Thursday, 26 May 2011

Factory Flowers

And the heart that is soonest awake to the flowers
is always the first to be touch'd by the thorns.
Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852)

I SOMETIMES JOKE that when I look in the bathroom mirror in the morning I find my grandfather looking out at me. Of course, I have two grandfathers somewhere behind the looking glass, two parents, my grandmothers and great-grandparents, all around in my lifetime. It might be more accurate to say that I look like one of my grandmothers, perhaps my mother’s mother. Bleary-eyed, as I get ready to brush my teeth and shave, I do not get into too detailed an examination of the fine (or not so fine) structure of my face; indeed, I cannot, for I do not have my glasses on.

Like both of my parents, and all of my grandparents, I discovered I required glasses to read (and, in my case, also to see distances) clearly when I was a young adult. Over the thirty years since my first eye-test and prescribed spectacles, my eyesight has worsened steadily. The vision correction has been complicated because I take some rather strong medications, and take different medications appropriate to the cycle my illness is in. Six months after an eye test resulting in new lenses, with different substances in my system, I might be straining to make out figures in a fog.

My mother, Mavis Lancaster Eldridge, wore glasses from earliest childhood. Born arse-first, in a clumsy delivery back in 1926, my mother suffered what we would call brain damage. In those days, it was just not mentioned. In fact, I did not know the circumstances of my mother’s birth until her mother told me shortly before dying at the age of 104. My mother, who had suffered with mental and emotional illnesses, and eyesight so damaged that reading was well nigh impossible for her (I never in my lifetime saw my mother read a book, or anything smaller than a newspaper headline), died young, my grandmother outliving her by over a dozen years.

My mother only took her glasses off as she got into bed. She suffered grand mal epileptic attacks and even then, one did not remove her glasses. One day, during the last week of her life spent in a cancer hospice, I arrived to spend the afternoon with my mother (she was quite lucid until the day before she passed away) and found that the hospice staff had propped her up (and belted her into) a recliner chair. My mother looked comfortable, but she was not wearing her glasses. Only when I spoke her name did she realise who it was taking a seat next to her. She did not know where her glasses had gone and was quite bothered. I went looking for the hospice manager. They had left Mother’s glasses off because she was not using them. They meant to read or watch the television, I assumed. I was rather angry and pointed out that there were other things to see, shadows to comprehend, the light coming through the shutters, the visitors. I found Mother’s glasses, put them on her, and that was not a problem again. My mother’s glasses had become part of her. I took them off on 28 September 1992, at 3.03pm, when she died. To close her eyes. The glasses went in a case, Mother went out in another. She was wearing them when she was buried.

My mother’s mother, Elsie Proctor Lancaster, who lived beyond her centennial, wore glasses all the years I knew her. As did my grandfather, William Lancaster, who died in his 70s, though he only wore his when reading. They were both avid readers, and spectacles’ cases were usually lying around their home. As very young children, we would ask to try one of their pairs on, and realise just what happens to one’s eyesight as the years pass. My grandmother, like her daughter, had a run-in with nursing staff in her last days. I was spending afternoons at my grandmother’s bedside in a care facility and found her without her glasses on, and without her hearing aid in. I had been taking some responsibility for the hearing aid, changing the batteries and fiddling with the volume. I had difficulty getting my grandmother to understand who I was, as she was literally in a fog of sound and vision. I raised hell with the nursing staff.

My mother’s parents were both sent off to work in a cotton mill in Harle Syke, Lancashire, just outside Burnley, at the age of eleven. That was a hundred years ago. The Queen Street Mill is now a museum, and it houses the last steam-powered looms in the world. If you saw the film “The King’s Speech”, you saw that mill. The King addressed his northern, working-class subjects there, at least in the Hollywood version.

The mills in Harle Syke (eventually eleven weaving firms with seven mills) were built in the years following 1850, when some men from Haggate built the first one. Haggate and Harle Syke blend into one another, the larger area is Briercliffe. The last mill, Queen Street, closed in 1982. Water came from nearby streams and coal to power the looms was mined in the Burnley area even after the middle of the 20th Century. There were no public houses in Harle Syke (my great-grandfather, Harry Lancaster, would catch a ride on a wagon, or walk, to a nearby town to do his weekend drinking). There was, and still is, a Church of England chapel in Harle Syke; my grandfather’s brother, James Arthur Lancaster, killed in the last days of the Great War, aged 24, is noted on the war memorial in the churchyard. His body, which we located recently, is in the Pas de Calais in a very nicely maintained cemetery.

I visited the Queen Street Mill some fifty years ago, as a boy, while staying with my grandfather and his sister, Maud Lancaster Roberts, in the house in Harle Syke that my great-grandparents had lived in. I slept in my great-grandfather’s bed. He had been alive when I was born, and for a few years after that, and would have had photographs of his first great-grandson. I eventually inherited a number of old pictures of my great-grandparents taken from 1900 until about the time my great-grandfather died in January of 1952.

In 1900, my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Geldard Lancaster, was expecting her third child, the one that would turn out to be my grandfather. Apparently, the childbirth experience had not been a particularly good one for Elizabeth and she had decided that this time she would not survive it. To mark her impending doom, Elizabeth had Harry, and the children, James Arthur and Maud, dress in their very darkest, gloomiest clothing and they went off to a photographer’s studio for a family portrait. Elizabeth was swathed in black cloth, the pregnant figure not being suitable to display, and the occasion being such a sad one. Harry was wearing a dark suit and looked very handsome in a working-class way. The children had only wide, white collars to indicate there was any hope for them.

Elizabeth survived the photograph, and my grandfather’s birth, but did not manage the winter of 1942, dying that December. Like many, indeed most, members of my family, Elizabeth did not reach the age of 70.

Harry Lancaster, my great-grandfather, actually reached 77. Both of his parents, my great-grandparents, John Lancaster and Ann Driver Lancaster, died in their early thirties, their young children subsequently being fostered by the Driver family. The Drivers’ own children worked on the family farm, the Lancaster lads were sent to work in the mill.

I had never been in a factory until my grandfather walked me over to the Queen Street Mill to see his sister, my great-auntie, Maud at work. It happens that Maud and her father had raised my mother’s brother, Jack Lancaster, through the Second World War years. As Jack left the UK after the War, he had been a teenager, and apparently had the same wavy blond hair and grey-blue eyes that I had fifteen years later when I turned up. Several people working in the mill cooed: “It’s Jackie, come back!” (In a marked Lancashire accent, of course.) There was soon a group around us, and people, who seemed very old to young me, pressed coins into my hands. Not pennies and sixpences, but florins and half-crowns. As I was off to the seaside for a fortnight, this loot was much appreciated.

My mother’s family, for the most part, are buried under the surface of the old Haggate cemetery, now grown wild. The collapsing Haggate Chapel has been pulled down. As a child I tended my great-grandparents’ grave. My Auntie Maud died at the age of 62, almost my present age, as we do. She went into her parents’ grave, the one we had weeded together.

All that said, I should mention my father’s family. I do look like Dennis Eldridge’s son, if not so tall and thin. I have wavy, blond hair from my grandfather, Henry Charles Eldridge, on that side too. However, there are a good many on the Eldridge side with dark, almost black hair, olive complexions and dark eyes. I have a paler version of my father’s nose to identify me. I can see my father’s looks, which I recall seeing when I was younger in my grandfather Eldridge, and grandmother, Charlotte Crow Eldridge, in my Eldridge cousins, and in their children. My father’s family could be generally described as better looking than my mother’s.

My father’s parents were not sent off to work in a mill when still children. However, the boys, some of them, did join the military, especially the Royal Navy, when still in short trousers. Happens that my father dropped out (as we might say) and became a naval cadet in his early teens, though he never made much of that as a career and was washed ashore in Bermuda during the last War where he unhappily married my mother, there with her father who worked for the NAAFI.

In addition, the family scattered to Australia, the USA, and Canada. Some returned, in the next generation, to the UK. One of my parents’ grandchildren lives in Mainland China, and his wife is expecting a child who will be, as we say, of mixed race. We have red hair, now and then, in my mother’s mother’s family. My nephew has that ginger hair; no telling how that will blend with the Asian genes.

We have a fair number of artists, actors, musicians and writers on both sides of my family. My cousins’ children have inherited those gifts. Fortunately, the youngsters are able to have educational opportunities and can develop their natural talents. Some members of the family made a great deal of money, some lost a lot. We have punk rockers and members of the Peerage in the family tree.

As for me, I tend to scribble things down. I also study and compile my family history. I live in a world of Post-It Notes, remembering, noticing, seeing and hearing.

I have poor eyesight and wear bifocals. Moreover, not generally known (I have not mentioned it in any Christmas card inserts yet) I am quite deaf. My hearing aids are being replaced in a month’s time and I am hoping that I will be better able to hold my own in conversation. I am not deaf, as my grandparents were, because of the dreadful noise in the mills that they were exposed to as very young children. I played a great deal of loud music, and found I sought louder and louder music as my hearing declined, compounding the damage. (You have been warned!)

