29) Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!

Smiley Face

How easy it is to be a moaning Minnie.   I’m sure we all know someone (or ….. gulp, even ourselves sometimes) who get into moaning mode all too easily.

When I look back, which is far easier than looking forward, I know there have been times in my life when someone has asked ” How are you?” and it’s been all too easy to forget all the positives in my life and have a good old moan.  I honestly believe that there’s nothing wrong with that occasionally, we all go through difficult, challenging, heartbreaking times when I think we should not chastise ourselves for moaning, especially to our closest friends who are trying to help us, but it’s the habit of moaning that I’m writing about today.

I used to have a Father-in-law who could have moaned for England.  Seriously if there was a gold medal in moaning he would have been on the podium each and every day.  No matter what you did or what you said, he’d find something to moan about.  When we were first married we went to visit him in our old car, he complained that we were obviously not working hard enough and should be ashamed at driving an old banger.  A couple of years later we drove up to see him and we had a new car.  I couldn’t believe it when he started moaning that it was obviously alright for us, swanning around like we were above everyone else because we had a new car!  We just couldn’t win.

His wife, my ex-Mother-in-law, was also a pretty good moaner. She was staying with us for a while (too long!) and I remember asking her if she had any preference for lunch, whether she would like a hot cooked meal, or a light cold lunch.  She said she didn’t mind.  I even asked her if she was sure and she said yes, anything would be fine.  I was immensely busy at work so prepared a salad with some homemade bread.  She scowled as I put the meal on the table.  “I would have preferred a hot meal”  she moaned.  I can honestly say that in the twenty-six years I knew her, it was a very rare event that she made a happy, upbeat or positive comment about anything. They were obviously well matched.  In fact, thinking about, I can’t think of one instance where she was genuinely pleased with her lot.  How very sad.

I believe that this personality trait actually ages you.  When I first met my ex in-laws, when I was in my early twenties, I assumed that they had been old parents when my ex-husband was born.  Their whole house felt grey and dowdy.  Wrongly, I presumed that they were ancient, which to me at the time was anyone past sixty (how our perspective changes as we head toward the higher ‘tens’ ourselves).  In reality they were exactly the same age as my parents, and had in fact been extremely young parents.  You just would never have believed it had you met them.  The difference between them and my parents was that mine had the wonderful knack of finding the humour in everything, including themselves, they never took life too seriously.  Their houses were always colourful and full of life – they were not what I would call ‘grey’ people!

Dad had nicknames for everyone, my sister was Prunella Pimple Face and I was Fish Face Charlie – we never knew why – we just were!  He had a wonderful sense of timing where humour was concerned, saying just the right word at the right time.  Very dry and extremely observant, he did catch a few people off guard at times, which made it all the funnier! He went through some incredibly traumatic times in his life, both during his childhood, during his time in the war and in latter years, due to his health.  Amazingly though, through everything, my Dad always found something positive to say about every event in his life.

He had to undergo life threatening surgery when I was in my early teens.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to undergo surgery to remove one of his lungs.  This was in the late 1960’s and the medical treatments at that time weren’t as advanced as they are now, so it was very dangerous surgery at the time.  Dad had undergone a routine medical for the organisation he worked for and much to his horror a large shadow on his lung showed up on his chest X-ray.  He was taken into Harefield hospital and underwent an exploratory operation and they confirmed to Mum that he had lung cancer.  They gave her the choice whether to operate and possibly prolong his life by a matter of months, or to just leave it and let nature take it’s course.  Mum, after much consideration and heart searching, chose the operation.  Thank God she did, as when they operated they found that Dad didn’t have lung cancer after all.  He had an unusual form of tuberculosis in a cyst in his lung.  He was in hospital for quite a long time on a large ward. Everyone commented on how he was such a lively spirit and how he lifted the atmosphere.  Within a couple of days of the surgery he was cracking jokes, mainly about himself, and had everyone in stitches (pardon the pun).  I remember the sister on the ward saying that she would miss him so much when he went home because he had made their lives so much more enjoyable and how his warmth and humour had affected everyone so positively.  I was so proud of my Dad.

