applied these ideas to people just as they did to other animals and vegetation. Various new philosophies were born as people began to understand Mendelian ideas of inheritance and genetics. The Nazi philosophy was the direct result of applying these clichés to the human race.
Naturally many people began to realise is the power of selective breeding. For example all dogs have been bred from a common ancestor, something like a Wolf so apparently even the Chihuahua and the Bulldog and the Pekingese had been created by mankind by careful selection over many generations. Therefore, mankind could also be improved by careful breeding. Ideas like eugenics were born to improve the human genome. Goldy and my parents had grown up in the times when these ideas were still new and vigourously discussed and they were deeply reflected in the philosophy and politics of the time. It had made a deep impression on them during their youth and certain groups of people had actually tried to practice them but now after the war they were thoroughly discredited and many people who had given these ideas credence now kept them carefully hidden. Ideas like this lived on in people’s minds like the ghosts from the past.
Some people extended this idea from improving the individual and thought in terms of improving the race, and whether one particular race was better than another? Naturally in parts of the world where the Aryans lived they thought that Aryans would be the best, and such diasporas as Jews and gypsies who had for so long had had a bad reputation in Europe, were considered to be inferior. These ideas were going around long before Hitler arrived (see Merchant Of Venice). He only used these ideas as do certain types of politician even now, to divide and to create hatred and division amongst a population that was suffering great hardship and who needed an escape goat. After the war all his ideas were buried, thoroughly hidden. Even to the extent that nowadays you never find anyone in Europe at least, called “Adolf.” It is very ironic however that many of his actual core techniques have been used many times unhesitatingly, for example substituting “Jews” for “Communist,” and nowadays for “Muslim.”
I noticed that some of these ideas ran deep in my mother and also Goldy. For this reason my mother could not for one moment contemplate the idea that I was in any way genetically deficient, or crudely put, there were inferior genes running in the family, this is definitely not what she wanted, she dreamt of having a “Superkind” (super child). As I look back now, it’s amazingly ironic for me to see that my mother being secretly anti-Semitic had as her closest friend and confident a man who was so obviously Jewish. But for her it was a case of interpretation. When sometimes we saw Goldy’s face in profile, his big hooked nose was very obvious, but my mother would see him not as a Jew but as a Red Indian Chieftain. She would bend and whisper admiringly in my ear “Doesn’t he look just like an Indian chief with that nose,” and it’s true he did.
Goldy, for his part, when really pressed on some issue he could come out with the expressions such as “might is right” and then my parents would suddenly set on him and he would be quiet. He had his own ghosts from the past to deal with that could suddenly momentarily arise, and just as quickly vanish again. It was also very ironic to me that this rather crude and brutal sense of justice could come from a man who had spent most of his life engaged in altruistic acts such as collecting money for Gandhi, but even more obviously, for his general lifestyle.
The great mystery of Goldy was that all the time we knew him, from the age of about 50 to the time he retired at 75 when he left us to live in a council house nearby and on until he died at the age of about 85, we always kept in close contact with him even when he left the house. In all that time he never received a message of any kind from any of his previous family or friends who he could not have forgotten. Apparently he had no living relatives, the tragedy of his life was the death of his daughter Eileen, during the Second World War. She was an ambulance driver in Bristol, they were hit by a bomb and she was killed. We were his only best friends, nobody else ever came round to see him. I am sure that in his previous life he had had various affairs, he was no sexual prude; he laughingly told me of various ways of making love with their “nicknames” such as the “knee-jerker” which means making love to a girl while standing up and holding her by the bum.
His life of high living in the diamond business where he was used to wearing a suit and a bow tie and travelling the world and staying at the best hotels had suddenly changed to that of a poorly paid celibate ploughman wearing dirty dungarees, a duffel jacket and muddy Wellington boots yet he never showed any sign of sadness or resignation, in fact quite the reverse, it was always cheerful and positive. Rummaging around in the attic I found he still had his “steamer wardrobe trunk,” this was a large chest that you could stand on one end and open. On one side he would have had all his suits hanging and below a space for his shirts and at the bottom for his shoes. The other side was packed with drawers of all shapes and sizes for everything else from cufflinks to pyjamas. But all that was left in it was a strangely shaped black silken strip of cloth beautifully made and lined. It turned out to be his bow tie, he could even remember how to tie it.
