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We had a great night last night. Midnight saw us all up on a roof terrace in Sydenham Hill with a 270 degree view of London. Everywhere we looked we saw dozens of fireworks; rockets soaring high into the night sky and then exploding into beautiful showers of colour. We talked, made new friends, drank wine and Colombian rum from tetra packs, listened to music, danced, took lots of photos, texted friends far and wide and then braved the late bus home.
How can I not continue writing? It’s something I just do. No one’s making me. It’s like breathing.
I spent the whole day writing and painting. Bliss! I discovered some brilliant music I’d never heard before – Brett Dennan, Beth Rowley, Jack McManus and Gabriella Cilmi. All so talented. All so young! Gabriella is barely sixteen!
And what have
achieved in the last sixteen years???
And I thought about all manner of things, a lot of which focused on the 1993 diary I’m currently transcribing. What an amazing year that was - so rich, so varied, so traumatic, so triumphant!
I’m glad that I’ve written so many pages over the years. The perspective it lends to the present is astonishing.
I’m not dreading going back to work on Monday but I’d dearly love to have another week off. I haven’t enjoyed spending time at home this much since I can remember when! Transcribing my old diaries, writing the story with Corinne, listening to great music and painting for hours - I’m as happy as the proverbial pig is shit.
My experience of time has shifted since I got my life back. Suddenly there’s a lot more of it. More to the point, I feel like I’ve regained something that I haven’t had for such a long time – the pure pleasure of creating.
When we get together there isn’t the need to fill the space with idle chatter. We talk, yes, and there’s never any shortage of things to talk about. But we’re not uncomfortable with the spaces in between the talking; those quiet moments when we retreat back into our own thoughts for a while, have another sip of wine and gaze absently into space, contented just to be in each other’s company. It’s one of the joys have having known each other so well for so long. Sometimes it’s the spaces in between words that give them their resonance and meaning.
I never had an adult relationship with my father. It’s 30 years ago today that he died. One minute he was here; the next minute he wasn’t. I was barely 18. With each passing year the distance between that day and this had grown almost exponentially. I barely remember the man. Oh sure, I can still bring his face to mind; his mannerisms, his pet hates and pet joys. But George the man? He remains a mystery to me. I know him only by his writing and his reputation and the latter is a mixed blessing, to say the least.
With my mother, it’s different. Not only did we have an adult relationship, we became friends. When I lived close by I would visit regularly. When I lived further afield we would always talk on the phone. She was good value, was mum. I never had to try to get her attention. She was always there for me; always interested, always listening, always involved. I still ring her, and she still knows who I am. Just. But it’s not the same. It’s no longer Gwen. It’s just a very frail old lady sitting in a chair.
I miss my mum.
As first days back at work tend to go it’s been a good one. Everything went like clockwork and I found myself feeling reinvigorated and renewed.
Hmn! Let’s see how long that lasts.
I’ve been listening to Amos Lee. I stumbled across him on Last.fm and am really impressed by his music. Anyone who says there’s no good music around these days obviously isn’t out there looking for it. And as for Beth Rowley, well, words like sublime and truly spring to mind.
But yes, it’s been a good day with positive interaction and, well, a good feeling all round.
There’s a way of being around kids that can make you feel better about being human. And that’s coming from someone who over the years has worked with some incredibly damaged kids. Time and time again I’m told of some young person who has committed all manner of terrible deeds, only to discover upon getting to know them that there’s this really likeable person hiding out inside. We sometimes forget how tough growing up can be for many and, quite frankly, we can’t even begin to imagine how awful it’s been for some. But let’s never forget: they’re just kids.
I awoke from one of those dreams in which I realise something has been understood at a very profound level. The dream itself was undramatic but the depth of feeling that it embodied and the sense of “yes-ness” that it engendered was unmistakable. It’s the kind of dream that affords a renewed appreciation of what is means, or can mean, to get older. Without wanting to sound pompous, it’s to do with acquiring wisdom. And as I stepped out into the damp grey morning I did so with a warm inner glow that I carried and shared throughout the day.
What does it take to make a grown man cry?
Wandering through the park I found a bench with a photo, poem and Christmas card attached to it. Upon closer inspection I saw that it was a photo of a small, smiling boy. The poem spoke of an angel coming down from heaven to take the brightest star back into the sky to shine for evermore. The bench itself had a plaque commemorating the small boy of five years, while the card spoke of the parents' sadness of Christmas without their beloved little star.
That's all. That’s all it takes.
There’s never as much time as I think there’s going to be. I was sure I’d lots done today. And I suppose I did, up to a point. But we had two meetings that took longer than any of us had expected and then there were technical issues with the interactive white board to take care of, not to mention cleaning up after the installation. As usual I was the last to leave the building and I’ve knocked the room in some kind of functioning state but, well, I guess I would have liked to have done more, that’s all
Although I’ve never cared much for her studio albums, Nanci Griffith’s
One Fair Summer’s Evening
album holds a very special place in my musical heart, as does the memory of seeing her in concert in 1993. And of all the wonderful songs in the album,
The Wing and the Wheel
remains for me the most poignant and one I’ve shared with some very dear friends over the years. And playing it for Donna tonight and seeing it resonate with her so touchingly reminded me of the power of music and the potency of friendship that lasts over distance and time.
We take it so much for granted these days, or at least I do; the ability to hop on an enormous metal bird and be flown at breakneck speed half way around the globe. Nonetheless, every time I wave a friend or a loved one off and have that one long, last embrace before we speak of “next time we meet” I say a little prayer and try to put out of my mind the weirdness of knowing that that person will soon be thousands of miles away, carried off on the wings of something that, logically speaking, shouldn’t fly.
My musical memory goes back a long way. My earliest years were spent against a musical backdrop of Freddy and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits and of course The Beatles. I can still remember hearing
for the first time on my sister’s pale blue turntable as it blared out from the upstairs window of Ashcliff on a sunny summer’s day in 1967 while a small by called Terry was playing on the lawn below. An old song rediscovered can whisk me away on a magic carpet to a time when the world was new and stretched unexplored before me.
“Leap of faith” is a phrase I rediscovered while reading the paper today. It’s a concept I used to grapple with a lot, although I have to admit I haven’t given it much thought in recent years. But the idea is a powerful one and, it occurs to me, one that I should be more consciously aware of. I have at various times in my life made significant leaps of faith which have served to propel me far beyond what I once imagined I was capable of. I would hate to think that complacency could one day take its place.
She’s not been the easiest colleague to warm to but when she discovered me putting together a support proposal for a young boy with leukaemia today she sat and shared with me the story of her own son who nearly died of leukaemia when he was 11. Slowly, the professional mask fell away and the caring, concerned mother revealed herself. As she spoke of how he and by default she triumphed over tragedy it occurred to me how we all have a story to tell and of how we are so much more than simply the sum of our parts.
The file spoke of an angry, unpredictable and violent boy who’d punched three teachers, including his headteacher.
Clearly he’d been having a bad day!
Yet the boy I’ve come to know after a managed move to another school and our centre is not the same lad we’d been led to expect. It may be early days but over the last few weeks the boy I've observed is making a concerted and, from all accounts, successful effort to reinvent himself. More to the point, he seems happy and settled.
I guess we all need to be given a fresh start sometimes.
When I tell people what I do for a job there is always someone who will inevitably say, “Ha! You should have seen what a terror
was at school!” And I look at them now, all grown up, and I see that they’ve generally turned out okay. Often, those who had a difficult and troublesome childhood turn out to be the most interesting adults. It’s an observation that’s not lost on me. Difficult and challenging kids are interesting by definition and working with them is, by extension, never boring. It certainly beats sitting behind a desk all day long.
Walking by the Palace late at night, the Union Flag flying at full mast, the first thing I notice is the absence of people. By day this place is filled with throngs of tourists posing stiffly for photographs or straining to see the statue-like guards standing like toy soldiers by their sentry boxes. Then I spy a solitary light on in the otherwise darkened building and I wonder who it might be. One of the Royals maybe? A member of staff up reading late or perhaps, like myself, unable to sleep at this late hour? I guess I’ll never know.
Sometimes I awaken in the night and it’s all there, familiar and fully formed; an alternate existence in all of its complexity, contextually whole and utterly compelling. It’s not just the memory of a dream but of another world; another life. The experiential richness of it that can be mesmerising: I know this place. I know it well. But even as I lay bathing in its nocturnal freshness I am unable to retain it. It is too big, too complete and too mercurial and it slips away into the stillness of the night leaving an aching sadness in its wake.
Sitting here in the coffee shop downstairs I allow the ambience to wash over me: the clatter of cups, the low strains of Baroque music in the background, the mingling of French, Italian, English and Portuguese voices and the grinding of the coffee machine, while I stare absently out the window at the passing cars and foot traffic outside. It’s here that words come to me rather than sitting at my desk upstairs. Here, characters unfold, snippets of wisdom become apparent and the complexities of life appear to unravel for me. And with the unravelling, a little light is shed.
Give kids a paintbrush, tell them there are no rules and just watch them go. I spend a lot of time with kids who for various reasons have lost the simple pleasure of picture making. Maybe they’ve had poor teachers, or poor schools or maybe just a lack of good facilities or inspired guidance. Whatever the reason, sooner or later I come across them all. Of course, no rules doesn’t necessarily imply no structure and even when we do get to the rules, there’s no harm in breaking them. But the freedom to explore and express must precede all else.
I make a lot of praise calls to parents. It’s one of the things I consider to be absolutely crucial when working with disaffected kids. Sometimes the surprise, even shock, is palpable on the other end of the line. They’re just not used to it. Phone calls from school usually herald bad news. A good news phone call is something unknown on their radar. The benefits are two-fold; you get a happier kid and a happier parent. Because after all, what parent doesn’t want to hear that their kids have done well at something? And what kid doesn’t want praise?
People are often intrigued when I tell them that I have thousands of pages of diaries and journals stretching back to when I was 13 years old and some are amazed when I tell them that I’ve been typing them up for years now. But the truth is, in doing so I have at times gained a perspective on my life I would have been able to achieve in any other way. Few things can stir in me an appreciation of what I’ve achieved in life as much as getting back in touch with who and where I once was.
The trust of a child is to my mind one of the most precious things in life. I would even venture to describe it as sacred. It underpins the very foundations of a healthy community, society and indeed the world. Without it, concepts such as love and respect cannot take hold. Without it, children become, by necessity more often than not, defensive, even stunted. We all arrive on this planet utterly dependent and defenceless and the adults into whose care we are thrust are the product of pure chance. It amazes me how some of us have managed to survive.
You were there again last night in that nocturnal neverland where so much seems to be happening of late. Unlike our previous encounters, all between us was well. We sat enjoying each other’s company, aware that whatever misunderstanding may have temorarily confused us had not seriously jeopardised our friendship.
Waking from the dream it occurred to me that, try as I may, I cannot erase you from my mind. What we have shared is too meaningful and too integral to who I have become to dispense with.
One day, when the time is right, all will be well once more.
I’ve spent the past few days transcribing the pages I wrote when we first met. I’ve not read them since I wrote them some 14 years ago. And as I read I can’t help but smile at the way we
, almost from day one. The obstacles before us were considerable; the choices and changes we had to make, extraordinary. But make them we did. Our commitment was unwavering. There was no way we were going to accept anything less than complete success. And here we are, 14 years later. And you know what? It’s still early days yet!
You’d think I’d be over it by now given how much time I spend on trains, but every so often, usually in the morning when it’s less crowded and I’m about to board the train to work, I feel a sudden rush of nostalgia as the recollection of another train from a long time ago which filled a young boy’s imagination with romantic wonder and awe sweeps over me bringing with it the memory of leather seats, metal case racks, rickety pull-down windows and framed photos depicting rural English holiday destinations. And smiling inwardly to myself, I climb on board.
It’s that time of year when you fly away again to visit distant shores and I find myself alone with my own company for a little while. And though it goes without saying that we’ll miss each other, the time we’re apart also allows us both to spend a little time focused on our own thoughts and preoccupations, mindful of but not necessarily pining for each other; for such is the depth and durability of what we share that, to quote a famous Lebanese poet, that which we love most in each other may be clearer in each other’s absence.
I used to be such an intensely social creature. In my working life I still am. In my private life however, I increasingly prefer to spend time on my own. Having said that, the thought of spending an evening with my dear friend Carol next week fills me with real excitement and pleasure. We have both known each other longer than we haven’t. She is one of those rare individuals with whom I can bare my soul, as she can with me. And while we tend to see each other only infrequently, whenever we do it’s always just like yesterday.
It’s the end of the month already, the first one of the New Year. It’s been a good month, a productive month, an engaging month and a rewarding month. At its outset I determined that 2008 was going to be a New Year in its truest sense and it pleases me to say that to date, it has been. It’s like the midway point of my life, the pivotal year that distinguishes in equal measure all that has been from all this is yet to be.
So! Let’s bring it on - Act Two!
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