I think it was my grandfather, William Lancaster, looking out at me from my mirror earlier today. In addition, his father’s moustache seemed like a true reflection. The words roll forth from generation to generation, and I reach out for all that I can.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


“If I revealed all that has been made known to me, scarcely a man on this stand would stay with me, and, Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.”
“In your hands or that of any other person, so much power would, no doubt, be dangerous. I am the only man in the world whom it would be safe to trust with it. Remember, I am a prophet!”
Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805 – 1844)

I CAN REMEMBER THE BEGINNING almost to the hour of the day, easily the month and year. It is the ending that is unclear. It began exactly 38 years ago, and was over about 8 years ago, give or take a few years.

When people find out that I was a Mormon for over a quarter of a century, for most of my adult life, they often ask me how I managed to get involved in such a peculiar cult. How did a chain-smoking, drug-taking, manic-depressive and anxiety-ridden lad raised in the Church of England and on rock and roll end up singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints!” a couple of times a month, year after year?

Mormonism is, in 2011, a great deal easier to investigate in depth, thanks to the Internet, new revelations, confessions, books and personal testimonies. I dare say that a person aged 61 who has not developed dementia, and has had some experience of life, if just through conversation and correspondence and late-night television, is likely to question a great deal of what he is offered. Particularly when it sounds too good to be true. When I was 23 years old, in August 1973, I knew very little of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, except that Brigham Young had had a great many wives and over fifty children. I had not picked up that knowledge in Sunday school, but in conversation with my grandmother. It is worth noting that a recent publication of the LDS Church does not include the multiple wives and children of the Church Presidents. I dare say even the Third World nowadays, where the Mormons are seeking converts, might frown on Church history.

My grandmother had told me that when she was a little girl, which would be no later than the year 1910, if she and her siblings were naughty, my great-grandmother would tell them: “If you don’t behave, the Mormons will come and get you.”

My great-grandparents and their seven children lived near Burnley, Lancashire. Happens that in the years after 1830, when Joseph Smith Jr. founded the Mormon Church, missionaries were sent to Great Britain (and other countries in Europe) to convert white folks and get them to bring their families and funds to America, to gather to Smith’s Zion. Zion had to be reinvented several times as the Mormons, both homegrown and converted overseas, were hated and hounded, persecuted and driven out of street, town, state and finally the boundaries of the USA at that time.

Many of the English converts joined the Church in Lancashire, within but a few miles of the villages where my mother’s family lived. My great-grandmother’s threat of Mormons kidnapping boys and girls and taking them away to America was probably quite effective. I imagine missionaries in top hats, carrying strange scriptures and talking in unintelligible American tongues, would appear in and around Burnley. I have researched and studied my family history in considerable detail, especially the folks in the past 200 years, and, so far as I can tell, no member, naughty or nice, on my mother’s side in the North, or my father’s side in the Midlands and Southern Counties, ever converted to Mormonism in Britain, and none caught the ships in Liverpool and sailed away to the Promised Land to gather in Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s latest City on a Hill.

We now know that Brigham Young (and other Church leaders) told the missionaries, lads in their teens, sent off to Britain and Europe, that they should convert attractive, young, unmarried women, who looked promising as child-bearers, in particular. Not as prospective wives for the young missionary converting them, for the girls must be set on the rough seas and dusty trails to Salt Lake City where they would discover they had joined a church that believed, above all things, godliness only comes with polygamy. Back in Britain, such practises would have been strenuously denied. The girls would be married to the elderly Brethren in positions of power in the Church who collected plural wives.

On trips to Utah, I have looked in telephone books and have noted that many surnames are typical of the people of the towns in the North of England. Men and boys over here also converted and followed the command to gather in America.

Among the converts in Scotland was an ancestor of a friend of mine whose family, in 1973, was still essentially LDS. James Campbell Livingston was born in Lanarkshire in December 1833. In 1849, young Livingston was baptized into the Mormon faith, and, in 1853, he left for America, by ship from Glasgow to Liverpool to New Orleans, over nine weeks at sea in all. He went up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, the former Mormon city, where he met Joseph Smith’s widow, first wife, Emma. We now know that Joseph had at least 33 wives, most likely over 40. Joseph was fond of young girls who might be employed by Emma. Joseph would get a sudden revelation and the girl, one as young as 14, some already married, would be told that an angel with a flaming sword had threatened Joseph with death (!) if he did not marry the particular girl. James Livingston would not have known all this at that time, if ever in such detail, but when he arrived in Utah, he did take three wives and fathered 18 children. He was one of the quarrymen for the Salt Lake Temple where plural marriages took place. By the way, Emma Smith was not a fan of polygamy and always threw Joseph’s latest wives out, and Emma eventually claimed that Joseph had never practised spiritual wifery, despite her documented part in it. Lies beget lies.

