Thursday, 29 April 2010

Beastly Behavior

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.

William Shakespeare (The Tempest. Act V, Scene I)

WHEN I GOT HOME THIS AFTERNOON and opened the kitchen door, I was shocked when Cailean did not run straight over to me. Usually he does this, all waggy-tail, and puts his front paws up on my shin. If I’ve been away some time, as I had today, my first duty is to put Cailean in his harness and get him outside to pee. He knows that.

Two o’clock this afternoon, after being away six hours, there was no sign of Cailean in the locked kitchen. There was, however, an extremely loud buzzing noise. I called out several times, and looked under the table and found a lump in Cailean’s bed. I lifted his thermal blanket and there he was looking up at me, rather concerned, I thought. Then he hopped out of his bed and ran into the front room. The buzzing in the kitchen continued uninterrupted.

I have smoke detectors in the flat; the buzzing noise was a completely different sound, much lower, but it seemed almost as loud. And it was coming from the window behind the kitchen sink. Cailean watched from the door on the far side of the room, and I fiddled with the net curtains. And found a gigantic bumble bee. One of those 747-type bees. How the hell do they get off the ground? How can they move about?

I’m not into killing things if I can possibly help it. Happens that in the car coming home we had to do some fancy driving on a country lane to avoid a cock pheasant. Our car was red and the male birds are attracted to anything red during the mating season. The pheasants are not suicides when they dash from the fields; they are just defending their territory. One sees more of them dead than alive just now. I hate to see the bunnies and hedgehogs that poorly time their crossings. Fewer dead badgers, but there are fewer of them in the first place. It's all distressing.

I don’t kill bugs either. My mother always said that it was bad luck to kill a spider in the house. My mother was a nutter; she didn’t practise what she preached. It proved the point though, our luck was shit. My early memories include my mother armed with an enormous Flit gun which she would pump all through the house, poisoning us as much as the ants and flies and cockroaches that were standard occupants of a house in Bermuda. My childhood memories stink of the oily Flit spray, especially in the summer. In the winter our kerosene stove, burning away in the middle of a room, gave off fumes enough to kill anything that wasn’t hiding under a floorboard somewhere. I’d be naïve to think that we came to no harm breathing all that poison.

In my flat in 2010 - 3,500 miles and years from Bermuda – I have the occasional spider. They come up through the bathtub drain, I think, as most of them turn up in the bathroom. The old joke goes: What have an old age pensioner and a spider got in common? They both need help getting out of the tub. My spiders, so far, have been fairly large and I have been able to pick them up with a bit of tissue, without crushing the beasties. They don’t seem to mind going outside in the courtyard at this time of year, but they do look rather stunned when there's ice and snow in the garden. I think they head straight for a warm drain and make their ways back to the bathroom.

I’ve never had a single ant inside the flat. After my Bermuda experience of ants – they'd materialise by the thousands in a minute – it seems odd not to see very many insects. They must be out there somewhere, but not around the house. We have a few wasps every mid-summer; one needs to brush them away as they can sting. And then, each year, I might see half a dozen great big bumblebees. Not in a little swarm, mind you. A single bee will struggle over the garden wall between my courtyard and the Catholic chapel next door. The Catholics have wonderful roses in their garden (along with an almost-life-size Jesus on a cross near their wheelie-bins) and I don’t know why a fat bee would expend the energy it takes to fly over a ten-foot wall when I have but a few Protestant (well, Atheist, I think) petunias and the odd daisy.

In Bermuda there was a van that would stop at select locations near the beaches (this before ugly, permanent, concrete-block eateries sprouted in the pink sand) and at parking lots in the city of Hamilton. This van, more of a wagon, sold hotdogs and hamburgers and soft drinks. It was fondly, perhaps accurately, referred to as the Roach Coach. I never, ever sampled any food from the Roach Coach, and I never knew anyone who did. I saw an ice-cream wagon in Morpeth last weekend. It was bright red (did it have pheasants in its grill?) and had the oddest name painted on it. MISTER WHIPPY. That’s a turn-off for me, frankly. We have an ice-cream wagon in Amble by the Sea. It plays the tune “Yankee Doodle” very loudly as it crawls around our few streets. Do American ice-cream wagons play “Rule Britannia”?