He was the ultimate “Quick Reversible Man,” able to adapt completely and wholeheartedly to any situation. He was always ready to laugh or sing some tune with my mother such as “While we are still in the pink.” Several times I heard him say, “If I were to live my life again I wouldn’t do anything differently.” He took everything as a challenge and always gave it everything he had. I think he had as much fun living with high society as he did with us as a ploughman. He loved India and China, he often commented on how beautiful Chinese women are and insisted that the Chinese would rule the world next, possibly in my lifetime. Several times I tried to get him to tell me more about his life but he never would. I implored him to write a book but he would only laugh at me in indignation. So it has always been a mystery to me. How could a man cut himself off so completely from such a different past and still be so happy?
The tremendous change from his life as a gold and diamond merchant which is so evident from his tracings in blue and red crayon across the great world map on his wall to his present life was something that seemed so inexplicable that I was always wondering about it. I had been brought up in a post World War II England and I heard nothing of life in the “Empire.” Only the last of its colonies were in the process of declaring their independence something of which I heard practically nothing about. The change between pre-world War One England and the England of my youth is totally remarkable, at least for the “man in the street” as for me, “The British Empire” was long gone, consumed by the wars, a thing of storybooks. For the denizens of The City Of London, perhaps not so much (this is the equivalent of New York’s Wall Street).
Since Goldy was there for me from the time I was born, I had always taken him for granted. Also the social situation of the England into which I was born I assumed had always been that way; we had free medicine, education, unemployment benefits, pensions, council housing and all the rest. I couldn’t imagine anything different. The stories he told me of his life and what he had done were to me exciting in themselves, but I never fully understood the social drama of the British Empire that was the background to his stories. That came much later when I went over his life in my mind and put it together with the history of his times as I gradually learnt about it.
Goldy was always a law-abiding citizen but he never refrained from joking at the law, social customs and the British royalty. Although he often remarked that “the law is a fool”, he conformed with it for convenience sake, but I saw I realised from his past that when he saw that society and the law were completely inhumane he was capable of deciding on his own account to take great risks to undermine and replace it with something better. Gandhi was a leader who had done something similar but to a much higher levels, and Jesus Christ is the most commonly known example of the ultimate extreme.
Goldy pointed out to me on several occasions that the Bible was in actual fact the insane juxtaposition of two totally opposite scripts: the Old Testament worshipped a wrathful, jealous and unforgiving God who generally took a rather negative attitude to life; he ordered the slaughter and destruction of a whole city such as the Canaanites to the last man, woman and child, the slaughter of the firstborn and many other unthinkable horrors and instructed the Jews to obey a not-to-do list of 10 sins or they would go to hell and burn forever and this was the basis of the normal Jewish society into which Jesus was born.
The New Testament repudiated this: Jesus proposed a loving forgiving God who would welcome to “The House Of God” all people who did 3 things; ‘love God’, ‘but love their neighbour as themselves’ and ‘turn the other cheek’. Although Goldy was not a Christian he observed that in actual fact Jesus was an absolute rebel who not only “threw out the moneylenders” but had no real connection with the old Testament which is why the orthodox Jews insisted on having him crucified. As a result of their actions people who did these things tended to suffer such harsh consequences which they took, not just without complaining, but rather with complete acceptance. This process of freeing oneself from the inevitable socialisation and religious “programming” began to fascinate me.
As a child I had been completely indoctrinated by our social and religious beliefs, but as I grew I began to realise that these were totally arbitrary and varied dramatically from place to place. What amazed me most was the absolute certainty people had in their own particular belief system. For example the Catholics and Protestants aren’t so different yet they earnestly slaughtered and tortured each other for centuries. When I learnt to read I was fascinated by anthropologists accounts of how different tribes lived and the wide variety of conflicting belief systems they had even from patriarchal to matriarchal and I was constantly searching for the one that would suit me best; I felt so out of place in the society in which I was living. Studying the sciences I realised that they are unique in that they postulate the only set of absolute laws: the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, electromagnetic phenomena, quantum physics for example. Even though these laws may not be carved in stone and are subject to change or improvement over time they are the best we have in this sense. Everything else is arbitrary.