In the summer of 1973, my LDS friend visited me while I was house- and pet-sitting in Bermuda. One day the two Mormon missionaries stationed in Bermuda stopped by on some errand to see my friend, and I met them long enough, as I recall, to nod my head. Elders Belnap and Mortensen came by again after my friend had gone off to the USA, and we chatted a bit. I chain-smoked and they told me in brief what they were doing in Bermuda. Self-supporting missionaries, two years in the field, working out of New York City. This interested me, the concept of lads younger than I was committed to a cause, even if I had no idea what exactly they believed in.

Could they come by another time and tell me about their church? Certainly. You don’t mind if I smoke, do you? It is not good for you. I know that.

It turned out that the missionaries had a very slick presentation kit, coloured pictures and charts that could be flipped over in a binder, and it did fascinate me. Apparently their Joseph Smith had been directed to some golden plates on which was engraved a book (of Mormon) which he translated using curious spectacles. The missionaries showed me paintings of Joseph sitting with his golden plates while his scribe wrote down the translation as Joseph gave it. Smith was not wearing his magical goggles, however, which I would like to have seen. The Urim and Thummim, they were called. There were no representations of Smith in one room with his face in his hat, in which was a peep-stone, or seer-stone, calling out his translation to someone out of sight, at a distance, and no golden plates. One now knows that this was the manner Smith supposedly dictated his Book, nobody besides Smith ever saw the golden plates uncovered, something was under a blanket at one time, but it was not revealed to any witness.

Smith’s visitations by gods and angels were recorded, re-recorded, and changed until he was murdered in 1844. Family and friends claimed different versions that had been related to them by the Prophet or amongst themselves. The stories became more and more convoluted and forced to fit the latest situation. The Angel Moroni, the keeper of the buried box containing the golden plates, was sometimes a white toad or salamander. Smith, like many people in that part of the world at that time, believed in folk magic. His line of work had been seeking buried treasure using a peep-stone. Treasure never found. Well, until the Book of Mormon.

If Elders Belnap and Mortensen had told me their Prophet translated by looking into a hat jammed on his face to keep out the light, there being a stone he had found while digging years before in the hat, on which words would appear, I would have thought it so much nonsense. Those missionaries would not have known all this either. In fact, I doubt that it is taught to potential converts in the huts of the South American and African countries where the Mormons are canvassing today. What pretty pictures do the Mormon Elders flip in their binders in 2011, say in the Philippines?

I did not feel immediately inclined to go to a church service with the Mormons, but I accepted an invitation to a “Family Home Evening” with some members of the Bermuda Branch of the Church. There were a fair number of people, all clean-cut, eating tacos and jell-o and drinking Kool-Aid, with prayers to start the gathering, bless the food, and to send everyone home safely. Everybody was rather nice.

This is what converted me. The toothy, smiling, happy faces. The abundant food.

Then the doctrine: Families are forever! That was an idea I rather liked as I had a few relatives I would be quite happy visiting in the afterlife. At some of the get-togethers there was one peculiar woman who had been having no end of miscarriages, but who firmly believed that she would be reunited with those children of hers and would raise them in the afterlife.

Without any reservations, I went through the course prepared for investigators and the missionaries told me to pray about it. Ask if it was true, Brother Eldridge. And I did, and got no reply. That was in the autumn of 1973. Nice parties, nice people, even if I had to smoke outside, God was silent. I should have listened to that silence! Belnap and Mortensen had mentioned that God and Jesus had bodies of flesh, had passions and parts. There was little mentioned concerning the key LDS doctrine that God once was a man, and that we men might become gods.

I was challenged to stop smoking, and drinking alcohol and tea and coffee. The missionaries and the happy people probably had not known that Joseph Smith and his cronies drank wine in their temples in Ohio and Nauvoo. Joseph served it to his guests at his home. Tea and coffee were used and went with the Saints to Utah. All this after the Word of Wisdom.

In the autumn of 1973, Elder Mortensen finished the Bermuda portion of his mission and an Elder Love replaced him. In February of 1974, Elder Belnap left and Elder Burke arrived.