Back to the bee in my flat. I have a very large kitchen, it must be 18 feet by 18 feet, and there’s a smaller porch attached as well. I probably should have closed the door to the front room, but Cailean was sitting there anxiously watching. I lifted the net curtains and the bumblebee slowly flew out, very nearly hovering. When it crossed the counter I lowered a clear drinking glass from the drainer over it, and then down onto the surface. I had an envelope within reach and slid that under the glass, the bee being helpful and jumping up a bit. The noise of the bee buzzing in the glass, the paper trapping him there, as I carried it out into the courtyard was extraordinary. I wonder if one could have a musical instrument using different size bees, different size glasses, varying thicknesses of papers.

In the film “Sunday Bloody Sunday” the doctor had tubes of different lengths in his garden that were filled with coloured liquids and they played “Soave sia il vento” from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”. I’m thinking something along those lines, with bees.

My bee, released in the courtyard, despite hours of captivity (it must have come in before I left the flat at eight o’clock), buzzed up and over the garden wall, to sanctuary at the Catholic Church.

The flat is buzz-free, quiet. Not even a Twitter. And I’m going to read in silence for a few hours till bedtime. Unless I laugh, it’s a funny book that I’m reading.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Come Down From Those Crosses and Face The Music

"As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be."
Lorenzo Snow


God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.


You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, "Doesn't the Bible say He created the world?" And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.


The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with Himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.


A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone. I say, so is the torment of man.

Joseph Smith (excerpts, King Follett Discourse, 7 April 1844)

THE OTHER EVENING I was chatting with an old friend who now lives in Mexico. Our exiles are thousands of miles apart, but one can stab at a few dozen numbers on a telephone and for a few pennies a minute we can converse, catch up, and remember aloud.

I happened to remark on the current difficulties the Roman Catholic Church is having as a result of claims that priests abused young (and not so young) boys and girls. Getting the authorities to be up front and honest about all this has been as difficult as getting blood from a stone. Indeed, stone statues have wept and oozed blood, as have painted icons, to bless the faithful, and we are yet to have people in authority take any blame for child molestation and other vile policies espoused by this Church. Forgiveness and convenient forgetfulness has been too easy. Apology and reparation has only come centuries down the line, if at all. Has the Catholic Church admitted yet that the Magdalene Laundries were the work of minds influenced by the Devil, or profoundly evil and misguided men? “Bridgette got that belly by her parish priest ...” sang Joni Mitchell, many years ago.

Has the Church faced up to its part in the slave trade? In the slaughter of entire nations in the New World while in search of gold? Does Incan and Mayan gold still glitter on altars in Europe, and in the threads of popes’ and priests’ garments? Has the Church admitted it was a crime against all humanity to destroy the cultures and recorded histories of the peoples it forced Christianity upon?

When the Spanish Armada of King Philip II attempted to invade England in 1588, some 180 priests came with the sailors and militia. They were not coming to gently convert the Protestant English back to Catholicism, but to force them back into the fold. Protestant heretics would be burned at the stake. Mary Tudor had done this to her own people. Admittedly, her half-sister, the Protestant Elizabeth I, slaughtered her unbelieving Catholic subjects. Oscar Wilde, centuries later, would remark that the only light Christians ever gave was when they were burnt at the stake. Oscar was a late convert to Catholicism. His last witticisms involved fashion.

Pope Benedict XVI is supposed to be visiting Britain this year. I wonder if he will come begging forgiveness for the terrible things Catholics did here both when they were in control, and after the Reformation when they fought to regain it. And how about the abused British women, men and children that his priests and bishops have tried to sweep under the fabulous rugs in their grand residences? There is to be an attempt to arrest the Pope when he arrives in Britain, and to charge him with crimes against humanity.

I cannot say that I’ve ever heard a Pope (or a Protestant leader like the Archbishop of Canterbury) say in so many words: “This is the word of God as revealed to me ...” For the Catholics and the mainstream Protestants, the heavens are closed, sealed, and God speaks to his Children no longer. There are no prophets in the land. The Pope, the Archbishop, they refer to old books written in dead languages hardly anyone can understand. The expression “Mea culpa ...” is missing in any tongue.

Back to my telephone chat with my friend in Mexico: I mentioned that a Mexican Archbishop had broadcast his opinion that the abuse of children was a direct result of pornography on the television and online that homosexuals were seeing and being tempted by. I can only read into this that he thinks his gay priests are watching pornography. Perhaps they reveal this on a Saturday night? How does he know this if not through the confessional?

I’m not sure how long porn has been readily available to your average priest on the television, and on the computer. Hotels, more recently, have channels that one can watch by pay-per-view that show porn. I stayed in a Marriott Hotel in Cardiff in 2006, and it had this dubious service for its guests. Charges would be shown on the hotel bill as something innocuous. The Marriott family is famously Mormon. Hello! I’ve heard that of all the states in the USA, Utah has the greatest number of hits on porn sites online per population. They take a lot of tranquilizers in Utah too. Utah is approximately 60% Mormon, 10% Catholic.

Of course, it is not your average homosexual or heterosexual who abuses children and young people. Paedophilia is its own thing. I don’t know if the Catholic Church has a large number of homosexual priests compared to the general population. Does it have an unusually high number of paedophiles? Has the Vatican been looking into this? As some of the cases being brought against the Catholic dioceses date back many, many decades (and God knows we’ve been hearing about priests fiddling with altar boys for generations) they certainly predate pornography on television, and personal computers and the Internet. Perhaps all those willies on the statues of cherubs, saints and church notables, and nudity in the pictures (masterpieces!) corrupted the priests all those years ago? “Forgive me, Father, for I’ve been having a wank by the Pieta ...”

Abuse is bad enough. Concealing the abuse and considering the Church above ordinary law is worse somehow. Instead of the offense involving one adult and one child, it is a conspiracy of any number of adults against a child. Remember, children are often threatened by their abusers.

My friend in Mexico extended our conversation by mentioning that I had been a member of “that church” for many years. He did not mean the Catholic Church, but the Mormons. And I was on their books nearly thirty years. I was active in the Mormon Church for about five years during that time. When I quit the Latter-day Saints about ten years ago, I did not switch my allegiance to another faith. I switched off. I belong to no church; I have no faith or belief. I suppose I could be said to be an Atheist. Or very nearly one.

When I joined the Mormons back in the early 1970s I converted to their family values, the simple religion they preached door to door. It was a pleasant sort of basic Christianity, a kind of more methodical Methodism. A few years in, I started reading about the more unusual aspects of the LDS religion, the things I expect most church members just never get to. How many have read the King Follett Discourse of Mormon Founder and Prophet Joseph Smith? It is very nearly a different sort of religion to that offered by those tracting Elders in the bus stations and then your living room. I’ve rejected Mormonism, but I actually think some of Joseph Smith’s ideas that they don’t like to talk about now are very interesting. I put a few at the top of this blog entry.

The Mormons do have an Open-Heavens policy. They believe God continues to speak directly to his prophets here on the Earth (and other gods in other worlds too). This is good. However, when some things change as a matter of convenience or when it is expedient (like allowing black members in 1978 when growing numbers of Brazilians were joining the Church, and many might have had a little Negro blood), one has to examine things. The Temple Ceremony was revised to exclude some bloodthirsty threats involving slashed throats and worse.

The Mormon temple experience is as peculiar and off-putting as a Sunday service might be simple and attractive. The Endowment Ceremony, which can be found online now, pictures included, is Joseph Smith’s take on Freemasonry. He joined the Freemasons back in Nauvoo and had a revelation about the Temple rites almost immediately. I managed to get myself a pass to the Temple back in, I think, 1993. I only used it twice, and stopped believing. I’d found myself doing the most ridiculous things, while dressed up in bizarre clothing.