Mum too had difficult times but without fail she always managed to find something positive to say.  She used to quote Thumper from the film Bambi – “if you can’t say something nice don’t say nothin’ at all” , which is dreadfully difficult to adhere to at times (see above!), but she really did try to live by this, apart from when she and Dad were arguing, and then all their rules went out the window!

When Mum was busy working, more than full-time at times, she and Dad agreed to employ “a lady who does”, in other words, a cleaner.  I think it was Dad’s way of avoiding helping with the housework!  They employed a woman who left notes for Mum every time she left the house.  She complained that the vacuum cleaner wasn’t working properly, or that the polish Mum used wasn’t the right one, or that the broom wasn’t good enough, the house was too hot, the house was too cold etc.  The list was endless.  Dad called her “Mrs Moan-a-lot”, not to her face of course, but within the family.  The awful problem was that the name stuck and we could never remember her real name, which was embarrassing at times!

Mum and Dad had real highs and lows financially throughout their marriage.  Usually the highs where when they were both working for large companies and the lows were sometimes when Dad would start a new business and things didn’t always go so well.  They both took every opportunity they were ever given, even emigrating to Chicago in their mid-forties.  They sold their house and gave away everything they owned and off they went with huge smiles to start their new life.  Try as they could, they both hated living there!  They came back a year later and in that short time the property market had gone wild in England.  Neither of them had employment and their money, having been exchanged into dollars and back again, was nowhere near enough to buy a house again.  They moved into a bed sit and looked upon it as an adventure, both of them optimistic that something would ‘turn up’.

Much to everyone’s amazement, but no surprise to them, a large flat came up for rent in the town they both loved, Twickenham.  They had enough to put down the deposit and moved in to the two top floors of a large Victorian house.  Within a short time they both managed to find work they enjoyed within a short distance of their new home.  Two years later the landlord offered to rent them the ground floor flat as well and they jumped at it.  He was fine about them restoring the two flats back into one very beautiful large house.  Another year on and the landlord suddenly needed to liquidate his assets and offered Mum and Dad the whole house at a crazily low knock down price.  Of course they couldn’t refuse.  They bought the house, did a little work on it, and sold it six months later for a massive profit, putting them in a stronger position than when they had gone to America.  Mum took great delight in telling everyone that she had known everything would be alright.  Through all the ups and downs I never once heard them complain.  Dad used to say it was better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.  Mum being more of a romantic would quote, “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.  Looking back I realise how amazingly lucky I was to have such a pair of positive optimistic parents, which at the time I suppose I assumed everyone had.

Strangely I feel like my journey through life has always shown me two sides of everything.  I do believe that my parents were a couple of old souls, who made light of their problems and put a positive spin on their difficulties and challenges.  I wonder if my ex-in laws were younger souls.  In reality, they had very little to complain about it, but moaned about inconsequential things most of the time. My ex-in laws were pessimists about everything and saw life as a dull routine to be gotten through, whereas my parents were invariably optimistic and saw life as exciting  and enlightening.  How fortunate I was to have chosen them. I can appreciate why I feel that life is full of lessons because that is exactly what Mum and Dad taught me, and importantly, they taught me to ignore the dull routine and always look on the bright side of life!

Advertisements

25) Am I who I think I am?

If you’d have read my previous blogs you will know that I am an identical twin.  I am positive that I chose this for this lifetime to ensure that I could learn several lessons that I could only experience as one half of an identical pair.

It’s very strange to think that my twin sister and I started out as one egg and one sperm and at some early time in our development, after the egg and sperm had fused, we chose to split in two!  How odd is that?  Theoretically then we should be totally identical, but if you know any identical twins you will know that there are differences, both physically and personality wise.  However, often the physical differences don’t show so much until you are a little older.  Mum told me that on many occasions when we were very small babies she did wonder whether she was confused about which one of us was which.  She said we were absolutely identical and that she would ask Dad and sometimes even our brother Ray as well, to see who they thought we were!

Mum said she was actually quite pleased when I fell out of my high chair when I was about 18 months old because I then had a small scar on my forehead.  She said she’d often check my forehead to see if I was me or Tina!

Relatives always became confused with us.  I don’t think some of my aunts and uncles ever really knew which twin I was.  It was sheer fluke that they would call me by the right name.  I could almost see the relief of their face when I replied to them.  It was like ‘phew, she didn’t realise I didn’t know who she was’, but it was a look I had learnt to recognise from a very early age.

As we grew up we knew that teachers could never tell us apart, hence, as I said in an earlier blog, we would both be disciplined if one of us was naughty – purely because they could never work out who had been naughty and who hadn’t.  It wasn’t too bad when we were little but when we first went to senior school it became pretty annoying.  There were several occasions when teachers would bundle Tina and I together in a sentence, for instance ‘the twins have not completed their homework’    I would be infuriated, as I had completed mine and given it in on time, and would often stand up in class and state that I was an individual, much to the amusement of both the teachers and classmates.

One of the other big problems that Tina and I shared was when we joined a new school.  I remember distinctly the first day at our senior school.  Nobody knew anyone else in the class and gradually over the course of the day it was obvious that people were becoming friends.  The problem with being a twin is that everyone seems to think that you already have your friend and so you don’t need any others. The teacher hadn’t helped by putting us together at adjoining desks.  It was like we were a self-contained unit.  I have spoken to other twins and they all had the same experiences when they joined anything too.  It’s the same even when you are a grown up.  Although I enjoy going along to a new club or church with a friend, I actually prefer to go alone, as nerve-wracking as I find it,  because you tend to meet more people when you are on your own.  People can see you don’t know anyone and come over and introduce themselves, whereas if you have a friend with you they tend to leave the two of you alone.

I do consider that even though I loved so much about being a twin, I also desperately wanted to be accepted as an individual.  Most ‘singletons’ take their individualism for granted, they are just themselves, and they know that there is no-one exactly the same as them in the whole world.   I know that sometimes people will say that someone is just like their brother or you can tell that they are sisters, but generally they have been born at least a year apart and so have not been in the same nursery, classroom or after-school clubs together.  I found it was a tricky balancing act because whilst I adored the company of my twin, and we shared the same choices in so many things, I did still want to be me, and not always just be seen as one of the twins.

When you are in a school with a strict uniform code it is very difficult to show that you are an individual.  What didn’t help was that Mum cut our hair for years, and although I loved her very much, she was no hairdresser.  We had the type of haircuts which I gather are called the pudding bowl cut, which meant it was chopped to the same length all the way round.  Mum thought a fringe would suit us, but again, not being a hairdresser, she was not a natural stylist.  She would always cut our fringes crooked, and the more she tried to straighten them, the shorter they’d become until we both had tufts instead of fringes.  One thing I certainly wasn’t was stylish!

In my early teens an astigmatism in my left eye became more apparent and in a funny way it was a blessing, because at last people could see a real difference between Tina and I.  I was the one with the wonky eyes.  My left eye had a mind of its own and I could tell that people didn’t know which eye to look in when they talked to me.  I can’t remember minding  that at all, but when I started suffering from double vision then we knew we had to do something about it.  I was sent off to the local hospital every Wednesday afternoon for eye exercises.  It was basically a gym for my eye muscles. I’m not joking!  Two cards would be placed on a stand either side of me, one with a seal and one with a ball and I had to try to use my eye muscles to put the ball on the seals nose, another one was a cage on one card and a lion on the other.  I had to try to put the lion in the cage.  Very strange really.  When I was fourteen it was decided that my muscles just wouldn’t do what I was telling them so I had an operation to straighten my eyes.  It was fantastic as I had no more double vision, but the downside was that Tina and I were back to looking the same again!

We had always shared a bedroom until our brother left home and it was then agreed that we would take it in turns each having the bigger bedroom for a month and then the smaller bedroom for a month.  The problem was that having always slept in the same bedroom it felt so strange to sleep on our own.  Without any knowledge at all, one of us, or often both of us, would go into the other bedroom during the night.  Mum would often come to wake us in the morning and find that we were either in the same bed or that we had swapped rooms in the middle of the night.  Even at that age Mum would have problems telling us apart and very often would call us by the wrong name!