I do not think I am subject to revelations or great knowledge, but I knew, somehow, that Elder Carl Burke was an unusual fellow. I bumped into a fair number of LDS missionaries in my time, but Carl was a special friend from the get-go. In addition, it was Elder Carl Burke who baptized me on 1 August 1974. I had given up smoking, tea, and coffee to make the grade, and was attending services in the chapel used by the Saints in Bermuda. Once I was baptized, Carl was transferred back to New York City to complete his mission. In 1975, he returned to Bermuda as a civilian, and worked in a motor garage on the US NAS for a few months, staying with me part of that time.

I had a close friendship with Carl Burke and his family, and was devastated when he died suddenly some five years ago.

Despite anxiety disorder, I was attending and taking part in some LDS church services. I learned how to conduct meetings, to give talks, teach classes. All using the very basic information available to us.

Until June of 1978, it had been doctrine of the Mormon Church that people of colour, if they converted to Mormonism, could eventually have their skin magically lightened. However, they could not, if they were Negroes, be anything more than a basic member of the Church, and could hold no offices or enter Temples. With Church officials unable to tell which of their prospective converts in countries like Brazil might have a trace (even the smallest) of black blood, which would make them ineligible to be full Mormons, a revelation arrived saying everyone could come on in. Fundamentalist Mormons, who tend to remain true to Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding polygamy, race, and the ways of heaven and earth, disregarded the latest change in the unchangeable word of the Lord.

I have travelled to Utah a few times and enjoyed my time in large and small towns. I have held church positions here and there, and went in the Temple in St George, Utah, to receive my endowments, and picked up my sacred/secret Temple name that I must never reveal (it is Dan), and appreciated how fragile many of the Saints are in Utah. So many on tranquilizers, so many depressed, so many trying to be on top in Ponzi Schemes. Moreover, so many choosing ignorance so as not to upset the scheme of things, believing and doing what the Old Men in Salt Lake City command.

“I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting; it destroys. I could tell most of the secretaries in the church office building that they are ugly and fat. That would be the truth, but it would hurt and destroy them. Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting.”
LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer, when interviewing a prospective member of the BYU faculty in 1976.

About 8 years ago, we started getting books by members of the Mormon Church and others that have uncovered some rather startling and unpleasant Church history. It has seemed to me that the Mormons I have known over the past almost-forty years simply could not, did not, know most of what we are learning at such a pace now.

I wrote to the LDS authorities and asked them to remove my name from their records, utterly and completely. It was easier than I expected. At least I hope so. I received a letter saying it had been done, but any time I wanted to return I should contact them.

Mormons are somewhat fanatical about keeping their numbers up. They canvas for converts in the here and now and in the hereafter. You may not know that they do baptisms for the dead, which is why they are out copying records all over the world. You may be horrified to know that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun have been baptised, by proxy, in the font in a Temple basement so that they can chose whether to be Mormons, and to enable them to carry on and become gods.

It is not that I now believe Mormonism to be so much guff, and I do, but that I find no attachment to any God, Lord or Maker, any Creator, any Great Magician or Spoon-Bender. When I look out over the landscape on sunny days, or days like today (grey, a bit cloudy), I see the world as it is. I do not see it rolling forth out of time. If I have a feeling about it, it is the immediate warmth on my face, not the hot breath of gods on my body, or the Holy Spirit flaming up in my chest.

Do I regret my quarter-century in Mormonism? Not at all. I have learned a great deal, made some lovely friends, travelled about, and in reading the exposés have been entertained and my knowledge broadened. Somehow, fortunately, I do not feel to have been made a fool of.

For someone today, with access to libraries, bookshops, lecturers and the media, I can only say that you should not believe that Joseph Smith Jr. did what they told me he did when I was new to this, about 40 years ago. He has been shown to be something quite different. He and his followers changed their histories repeatedly, they changed their perfect books, and they changed their unchangeable gods.

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.”
André Gide (1869 – 1951)

The ministering of angels might just be indigestion.

Ross Eldridge
8 May 2011

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

AN EARLY EVENING with The Nirvana Tabernacle Choir Playing on the Hi-Fi while Gertrude Stein hangs a Picasso

(1) A condition or place of great disorder or confusion.
(2) A disorderly mass; a jumble: The desk is a chaos of books, papers and unopened letters. Much like my mind.

AS I NEARED THE PASSAGEWAY that leads to the courtyard behind my flat, I raised my right arm and twisted it so that my inner elbow knocked on the part of my jacket that holds the inside right pocket. And my wallet was there. Then I reached into my right side trouser pocket to remove my key ring. It was there. The ring holds my front and back door keys and what I think is a key to a post office box in Bermuda. It looks important, even if it is useless. A person cannot have too many keys.