March 24, 2018 END SECTION 7 of 10_WORDS: 2,128 STOP HERE (narrator: LYNN)
In England there is even now an intense dichotomy between the aristocracy and the working class which is probably stronger than in any other country I have been to. It is not the same as the dichotomy between the rich and the poor, even a poor aristocrat still has a name. Goldy in his life in India had been amongst the aristocracy, his former wife had been titled. Eventually he had very consciously made that monumental decision to undermine that gap. He was ostensibly working for the “Empire” but actually he was helping the Indian proletariat led by Gandhi. For me he was the archetypical “Peaceful Warrior”.
When he worked for my father he jumped orbit to take a “working class” role with which he also identified with great ease. However, it was apparent when he read the newspapers, apart from his familiarity with the stock exchange, he was a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Lord’s and Ladies of England and he often laughed and ridiculed reports on their activities.
My father on the other hand had a neutral and less conscious position; he was a “standard Englishman.” He had no aristocratic pretensions, but he had had a good education in botany at St John’s College Cambridge and was very much the student of Darwin, his writings and voyages and the scientific discussion that it caused. My mother was quite different; she was the daughter of the captain of a German submarine who had been killed at the very end of the First World War.
The famine and struggle for existence into which she had been born in Hamburg marked her for life. She clung to the idea that her father had “noble connections.” She held in very high regard anyone who was even in the slightest bit “aristocratic.” In secret she held to the idea that her father had been the captain of the Kaiser’s sailing yacht. (The Kaiser regularly turned out at major English sailing events such as in the Isle of Wight Cowes Week Sailing Regatta). In actual fact it turns out that she wasn’t completely wrong, he was the “aide-de-camp” to a much smarter man, the Kaiser’s brother, Prinz Heinrich of Prussia (commander of the High Seas Fleet), and also crewed on his flagship and he shows up in a photo as an officer of the Kaiser’s yacht the Hohenzollern. He was also awarded many medals. It may seem unbelievable but the German Kaiser and his brother were nephews of Queen Victoria and at one time frequently held family reunions in England.
When my mother brought me up I was often perplexed when she told me not to say or do certain things like “common people do.” Later on my father hired two young men to help him on the farm who were from a scheme to rehabilitate Borstal boys from London’s gangs. (Borstal is an English word meaning a kind of prison for young offenders, and these guys had been rioting “Teddy Boys”). I spent a lot of time with these young guys, they were a lot of fun. My father had a radio in the cowshed and at milking time he would play the BBC’s “Music While You Work.” This was popular relaxed soothing music that had been set up to encourage the female workers in munitions factories to be more productive during World War II.
My father reckoned this music also helped his cows relax and let down their milk. As soon as milking was over the boys started mucking out the cowshed and my father left. Then they’d turn to another channel for pop music, I was introduced to “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Rock Around The Clock” and all the rest of it. For the first time mucking out the cowshed became fun and my father was amazed at how fast we could do it. We couldn’t get enough of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. These guys were another side of life to me and I was a willing learner. From these guys I also learned a few wrestling holds which proved to be extremely useful as I grew up because no one I ever got into a fight with had any clue about wrestling. I also learnt an extensive vocabulary of swear words the most important and obviously expletive was the word “fuck.” This was to have important consequences on me in the near future.
My mother had brought me up in a strictly Christian manner, for example before going to bed I would have to kneel by my bedside and say my prayers, I not only had to go to church every Sunday but also to Bible classes in the afternoon which meant walking a mile or more each way. Even so, once I had this fascinating new word “fuck” in my personal lexicon I was dying to try it out, so that afternoon while drying up the dishes after supper I said “Oh, fuck, the drying up towel is all wet.” My mother went ballistic. I had never seen her so angry, she wouldn’t tell me what the word meant only saying that it was the worst possible word I could say.
