We didn’t mean to go to sea, and now it doesn’t matter anyway. Nothing seems to matter anymore. I remember being young and looking forward into the world with more of an open perspective, I had options, I didn’t know what they were, before the internet life was so different, it was much harder to find out things. You had to go to libraries and ask angry tight-lipped librarians who peered at you over the top of their incongruouslyflamboyant glasses. The librarians would act as if you had no right to be in the library, let alone to exist, if you were lucky they would grudginglylook in some archaic catalogue and then point ambiguously in the general direction of the book you had requested before turning abruptly to their next customer and giving them the frosty glare.
Then you had to look for the dusty old books and when you found them, leaf through their musty pages until you found something of interest. Only a slight exaggeration, my local library was a bit more friendly than that, but I remember the central library in Oxford being exactly like that. I wonder now if some of the frostiness of the librarians was down to my somewhat malodorously eccentric appearance in my teens. I got most of my clothes from charity shops or jumble sales. The charity shops of my youth were nothing like they are today, they were a treasure trove of clothes crammed on rails squeezed in small rooms, and you had to push your way through each bulging section and fight your way to the counter where you paid your fifty pence and came out with a bagful.
I remember the jumble sale near my house, I walked there with my friend and we were greeted by a troop of feisty grannies who elbowed their way to the table tops, keeping others from looking at the clothes with their bony protuberances and their fearsome stares. The in vogue method was to fight your way to the front, scoop up an armful of clothes, and retreat to a safe space to peruse said clothes before going in for a second round.
Clothes don’t matter now; nobody cares how I look. It has been freeing. I thought I cared about my appearance, but it turns out that mostly I cared what I thought other people thought, and now there are no other people, I can please myself. Now I care about finding ways to divert my mind from the abyss of doom. Doom looms at me on a daily basis. It beckons and calls to me, willing me to go with it through the dark doors of despair. Daily I do battle with the numbness of boredom.
What’s the point? The point is that things change, life is change. How do you know it will change for the better, doom argues? Well I don’t, but I hold tight to the change which I know is coming. They say a change is as good as a holiday.
As long as it is not like the holiday that Withnail and I went on it should be ok.
What will the change look like? anxiety steps in to help. But anxiety is not helpful. I push anxiety away, better still I throw it overboard and turn my eyes up to the sky, I look to the horizon. The horizon is a line. There is the sky and there is the sea, and there is the line in between. It’s all grey, anxiety starts to climb back onto the deck and I kick it back into the water.
I am going round and round in my mind. There is a kind of refusal to do anything going on inside me, hopelessness is running the show. Correction: Hopelessness is ruining the show. There is no show, there is just me on the deck or below deck, sulking. If there were a show, what would it be? My children have put on plenty of shows since we were at sea, there is a daily show, often it is the same show as the day before, but we all pretend we have never seen it before, and each time it is slightly different. It’s a bit like getting up in the morning, none of us can remember what day of the week it is and really it makes absolutely no difference anyway. A Monday is very much like a Tuesday, there is nothing distinct between them except the night.
If someone was to ask me what I had done while I was away I suppose my answer could be that I avoided going completely mad, slightly mad perhaps, but still in touch with reality, whatever that is supposed to be. What is reality anyway? At the moment it seems to be things that are solid are real, and of course liquids too, hmmmm, stuff you can touch, or hear, or smell come to think of it. Ok then stuff I can sense. But now I’m getting into dangerous water, no pun intended.
I can sense all sorts of things, things that aren’t necessarily there. I had a very strange experience when I was in my late teens, I met some witches in a dried-up riverbed somewhere within Avebury stone circle. My friend and I ended up running away from them in the early hours of the morning, we feared for our lives, our minds were somewhat altered. We sat facing each other for a while in a row of corn, the corn stretched out behind my friend’s head like a bizarre furry tunnel. Then we ran up Silbury hill and slept.
The next morning I leant my back against a stone in the main circle at Avebury, I was having a conversation inside my head with the main witch dude from the night before in the dried up riverbed, it felt a bit like an internal monologue. Hang on I hear you say, men can’t be witches, just like women can’t be wizards, according to the Unseen University on the Discworld. Ho hum, Terry Pratchett, you see reality and fiction mix nicely.
Or perhaps you say ‘having a conversation in your head?’ I know I know, but seriously let’s not nit-pick about reality. I was altered; I had probably been awake for a few days at this stage. Are these the “drug sodden ramblings of a misspent youth”? No, they are not actually, I just always wanted to use that quote somewhere and the sad fact is that I can’t actually remember where I heard it; it was so long ago.
Back to the story, I was talking in my head to the witch, his name was Jonathan Flowers, (of course it was) and he was, amongst other things, asking me to tell him where I was sitting, I didn’t see any real harm in this so I described the stone that I was sitting beneath. For a while we carried on chatting about birds and stars and stuff that witches like to talk about, and then he appeared in real life in front of me, he just walked up to me and carried on the conversation we were having, only this time his words were coming to my mind via my ears.
Strange, I thought, I interrupted him to ask him what he was doing there and he said to me that surely I knew, and then said I had just told him where I was and that we had been talking for a while. I was of course intrigued and being a pretty naïve seventeen-year-old I ignored my alarm bells that were probably about as loud as Big Ben at that point. My friend and I were to leave that day, so I gave him an address where I had been staying so he could write to me, yes those were the days, when you couldn’t actually find someone without a pen and a bit of paper with their address or land line number scrawled in illegible hand writing on it. You had to be pretty determined not to lose it to stay in touch with random northern witches that you met in dried up riverbeds, or so I thought.
Later on that year I was lying in bed in someone’s room in a shared house in Oxford randomly having a conversation with the witch dude in my head again (as you do), and this time he told me he was going to visit me, and asked me to show him the way to the house, I took his hand and led him there from the city centre. A few days later someone in the house said to me a man had come to the door and asked for me, his name was Jonathan Flowers, but as I was out they didn’t let him in and to my shock and partial horror he came back a few days later.
Strange things do happen, that story just became stranger and stranger, and didn’t end particularly well, but perhaps I will write about that later. The point is that it opened up a whole chasm of reality to me that is not supposed to exist, there were probably multiple explanations for what had actually happened and how had he found me both times, but none of them were satisfactorily real, or particularly sensible. It was official, my sense of reality was questioned and remained for many years flailing in the wind. I’ll not go mad out here, it can’t possibly become anywhere as weird as my life did back then, it’s a challenge, and I have to find a sensible way to face it, or not.
Library photo by j zamora on Unsplash Avebury photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash