Bits & Bobs – 1

A Compilation of Musings and Notes Forever Increasing and With Nowhere Else To Go….

“CATERWAULING PAYS”

Okay, so I’m bored. Here I am on the first day of a four day break from work with nothing to do, except play around on the computer. But, I’ve been playing around on the computer all day, and there’s not a lot left to do with it.

I think I’m losing my imagination. Once, I would be able to conjure up some sort of story, but now my mind seems stuck, like one of those plastic kiddy’s windmills that gets caught up on its own stick. You know, it spins momentarily but always ends up with one blade on the wrong side of the pole and then stops with a jerk.

My earliest recollection of plastic windmills was when I was about three years old. My mother was dragging me around the shops, in a hurry to get back home before the pie in the oven burnt to a crisp, when I spotted a whole bunch of them near the doorway, their sticks stuck in a large, transparent container.

Of course, I wanted one – badly. Unfortunately, my mother was the sort who believed denial was good for a child, and dragged me away into the sewing and knitting section without delay. I wasn’t prepared to give up that easily, though, and set up a right caterwauling that turned heads throughout the shop. That resulted in a hard slap across the bare legs and a demand to “Stop it at once or you’ll get another – even harder!”

Needless to say, it only made me worse as the crocodile tears turned to genuine ones. Eventually the shop keeper, who was a friend of my mother’s, came over with a bright, red plastic, windmill on a stick and thrust it into my grubby hand, saying to my mother, “Here, let me give him this to make him better.”

Mother wasn’t too pleased, but could hardly say no, and it did the trick because I shut up at once and went running round the shop vainly trying to create enough draft to make it turn.

Throwing a tantrum always seemed to work out well for me. I remember visiting the dentist one day in November, just before Guy Fawkes Night. My mother was a stickler for dentist visits. Every six months, without fail, I was dragged along to old Mister Doubt’s surgery on Hawthorn Road. He was a horrible man who disliked kids intensely, or so it seemed to me.

When I was six, Dentist Doubt decided my mouth was too overcrowded and four teeth had to come out to make room for my adult teeth. Saturday morning was ‘gas’ day. That was the day the nurse was in attendance and kids were gassed while the extractions took place.

Needless to say, we all hated the idea of the gas. On this particular Saturday morning, the waiting room was chock-a-block with kids waiting to be gassed. They all sat, pale-faced and terrified, motionless and silent, hanging on to their mothers’ hands.

Not me. I screamed the place down and kept trying to dash out the door. My mother spent all her time wrestling me into submission, while I fought to escape her clutches and make a run for it.

Eventually, the waiting room was almost empty and there was only my mother and me, and one other kid with his father. By this time, I was worn out and sulking. Then, the door opened and the receptionist woman called the other kid’s name.

As they were leaving, the other kid’s father smiled at me, then reached into his pocket and drew out a shiny shilling piece. He reached over and placed it in my hand.

“Here,” he said, “You buy some fireworks with that.”

Later, when the dirty deed was done and I was home again minus four teeth, I heard my mother saying to my father, “Honestly, the other kids all sat so good and quiet, yet got nothing. He behaved like he was about to be murdered, and was given a shilling!”

Come to think of it, half a century later, and I’ve still got four gaps where those teeth were pulled.

“THE VEXED QUESTION OF BEING……”

A few weeks ago, an anonymous emailer wrote querying (I think, rather sarcastically) “what I am.” From my writing (he or she said) it’s obvious I’m neither a Christian, nor a Muslim; a Buddhist or a Hindu, and I’d previously stated I was no atheist – so where did this leave me?

It would be easy to say I was ‘this’, or I was ‘that’, but unfortunately my life is never so simple. I don’t believe anyone else’s is either, if the truth be known.

Pigeon-holing has never appealed to me in any facet of life. I’ve shied away from fashion; deliberately neglected to visit cinemas screening the most popular films. I find much television a waste of precious time; hate the very idea of golf, or any other sport that involves competition, and am decidedly anti-social, refusing all invitations to barbecues, parties, or similar collectives of the human species.

I do believe my brief jaunt through this particular lifetime is part of a longer journey home, and that the road I’ve chosen is one of an infinite number, all leading to the same place by various tortuous, or otherwise, paths.

To call that path Christian or Buddhist or Wiccan is simplistic, and evades the truth. We probably all, at some stage of our spiritual journey, take shelter among one, or all, of the so-called ‘traditional religions’, – maybe for most of one lifetime, or perhaps for just a part – but to proclaim ourselves ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’ is to self-deceive, and when we do that – try to kid ourselves – we just tend to go around in circles until our Higher Self decides it is necessary to prod us out of our self-created maze and back onto a path that actually leads somewhere.

Organized religion is like a care home for battered souls, a great place to rest and recuperate, but not to linger in too long. It is because of this that so many emotionally strained individuals are sucked into the religious net. Unfortunately, the hierarchy of clerics, who claim they have the power to speak for their deity, will do their damnedest to dissuade rested souls from leaving again.

Of course, like everything physical and spiritual, religion evolves, too. The “non-hierarchical” – Wicca or Paganism, Buddhism, Taoism – are more evolved forms of traditional religion than Christianity, Islam or Judaism.

My own spiritual journey has touched on many such traditions and I, just like everyone else, have learned much from them.

But none of this really answers the question of what I am.

In one room of my house I have a small altar. It serves no deity and was never made for worship, but is utilized as a focus for meditation and spiritual contemplation. Apart from an oddly-matched pair of brass candlesticks and an incense holder, there are five other objects displayed there. Perhaps, if I explain what they are and why they are there, it may help to at least partially reveal what I am about.

The first object is a piece of sculpture by a little-known British artist, Neil J. Rose. It is of a mountain lion metamorphosing from a dead tree trunk, and to me at least, symbolizes the evolution of consciousness.

The second object is a small statuette of a goddess. She is one of the many goddesses of Spring and is anonymous, so I call her, Mia – for no other reason than because I thought it suited her. For me, Mia symbolizes Mother Earth who gives me physical life; whose rhythms strengthen me, and whose bewildering array of beauty has always tantalized and enchanted me.

The other three items on my altar form a more personal relationship with me. The first is a simple, short, prayer ornately decorated and printed on a piece of paper sealed in a transparent plastic cover. It is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi and is the prayer that ends every meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (at least, in Britain) and its partner organization, Al-Anon. It reminds me of the drunks I knew and grew to love during my years at Al-Anon, an organization for the families and friends of alcoholics. Some of those drunks are not around today. This prayer helps me remember them, and the suffering they and their families endured. Alcoholism is, indeed, “The Family Disease.”

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The second of my ‘personal’ objects is actually a group of four white stones, molded smooth by four million years beneath the ocean. I took them from a beach at Barmouth, in the region of mid-Wales, UK, when I knew that I would be leaving to live in the United States. That part of Wales was my spiritual resting-place, and the Barmouth Estuary one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As well as reminding me of where I came from, these stones symbolize the deep places on our planet where man can never go, and which hold mysteries we may never discover. In the intense heat of an Illinois summer, the stones are always ice-cold to the touch, and remain so however long they are held in the hand.

The last object on my altar is the most precious of all, and yet nothing more than a humble pigeon feather. I had lived for some years in an old stone cottage, originally built in 1812 as a chapel for the Welsh hamlet of Melin-y-Ddol, but closed and later converted when a larger church was built in the nearby town. I lived there alone. At night, as I lay in bed, I would hear an occasional, muffled cough; the quiet scuffle of shoes against a wooden pew; a child’s stifled giggle before shushed by authoritarian parents. The old chapel had never truly closed, it’s presence – and that of its congregation – very much alive in the stillness of a Welsh night. It was a place of peace and serenity. Nowhere, before or since, have I known such spiritual love and support as at Capel-y-Ddol, the ‘Chapel in the Meadow’.

But, however comfortable the road, before long life presents a junction – and for me the crossroads was America. Should I stay at my chapel in the meadow, or should I fly across the ocean?

A narrow, twisty lane led up to a stile and into Goat’s Field Woods that rose from the rapid, turbulent, Banwy River in the valley down below. It was a walk I took often and knew well. The path led down to a clearing of standing stones – good friends – and on to the river, before winding back in a steep climb through pine trees to the lane, and then back home. A round trip of about three miles, and great exercise with those gradients. I began the walk in turmoil that day. My mind tortured with the decision I desperately needed to make. Unable to decide, I consulted my friends the standing stones, then turned the whole matter over to my Higher Self. Confident I would receive help I asked for an indication before I left the woods that day, and continued my walk. It was a wonderful afternoon, still and quiet in the woods. No wind stirred the mighty fir-trees. My walk was almost over and I was returning to the stile feeling slightly foolish that I had expected such assistance, when I was disturbed by a sudden rustling high above. Squinting against the sun, I peered up at the topmost branches of a hundred foot pine.

“It’s just a pigeon,” I thought, watching the bird wing out into clear air.

I stood a moment till it was gone from sight, and was about to walk on, when from the corner of one eye I spotted a movement in the stillness. It was a good twenty feet above the ground, falling slowly perhaps six feet away from me, and spinning slightly as it did so. Mesmerized, I could only watch as the pigeon’s feather changed direction, veered in towards me, and landed – right between my boots. A flight feather! My decision had been made. I booked my ticket the very next day.

The feather still rests on my altar. It’s now nearly six years since it landed at my feet. It is my most cherished possession.

I am neither Christian nor Muslim, Jew or Hindu. I am not Wiccan or even Huna. Yet all of those are a part of RJ Adams, just as are the standing stones in the Goat Field Woods, the chapel of Capel-y-Ddol, and the Welsh pigeon that kindly left its feather at my feet.

You see, I cannot answer the question “What am I?” in one word, or even a few sentences.

However, ask what I am not, and you will find me much more emphatic.

“WRITER’S BLOCK”

I’m confused.

According to the ‘experts’, who are supposed to know about these things, ‘writer’s block’ doesn’t exist. It’s just an excuse for a lack of self-discipline. They say if one sits down at the keyboard, punching away at whatever comes to mind, eventually something worthwhile will appear on the page.

I’m not sure I agree with that. After all, that’s just what I’m doing now. But, is it worthwhile?

Having completed one novel this year, and close to finishing another, I’m keen to plan a third; at least get some thoughts down on paper. But try as I might, the ideas remain seductively closeted in the far recesses of my mind, stubbornly refusing to vacate the shadows and venture forth into the sunlight of inspiration.

So, I look for reasons not to write, for what is the point if I have nothing to say? Sure, I owe Uncle George from England a letter, and I have outstanding emails clamoring to be answered, but that’s not what real writing is about. Is it?

Uncle George was never ‘into’ computers. I wish he was. Somehow, it’s so much easier just to type a few lines and click on: ‘send’, rather than laboriously print-out, search for an envelope, remember the address, – “What the deuce was his zip code?” – then realize the last airmail stamp was used three months ago to post that pension return to the British Inland Revenue, who really ought to have amended their records by now, but still insist I live at 66, Waterworks Road, South London, despite my being a U.S. permanent resident for the last two years.

Uncle George was always considered a bit peculiar by other members of the family. Of course, they were all very stuck up and traditional – church every Sunday morning and don’t use the front parlor except on special occasions – you know the sort.

Uncle George would have nothing to do with them. He always insisted he only went to church once, to be christened at the age of three months, and that was only because he had no choice in the matter.

Not that he was an atheist or anything. He just despised clergymen. All clergymen. And the higher up the official ladder, the more he despised them. You soon learned not to mention the Archbishop of Canterbury when Uncle George was around, unless that is, you wanted a right ear-bashing.

The relatives all said it was being a bachelor that sent him peculiar. Aunt Bessie – she’s my mother’s eldest sister, who wore her hair pulled back in a bun, so tight my father used to say it was the only thing that stopped her teeth falling out – said it was no wonder he never married, as no decent woman would be able to stand him for longer than five minutes at a time. But then, not six months after she married my Uncle Percival he ran off and joined a bunch of mercenaries fighting somewhere in Africa and was never heard from again, so perhaps she wasn’t the one to talk.

Of course, when Uncle George sold his house and moved onto a canal boat, that really set their tongues clacking. It probably wasn’t one of his better ideas, given that he was seventy-six, with a gammy leg and one eye that could only discern a brick wall from two feet away in bright sunlight. His other eye was alright though, and Uncle George reckoned he could see as well with one and a bit eyes, as others could with two. Even when he fell off the gangplank and into the canal for the fourth time, all within three weeks of moving onto the boat, he was still insisting his sight was impeccable as the two burly men from the social services department were carrying him up the canal bank to the waiting ambulance.

Not that he’d hurt himself, you understand. It was the relatives again; interfering, as always.

Aunt Bessie worked for the social services before she retired, and still knew a few people in the department. Nothing embarrassed the family more than Uncle George living on the canal, and I once overheard Aunt Bessie telling my mother that, ‘…it reduced us all to the level of gypsies and tinkers.’ Consequently, when the local police rang to say Uncle George had been hauled from the canal for the second time in a week, Aunt Bessie went searching for her ‘professional contacts’.

That was all ten years ago now. At the time, I didn’t think Uncle George would survive long after being forcibly removed to the nursing home. He was always so independent; hated the idea of being penned against his will. He always said he’d die in his own home, and if he couldn’t do that he’d jump off a cliff, or into the nearest river, rather than fade ignominiously away in a hospital bed.

In the end he did none of those things. Instead, he married the woman who owned the nursing home. That was one in the eye for the family, especially when he started taking the other inmates for trips on his canal boat.

The relatives never mention Uncle George now. Aunt Bessie still hasn’t forgiven her ‘contact’ for recommending that particular nursing home, though my father once hinted it was only envy, because the woman Uncle George married was very wealthy, and Uncle George once let slip that, after their deaths, all the money was willed to the RSPCA, and the family would see none of it.

Still, I always got on well with him, and just so long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters.

Perhaps I will write the old boy a few lines. After all, sitting here staring at a blank page isn’t very productive. I think I’ve proved the so-called ‘experts’ wrong.

Huh! No such thing as ‘writer’s block’. Blah!

Now, what the deuce was his zip code?

All items © Copyright R J Adams 2007

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