Finally, she got me to solemnly swear that I would never say that word ever again. A bit later when I went upstairs to go to bed suddenly the phrase, “fuck God” came into my head. I went into a state of shock, expecting the floor beneath me to open up and swallow me. I tried to tell myself,“ I must not ever say fuck God” only to discover that there again I had just said it once more. I banged my head against the wall and started trembling; whatever thought came into my head always contained somewhere the words “fuck God.” I was trapped by my mind and when at last I realised that there was no way out I rushed downstairs to where Goldy was, I knew he was an agnostic, and I knew that that meant he was basically an atheist with the covering caveat that there just might be a God somewhere but it just seems highly unlikely. Nothing terrible happened to him and he was quite open about his beliefs. I saw that everybody was carrying on as usual and gradually my state of panic calmed down and I returned to normal. Obviously, God if he exists can’t read my mind, or if he does, he just doesn’t care. I had just made my first step to release myself from the religious hook.
In his last days he was very ill and he knew he was going to die. My mother arranged for me to stay with him and look after him with the idea that I could be with him when he died. But he didn’t just die although he was so convinced that he was in fact just about to go. While watching Goldy I read Alistair Crowley’s autobiography. I found it a fascinating account of an adventurous megalomaniac who had travelled widely and explored many aspects of the mystical from yoga and meditation to Satanism. He was clearly very intelligent and charismatic but most of all he had broken free from the socialisation and religious programming that we all go through as we grew up and sought his own way but unfortunately mostly in very negative ways.
The part that interested me most was the subject of “will”. How do you make what you want to happen actually happen? He advocated firstly doing the obvious: everything you can do in the material world to make it happen, then to do everything possible in the spirit world to back that up. For this latter purpose his suggestion was to write a list of everything that related to what you wanted to happen and combine that list somehow as a piece of artwork into one thing; an abstract metaphor for what you want. I was only thinking of Goldy and his coming death. I made a list of all the things I could think of that were dear to him and that related to his passage through death to the great mystery. Eventually I drew a figure that hinged around a compass rose and a gyroscope, both objects used for navigation and symbolic of stability and precision engineering combined with the mystery of gyroscopic motion. I labelled it “Goldy’s Comepass” assuming that people would account for the misspelling as being normal for me.
Later I followed up my curiosity in Alistair Crowley; the curious thing about him was that he was a heroin addict and for all his willpower and self-discipline he never threw the habit and after such an extravagant life he died deeply in debt, a solitary and miserable death in a little flat in Hastings.
Unfortunately, I had not followed Alistair Crowley’s instructions as I should have, I had assumed that everything possible that could be done in the physical world had been done by my mother and that she had Goldy under the best medical attention. After two weeks of watching poor Goldy agonise my mother arrived and did what she should have done long ago, even against his wishes, she sent him to hospital. They found that the had prostrate cancer but it was too far developed for them to do much to help him. He died a month later when I was at school. He gave his body to be used for teaching medical students. He wanted to be useful to the very last, so there was no funeral for him and I didn’t find out about his death until two weeks later when my mother told me.
It was a bit like “oh, did you know Goldy died two weeks ago?” It felt surrealistic. The news had little effect on me, perhaps my mind went a bit blurry but I didn’t feel grief. I considered him a very old man and I had been expecting him to die for some time, but I had lost the chance to be by his side when he went. I have often wondered why I had never felt any grief at his loss but I never talked about him to anyone for many years. When at last I did try to tell someone about him I burst into tears, I discovered that it was very difficult to talk about him to anyone without crying, but the emotion that this creates in me is not anything to do with grief or sadness, it’s an emotion I always feel when talking about somebody who is very courageous, a kind of admiration but much stronger than normal. I have found that the emotions connecting me to him are buried very deep.
In his will he left me everything he had; a really neat miniature set of tools consisting of a tiny pair of pliers, pincers and a tri-square. These were from the times when he was training to be an engineer during the First World War. The tri-square had 4 inch limbs and was all of metal, he had made it himself, it had been part of the examination he had to take to finish his training. It is still perfectly accurate to this day although it has been dropped on the floor countless times. He also left me £700, and one Premium Bond.