In our final senior school year it was obvious that my sister and I had different strengths and weaknesses where our studies were concerned.  I would always have to work very hard to try to remember anything, whereas Tina could just read something once and remember it straight away.  I would spend hours and hours working on a piece of homework, Tina would just spend about twenty minutes and complete the work brilliantly.  Strangely enough though over all our school years we worked out that our average marks for every subject was actually less than 1% different. Quite amazing.

The problem though was that our school also based its class position on behaviour and attendance.  I was far quieter than my twin and would never consider not attending classes.  Tina would skip anything she didn’t feel was essential, which normally would have been fine, but she hated physical education and couldn’t see the point in attending classes for netball or hockey, so used to go and sit in the art room with her friends when the classes were running. On the other hand, although I was no great athlete, I always turned up for the P.E. classes and tried my best.  When we received our last reports from the school my average mark was the same as Tina’s, which on the face of it appeared fine, but when we went through the marks for each subject and the reports the teachers had written it became clear that our P.E. teacher had us completed confused.  I received a D and a damming report, Tina received a B+ and a ‘well done for trying’ remark. Talk about unfair!

I am sure that my experiences growing up as a twin, being obviously different from most others and also  having to fight for my individuality, were lessons to help me to learn that it’s ok to be who you truly are, and that no matter what your birth circumstances, you can still carve out your own niche.  Having my spiritual awareness and beliefs has put me apart from people most of my life, but it is only in the last fifteen years or so that I have felt bold enough not to just accept those differences but to embrace and celebrate them.  I learnt that I do not have to justify why I am who I am, which is how I had felt through so much of my growing up.  I am just me, Tisha  ……. but, I do sometimes still wonder …… was it me or Tina who fell out of that high chair?

22) It’s good to share!

I obviously thought for this life-time I would choose not to be born alone and would instead have the fairly unique experience of being a twin.  When I was born there were far fewer twins than are born today, largely due to the fertility drugs that are available now, and so it was more unusual.  In all the schools we attended there was Monoamniotic-Monochorionic twinsonly ever  one other set of identical twins!

I wonder if my twin and I, in our soul existence, were in on the plan together, or whether having made the decision, separately, the higher powers decided who we would be conceived with.  It will be very interesting to find out one day. There are so many different facets to being a twin that one blog would be far too long, so for this posting I am just going to write about one aspect of twin-ship, if there is such a word!

Having shared my Mum’s womb for the nine months before my birth, I can actually say that I am a born sharer, as is my twin sister.

From my very first memories, I had no choice but to share.  Obviously we had to share the love of our parents and brother, but more of that in another blog sometime.  My identical twin sister, Tina and I, were born in the period after the war when, for most, including our family, money was still very tight.  For the first few months of our lives we had to share a cot and a pram, and it was only when we grew too large that we had our own.

Most  twins were always dressed the same in those days, but, unless it was for a special occasion,  Mum and Dad just couldn’t afford to buy two of everything, so we often had to wear  the very odd clothes that Mum made from old clothes that family or friends donated.  I remember Mum showing us a revolting pair of trousers that a rather large friend  had given her and thinking how utterly horrible the pattern was, a blend of browns and blues, totally yuk in my eyes.  The next thing we knew was that Mum had transformed the trousers into a couple of skirts for us – she was so delighted that she had managed to make two identical skirts, we weren’t – they were awful!  We used to sit for hours holding old jumpers whilst Mum would be undoing the wool and rolling it into a ball which she  would then use to knit us misshapen jumpers and cardigans.  She always said the next ones would be better, but they very rarely were.  I often wonder what we would have worn if Mum hadn’t been such a dab hand at sewing and knitting.  Damn that treadle sewing machine she was given!

At  school we had to wear a uniform, so we did look the same.  We were always put in the same class and strangely treated like one person.  It was quite bizarre.  If one of us did something wrong they would tell us both off – we would be in trouble. One teacher actually admitted to my Mum that they couldn’t tell us apart so that’s why she would discipline both of us – we both thought it was jolly unfair.