I do not know why churches, most of them, involve weird outfits. Catholics and Anglicans, as well as Muslims, tend towards styles of religious dress that are, perhaps, meant to make the feminine less obviously female and the masculine a tad feminine, without being revealing. No tight trousers! You could hide a choirboy under some clerical garb. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Hats and headpieces are not only ridiculous (Mormons in the Temple wear what look like shower-caps tied by a string to the shoulder), but hardly practical. I once sat next to a Hasidic Jew, just a young fellow, on a flight to Chicago. I asked him about some of the odd things he was wearing. I enquired politely and he was most forthcoming. A Mormon would have blushed to the roots to be asked about his, or her, sacred, secret underwear.

I had a school friend, met him when we were six. He drank himself to death well before he turned fifty. As a child, my friend had a passionate interest in religious garb and ceremony, though I never heard him talk about religion. We took the same bland (Anglican) Religious Knowledge classes at school, chanted the same responses and sang the same hymns at morning assembly five days a week. I rather enjoyed the hymn singing as it was music, and I like nearly all music. My friend had his grandmother make clerical garments for him. Not choir robes (though he had them as a choirboy at the Anglican Cathedral), but replicas of the robes priests and bishops might wear at the most intimate and ornate ceremonies. I thought this peculiar, and still do. I wonder what my friend was buried in. Happens his last resting place was a Presbyterian churchyard, after an Anglican Requiem Mass at the Bermuda Cathedral.

I wonder if, when Mankind was new, men and women sat around of an evening and thought about someone who had passed away. One of the lads might wonder aloud: “Maybe we’ll see the likes of him again ... his son is so like him.” Which is mighty odd, but it could have started all this. The son becomes him. Religious texts, Bibles, are adventure stories. They became excuses. “Wasn’t it in Exodus that ...?” "Or was it the Hardy Boys?" "Hey! Let's dress up in silly clothes!"

So, an unbeliever, I do feel part of some sort of creation. Not from nothing, but something, as Joseph Smith said in his Discourse, organized from something already there, something eternal. I’m not sure that a God or gods, loving or otherwise, moulded me in their image. In fact, I rather doubt that. If I’m wrong, and I am a God in embryo, I have to wonder if all gods have their doubts.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Hearing is Believing

His temper, therefore, must be well observed:
Chide him for faults, and do it reverently,
When thou perceive his blood inclined to mirth;
But, being moody, give him line and scope,
Till that his passions, like a whale on ground,
Confound themselves with working.
William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part 2. Act IV, Scene IV)

I RECALL LISTENING to the Beatles’ White Album with headphones, with the sound turned up just as high as I could take it, and it was very loud. I can still hear the echoes of the peculiar Revolution 9. Number nine. Number nine. Number nine. Of course, that track was not played often. I preferred Helter Skelter and While my Guitar Gently Weeps and Glass Onion. And I turned up the dial.

This afternoon I am listening, it happens, to the compilation of songs by John Lennon under the title Working Class Hero. Under the headphones. All louder than recommended. However, this late in the game, I’m rather deaf and I tend to crank up everything I can: the television, the radio, the stereo. In order not to bother my upstairs neighbours (who often disturb me), I will use headphones if I've heard footfalls overhead. If I’ve seen the car leave, the music rocks through the flat.

This morning I had the alarm set for 6.15, and it did wake me. I was well away in dreams involving my former boss at AIG. When he finally dies I'll tell everybody what a ridiculous fuck he was. These are reoccurring dreams, nightmares really, where I am in a panic trying to balance accounts. I was glad for the alarm.

I had to catch the 518 bus and the only one that that would get me to my appointment at the Hearing Clinic at the Alnwick Infirmary left the High Street at 7.52. I was not happy to discover a grey, rainy day. Stepping outside I discovered it was also rather cold. I stepped back inside and grabbed a coat, first time in a week. I’ve been spoiled.