I selected the key to the kitchen, which is marked with a green plastic tag, and adjusted the key in my hand, ready to fit easily in the lock. By then, I was entering the passage. It is always this way. In the winter, I do this by streetlight after three-thirty.

This is a routine. And there are routines within the routine. I take some sort of comfort in it. These are routines that I prefer to feeling compelled to pick up litter from the pavement and gutter. I did that for six months. It is very nearly the opposite of washing your hands repeatedly.

I inserted the already-aligned key into the door's lock, turned it, leaned on the door with my left shoulder and arm and walked inside. As I always do, I headed to the telephone. I pushed the 1571 message retrieval button on the machine. I rarely have messages. Sometimes a slight click and silence and then a hum. A caller not wishing to say much when he rang, perhaps.

I have to choose between continuing through to the front hallway to look for post and going into the WC. I have a weak bladder. Today the WC won out. There is always post scattered below the letterbox. Rarely mine, but my landlord uses my address for his copious correspondence. I do get clothes catalogues, and flyers from LIDL and the people at Cash for Gold. I gathered the envelopes up this evening and returned to the kitchen with them. My landlord's letters go on a pile by the electric kettle. I got some coffee going. As always.

Yes, there is comfort in it.

It is a luxury to be able to sit and write, live, just about whenever I want to. My hours are not just 9 to 5, but 24/7. The stories are right there, wherever there is at the time. Moreover, if I cannot actually type, I can write notes. Scrawl them. And stack them up.

Here I am, and this will be a conversation based on a few notes and whatever else might come along while I sit at the computer. Actually, it is not too different from therapy. Can one get online therapy now? Perhaps when one can pray online as well. One can play Poker over the Internet, and Bingo too, and both are religious sects involving a great deal of prayer and promises.

It is early evening on a Wednesday and I have just been deposited near my flat with a mind full of routines and habits to work through. I have had a day spent being supervised at Day Services by people who will wake me up in time to be returned home. I sit on a sofa in the Centre's main room next to a fellow I call "The Man in a Coma" for reasons you might easily guess. On the other side of me is a man who thinks I am a spy from Eastern Europe. At least the whispers in his head tell him I am a spy. The Bermudian accent, of course. So close to Ukrainian. Every schoolboy knows that.

Why am I at a day-care up to five days a week? My excuse is—I tell people who do not always ask or want to know—I am British and I am growing old. There is more to me than that, but we would be getting into very small fractions and I seem to have lost any aptitude for dealing with numbers.

This evening I am drinking coffee from the "World's Biggest Mug". Actually, it is not the world's biggest. I have another larger one that has "Coffee" on it in several varieties. One is cappuccino. A wonder I could spell cappuccino correctly the first time. It is spelled incorrectly on the sign of a bistro here in Amble. I spotted the error immediately, having been a proof reader in another life, and told the proprietor. She was rattled, but no correction has been made. Well, let us leave it at that.

My desk is such a mess. I have a simple filing system. Upwards. I make stacks of whatever needs to be shifted to make room for my big coffee mug, and build on them until they start to slide or tip over. Then they go on shelves near my desk. Stacked.

I have, now, near the top of one heap on my desk, back issues of Day Services’ “Newsletter". This is a monthly four-page effort. I contribute a story on something related to our activities for each issue. I made the front page this month. My article on a night we spent out at the greyhound races was edited. I had said that I placed a bet on the first race—winning £4.10—and then on the last race, the fifteenth on the card, which lost me a quid. The published version of my submission says that my second bet was on a dog that came in fifteenth. That would be rare bad luck. Of course, only six dogs race at one time. Our newsletter editor needs to get out more, see the track for himself. Smell the dog shit, beer, fags and BO.

There are bills and statements and DVDs piled on my computer's scanner-printer. In addition, two small stacks of telephone message pages and Post-it notes. These are covered in marks that even the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith would tremble at. No Reformed Egyptian, my hand. Just so you know: The squiggles that Smith supposedly copied from his gold plates were not Reformed Egyptian either, never mind what he said.

By the way, I have been missing the Rocky Mountains lately, and many friends living out there, happens a few are still Mormons. At Day Services recently, a member of the group came across something about the Mormons in the newspaper out of Newcastle. And he mentioned aloud that he had no idea who or what Joseph Smith was. A Prophet, I announced in the style of an angel. In saying it, I appreciated that Smith was a Prophet to those who believed in 1830. Still is to the members who heed their leaders’ orders to stay clear of anything that might show the Church in a bad light. If the truth makes the Saints look bad, then ignore it. We all have prophets, leaders and visions when you think about it. You can find them in the London Underground and online. Why not?

For three weeks now, I have been taking a break from writing. (Except for the article on my gambling income. £4.10 is about $8.00, so I am not stacking banknotes on my desk.)

No creative writing at all, just the scribbles I fit on Post-it Notes and on the backs of old envelopes. Things to write about one day. Or one evening with music playing. I must have music when I write, played loudly. This evening I fiddled about in my computer's music library—I have some ten thousand tracks—and decided to go with the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré.

Looking through some papers here, trying not to spill the coffee, I see that I had thought to write about the Creation, the Big Bang, the Pop of the Cork and the Earliest Ejaculation. It seemed like a good idea when I wrote that Post-it. I actually write on the backs of Post-its as well, which seems sensible because I think the people at Post-it really want you to just use the front side, then move on to another page. Use up their product in half the time; buy a pad twice as often. Bad for Global Warming. I go round to the back. The Green Man.

On the two sides of the small yellow square I have noted untidily that I should look up a definition of chaos, to see if that came before, during or after the Creation. Well, you take your religion, you make your choice. Therefore, I scribbled around that note "The Rock Room" which does mean something to me, even with my decrepit brain. Let us tease it out.

In St. George, Utah, in the grounds of a Mormon Temple, a visitors' centre has been built which gives those without the all-important pass, a ticket to "The House of The Lord", some indication of what might be going on inside the sacred/secret Temple. One room in the visitors' centre has paintings, models and films of all sorts of cosmic places and things on every surface, including top and bottom, and very loud and booming noises. God might be playing pinball and ringing up the points. God has crazy flipper fingers. The first time I was struck suddenly deaf for a doubter. The room is nicknamed "The Rock Room" and aptly so. I would like to have heard Jimi Hendrix's "Third Rock from the Sun" playing on their hi-fi. Alternatively, darker, for the Prophet: “Hey, Joe. Where you going with that gun in your hand?” God?

If you are in St. George, Utah, go looking for the Rock Room. It really is worth a visit. Five minutes into the Creation should be plenty at the speed of light. You may find one of the more remarkable facts of life is that things repeat, follow shapes, sizes, and laws of physics and nature, and yet are always new somehow. Very big. Very small. All alike. A scientist always anticipates another particle, yet unseen, yet unfelt. Somehow, all those rocks flying about make sense; you believe it without thinking much on it. Fling a fistful of Utah's red dust in the air. The Rock Room. A fistful of star stuff. It is so real that it is very nearly knowing all without knowing. That is a good place to reach until you learn to exceed the speed of light.

Then walk outside, perhaps a little deaf from the Big Bang, and look at the trees in the Temple grounds. Look at the trees and that extraordinary and peculiar Temple building. What curious things we create. Who was Joseph Smith? Indeed!

Yes, things repeat. In Bermuda, I lived about ten miles from an old town called St. George's. In southern Utah, I lived about twenty miles from a fast-growing town called St. George. These few summer days in Amble-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, I wear a baseball cap with "St. George's" on it. I bought it in Bermuda, actually. However, here it sometimes gets a raised eyebrow. There is a large psychiatric institution about fifteen miles away. St. George's Hospital. I am smiling.

Broadcasting live from Amble-by-the-Sea. As I sit here, my neighbours upstairs are having one hell of a row. Usually she says little while he thumps and screams from room to room. This evening she is howling back, using language that would embarrass a sailor.

It interests me that my neighbour's screams are quite deep for a woman. I must do the research. Must women scream in a high-pitched voice? Find an illustration.

Out of the blue, I am picturing Gertrude Stein arguing with Alice B. Toklas while hanging some pictures. You just know, without being there, that Alice is shrill and Gertrude booms like a God in a Rock Room. Gertrude is holding a portrait of herself by Picasso.

"I'm tired of that one, Gertrude. You look so severe. Let's have the Matisse in here for a spell."
"But Pablo might stop by, Alice. There is no sin worse than ungratefulness. The damn thing might be worth something one day."
"If Picasso does come round, let's ask him to paint some cows."
"And Henri goes out on the porch."

All is quiet overhead. Through my kitchen window, I see the woman from upstairs has just walked outside into the courtyard holding a bottle of wine and a single glass. That says a good deal. Perhaps she clocked her partner with it before coming down.

A few more notes on the subject of Creation under my spectacles case. I recently read something about the latest ideas on the subject: Where did we come from? And there is a little we can study first hand. Red dust from St. George or a universe full of Voyagers’ Ways.

Did you know that many, most actually, dinosaurs in museums have been reconstructed from very small fossil fragments? A chipped tooth and a slipped disc and you have a "Nuoerosaurus Chaganensis" as large as life, even its diet, disposition and complexion described. Would you prefer to just look at the bits, in a tattered shoebox, or to wonder about and over the greater skeleton that holds them up, knowing there may be major flaws in that framework as reinvented by 2000 Man? Tough choice. What sells tickets and stuffed toys in the museum gift shop? The resurrected beast booming at its prey, the neighbours, family and friends. They think. Did you see the movies too? The puddles rippled. How do we know that? Laws of physics.

My flat is next to a small Roman Catholic chapel with a large freestanding Christ on the Cross in its garden. Very nearly life-size. You can walk behind it, have a look at the curve in Jesus' back, twisted in pain, and get a feel for His shoulder blades and the stress in His neck, bent forward as it is. Most people do not get to see past the front. In fact, they do not seem interested in going around the body.

The Mormons again—they should be giving me indulgences for the publicity—must be mentioned again. In a very large visitors' centre in Temple Square in Salt Lake City there is a copy of Thorvaldsen Bertel's statue of the Christus. The Maker stands, arms outstretched, below the vault of Heaven. You can walk up and down behind Him. In this room, the only sounds are whispers, hundreds of them. “See, the signs of the nails in his hands.”

Thirty-five years in therapy and I wonder if existential psychotherapy just creates a man who is only interested in being—finding—himself, and gaining the acceptance and management of his most immediate personal experiences. Dinosaurs' complete lives from Post-it notes in shoeboxes. Can people see my back? Will they bother when I am whole?

If it is a luxury to sit and write about life as it all comes to mind, observed through a quarent, a door in time, or seen through a kitchen window—my neighbour has returned to her flat, taking her bottle and glass—it is a luxury to stop writing when you want to. If you have that much control. The Midas touch. Can therapy fix that?

I still have a few lines to work through, jotted down days ago on the back of my Centre Newsletter. These are for me, I suppose.

Listen: When I was eleven years old, I won a school prize, at Warwick Academy, for mathematics. The only prize I ever won there. Of course, it was for simple arithmetic. I had not yet cracked open the blue algebra and red geometry textbooks. The next year we had those. Our arithmetic included working in pounds, shillings and pence. In addition, and deduction, parts of those pence. The price of one small bag of gobstoppers could take an hour to calculate.

Came an orange biology book. I can still recall the name of that particular text. Brocklehurst & Ward. The reproductive organs, just line drawings, shown three-quarters of the way through it, were those of rabbits. Why rabbits? I wonder. We did not have human health science. Ever. We eventually killed and dissected a rabbit in my last year at Warwick Academy. I was in therapy five years later.

Mrs Lorna Harriott read us wonderful books that always required that we reach up to grasp their meanings. I was that underdeveloped that I did not then wonder if she had been named for Lorna Doone. She read that to us when we were about thirteen. Her readings were spirited, fascinating, and most desirable. She did drink spirits, though I did not recognise it then.

Senior School French came from a green book and the fleshy lips of Monsieur Ron. Monsieur Ron was le mâitre, and we were les élèves, and he had to leave the staff of l'école he had just joined before the year was out. Le nervous breakdown.

We did in one of our mathematics teachers a year or so later. One day she told us all to rest our heads down on our arms folded on our desktops. Close your eyes. Calm down. This would have been better advice for herself at that moment. It was an afternoon and we were wearing our summer uniforms. Khaki shorts and brown knee socks. She slipped out of the classroom, it was Lower 4. Nobody saw her leave. It was the only time we ever did what she asked of us. Living is easy with eyes closed. We never saw her again.

As I walked along the High Street and through the passageway to my flat's door this evening, I recreated an image from one of Virginia Woolf's novels. Live people turning into so many small piles of grey ashes—right there on the pavements: men, women and children—with bits of gold residue from wedding rings, earrings and the dental fillings of the older of us sparkling in the dust.

Thumping my jacket—my wallet was there—and fishing out my house keys, I wondered if it is the ashes that we come with, or the gold we adorn ourselves with, that really matters at the end of the day.

Reprise: Why do I do this? Check and check again. My excuse is—I tell people who do not always ask or want to know—I am British and I am getting on. There is more to me than that, but we would be getting into very small fractions and I seem to have lost any aptitude for dealing with numbers.

10 September 2007 / 3 May 2010