In the ballet school production of The Nut Cracker, we were both chosen to be butterflies, in the junior school Christmas play, we were chosen to be angels, in the school choir we were always given the same pieces to sing.  I think that everyone felt that we had to be treated the same, that there could be no distinction between us. There was also no favouritism.  Whatever I had, my twin sister had, and visa-versa, and what we couldn’t have individually, we shared.

Mum and Dad actually managed to save quite a lot of money by having us twins. Instead of having to buy two of many things, they just bought one, and we had to share.  We had one pram, which we would take in turns pushing round the garden, one tricycle, which again, we would take in turns riding, one scooter, one pair of roller skates.  Looking back I suppose that was a bit odd, but it felt normal because it was all we had ever known.

Christmas and birthdays were the same.  My brother would get his own presents, which he could use or play with, all by himself.   Tina and I  would often receive one present between us and we’d open it together and play with it together.  Our Nan always bought us joint presents, but, what we loved, was that she would also buy a dress for each of us for Christmas, always the same style, but maybe in a different colour – wow!

We even shared our baths until we were about ten years old, again, I thought nothing of it.  Dad was a frugal soul and wouldn’t for one minute have considered running two baths for us. We shared our bedroom, our clothes, our toys  and our books.  It was easy, we just took it in turns.  It never seemed a problem to me.  It didn’t bother me one jot.

There were very few differences between Tina and I.  At school our results tended to be neck and neck, our skills were normally at the same level.  However, when we were about eleven we went along to Richmond Ice Rink to learn to skate.  We were both put in the beginners class but Tina had her eye on another class where they were practising their spinning skills.  The teacher told Tina it normally took months until a student could get to that class.  Well by the end of the class Tina was in the spinning group – she was a natural-born skater – whilst I on the other hand never ever got the hang of it and spent the next three years of Saturday mornings hanging onto the edge of the rink or falling over.  Because Tina was such a good skater Mum and Dad bought her all the proper skating kit including her own white skates.  As I was such a klutz on the ice no investment was made in my kit at all and I had to make do with the dreadfully uncomfortable brown hire skates.  My ankles were so weak I even had to wear calipers that were attached to the skates – I looked a real treat!

Well, as I said, Tina had these beautiful white leather skates.  One winter it was particularly cold and we had the worst snow and ice for years.  I was  delighted when Tina suggested we could go out skating on the road and we could share her boots.  Imagine it, twins of about twelve, each with one skating boot on, what a pair of total nitwits, but we went out and had so much fun that day.  She thought nothing of sharing her wonderful boots with me.  Funny thing is I don’t think it even crossed our minds to take it in turns to wear a pair at a time – we were enjoying ourselves too much – how very odd we must have been!

On our seventeenth birthday Mum and Dad bought us a car between us. It was an ancient Ford Popular, 27 years old.  We called her Poppy .. how very predictable!   ‘She’ was green with white leather seats.  Sounds like a  luxurious interior, but I can assure you it wasn’t.  She always smelt like a jumble sale, had three forward gears, with no synchromesh, which meant we had to learn to double de-clutch – which was a nightmare, and she had those funny indicators that were like little arms sticking out the side of the car. The heater was a huge tube thing in the middle of the car where you either opened the flap and had very smelly hot air blasting over you, or the flap was closed and you froze.  The hand brake was very hit and miss on anything that had a slight incline, so was pretty scary when you are learning to drive.  We saved up together until we could afford driving lessons, which we took together too. She was our car for a couple of years and we lavished much love and care on her until one dreadful day her big end went and we couldn’t afford to have her fixed. We watched with sadness as she was towed away to the scrap heap.

We left home at an early age and rented a flat just outside London.  We shared the flat with two other girls.  They each had their own bedrooms but Tina and I shared ours.  Since we were about twelve  Mum had given us a clothing allowance, and we had always bought everything between us, clothes, shoes, make up etc.  We had one wardrobe  which we put our clothes in, and we always discussed each morning who was to going to wear what.  Even our shoes were shared as we had the same shoe size. It was fantastic because we had such a choice and I had never even thought of going out and buying a dress or pair of shoes on my own.  Fortunately we both liked similar clothes and colours, so it was easy. There were very few arguments and I never felt either of us really had to compromise that much either.   Our flat mates thought it was amazing that Tina and I shared everything, and it was the first time I had ever really considered that it was unusual.

