It was my sister Caitlin who initially encouraged me to write, on the grounds that she found my letters from Africa entertaining.
I had no idea if I could do it or not, but a couple of years later I decided to rise to the challenge. I started writing a story for LK, a 7-year old, the daughter of friends from South Africa. It wasn’t easy, but eventually ‘The Adventures of Toby the Tree Frog,’ popped off the press, before going on to achieve absolutely no success whatsoever.
But I was in the room when her father read it to her. Afterwards she said, “It was so good I didn’t think you could have written it.” She then gave me a painting she’d done of a multi-coloured wigwam – but only because I asked her for it.
I’ve been writing ever since, more than thirty years, on the basis that a professional writer is an amateur who never gave up.
I met Dee at a friend’s Scottish-themed New Year party in a London suburb.
Shortly after my friends and I arrived an attractive brunette walked in, announcing herself as an expert in a certain sexual activity. Interesting to note that not one of our group of 7 or so red-blooded males went near her.
Dee said she was attracted to me because she found me enigmatic. This was understandable. I was wearing an Aussie-style hat with corks hanging from it and a cloth spider on my shoulder. What did that have to do with Scotland?
The idea was that the tam o’shanter-wearing spider represented the one that Robert the Bruce watched and concluded that he had to ‘try, try and try again’. As for the Australian connection, that’s from Monty Python suggesting Bruce is a common Aussie name.
Perhaps this thought process was a sign I was heading for another mental health crisis.
A bit about Dee
Dee was of Chinese origin and was P.A. to the Kiwi MD of a travel company. We hit it off and I visited her in Chelsea every weekend for the next three months.
She ended our relationship because I’d joined the Cambridge Diet, which she didn’t approve of. It was sold by multi-level marketing. Her problem with the diet was that it was simply wrong. It wasn’t real food, it was just flavoured chemicals made into powders and soups.
She might also have concluded that I wasn’t really enigmatic, but was only pretending.
I had great affection for her, and she clearly did for me, but I think she’d agree that for her romantic love was never part of the chemistry.
As for my mental health, I seemed to be getting stronger and that mostlyterrible set of happenings were over.
Adrift on the water
Caitlin’s husband Jon was an officer in the RAF, stationed at an Air Force base bordering a canal. He’d volunteered to be the officer in charge of the base narrowboat, partly to be of service to his comrades but also to have access to regular cheap weekend breaks and holidays.
I remember floating around with them on the barge one weekend. I was mentally adrift in a pleasant sort of way. Jon and Caitlin took turns manning the vessel while I played jazz on my trumpet.
At one point we lost Jon’s keys in a marina. It’s truer to say that I lost them, by dropping them overboard (accidentally). They sank, seemingly irretrievably until a man with a strong magnet attached to a piece of string arrived. He dangled his apparatus over the side, pulled up the string and Bingo! we had the keys back.
A little later we were steaming full speed ahead at about a quarter of a mile an hour towards a swan. The bird gazed towards us with an ‘I’m not getting out of the way’ look on its face. At the very last moment it flapped up from the water and smacked its breast into the prow of our boat.
It landed on a bridge which we’d just passed under. Now on the other side of the bridge’s railings, it was clearly dazed. It was attempting the impossible task of forcing the wings and body of an adult swan through the two-inch gap between the railings.
There was only one thing to do. I jumped out of the boat, climbed up the path onto the bridge and picked the bird up, secured it under my right arm, headed back to the towpath and released it 40 yards upstream.
I remember saying to Caitlin as I strolled past the barge, “Anyone for croquet?”
Back on board I said to her, “I don’t know why, but things seem to be happening to me.”
Looking back, I see that odd happenings do occur when you’re heading into a mental health episode. They’re almost a symptom of it.
More soon, folks!