The £700 was the sum total of everything he had managed to save and the one premium bond was on the basis that if I didn’t have any I could never ever win anything, but even if I had just one I could win, and he had worked out statistically that even if I had had 1 million bonds my chances of winning would only be infinitesimally greater so just having one was enough.
But that was only his material legacy to me, in reality he affected my life in many important ways. I grew up gradually copying Goldy both in my attitude to life but also unconsciously even at a physical level. At first when I was small, I was fascinated by guns and armaments but later on all that changed but you would never have guessed that if you had seen me as a kid: I designed and made guns even if only out of wood and copper tube, and designed bombs that were guaranteed to explode on landing and so on. From an early age I was keen to learn how to shoot, my father got me an air rifle and I spent hours at target practice.
Then I borrowed his 22 rifle and would go rabbit hunting. One morning as I left the house and stepping into the back porch I saw a little red Robin sitting in the plum tree not too far away. I never thought I could hit it but I shot at it I anyway. My father always used “Dum-dum” bullets which are hollow nosed. On impact with an animal they flatten out and ensure the death of whatever you hit. I hit that poor Robin, and he exploded into a bomb-blast of feathers that encompassed the tree. Just at that moment my mother stepped out of the house and saw this, “Are you proud of what you have done?” those words were the finishing touch of what was already a horrifying sight. I never touched a gun again.
At the age of 12 another change came over me completely unnoticed. I began to attend the local grammar school which was far away from where I lived and for the first time I had to live away from home; I was staying as a paying guest at a family’s house in that town. They had a son, much older than me but he still attended the same school. One suppertime out of the blue he asked me if I was a CND supporter. I didn’t even know what the word meant and he explained about nuclear bombs and arsenals and what unilateral disarmament meant. I immediately declared that I would support the CND because anybody holding a nuclear arsenal was in grave risk of having a nuclear accident, or having some paranoid freak send off a missile that would start a nuclear war and destroy mankind on Earth. Effectively I had become a pacifist. If the choice was between destroying all humankind on earth or leaving at least some of us alive, then perhaps it would be best to leave some humans on the planet even if they were at that moment our enemy. For the first time I received a totally scornful reaction to my ideas but I never relented.
March 31, 2018 END SECTION 8 of 10_WORDS: 2,451 STOP HERE (narrator:JAN)
Later on at school they wanted me to join the CCF, the combined cadet force, a sort of boys army. I reacted very strongly, I really didn’t want to do that, then I found I had the alternative of joining the Boy Scouts instead, which was still pretty military but nothing like as bad as the CCF, and there I had the chance to learn a lot of very useful things, like how to tie knots, camping, hiking long distances across country with just an ordnance survey map and a prismatic compass.
When I was about 13 or 14 or so and had to start shaving, I found I had acne. All the spots went away by themselves except for one just to the right side of the middle of my nose, and from there it refused to budge, but instead grew a bit larger and formed a mole. Later on I noticed that Goldy had a mole on his nose in just the same place, what was this all about? Goldy, the person I loved most, influenced me in unexpected ways as I grew up, and at a very deep level, my body seemed to be copying his. Later on I had to have an operation on my nose and the doctor removed the mole at the same time which was a relief; consciously I didn’t want to “have to be like Goldy.”
After leaving school I went through a period of two or three years when my life became stagnant, I couldn’t find anything that I really wanted to do. Although I was living in London I would occasionally go home to see my parents. On one of these visits my mother started to beam at me with pride, she was radiantly happy, suddenly she announced that “all the problems you had as a child were because you are dyslexic”, “what the hell is that” I asked, she said “that a famous actress has just come out describing all the difficulties she had had and the doctors call it dyslexia, and what she described was very similar to the problems you had”.
I was disgusted, she had been so disappointed with me all this time and now because some bloody actress has the same problem and the doctors have a word for it it’s okay! And the worst of it is that a few years later every second or third person I met proudly proclaimed that they were “dyslexic”. When I was at home I would visit Goldy who lived nearby. One afternoon I was visiting with him in his counsel house and we sat sipping tea, he looked me squarely in the eyes and told me “you know, at your age I had already been round the world once, don’t you think it’s time for you to get off your arse?” I looked down at my knees with the shame, but what he said gave me quite a jolt and gradually my life changed.
My Father And The Big Decision
In contrast to Goldy, my father was a tall thin strong man with a stern authoritarian larconic manner which stemmed from his extremely Victorian upbringing which demanded that a man kept a stiff upper lip and never showed emotion. He always did the best he could for me but he was not the playful type. Normally he was friendly but silent which could easily and rapidly degrade to annoyed, very annoyed and occasionally furious. As a child I learnt to keep out of his way as much as possible but I couldn’t so much as cut piece of wood up without asking his permission first. But he also carried the financial responsibility of running the farm which meant getting up at 5 o’clock every morning every day of the year, organising everybody, keeping track of the values of many different crops and strategising about what to plant where.
And then came the bank and the necessity to borrowing money to plant crops and then running the gauntlet to see if it would be a good or bad year. But if it was a good year then everyone had also had a good year and prices were low and there was little money to make; if it was a bad year, nobody had much to sell so that the prices were high but he didn’t have enough to sell to make a profit: the market economy, the law of supply and demand. Our family barely scraped by even though my mother did a lot to help by taking in young paying guests from all over Europe for their summer holidays on a farm. Later on when I was about 14 I would spend hours puzzling over the question of “why wasn’t my father a rich man, given that food was the one thing that we all needed for survival?” So how come that in our lives it was one of the cheapest things in comparison with what most people spent on housing, cars, luxuries and entertainment? This is something I still can’t fathom.
A few years later came the crunch; my father had a bad hip and couldn’t work the farm and Goldy was going to retire. That morning I walked out of the bathroom to find the family assembled waiting for me in the kitchen and I was suddenly confronted with the big question: did I want to take on the farm? This was a gutwrenching question for me; I loved the farm, I knew it like the back of my hand. Even now in my thoughts I can wander around it, see each field, orchard, hedge, fence, gate in splendid panoramic and aromatic detail. I can walk in to any building and see its contents, the machinery, the many smells from the cowshed to the dairy to the food room to the granary and the hay barn.
I also knew how hard my father and Goldy had struggled to make it work and even so my father had spent much of the money he had inherited in stocks and shares to keep us from bankruptcy and when he wasn’t working on the farm he was at his desk keeping track of every penny coming in or going out. Rather than just money, they, like many other people I know took great pleasure in relating to the earth and getting it to blossom forth and produce, they were ‘agriculturists’; I think this is one of the fundamental qualities that people can have in their basic nature, but it is something that I don’t have. At that time I still hadn’t realised what it was that I had, but I knew from my experience with Goldy that it was going to be with the sciences and to do with making things and eventually I found out that I was a ‘Wright’ as in wheel-wright or ship-wright. My heart told me that I had to refuse the farm; I realised that my family had guessed this, but they had to ask me clearly so that it would be my choice which I respected. It also awakened me to my own responsibility to find my way in the world independently.
From leaving school my life took a spiralling route which led me from studying chemistry to studying architecture to joining a group of performing artists to becoming the partner of a young lady called Aruna and starting our own performance by making a wild kiosk with a beautiful umbrella selling Samosa at marketplaces and going on to making a horse-drawn wagon and presenting a bareback horse riding show in the parks of London.
Everything we did revolved around making something and then presenting it as a performance. The unusual things we made were curiously enough generated from the times I had playing as a child near Goldy. Later we built a catamaran which developed, like everything else we made, through the stages of first finding out everything we could about catamarans and shipbuilding, then making careful drawings (remembering Goldy’s blueprints) followed by making and testing models until we felt ready to building the full-scale boat in which we planned to sail from England to America.
The Sunday Times found out about us and wrote what really turned out to be quite a nice article on building our catamaran Taulua. They put us in touch with Jonathan Cape and Penguin, the book publishers and I had a meeting with their manager who wanted me to write a book about building the boat and our voyage. When he offered to give me £500 as an advance, I accepted, we needed the money to buy a compass, sextant, almanacs and so on.
I always had the intention of writing a book. However, I never could, I would always be too busy, I could never find the time, sometimes I would write a page or two but I would always find an excuse to stop and do something “more important.” Eventually it became obvious that I would never write the book. Some part of me remembered the disdain Goldy had for writing a book about his life and that was strongly influencing me at some deep level.
Later we built “The Octopus’s Garden” near Puerto Vallarta were first we made spinning wheels for the indigenous people and later an indigenous art gallery and restaurant and later still added a sprung wooden dance floor and bar where we started to put on music, dancing, and circus type events. Then I had an accident in which I damaged my spine rather severely leaving me bedridden which now gives me all the time in the world to write in theory. In fact I really have quite a battle just to sit up and write for a couple of hours a day. However, I’m doing it anyway, slowly as it may be. I have to fight the inhibition to write a book that I have somehow absorbed from Goldy and his disdain of writing. (But the book, when it comes out will be called “Taulua The Paper Boat.”)
I have come to realise that as we grow up we absorb in some kind of unconscious way the characters of the most powerful people around us, whether they be good or bad especially through the period of our early lives. In an unconscious way we play the part of one or other of these characters, and we tend to act the way they did, rational or not without even realising that it’s “somebody else”, always convinced that it is “me, myself” making the decisions. We can even change to another quite different character instantaneously, depending on the circumstance. If you are lucky at least some of these influences will affect you in a very good way that will always help you through life.
All this is a highly unconscious process and most people never realise that it is happening. However, there is always the essential “you” that is not role-playing and one can become more aware of this part of oneself and get to the point of being aware of the parts one plays. I believe that ideally it is possible to live relying on one’s own rational analytical mind to make decisions and to react independently of the strongest personalities that have influenced you. This process of finding the essential “you” is a very difficult one because delving into the unconscious area of your mind is a very tricky place. The problem is that the person or people that you loved most are the ones that have the deepest grip on you; through you they live on. But then the most difficult challenge is to recognise this and to be able to choose the good parts and let the influences you don’t want drop away.
Apart from my parents I was very fortunate to have Goldy’s love and to witness his independence of thought and enjoyment of the world at large which was transferred to me in some part as I grew up. Also I think that Goldy had found more than anyone else I know “his own true-selftrueself.” A philosopher would call him an existentialist: he asserted his right to make his own decisions as to what is right or wrong regardless of religions, governments or social background and to take responsibility for them. He was always faithful to himself.
Even though I had been brought up in a rather isolated way on a farm, from the age of 14 I started to take my summer holidays hitchhiking by myself around Europe and later to Greece and around Turkey. Wherever I went I found people hospitable and generous no matter what their creed, even being embarrassed by the extreme hospitality I received when travelling in Muslim countries. I could have become addicted to travelling but after a while I began to feel guilty about receiving so much and giving little and I decided it was my turn to do something.
Of all the people I have known, Goldy’s influence on me has been the most positive and helpful and he has been a constant guide to me through my life.
March 31, 2018 END SECTION 9 of 10_WORDS: 2,193 STOP HERE (narrator:JAN)
“The White Man’s Burden”
By Rudyard Kipling
(winner of the Nobel literature prize and
offered the position of poet Laureate and
a knighthood both of which he refused)
TAKE up the White Man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
The savage wars of peace –
Fill full the mouth of famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man’s burden -a
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper –
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
And mark them with your dead !
Take up the White Man’s burden –
And reap his old reward,
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard –
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah slowly !) towards the light:-
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
“Our loved Egyptian night ?”
Take up the White Man’s burden –
Ye dare not stoop to less –
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
Have done with childish days –
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgement of your peers.
Kipling was the hero of his time but later on he was also criticised by both Indian and British authors:
Several critics have noted that “Kipling had a better understanding of animals than Indians.”
George Orwell wrote a long and well thought out critique of Kipling in which he considers that Kipling was “A jingo Imperialist” and “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting.”
March 31, 2018 END SECTION 10 of 10 X_WORDS: 408 STOP HERE (narrator: JAN)