We always saved up together for larger items, like our first record player, which we put by in a local hi-fi shop and paid off weekly until it was ours and we could bring it home. We went  together to buy our very first LP (long-playing album to those too young to remember), which was Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd. We bought all our LP’s between us and ended up with an enviable collection.

We went along for interviews together and worked together for several years.  We shared jobs.  If they gave one of us a pay rise we would share it.  For a long time we had one shared purse with all our money in, and two separate purses that we would take out when we went out on our own.  When we opened our first bank account, it was a joint account and looking back they seemed to think that was a bit odd, but we didn’t. Everything was equal.

When we were twenty we decided that we had had enough of renting flats and decided to downsize to a very small one room bed sit to enable us to save a deposit to buy somewhere.  We shared a single bed for months, me one end and Tina the other.  We both had three jobs on the go and lived on cereals because they were cheap, but it meant we could save. The upside was that we were both really slim!

We both had day jobs, evening jobs working together in a wine bar where we would swap being either the cook or the waitress on alternate nights, and then we had a market stall on the weekend where we sold, of all things, children’s slippers.  We loved selling on the market, it was such good fun.  We would set targets for our sales and increase it every week.  When we were twenty-one we had saved enough for us to buy our first flat together in Twickenham.  It was a one bedroom flat as it was all we could afford, but one bedroom was fine for us.  We bought a double bed and shared it.  It was a dream come true and one that would have never come together had we not shared our dream and shared in the making of it.

Being a twin, and an identical one at that, is an adventure that I am so very pleased I chose, and one of my greatest pleasures has been learning  that sharing is the most marvellous experience.  I really think that if I could wave a magic wand everyone would be born a twin.  Sharing would become the most natural way for us all to be and I really believe the world would be a better place for it.  How many of the worlds problems are caused by selfishness, jealousy or possessiveness?  Those emotions just don’t work if you’re a twin.  Sharing is an easy form of generosity where you don’t have to give everything away, just share it with who you choose.  It truly is a soul growing  positive experience to share what you cherish, what you love.   I ‘think it would be great if people could try thinking like a sharer for just one week and see the difference it could make to their lives and those they love.   It would be interesting to see how much they could find to  share.

20) Stairway to Heaven

My brother Ray

I would have thought that as a soul, when I believe I chose my earth family, I would have tried to incorporate even a little harmony into the mix. I often look at other families and to me they look ‘smooth’, it’s like they dovetail together and everyone fits in.  Through my life I have met many people who are fortunate enough to share an easy relationship with their siblings.  Of course, I’m not saying for one minute, that is always the case, but speaking generally it seems quite usual.  I don’t count the usual sibling bickering when growing up, as a major problem, because it  is quite normal  as people’s personalities are coming to the fore as major clashes.

If you watch a litter of young cats or dogs you will observe the same spats as they are growing up and trying to assert themselves within their ‘family’.  It seems to be the way of the world, not just with us humans but within the animal kingdom to a large extent too.

I am sure that I decided to choose one of my siblings who was so very different from me in many ways,  in order to challenge my views and to teach me a myriad of life’s lessons.  It is often said that you learn by example, but  in my case, I often had to  look at what my brother did, the decisions he made and basically do the opposite!  I refer to Ray as our older brother, because being a twin, I shared him with my sister, which maybe was a good thing, because I think it diluted him a little.

I often likened my brother to a diamond with its many facets because he had so many different aspects to his personality.  You were never sure what you were going to get and it was quite imperceptible to even understand from hour to hour which would be his dominant personality trait.  He could be the most gentle caring and generous person you could ever meet, but within a short space of time you could be faced with a very different man who appeared to be full of selfish needs and could be considerably rude and abusive.  He was certainly tough to understand, and I don’t think even now I could say I ever really managed that.

