The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced
The Beat Generation
It was the period of Mods and Rockers and the Beat generation, and I was one of the first in town to wear stove-pipe trousers with no turn-ups. I was reading the books of Jack Kerouac and of the exploits of larger-than-life characters based on Kerouac and his Beat companions, books such as “On the Road”, “The Dharma Bums” and “Big Sur”. Kerouac's philosophy was inspired by his experiences of awakening to a new consciousness, as the following piece of writing illustrates:
“I have lots of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet, concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree in North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don't worry. It's all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don't know it because of our thinking-minds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect. We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere: Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes into everything is one thing. It's a dream already ended. There's nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about. I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence of mind, the vast awakener-hood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because it was never born.”
I was always aware of my own golden eternity as being the well-spring of my life, the life where the self is only an idea conjured up by thought. The space into which we are born has no beginning and no end and it is useless to question its existence because there is no reason for its existence and no necessity for one. There is no good and bad, better or worse – these are relative concepts, and without our presence everything is equal, without inherent purpose or meaning. Yet we always struggle to make sense of a world which is mysterious, irrational and inexplicable. The mind falsely divides reality into subject and object, self and others, existence and non-existence, birth and death. This apparent reality, which is all that we are aware of ordinarily, stems from ignorance or illusion. For me, these ideas were nothing to do with philosophy, an intellectual pursuit, but more to do with everyday life and reality, the way things are, and not as we imagine them to be. The influences which interested me and touched me fundamentally were more a recognition of what I already felt in my innermost being.
I learned to play the guitar and became interested in folk music. I joined my friends in town and we passed the time putting pennies in the juke box, listening to music and sitting on the harbour wall watching the pretty girls accompanied by their parents who arrived at the seaside for their annual holiday. The skill lay in attempting to separate them from their doting parents. These meetings and romantic encounters led to my being invited to places as far afield as Dorset, Kent and Derbyshire to be entertained as the current boyfriend. I vividly remember sitting in a cinema in Belper but I forget the name of the film and in any case my interests lay elsewhere, and I am fairly sure that I wasn't really concentrating on it. I also remember playing croquet on a lawn in Branksome Park in Poole in later years and being taken out with my girlfriend to an Indian restaurant by a fearsome Welsh banker father.
In 1957 a new television set arrived at our house which put paid to a lot of extra studying for my A-level examinations. Finally, after taking my A-level examinations, I left the Grammar school, which by now had transferred to Churston Ferrers, and went to Trinity College Carmarthen in West Wales to do my teacher training. While I was there I learned the Welsh language and taught it on teaching practice. I became friendly with Welsh-speaking students and took part in the current campaign to save the language from further decline. A great advocate of preserving the language was Norah Isaac who taught Welsh at the college. The principal at that time was Canon Halliwell. At the time, a book by Islwyn Ffowc Elis had been published named “Wythnos Yn Ghymru Fydd” - a week in future Wales – warning of the dire effect of allowing Wales to become a mere region of the English state. I had avoided being called up to do National Service in the army by just three months, and this to me was a relief as I did not have to do what I did not want to do. Even in those early days my instincts were opposed to military service and I had no quarrel with anyone. A friend, Peter Greenham, who later became a potter, had not been so lucky and told me that he had spent most of his time in Cyprus painting fire buckets red.
Some of my friends at college in Carmarthen were translating English pop songs into Welsh and with my limited knowledge of the language I managed to translate the song “Sea of Love”. I also joined them in the campaign to get Hywel Heilin Roberts to be elected as a candidate for Plaid Cymru in Carmarthen. On one occasion I travelled around the county in a van to distribute copies of “Y Ddraig Goch” news magazine in the villages. This van was used to contain radio transmitting equipment for Plaid Cymru to broadcast on the television wavelength after 11 o'clock at night, which was illegal. On the journey back to Carmarthen the van was stopped and a policeman shone a torch into the van to check whether or not this equipment was on board but on this occasion the van was not carrying anything apart from newspapers and we were allowed to continue. I met Gwynfor Evans, the popular and respected president of Plaid Cymru. His vision was for Wales to be free and independent and become a sovereign member of the United Nations. Later Plaid Cymru was able to gather more support until it formed a part of the new Welsh Assembly as the second largest party in Wales.
I was invited by one of my student friends to spend the holidays in St David's and met an attractive Welsh girl there. Her name was Lowri and she was a daughter of the manse. The skies were grey and the winds were cold but I walked around the area, visiting the cathedral, where I was told that Oliver Cromwell had stabled his horses at the altar, and the lonely chapels of the saints who spread Celtic Christianity long before the Catholic bishops imposed their authority and a more dogmatic and ritualistic interpretation of these early Christian teachings. In Carmarthen there existed in my student days an ancient tree stump named “Merlin's Oak” and the legend was that Carmarthen would be flooded if ever it was removed. As it was a traffic hazard the Council began to discuss its removal and the river Tywi overflowed its banks. Carmarthen suffered its worst floods for fifty years.
I eventually obtained my Teaching Certificate, passing my main subject, History, with distinction. After finishing college I applied for a teaching post in Wellington, Shropshire along with the friend from college and we shared a flat together. It was the era of bubble cars, made by Heinkel, Mitsubishi and Isetta and I bought an example of the latter model in pastel blue. Later I bought a Volkswagen Beetle, and met an attractive librarian aged 17 at a Folk and Jazz club meeting. Her father managed a sugar beet factory. I began visiting her parents' house frequently and met with their approval. This occurred during the terribly icy cold winter of 1963 when everything froze solid and snow lay deep on the ground, and during the depths of winter I remember her parents going away for the weekend while my girlfriend stayed in the house alone, but not for long as she thoughtfully let me have a key to the door. Later in the day I took her out in the car, in hazardous conditions, and we made love in the snow.
During this severe weather I was required to attend a conference of teachers at Attingham Park organised by Sir George Trevelyan. I drove my car through the imposing iron gates and as I ventured up the drive to the Hall the way was blocked by a huge snowdrift. Despite the conditions I ploughed on as best I could but then was forced to abandon my vehicle in the middle of the drive and seek refuge in the house where Sir George had lit a blazing fire. It was three days before I could retrieve the car. In many ways this long cold winter was an experience of skating on thin ice, literally and metaphorically, but spring eventually made an appearance and normality returned.
New Age Messiahs
Sir George Lowthian Trevelyan, 12th Baronet, was an educational pioneer and a founder of the New Age movement. He was a striking figure, tall and lanky with long silver hair and a moustache. The late Sixties heralded the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and a new awareness affecting society in many ways. After listening to a lecture by Dr Walter Stein (of whom I will mention in a later chapter), a student of Rudolf Steiner, he turned away from being an agnostic to spiritual thinker of the New Age and then studied the anthroposophy of Steiner. He taught history at Gordonstoun School in Scotland, pioneering radical methods of education.
After the end of the war he became the Warden at Attingham Park which was a pioneering college of education. In 1971 he retired to found the Wrekin Trust, an educational charity. Later he became involved with the Soil Association, the Findhorn Foundation established by Peter and Eileen Caddy, the Teilhard de Chardin Society and the Essene Network. He conducted meetings and gave lectures, and wrote numerous books on spiritual themes. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1982 and passed away in 1996.
Another inspirational figure at this time was Father Andrew Glazewski, a Polish former Jesuit priest and physicist who gave a lecture which I attended. He also wore his hair long and remarked that it picked up the vibrations which infuse all matter. He investigated inner resonance as he called it, and the musical sounds produced in nature, different forms of nature vibrating at their own position in the musical octaves. He spoke about angels and gave an account of his drive around town looking for a parking space knowing that his angel was helping him always and caring for his welfare. Sure enough, he soon found the only space available. At the end of his talk he said, “Now I am going to give you an experience....” He lowered his head and concentrated his mind and the audience felt a warm wave of love sweep over the room. “You felt that, didn't you?” he said.
Soon afterwards I left my teaching job in Wellington as my librarian girlfriend was accepted for a place at Nottingham University and her family moved to Norfolk, where her father was appointed as manager of another sugar beet factory. I moved to a new job at a junior school in Nottingham, where the headmaster advised new teachers to “start as you mean to go on!” and played Vivaldi's Four Seasons and other classical pieces at assembly time. I found lodgings in Hucknall Road with a Belgian lady and soon settled in to my new situation. I visited my girlfriend at the university but quickly realised that the relationship with her was over. I took my guitar into the pubs and played there. I happened to be in the Black Horse pub and there I got to know a rising star in the world of journalism, Alan Gosling, and we had some interesting discussions. I recall that he described me as a contemplative.
Nottingham suffered from dense fogs caused by industrial pollution and on one occasion the school closed early on account of an exceptionally thick fog. As I drove home I could barely see the rear lights of the car in front of me. On negotiating the roundabout I found that cars were going around it in the wrong direction and I groped my way apprehensively to my lodgings. I was still playing my guitar and joined the Co-operative Folk Workshop where I sang and played folk music and there I met my first wife. She was of Irish descent and had red hair and green eyes. She inspired my first poem. It was said that all the most beautiful girls came from Nottingham and she was no exception. When I met her I had a strong feeling that my future life was mapped out before me and that nothing would be the same again. Meeting her opened up a new phase in my life.
Gaelic Love 1964
Into my life has stepped the beauty of Erin.
Red her hair is – sun-burnished
by the sun of the western sea;
and green her eyes are, languid lakes of Mayo,
they haunt me;
sweet the soft lips as honey from the bee.
The nectar of her kiss to me is wine.
Into my life has streamed love.
The spirit of Ireland moves me
as I see her,
knowing in my heart that she's for me,
and I am ready.
The time is ripe -
the radiance of the sun has warmed the earth,
and love will flourish as the mountain pine.
The spirit of Ireland has awakened my soul,
calling me on ............
I cannot linger.