The school children are on holiday this week, so the bus was very nearly empty. The driver exhibited all the signs of a stinking cold, or worse. I was glad to get past him. The bus’s windows were muddied and fogged up, the heating was not on. Not the nicest way to travel on a day like today. I’d guess there were four other passengers on the lower deck, and one more boarded the bus en route. She had a couple of dozen empty seats to sit on, but she sat next to me. Why in the world did she do that? She could have sat on double empty seats in front, directly behind and across from me, and elsewhere, and upstairs. She pushed up against me with her wet raincoat. I had to take my hands out of my pockets, where I was trying to warm them, to make room for the blasted woman.

Of course, the interloper got off at the same bus stop that I did. My first thought was that she might also be going to the Infirmary, which would have been more annoying. However, she wandered off in the rain in the opposite direction to the one I took. Good.

The Hearing Clinic is held from time to time in the Infirmary’s Outpatient Clinic. I was early, and sat alone in an unlit waiting room for 15 minutes. Then a half-dozen ladies in uniforms appeared and started making tea and coffee in their office area. One lady (was she a nurse?) climbed on a chair and took down the room’s clock which was stuck on two o’clock. She informed her colleagues that it might need a new battery, and was handed one. The clock started ticking and she set it to nine-thirteen. She’d asked for the correct time, and that was it, apparently. I checked my mobile and near as damnit.

A lady in civilian clothes appeared and went into an unmarked office. She was not offered coffee or tea, but someone looked in and asked her how she was feeling after so many weeks under the weather. Still not quite right. She telephoned someone and asked about her clients for the morning. Thirteen of them, and this did not make her too happy. She stepped out of her door and asked who I was. I was her first appointment. This was the Hearing Clinic person.

If I was running a hearing clinic, I’d be tempted to play tricks on my patients. Whispering, suddenly raising my voice, moving my lips but not saying anything aloud. You’d soon sort out the hard-of-hearing. The lady was very nice to me.

Questions included any family history of deafness, personal hearing problems (I have dreadful tinnitus), head injuries (none from the outside, though I’ve fed my brain a few noxious substances), and ear-damaging illnesses.

I then had to sit in a soundproof booth, wearing headphones, and I had a device on a cord to depress when I heard a sound (any sound) through first the right ear, then the left. A game we played for ten minutes.

The results were immediate: a graph for each side showing the points I could hear. The right ear, the lady told me, was in pretty good shape, slightly below par. The left ear, on the other hand (or more accurately the other side of my head), was wanting.

If I was interested, I could be fitted for a hearing aid for the left ear. I thought it not a bad idea. I’d be sent a letter with a further appointment with a technician.

And out into the chilly rain again. The 518 bus headed south was due, and I caught it.

There’s a great deal of General Election coverage on the telly and radio. I’ve stopped watching the news programmes and anything that might be interrupted by a party broadcast. I’ve been reading and reading and reading (three books, I match my mood) and watching DVDs. I’ve been listening to CDs as well. My post has included literature from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal-Democrats, as well as UKIP. I know which candidate I’m voting for, so I chuck the flyers and promises in the recycle bin unread. I don’t suppose even the candidate I’m supporting will really do the things promised, or even attempt them.

The last General Election that got me excited was in 1997 when Tony Blair’s New Labour came to power, sweeping away the Conservatives. I was glad to see the back of John Major and the grey men left over from Mrs Thatcher’s regime. Tony Blair sounded like the real deal, things could only get better. Get up and dance. Hell, he was a war criminal! I think I hate Blair more than Thatcher. In my perfect world, they’d share a dungeon cell in the Tower of London. Bastards!

So, I’m hoping my hearing aid won’t be around till after 6 May and the Election. My eyesight is rubbish too. If I misplace my specs I can probably isolate myself even more from the letters and newspapers.

I’m concerned about a law here in Britain that, a fortnight or so ago, convicted a grandmother of selling a live goldfish to an under-age child. The granny was fined £1,000 and is now stuck at home with one of those monitoring anklets, unable to even step outside to put the rubbish in the bins.

When I was a child, an under-age child, one could go to a church fête, or other charitable events, as well as funfairs, and toss a ball at a coconut and if you knocked the coconut off its stand you’d be given a live goldfish in a plastic bag. The sixpence to play from a ten-years-old was just as good as that from a grown-up. I won a goldfish at the Gillingham Town Fair back in the day. We didn’t have a bowl, not a proper one, and the fish went in a jar. I don’t recall it having a long life, fish-food had not been part of the prize.

My sister had a goldfish that she named Goldie, which had a small rectangular tank with nothing in it but the fish (no castles, reefs, gravel), and on three sides of the tank she stuck photos of the Royal Family. That poor fish lived for 14 years. If it had been me, I’d have gone nuts in a day. But fishes are not exactly sentient beings, are they? If they are, not only should they only be sold to adults, but to caring people who will give them a shipwreck to swim through. Fish are just a spud away from fish and chips.

A friend of mine had a piranha called Eddie. Eddie’s diet was live goldfish. Every few days Eddie would get a nice orange chum to swim with. A short swim, a quick meal.

We have a country that worries about goldfish (and so many ridiculous Health and Safety issues) while fucking up the economy, destroying our culture, making war on the Afghanis and bickering about the payments to our mutilated soldiers return from the War, while the members of Parliament are permitted to be outright thieves. Perhaps worse, little children are dying at the hands of family members and social workers just haven’t noticed situations that are clearly dire.

And we throw back more fish caught thanks to EU quotas, fish that will die, than we bring back to Britain to feed our people.

I’d guess most members of the next House of Commons are going to be younger than I am. Whoever becomes our next Prime Minister will be younger than me. I’d like to slap that young man in the face with a fish. He might say: “What did you do that for?” And I’d pretend I didn’t hear him, and wander off.

One of the perks of being deaf.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Short Story

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the centre.
Kurt Vonnegut

GRAVITY FAILED LAST TUESDAY. One tried to take it seriously, a wondrous scientific experiment (and the costliest of all time, isn’t it, at US$9 billion?) that might just show us how it all began. One might wait on it with some fear and trepidation. How small is a small black hole? Does size matter if one is near to the singularity? How long is a piece of string? Things we just don’t know, cannot measure. What really matters?

Someone posits: There is no such thing as ‘mind’ ... There is only ‘matter’ ... ‘Self’ is a necessary fiction. These conclusions come easily once one has thrown the holy child out with the font water.

One wonders just who (a fiction?) is in charge at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, (a non-fiction?). This is the way the world will end ... Not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with a dream, and dreams are the airiest of inventions, somewhere in the brain, chemicals. A dream only exists (have you noticed?) when one wakens, leaves it behind. When it cannot be completely retrieved. In Xanadu...

So, we have Elvis and Janis, Jim, Mama Cass and Jimi, Marilyn and Jesus and Jacko coming out of the Large Hadron Collider. Dancing and singing down a dusty pavement that turns to Revelation’s gold beneath their feet. The Time Warp. And clocks run backwards. And Toblerone chocolate bars take wing. That’s my dream. Where I awoke.

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.

William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet. Act I, Scene V)

THE PHOTOGRAPH was taken in the 1950s and that’s my great-grandfather John Lavender Crow, and my great-grandmother Jessie Caroline Moon Crow. They were both alive when I was born. Jessie died before I could meet her in person, but I was presented to John Crow for his inspection and approval. I was about eleven years old. When we arrived at his home in Uxbridge (the one in the picture) my great-grandfather was at the pub. We walked to his local and escorted him home. Pubs closed in the afternoon then.

Great-grandfather Crow was a tiny man. My Nan Eldridge, his daughter (he had six sons as well), would not have been five feet tall, and in 1961 she was taller than her father. I suppose he was about my size. It did not seem so short at that time. The leaves were high.

The photograph you see may have been taken to mark some special occasion. Perhaps their sixtieth wedding anniversary in 1953. The photograph turns up in all the family albums. When I visited my great-grandfather I did not take a photograph of him with my Brownie Camera, even though I had the opportunity to do so. I took a picture of the pub sign where we’d tracked him down. I’d been to London Zoo earlier that day and snapped the giraffes and elephants, and not the lions and zebras. Priorities.

John and Jessie Crow had raised their seven children (born between 1895 and 1908) in Battersea, across the Thames from Chelsea. I could tell you the Eldridges lived over the bridge, and my Nan moved to an apartment on the King’s Road in Chelsea when she married Charlie Eldridge, a sailor and friend of her oldest brother, Jack, who was also in the Royal Navy. John Crow was a compositor according to the census reports I’ve seen. I suppose that means he set type. The old-fashioned way, by hand. Like Virginia Woolf did at the Hogarth Press.

I believe my Nan inherited her love of gardening (might I add, her success at it) from her father, rather than from her mother. In 1961 great-grandfather’s garden was well overgrown, though there was a path down the middle of it to a shed or outhouse.

I’m not sure why my great-grandparents got so far into their garden for the photograph. It appears that someone placed a chair in amongst the plants for Jessie and her dog. She seems to be in her best funereal black. I wonder if she was buried in those clothes. (Not in their garden, of course!)

My Nan looked like her father, judging by this picture and my distant memory of the old man. Her mother may not have her teeth in, she looks pretty grim. I’m told she was more fond of whisky than company, and would stay in the kitchen when visitors came, sucking on a bottle. This may be totally untrue, though I rather like the thought of it. She seems fond of her little dog with its strangely human face, so anything can be forgiven her. I wish I knew what the dog was called. The Crows were big on names: My Nan was christened Charlotte Caroline Victoria. Nan’s brothers included a Cyril, a Percival and an Aubrey.

My Nan told me that she’d been named for the last three queens of England at the time of her birth in 1901. Perhaps that was so, but it happens that she was also named for her mother and grandmother.

As short as the Crows were, my Nan’s husband, my Grandfather Harry Charles Christopher Eldridge, was tall. Charlie was rather a handsome fellow with fair skin, and wavy, golden hair (in shoulder-length ringlets when he was very small posing in a sailor suit) and blue eyes. Nan, Lottie, had olive-coloured skin and black hair and eyes. I cannot tell from the photograph or memories of my great-grandfather whether he, or his wife, or both, contributed the more exotic colouring to the family gene pool. My father was like his mother, as are one of my sisters and one brother. I have the lighter complexion and blond, curly hair. Well, when I had hair it was curly. I’m not all that tall. My sisters are shorter, my brothers taller. No telling what will crawl out of the pool on a particular day.

When I look in the mirror I see my father, muddled in with my mother ... another story ... in facial features, if not in colouring. Eldridge. Not Crow. I don’t see the couple in the photograph in my mirror. That’s because my mirror is not full-length. I dare say my more compact body owes something to John Lavender Crow. In the day I wore my trousers with the waist across my nipples, tie tucked in.

Taking a tape to John and Jessie Crow, I can measure them up and down and place them here or there. They are the matter of my life. My mind, if it exists at all, has nothing to do with them. My brain is what tells me I’m hungry, that I fancy a cup of tea (I do, right now), that it is bedtime. My brain processes the thoughts, the memories of the Crows. My brain chooses the keys that I strike to get this down on the page. John and Jessie allowed me a little (perhaps a lot) of the structure of their brains. I am not infused with their spirits, and not with those who came directly before and after.

Philip Larkin said: “They fuck you up, your mums and dads.” I believe he was meaning their treatment of their children, rather than the blue eyes or dark hair. One’s height doesn’t necessarily come into it. One can dye the hair, wear coloured lenses and platform shoes. My self is something of no importance, is it? My self is just a name I borrow for my lifetime, perhaps a postal address.

What matters are the footprints one leaves in time and space. The X one makes on the page.

And John and Jessie Crow come out, down the glittering, golden pavement. And their little dog barks.