Our older brother, by five years, Ray, was  a massive personality.  On the plus side he was immensely talented as a writer (he won a national story competition when he was 11), a brilliant artist and a talented musician.  He was outgoing with the most engaging sense of fun and perfect timing for comedy.  He had what I would call a quiet interest in all things spiritual, and possessed an inner  knowing, a deep understanding of life and a wonderful appreciation of the natural world. Sadly very few people ever saw that side of Ray, it was like he wore a dark cloak of protection around him and only those incredibly close and trusted, one of whom I was so fortunate to be, would ever get to see the real gentle and spiritual side to him.

He was attractive to women, of whom he had many calling and falling for him from an early age.  All our friends thought it must be so fantastic to have such a talented and good-looking brother and would even ask if he would be home before they arranged to come and visit, just hoping for a glimpse or even just a hello from him.  He undoubtedly had a magic about him which endured throughout his lifetime.  He was a natural charmer, easily making  friends wherever he went.  He was a magnet that most people found almost impossible to resist.

On the negative side, he was outrageous with no respect for rules or authority. Always in trouble, from a very early age, he spent many of his teenage years in approved school, then in and out of  borstal, and as he matured, he advanced to prisons.  It never fazed him in the slightest.  The rest of the family would be falling apart but he took it in his stride. It was never for very long and Ray saw it more as an enforced break, often he would write wonderful songs or stories and use the time to learn new skills before he would rejoin the world.

Invariably his earlier custodial sentences were due to his involvement with illegal motor bikes and cars, and when he was older for driving dangerously and at crazy speeds.  He had a desperate need for excitement. When I would ask him why he would drive like a maniac, he just used to say that he enjoyed the high, the buzz, the thrill of it.  He said he enjoyed the chase, the adrenalin charging through his veins.  I never understood. We were complete opposites in this regard.  I have always preferred peace, quiet, calm and steady, and the safety of rules and regulations.

I watched as our parents tried everything they could to make their young son conform, but it was just a waste of time.  He truly was a free spirit, a young brave who would have been an asset to the tribe, had his father been a native American chief.  He would have ridden his powerful stallion across the open lands and bravely fought for his tribal rights.  He would have understood the nature spirits, the shamanic laws, the mother earth.  Adorned with headdresses of feathers and shells, with his wolf by his side, I am sure he would have felt complete.  Instead he felt confined in our western society and kicked like a young buck against the rules which he felt should play no part in his life.

With Ray as my older brother, the age gap appeared much wider when we were younger.  As a young girl of seven or eight, Ray being then twelve or thirteen, seemed so grown up. I always felt he was my defender, somehow I felt safe with him around, which in hindsight was quite the opposite of how I should have felt. He appeared worldly-wise and being so unafraid of anything, he would take us out on fantastic adventures.  He always made the most of every opportunity for experiencing anything and everything.  He would always give anything a try.

On our many excursions during school holidays we would often go much further than our parents would have allowed.  He would ask Mum if it was ok to take us to the village for a couple of hours, but then we would find that he had planned that we would catch a train.  I’m not talking the usual way of catching a train.  There was no way that Ray would line up and pay for a ticket, no, he knew where the holes were in the chain link fence near the station and we would crawl through the undergrowth, sneak along the tracks and wait in hiding behind the station buildings for a train to arrive.  Then we’d scurry on board, and with our hearts thumping with excitement we’d be off to wherever the train took us.  That was part of the magic, never knowing where we’d end up. I don’t know how we never got caught without a ticket, but we never did!

Buses were always more of a problem with their conductors on board.  Ray would buy us tickets for 2d (yes two old pennies!) and we’d know that we’d have to get off at a certain stop, but Ray would make certain that we’d travel on crowded buses where the conductor wouldn’t notice us straight away if we stayed on the bus a little longer.  His plan didn’t always work and many a time we were thrown off the bus because we had no more money to cover our extended journeys.  Then there would be the inevitable long walks, normally through forests and across muddy fields.  Even these arduous treks would be made magical by Ray’s wonderful stories about the nature surrounding us and the mysterious creatures that lived there.  He would concoct the most amazing tales to keep us enthralled as we wearily made our way home. We were far too loyal to him to ever tell our parents of our law breaking.

He had played a guitar since we were very young and my memories of falling asleep whilst he played to us are always close to my heart.  My favourite song through many of my earlier years was Yellow Bird, which he would sing so softly to us, ‘Yellow bird, high up in banana tree, yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.’ So very different to the heavy rock he would end up playing as lead guitarist and singer with his band.

Ray led his adult life as a rock’n’roller, rubbing shoulders with those who had ‘made it’, but never quite getting there himself.  He ran various businesses, many of which were very successful, but he would soon become bored.  He had his own commercial recording studio and was in his element involved in music.  He always felt the need to escape from the confines of our culture and sadly relied heavily on serious drug use and at times became embroiled in a life surrounded by drugs.  He tried many times to move away from drugs, but in a strange way, when he managed it, his senses appeared dulled and his lust for life diminished as he tried to conform. His was known locally simply as Animal – his friends said it was because he was a party animal – which he was through and through.

When I was in my mid-teens Ray and I would sometimes spend a couple of days together at his flat.  I  felt so blessed that the Ray I normally shared my time with was wonderfully funny, gentle, and considerate. I was sure he made a huge effort for me. He’d take me out to some wonderful bistro for dinner and treat me like a real princess.  We would have the most deep and meaningful talks about life, our family, our souls, our choices.  They are still magical memories which I will always treasure. When it was just Ray and I together I felt so proud that he was my brother, but when I, quite regularly, read local newspaper reports about his appalling behaviour,  I would wonder how he could behave so differently, and dreadfully, with his close bunch of friends. I never found an explanation and could never reconcile the two extremes.

Ray’s flat was painted completely in black, and had mysterious red lights shining out of dark corners, it smelt of odd substances,dust, wine and old ashtrays.    There were candles everywhere which had been replaced many many times, but the remains of the old candles were still evident. Heavy dark velvet curtains were hung at every window, and strangely were very rarely pulled back. It was like walking into an underground cave where you would expect bats to fly at you.

The furniture was odd and bulky with old dusty velvet cushions placed everywhere.  All the wood in the flat had been acid washed back to its natural finish, and somehow it always felt sticky.

He had built a large rustic wooden cabin over his bath, complete with psychedelic lighting and speakers, so that you could lay in the bath and listen to the heavy rock music that was always playing in his home.

Huge amplifiers and speakers were in the sitting room, and his collection of electric guitars were everywhere. Shelves upon shelves of albums of his favourite bands were jostling for space in the crowded room with an ever-expanding odd array of artwork, ornaments and writings adorning every wall or shelf.

Massive mugs of tea or coffee, barely washed from many uses before, were offered along with his unusual home-made cakes and biscuits which contained a selection of various herbs and spices and which had a reputation to make you feel quite odd!  I learnt to avoid them.

He’d always want to play me the latest album he had just acquired and on one particular visit he had just bought Led Zeppelin IV.  He wanted me to hear his favourite track, Stairway to Heaven.  As the music boomed out of the speakers, loud enough for the whole neighbourhood to hear, he opened his french doors and we stood, arms wrapped around each other,  looking up into the dark sky picking out each twinkling star we could find.  He was telling me how we are all  from the stars, from the universe, how massive the galaxy is.

I remember thinking just how perfect the evening was with my big brother, when a very strange feeling came over me.  The garden appeared to be moving and my head felt odd.  I started to feel sick.  I told Ray I wasn’t feeling well.  ‘Ah, darling’,  he said, with a wry smile, ‘might have been the tea’.  He had, he said, added ‘magical’ ingredients.  My legs were like jelly. It took what felt like hours to get from the french doors to my bed in the spare room, which was not easy as the bed was built only a foot or so from the ceiling and I had to climb a ladder to get up there. Ray was laughing and singing to me  ‘There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold And she’s buying the stairway to heaven’.   It certainly didn’t feel like heaven to me!

Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: