Supernatural – the spirits of Plympton Cottage

Cottage

I AM a logical thinker and follow no particular religion, but I now know there is something unexplained and spiritual in our world which we simply do not yet understand.

This story begins over half a century ago when I was still a small toddler, playing in my bedroom at our home in Hull.

While playing, I suddenly heard a noise outside. As any inquisitive child might do, I looked out of my first floor window. I glanced right to see the unfamiliar hairy arms of someone emptying a large wooden pot of faeces out of a neighbouring window.

The vision was scary.

I cried and called for my mum to tell her what I had seen. I can still remember her chastising me for climbing on a chair to look out of my window and ordering me never to do it again as it was dangerous and I might fall.

The second experience was about three years later. I was five years old and off school with a high fever and tonsillitis. I was sick and sweating, waiting for the doctor to arrive.

I remember staring out of my ground floor front bedroom window to see a man walking across the street wearing a long brown leather coat and dark Donald Duck type mask. He was carrying a large bag. It was daylight and the vision was real and it has stayed with me ever since.

Only when I went to high school some seven years later did I learn that before proper sanitation in the 16th and 17th centuries, people would throw their waste excrement into the street, often from upstairs windows. I also learned that physicians or ‘quacks’ wore long leather coats and duck-like masks during outbreaks of plague. The beak was filled with pot-pourri to cover the stench of the dead.

Had these been visions from a previous life? Or were they memories locked in inherited DNA from my ancestors?

I do not know.

But unconnected events during 2013 and 2014, made me revisit these earlier memories.

It all started on the warm evening of Tuesday 4 June, 2013.

My wife Gill and I had signed for our new cottage in the sleepy Shropshire market town of Whitchurch the previous day, and had visited it twice over.

At the time, we were still ensconced in my old house in the North Wales’ hills, albeit perched like two flightless birds amid a host of packing cases and rolls of parcel tape and newspaper.

That evening we settled down to watch for the first time the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose – starring Laura Linney and Jennifer Carpenter. We had spontaneously bought the DVD the previous weekend.

It was dark and the film was gripping. Two thirds of the way through the movie, a priest, played by Tom Wilkinson, begins reciting an exorcism in Latin.

Then it happened… the DVD froze for 10 seconds and both Gill and I smelled the distinctive scent of fresh roses. There were no flowers in our house and neither of us were wearing perfume or after-shave.

It was bizarre.

But the following day, ‘bizarre’ became a bit frightening, as we discovered the scent of roses often accompanies the passing of spirit into the other world and the words recited in the movie were read from a true Latin script on exorcism.

Genuinely shaken, we laughed it off as something weird and unexplained.

But we had no idea about what the next few months would bring.

Just over a week later – on Friday 14 June – we received the keys for our new home in a small market town across the border in North Shropshire.

The house removal was set for Friday 28 June.

We were excited and began moving bits and pieces and undertaking some cleaning of the new house in preparation for the big move.

On Tuesday 18 June, I picked up some gorgeous old pine shelves for our kitchen – perfect for displaying my wife’s collection of TG Green Cornishware pottery.

That afternoon I attached the shelves to the end wall in our kitchen. The shelves looked good and I packed away my tools and cleaned up the dust from the drill holes.

Then, without warning, my large jar of screws – which I had had for over 20 years – suddenly slipped through my hands and smashed all over the quarry tiled kitchen floor, scattering screws almost everywhere. I cursed, but thought nothing of it other than just a simple accident.

But this was just the beginning.

On Friday 28 June, we finally moved house.

At about 2pm, the removal lorry arrived outside our cottage, and Gill and I started by carrying a few boxes through to the conservatory and shed.

Twenty minutes into our task, my dear wife suddenly screamed in agony as she fell into a small hole in our back lawn.

We rang for an ambulance and they rushed her to hospital.

Within a few hours doctors diagnosed that she had ruptured the tendons around her left knee and broken the knee cap… all in a fall into a small and previously unseen hole in the garden.

Six weeks of bed rest followed during our hottest summer in years, while I unpacked our belongings, filled drawers, put up pictures and started to experience something very strange.

The cottage was warm, cosy and above all full of character and charm.

Over the years, it had been extended and undergone several alterations, including the transformation of a side passage into the main body of the house, which was in turn enlarged the kitchen.

And it is in this extended area of the kitchen where the unexplained started to happen.

In the same area of the kitchen where I had dropped the jar of screws, I also dropped a plate full of food, and a week later a bag full of peas and numerous smaller items.

In September 2013, Gill was mobile again and my mother came to stay.

While she was sitting at the kitchen table, I offered to show her Gill’s prize piece of Cornishware pottery from the display shelves: a small blue and cream striped cheese pot.

It is a piece of pottery I had handled many times before, but on this occasion, its lid suddenly flew from the pot and smashed on the kitchen floor.

It was after this that we began to note the accidents in this corner of the kitchen.

In just under eight months, we individually and collectively (my wife, my son, my mother and I) dropped over 50 items in this small area of the kitchen, including a glass of wine, a stack of baking tins and a tub of cooking oil.

I also dropped and broke a mug and a wooden box of incense sticks in the zone and one evening an ironing board fell on my wife’s head in the same area.

We christened the area our “Drop Spirit Zone”.

In November 2013, we began some amateur investigations into what might be going on.

With the lights turned off, I walked slowly into the darkened kitchen and as I passed the threshold I felt a vibration pass across my shoulders.

I stood still. Suddenly a plastic pot of vitamin pills fell onto the floor behind me.

Then events took another twist.

I took my £400 camera phone to photograph this area of the kitchen, hoping to catch something.

As I held the camera ready to shoot, it fell from my grasp onto the floor. Thankfully, it was in a padded case and did not break.

But then weird got weirder…

Since we started the investigations I began to experience a recurring dream – the first such dream I have had since I was a small child.

The dream is plain in its simplicity… I walk into our kitchen alone at night and sit at the breakfast table.

I look down at our cat in his basket (the basket is placed in the Drop Spirit Zone at night, for no other reason than it is close to a radiator).

Alongside the cat and kneeling down is a young girl, aged about seven-years-old. She is stroking our grey haired moggie.

The girl has unkempt light brown hair, a freckled face and sad blue eyes. She is wearing a beige coloured dress with a distinct tie band around her waist.

She looks up at me and says: “I like cats”.

She tells me her name is Edith. Then she asks me: “Do you have any bread, Sir?”

I stand and walk to our bread bin and get a crust of thick-sliced white for her. When I return she is running into our pantry and down a steep staircase out of sight.

It is at this point I awake.

I had this exact same dream at least a dozen times over a period of three months.

But it doesn’t end there… on 19 November 2013, my wife and I were drinking mugs of coffee while finishing our breakfast in our kitchen.

I was sitting on one side of our old pine table and Gill was sitting three feet to the left of me. We were talking blandly about the day ahead.

Suddenly, and without warning, Gill’s almost full mug of hot coffee leapt upwards in her hand and spilled down her clothes, scalding her lap.

I looked at her amazed and she returned the look with an added look of fear in her eyes.

Together, we mopped up the spilt coffee and checked she was not badly scalded.

I commented: “Do you realise you are sitting in the Drop Spirit Zone?”

“Yes,” she replied. “It was like some small hand suddenly pushed my mug upwards.”

A few seconds before the incident, Gill had just finished eating the last piece of bread on the table.

Five weeks later we were again eating breakfast at our kitchen table. Gill was sitting to my left – inside the Drop Spirit Zone – and I was sitting slightly outside it.

Our old cat Frankie was sat on the quarry-tiled floor next to my wife.

Suddenly our normally docile cat leapt into the air, meowed loudly and darted into the living room, where he hid under the coffee table.

My wife and I stared at each other in amazement until we both simultaneously uttered: “The Drop Spirit Zone!”

Following that event, Frankie stopped sitting on the floor in the kitchen, preferring to perch on our old pine settle to watch us eat breakfast.

But something else started to rattle our sense of the explained.

From December 2013, we both heard strange sounds at night emanating from our kitchen.

Often sitting bolt upright in bed, we listened keenly.

It sounded as if our kitchen chairs are being dragged across our quarry tiled floor.

So we set up our own experiment to try and clarify whether this was the case or whether it was all in our collective imaginations.

Before retiring to bed one night, Gill placed a small marker on the kitchen floor, next to the chair which sits inside the Drop Spirit Zone.

That night we heard the usual scraping sounds.

The next morning, to our amazement, we discovered the marker had moved about two inches from its spot… but the chair had moved over seven inches!

Chair

But it was in the New Year when events took a twist in the most bizarre way imaginable.

On the night of Sunday 12 January 2014, I experienced a vivid dream in which I was helping three older men bury dead bodies in a huge ditch, by a dusty road. My job in the dream was to shovel white powder over the bodies as they were thrown in the common grave.

The mens’ names were Parcel, Coppice and Huddlestone.

The next day (Monday, 13 January) I made a startling and mind-blowing discovery!

As part of a Google search, I discovered through the Shropshire county archives that our house and garden lay on a ‘cemetery of unknown origin’.

The archive states that there had been an archeological excavation sometimes during the previous 70 years and seven extended skeletons were discovered.

I spoke with an expert at Shropshire Council Environment History Team, who looked at the files surrounding the excavation work here.

The seven skeletons were unearthed sometime between 1938 and 1950 while the foundations were dug for the kitchen extension!

At the time, they were thought to be Roman remains, but as there was no Carbon 14 dating techniques back then, there was no way to precisely date how old they were.

Another hypothesis was that it may have been a plague pit, possibly dating from the huge outbreak of bubonic plague in the town in 1650.

The council guy said there was no way of knowing what happened to the skeletons when they were unearthed.

He thought they might have been given a Christian burial in the local churchyard OR left in place.

And without further excavation work there was no way of knowing how many more there were – or are.

Further internet searches, combined with a brief scour of some 3,400 graves at our local cemetery led to the next heart-stopping discovery… Purcell, Coppage and Huddlestone are all common and historic surnames in the town.

We also found the grave of an eight-year-old girl called Edith!

So why did those names and the burials occur in my dreams before I had any knowledge of any of them?

Were spirits invading my sleeping senses?

On Tuesday 14 January 2014 another surprise was awaiting me.

I spoke to a lady at our local heritage centre about the skeleton find and was shocked by her response.

The young woman I spoke to was almost dumbstruck when I told her where I lived.

She stuttered slightly as she told me she used to live in this same cottage a few years earlier.

And one of the reasons she moved out was she believed it was “haunted”.

She spoke at length about objects dropping to the floor, mirrors and pictures falling from the wall, objects disappearing and the sound of footsteps on the landing when no one else was in the house.

She also said areas of the house were distinctly cold, even in the summer… something we had also noted.

Like us, this lady thought she was going crazy or imagining things.

But from that moment we knew we were not alone and were far from crazy.

On the night of Tuesday 14 January I awoke from another odd dream.

In this edge of darkness mind game there was a horse in our house and it kept rearing up on its hind legs to cuddle me.

I was comforted in the dream by my wife telling me that: “horses are affectionate pets and enjoy cuddles.”

It was just after lunch on Wednesday 15 January, that I first spoke with a local history and archeology expert called Mary.

She was deeply intrigued about the skeleton find… especially as her grandmother used to live in our cottage!

Her grandmother moved away from the cottage in 1938 and no human skeletons had been unearthed prior to then.

But it was what Mary told me next that shook me.

During the 1930s the bones of a shire horse were unearthed from our back garden. Her grandmother discovered the horse had been buried prior to 1902 by the people who owned the adjoining rectory.

No obvious link to the buried human skeletons, but yet another haunting appendage to a dream!

On Friday 17 January 2014 I mentioned the skeleton discovery to the husband of another former occupant of our house.

He was deeply curious and wanted to know more before saying: “You don’t think you are haunted do you?”

I hadn’t even mentioned the unexplained phenomena to him!

Then on Tuesday 21 January I tracked down yet another former occupant.

The lady wished to remain anonymous as she too fears people will think she is crazy.

She said: “I only stayed for six months. The cottage was lovely but it spooked me completely.

“Things were always falling and there was a clanking sound downstairs at night. My dog would suddenly bark at shadows in the kitchen and I never felt I was alone… it was like someone was watching me all the time.”

She was not alone… at least seven people have so far admitted to experiencing the hauntings of our home.

Then, under advice from a spirit expert, I took a series of photos on the Drop Spirit Zone in our kitchen.

One particular picture rocked me. It appears to show more than half a dozen orbs floating in that area of the kitchen.

Orbs night

The lens of the camera was clean and the images only appear in one frame… all the others are clear.

Then something fascinating happened… For as long as I have known I sometimes talk in my sleep.

On the night of Saturday 1 February (my birthday) I had drunk a few glasses of wine and slept very deeply.

But not as deeply as I imagined it seems.

Around 4am, Gill was woken by me muttering words and phrases in Latin. She used her iPhone to record my ramblings which included disturbing words such as spiritu sancti (holy spirit or ghost) and malum (evil).

I later woke around 8am with the words Dominy miseree nobise rattling round my skull.

Gill and I talked at length about my dream and these words, in particular the words I awoke to.

We looked them up and they appear to be Domine Miserere Nobis, which means: Lord Have Mercy Upon Us.

I must make clear that I have absolutely no knowledge of Latin.

The mysteries of the dreams and the unexplained activity in our former kitchen remained, but shortly before I moved house in January 2015, I gained some clarity about the origin of the skeletons.

While talking to an elderly neighbour, I discovered that our kitchen extension was built at the same time as the large detached house to the north of our property.

It was during the building excavations for this house and our kitchen – which lies some four feet lower than the footings of the property next door – that the skeletons were unearthed.

The large detached house was built on the foundations of an old Victorian lunatic asylum, which originally adjoined our property, but had been demolished some years earlier.

The asylum was privately owned and associated with the workhouse/poor house which is situated some 800 yards away to the east of our former cottage.

The workhouse now forms part of the town’s community hospital.

Anyway, it transpired that the owner of the asylum regularly buried bodies in the grounds of his property.

As these poor people were considered to be inhabited by demons, their bodies could not be buried on sacred church grounds.

It was assumed by the builders who unearthed the skeletons in the 1940s that there were likely to be many more buried in the same vicinity both in the gardens of our cottage and the large house.

When we moved away from Whitchurch we were left no wiser as to whether the skeletons were removed and reburied somewhere else or were simply covered with rubble and concrete.

Up until the date of our move we still experienced dozens of things falling in the Drop Spirit Zone – a box of six eggs sliding across the kitchen table and smashing to the floor, followed by a pack of bacon, were all quite memorable.

It was all part and parcel of living in that cottage.

Then 10 months later, the unexplained became bizarre and unearthly.

On Wednesday, 11 November 2015, I drove to Whitchurch to spend the evening with an old friend.

We had arranged to meet at 7pm and I arrived early in the town.

Spontaneously, I decided to park the car outside my former home and pay some last respects to our lovely cottage. I got out of the car to stretch my legs and looked at the front of the building.

Suddenly my mobile phone buzzed in my back pocket.

I took the phone out to see if there was a text or email message for me.

To my surprise the phone was frozen with only the time displaying on the lock screen: 18:43.

I tried to unfreeze the phone, but with no luck. Even removing the SIM and Memory cards failed to jog the phone back into life!

Two hours later with the phone still frozen, I explained my predicament to my friend as we supped a beer in the local pub.

Together we finally managed a Hard Reset on the phone and brought it back to life… but I had sadly lost over 200 saved photographs!

Then the penny dropped: the cottage was built in 1843… so the spirits are still active!

And they probably still walk that twilight zone, which we have yet to understand.

 

Dying with dignity and loved by many

Maart

I HAVE known musician Maart Allcock, in a roundabout way, for many years (we were students together in Huddersfield) and followed his career since then via Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention and other more recent ventures with Kieran Halpin, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens).

He has always been a larger than life character, full of charm and warmth and beer!

The knot became tighter when 10 years ago I discovered that his wife Jan was childhood friends with my long-time friend Judith. Anyway, I wondered why he had disappeared from my Facebook friends, then suddenly on Sunday read this on his website.

In my humble opinion, it is both heart-breaking and beautiful.

No more introduction from me, just stay strong Maart, and know you are loved by so many people.

These are his words:

“Hello everyone.

People were saying after my appearances at Cropredy last year that I was unwell. I was not. I’d lost weight because I had discovered the joy of exercise and was working out regularly. I was actually very fit and any illness was far beyond the horizon.

This year was meant to be my travel gap year. I was going to revisit friends and favourite places around the world before slowing down to enjoy the evening of my years. I made it as far as Madeira in January for some heat, a place I’d never considered before, but I loved it. Such a beautiful fragrant isle, truly a paradise.

A week after my return, I developed jaundice, and had to go to hospital. Scans and tests revealed that there were more sinister things happening inside me. Now the race is run and the final chapter has begun, and my liver cancer is terminal. I am in absolutely no pain or discomfort at this time. For the time being, to look at, you wouldn’t think there was much wrong with me. I am fully mobile, with energy, eating and sleeping well, and totally at peace with what the future holds. How long that future lasts is anyone’s guess, but I probably won’t make it to next summer.

I shall play my final live performance at the Fairport Cropredy Convention this August, but I shall continue to make music while I draw breath.

My main priority now is to finish the autobiography I began in January, and which now has an additional final chapter. I had no idea the deadline was so strict then. I will go with dignity, good humour and good grace. I just have to wait now for transport back to my own planet. I only came for the curry anyway.

So, do not be sad. I achieved everything I ever wanted to do from daydreaming in a council house in north Manchester to travelling the world with my heroes, playing to thousands and thousands of people, and getting paid for it.

I have lived a lot, laughed a lot and loved a lot, and I shall leave this planet with eternal love and gratitude for my wife Jan, my three children Madeleine, Jered and Jane, and their mum Gill, and all of you who took any interest in this mad northerner. Thank you all so much. Be happy and shower the people you love with love.

Maart

Still here for now…  Harlech, Cymru, June 2018”

Letting blood and poetry flow

BLOG Blood

My new book Blood in the Cracks is set for publication later this week. As a taster for readers, this is the introduction:

Blood in the Cracks – Liner Notes

Early one morning the sun was shining and I was lying in bed, pining the death of Different Voices, lost souls, abandoned dreams, broken guitar strings and love’s mortality.

In the end, the world has been betrayed by the old and corrupted by the young.

The cancer of capitalism has destroyed all that once was good… the Gates of Eden closed a long time ago and as the cars roar and hookers score in the Empire Burlesque, it is the money men, the media barons and launderers who grin as the corporate knife goes in.

A screenplay to the evil scourge of ordinary people by the most arrogant, privileged and fascist governments our world has ever witnessed.

For more than 700 years, their arrogance has conquered peaceful countries, imposed Western values and Christianity upon those countries, murdered millions and taken millions more into slavery.

They have sown war and hatred all over the world… because war creates money and wealth underpins the corruption of the powerful.

For the past four years, Saudi Arabia has pursued a vicious bombing campaign in Yemen that has left thousands of innocent civilians dead.

Government figures show that in one six month period alone, the UK sold Saudi Arabia £1,066,216,510 worth of weapons, including bombs and air-to-air missiles.

That is just part of £4.6 billion of UK arms sales to Saudi since the war in Yemen began.

The UN says more than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen’s war, including more than 5,000 civilians.

Many more have perished due to starvation, or a lack of access to healthcare and medical aid.

Meanwhile, back at home the young are corrupted for their souls…

They have been sleep-walking into a world of personal greed, arrogance and self-importance; with TV totems, tanning studios, face lightening cosmetics, designer clothes labels, supermodels and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Human kindness, gentleness, peace, society and social justice have been jettisoned for a ‘winner takes all’ mentality and a scapegoating of the homeless, those claiming benefits, Muslims, asylum seekers and the poor.

It is underpinned by a malicious mainstream media who smear and pillory anyone who dares question the status quo or suggest alternatives.

The press barons and their big business buddies are terrified of those alternatives, because they threaten the capitalist inertia where the five richest families in the UK now own more wealth than the poorest 25% of the population.

Meanwhile, thousands of families survive on the breadline, make weekly use of food banks or starve due to draconian benefits sanctions.

Yet this is the First World… the land of cherished democracy and freedom.

As Pete Hamill wrote in 1974: “In the end, the plague touched us all. It was not confined to the Oran of Camus. No. It turned up again in America, breeding in-a-compost of greed and uselessness and murder, in those places where statesmen and generals stash the bodies of the forever young.

“The plague ran in the blood of men in sharkskin suits, who ran for President promising life, and delivering death. The infected young men machine-gunned babies in Asian ditches; they marshalled metal death through the mighty clouds, up above God’s green earth, released it in silent streams, and moved on, while the hospitals exploded and green fields were churned to mud.

“And here at home, something died. The bacillus moved among us, slaying that old America where the immigrants lit a million dreams in the shadows of the bridges… and through the fog of the plague, most art withered into journalism. Painters lift the easel to scrawl their innocence on walls and manifestos.

“Poor America. Tossed on a pilgrim tide… Land where the poets died.

“Except for Bob Dylan.”

Ah… Dylan!

The works of Robert Allen Zimmerman have bestowed the soundtrack to my life.

It is now 45 years since I first came to his music, his words of truthful vengeance and his vignettes of love and theft.

A lifetime’s inspiration.

One particular album, Blood on the Tracks, remains a lyrical and poetic touchstone.

My soul is forever wrapped within the songs of its entire 51 minutes and 42 seconds.

Overtly autobiographical, the LP is full of tales of a lover relating a series of unrelated events set in a mythical America. Like a series of impressionist paintings of life itself, the tales are both timeless and without geographical boundaries.

Over 10 iconic songs, Dylan alludes to heartache, deception, anger, poignant regret and loneliness.

It’s a world-weary, nostalgic and ultimately a poetic Bob Dylan; and that is what makes Blood on the Tracks so timeless.

And it is also what makes it the template for my own album of poems… the album you open here.

Welcome to Blood in the Cracks… no plagiarism, just inspiration and words.

These 10 poems are my life and my blood…

Seeing the Real You At Last

Friends

JOHN Lennon once wrote: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”.

But, as I sit here, I am drawn by the words of his former writing partner and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney:

“Maybe I’m amazed at the way you love me all the time

Maybe I’m afraid of the way I love you

Maybe I’m amazed at the the way you pulled me out of time

And hung me on a line

Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you

Maybe I’m a man and maybe I’m a lonely man

Who’s in the middle of something

That he doesn’t really understand.”

Now, exactly five years since the nervous breakdown, which changed my life for ever, I am still looking to understand my life and the people who have been part of it!

As many readers will know, 2013 was personally an awful year, culminating in the complete breakdown on 12 June.

It was also the start of a recovery and realisation that only by honestly addressing my life, could I find a way forward.

So I began a journey of self-awareness and discovery.

The support of my lovely family was an immense part of this journey.

And the friends who were there for me when my life was at its bleakest also helped sustain me, and drive me forward.

Many years ago I helped an old friend who was facing a tough time. He has now sadly passed away, but he left me a letter with the immortal words: “A man is known by his friends and not his enemies, I am grateful to count you as a friend.”

Today his words chime so clearly in my conscience.

You see, it is easy to know who you love and who loves you, but is less easy to appreciate who are true friends.

The ongoing atrocities in Palestine often make me realise how much evil exists in this world.

But there is still so much goodness and good people.

I could not have survived without such people… so many wonderful friends, who climbed out from behind the barricades to give help when they saw I was drowning.

It has always puzzled me how human chemistry works and how some people become such great friends while some others torture our souls.

It is almost as if you know who will be a friend when you first meet them… or is that only me?

Psychologists believe there are 16 distinct types of personality in human beings:

The Duty Fulfiller

Serious and quiet, interested in security and peaceful living. Extremely thorough, responsible, and dependable. Usually interested in supporting and promoting traditions and establishments. Well-organized and hard-working, they work steadily towards identified goals.

The Mechanic

Quiet and reserved, interested in how and why things work. Excellent skills with mechanical things. Risk-takers who they live for the moment. Usually interested in and talented at extreme sports. Uncomplicated in their desires. Loyal to their peers and to their internal value systems.

The Nurturer

Quiet, kind, and conscientious. Can be depended on to follow through. Usually puts the needs of others above their own needs. Stable and practical, they value security and traditions. Extremely perceptive of other’s feelings. Interested in serving others.

The Artist

Quiet, serious, sensitive and kind. Do not like conflict, and not likely to do things which may generate conflict. Loyal and faithful. Not interested in leading or controlling others. Flexible and open-minded. Likely to be original and creative. Enjoy the present moment.

The Protector

Quietly forceful, original, and sensitive. Tend to stick to things until they are done. Extremely intuitive about people, and concerned for their feelings. Well-respected for their perseverance in doing the right thing. Likely to be individualistic, rather than leading or following.

The Idealist

Quiet, reflective, and idealistic. Interested in serving humanity. Extremely loyal. Adaptable and laid-back unless a strongly-held value is threatened. Usually talented writers. Mentally quick, and able to see possibilities. Interested in understanding and helping people.

The Scientist

Independent, original, analytical, and determined. Have an exceptional ability to turn theories into solid plans of action. Long-range thinkers. Have very high standards for their performance, and the performance of others. Natural leaders, but will follow if they trust existing leaders.

The Thinker

Logical, original, creative thinkers. Can become very excited about theories and ideas. Exceptionally capable and driven to turn theories into clear understandings. Quiet and reserved, hard to get to know well. Individualistic, having no interest in leading or following others.

The Doer

Friendly, adaptable, action-oriented. “Doers” who are focused on immediate results. Living in the here-and-now, they’re risk-takers who live fast-paced lifestyles. Extremely loyal to their peers, but not usually respectful of laws and rules if they get in the way of getting things done.

The Guardian

Practical, traditional, and organized. Not interested in theory or abstraction unless they see the practical application. Have clear visions of the way things should be. Loyal and hard-working. Like to be in charge. Exceptionally capable in organizing and running activities.

The Performer

People-oriented and fun-loving, they make things more fun for others by their enjoyment. Living for the moment, they love new experiences. Interested in serving others. Likely to be the centre of attention in social situations. Well-developed common sense and practical ability.

The Caregiver

Warm-hearted, popular, and conscientious. Tend to put the needs of others over their own needs. Feel strong sense of responsibility and duty. Value traditions and security. Need positive reinforcement to feel good about themselves. Well-developed sense of space and function.

The Inspirer

Enthusiastic, idealistic, and creative. Able to do almost anything that interests them. Great people skills. Need to live life in accordance with their inner values. Excited by new ideas, but bored with details. Open-minded and flexible, with a broad range of interests and abilities.

The Giver

Popular and sensitive, with outstanding people skills. Externally focused, with real concern for how others think and feel. Usually dislike being alone. They see everything from the human angle, and dislike impersonal analysis.

The Visionary

Creative, resourceful, and intellectually quick. Good at a broad range of things. Enjoy debating issues, and may be into “one-upmanship”. They get very excited about new ideas and projects, but may neglect the more routine aspects of life. Generally outspoken and assertive.

The Executive

Assertive and outspoken – they are driven to lead. Excellent ability to understand difficult organizational problems and create solid solutions. Intelligent and well-informed, they usually excel at public speaking. They value knowledge and competence, and usually have little patience with inefficiency or disorganization.

I guess we all fit into one of those categories… or do we?

But, the psychologists have missed two important personality types: the Psychotic and the Complete Bastard.

Because while we are loved and supported by our life partners, soul mates and good friends; there are others who seem hell-bent on ruining the lives of other human beings either at work, at home or any given social situation.

So the two things I have learned from my breakdown and recovery is:

Don’t let the antagonists be part of your life… leave them behind.

Embrace your friends and those who love you.

Simple stuff really and I guess you don’t need to be a psychologist to figure that out.

But don’t let it get to a breakdown before you do!

I finish with an embrace for Helen, my confidante and best friend. She is the daughter and sister I never had, and my true soul mate.

She tells things as she sees them: “Fuck the bastards Nic, you are beautiful!”

A man is known by his friends and not his enemies and I am a very lucky man indeed.

The dark mystery of Seven Up and 22

seven up

FOR as long as I can remember I have had a premonition that I would die on the 22nd of October… and that is only five months away.

I have been trying to get my head around this for a long time.

And I am still struggling.

I know I have always considered 22 to be my unlucky number:

  • 22 July 1984                The most shocking day of my life
  • 22 Sept 1987               I was diagnosed with cancer
  • 22 April 1988              I was told my cancer had spread to my lung
  • 22 Feb 1992                My father-in-law committed suicide
  • 22 May 1990               My best friend Andrea died
  • 22 Aug 2003                The last time I saw my two daughters
  • 22 Oct 2005                 I found out my wife was cheating on me
  • 22 April 2010             The last time I spoke with my eldest son
  • 22 May 2010               The day I knew I would never see my daughters again

Coincidence?

Just numbers eh! But, there is something unexplained and spiritual in our world which we simply do not yet understand.

The late John Lennon was pre-occupied with the number nine and throughout his life it held an almost supernatural significance.

It was present at his birth, prevalent throughout his life and omnipresent at his death.

John was born at 6.30am on Wednesday 9 October and, although officially announced dead at 11.15pm in New York on 8 December, due to the time difference, it was actually 9 December in Liverpool, the place of his birth.

The time of his birth, 6.30 also adds up to nine, as to the letters of Wednesday, the day of his birth.

Several of his songs reflected his interest in his favourite number: # 9 Dream, Revolution 9 and One After 909, the latter being written at 9 Newcastle Road, Liverpool, his grandfather’s house where he was reared in his early years (Newcastle has nine letters, as does Liverpool).

As John once said: “I lived in 9 Newcastle Road, I was born on the 9th October. It’s just a number that follows me around, but, numerologically, apparently I am number six or three or something, but it’s all part of nine.”

Numerous events in his life took place on the 9th:

  • The Beatles played at the Cavern Club for the first time on 9 February
  • Brian Epstein saw the Beatles for the first time on 9 November
  • The Beatles EMI contract was confirmed on 9 May
  • The Beatles made their Ed Sullivan Show debut on 9 February
  • John first met Yoko Ono on 9 November
  • John and Yoko’s son Sean was born on 9 October.
  • When John was shot he was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital – on 9 Avenue (Roosevelt also has nine letters, as does Manhattan, the district in New York where he lived and died).

Bizarre coincidence, or something beyond our understanding?

Beyond 22, I share John Lennon’s strange fascination with numerology.

My personal number of fate is seven, and like John’s #9, this number has followed me all my life.

  • I was born at 7am on 1 February, as was my eldest daughter. My eldest son was born on 25th June (2+5=7) also at 7am!
  • The house where I was born was 7 Atkinson Drive, the next house was 17 New Barn Road and the next 17 Westway Close and so on.
  • When I left home to go to university my first hall of residence room was D27 and my first flat was 7 High Street.
  • But it is with specific years when the number 7 becomes of immense significance to me.
  • 1967: I started grammar school and also attended my first Brighton and Hove Albion football match.
  • 1977: I graduated from university, moved back to mum and dad, who lived at 52 North Road (5+2=7) and met my lifelong friend Jayne, who sadly died aged 57.
  • 1987: I narrowly missed being killed in a high speed crash on 7 September and on 27 September underwent radical surgery to remove a malignant cancer of my right shoulder, before undergoing seven weeks of life-saving radiotherapy.
  • 1997: I lost my career and passion in national newspaper journalism… my last day at work in the job of my dreams at The Scotsman was 7 July.
  • 2007: At the start of the year my house was repossessed and I was penniless. Then later in the year was left minutes from death from a vicious assault on 7 September.

Maybe Chaos Theory has the answer?

Chaos Theory is about how complicated the world is and something which can only be understood through numbers.

The world is so complex that one small change, even a seemingly tiny insignificant change, has enormous consequences (The Butterfly Effect).

Imagine you typically catch a plane to go home at the weekend, but this time you decide to go by rail. On the train, you meet a person you end up falling in love with and marrying. What made you change your mind and go by rail? Who would you have married if you hadn’t have gone by rail?

Is there is a way to find order out of this chaos?

You can’t ignore chance, and are numbers determining our fate?

Numerology is any belief in the divine, mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas.

It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.

Pythagoras and other philosophers of the time believed that because mathematical concepts were more “practical” than physical ones, they had greater actuality.

St Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) wrote: “Numbers are the Universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.”

Similar to Pythagoras, he too believed that everything had numerical relationships and it was up to the mind to seek and investigate the secrets of these relationships or have them revealed by divine grace.

I am a deist – I believe in some higher spiritual power, but exactly what that is, I have no idea.

Do you John Lennon, and shall I ring you on your usual number?

My own number begins 077 and ends in a 7.

 

Big Brother is Watching You… and now it gets really scary

BIG BROTHER

I HAVE just read the most disturbing news item I have come across in a long time.

I am beyond shocked… I am frightened for my children and my grandchildren.

I cough and allow my mind to drift to a peaceful place sitting in the summer sunshine on the north side of the Isle of Jura watching the sea wash white horses on the rocks below me.

Less than 300 yards to the south of where I am sitting is the isolated cottage known as Barnhill… this was the rented home of writer George Orwell, who lived there intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1950. Orwell completed his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four while living there.

It was a place I visited often during my two years living and working as a newspaper editor in the wilds of Argyll, in western Scotland, some 28 years ago.

Barnhill always held a fascination for me, because Nineteen Eighty-Four had remained my favourite novel since I was first mesmerised by Orwell’s vision of a future dystopian world as a raw 14-year-old. And I loved to imagine the views he must have taken in while writing that classic of English literature.

First published in 1948, yet set 36 years later, Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of Winston Smith, a citizen and ordinary member of the Outer Party.

Winston works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting and distorting history, under the dictator Big Brother.

But Winston is determined to remain human under inhuman circumstances and begins a diary. Yet telescreens are placed everywhere — in his home, in his cubicle at work, in the cafeteria where he eats, even in the bathroom stalls. His every move is watched. No place is safe.

One day, while at the mandatory Two Minutes Hate, Winston catches the eye of an Inner Party Member, O’Brien, whom he believes to be an ally. He also catches the eye of a dark-haired girl named Julia from the Fiction Department.

A few days later Julia secretly hands him a note that reads: “I love you.” Winston takes pains to meet her, and when they finally do, Julia draws up a plan whereby they can be alone.

Once alone in the countryside, Winston and Julia make love and begin their allegiance against the Party and Big Brother. They fall in love, and, while they know that they will someday be caught, they believe that the love and loyalty they feel for each other can never be taken from them.

Eventually, Winston and Julia confess to O’Brien, whom they believe to be a member of the Brotherhood (an underground organization aimed at bringing down the Party), their hatred of the Party.

O’Brien welcomes them into the Brotherhood with an array of questions and arranges for Winston to be given a copy of “the book,” the underground’s treasonous volume written by their leader, Emmanuel Goldstein.

Winston gets the book and takes it to the secure room where he reads it with Julia napping by his side. The two are disturbed by a noise behind a painting in the room and discover a telescreen. They are quickly dragged away and separated.

Winston finds himself deep inside the Ministry of Love, a prison with no windows, where he sits for days alone. Finally, O’Brien comes. Initially Winston believes that O’Brien has also been caught, but he soon realizes that O’Brien is there to torture him and break his spirit.

O’Brien spends the next few months torturing Winston in order to change his way of thinking — to employ the concept of doublethink, or the ability to simultaneously hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind and believe in them both.

Finally, O’Brien takes Winston to Room 101, the most dreaded room of all in the Ministry of Love, the place where prisoners meet their greatest fear. Winston’s greatest fear is rats. O’Brien places over Winston’s head a mask made of wire mesh and threatens to open the door to release rats on Winston’s face.

When Winston screams, “Do it to Julia!” he relinquishes his last vestige of humanity.

Winston is a changed man. He sits in the Chestnut Tree Café, watching the telescreens and agonizing over the results of daily battles on the front lines. He has seen Julia again. She, too, is changed, seeming older and less attractive. She admits that she also betrayed him. In the end, there is no doubt, Winston loves Big Brother.

Today, the year 1984 has long passed, but Orwell’s futuristic vision of hell on Earth remains.

Big Brother is now everywhere

  • Mainstream newspapers and TV channels feed us daily propaganda – the “facts” the Establishment wish us to believe
  • CCTV cameras are on every street corner and inside every store – yet we never know who is monitoring them
  • Number Plate Recognition cameras are installed at almost every filling station and car park
  • Sat Nav satellites pick-up every move of our car, van or truck
  • Cookies and spyware follow every finger click we make on our PC or tablet
  • Police DNA and fingerprint databases have more than 30% of adults logged on their files
  • MSN, Messenger text messages and private phone calls are harvested by government snoopers at GCHQ
  • Our employment, financial and residential history is catalogued in the finest detail by so-called credit reference agencies such as Equifax and Experian

Our lives are no longer secret… Big Brother knows all of us.

Which brings me back to beginning…

I stare again at the news item and in something which can only be described as Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Black Mirror the headline reads: Implanting Microchips for Convenience.

The article explains how plans are already being rolled out to implant a tiny microchip in people’s hand which could eventually replace the need for credit cards, car keys and much more.

And this dystopian world is almost upon us right now.

Micro-chipping is almost routine at the Swedish start-up hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and start-up members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter.

As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it.

“It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,” he explains.

The technology in itself is not new.

Such chips are used as virtual collar plates for pets. Companies use them to track deliveries. It’s just never been used to tag employees on a broad scale before.

Epicenter and a handful of other companies are the first to make chip implants broadly available.

While biologically safe, the data generated by the chips can show how often an employee comes to work or what they buy. Unlike company swipe cards or smartphones, which can generate the same data, a person cannot easily separate themselves from the chip.

“Of course, putting things into your body is quite a big step to do and it was even for me at first,” said Mr Mesterton, remembering how he initially had had doubts.

“But then on the other hand, I mean, people have been implanting things into their body, like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart,” he said. “That’s a way, way more serious thing than having a small chip that can actually communicate with devices.”

Epicenter, which is home to more than 100 companies and some 2,000 workers, began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have them.

A company based in Belgium also offers its employees such implants.

And last year a company in Wisconsin has become the first in the USA to roll out microchip implants for all its employees.

The initiative, which is optional for employees at snack stall supplier Three Square Market (32M), implants radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in staff members’ hands in between their thumb and forefinger.

Once tagged with the implant 32M says its employees will be able to perform a range of common office tasks with an effortless wave of their hand.

“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals,” says 32M CEO, Todd Westby.

The chips make use of near-field communication (NFC), and are similar to ones already in use in things like contactless credit cards, mobile payment systems, and animal tag implants.

“It will happen to everybody,” says Noelle Chesley, 49, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“But not this year, maybe not my generation, but certainly that of my kids.”

But Gene Munster, an analyst at Loup Ventures, thinks embedded chips in human bodies is 50 years away.

“The idea of being chipped has too “much negative connotation today,” he says, but by 2067 “we will have been desensitized by the social stigma.”

So the next time your child has to stand in-line for an eye recognition device to pay for their school dinner, or the next time you use your finger print to log into your iPhone, remember the Isle of Jura and George Orwell’s words of warning.

Big Brother is watching you.

Live each day as if it is your Last

BLOG dad and me

My death waits like an old roue’

So confident, I’ll go his way

Whistle to him and the passing time

My death waits like a Bible truth

At the funeral of my youth

Are we proud for that and the passing time?

My death waits like a witch at night

As surely as our love is right

Let’s not think about the passing time

But whatever lies behind the door

There is nothing much to do

Angel or devil, I don’t care

For in front of that door there is you

(Jacques Brel)

 

ONE thing I have learned from my life, is that it is a short movie.

And if I die tomorrow I will be grateful for it.

Sure, it has been a rollercoaster with more depths and dark places than I care to recall… you can visit those if you wish in plenty of my other blog features.

But, it has also been a stellar ride; visiting so many beautiful places, meeting scores of amazing people, enjoying two successful professional careers, producing five wonderful children – plus three more I sort of adopted – and the best family and friends I could ever wish for.

And I know it will end soon.

For the past 30 years I have been living on borrowed time, since I twice cheated cancer and later survived an almost fatal assault.

But I am still here and my life defines me.

As it does for all of us.

A couple of summers ago, I sat talking with my 87-year-old mum about life, death, the universe and our own mortality.

She began reviewing the fact that most of her peers, friends and siblings have now died and the ensuing loneliness is sometimes difficult to bear.

I blithely joked that she is still healthy and active and has experienced a full life.

And that life should not be measured by age or loss.

As I looked at my ageing mum and in the mirror at myself, I realised that time never stands still.

In 2016, I happened to be in South Wales on a business trip, and decided to use my time there to visit the grave of a dear friend who died tragically young, 28 years ago.

Andrea Price grew up in the small mining village of Rassau by Ebbw Vale.

She was the sweetest and most funny girl I have ever met and we became inseparable soul mates, while we both battled cancer together during the winter of 1987 and summer of the following year.

Racked in pain, with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer – diagnosed while she was on a walking holiday in France – she knew her chances of survival were slim.

“But I’m going to fight it,” she urged, willing me to do the same. “I haven’t yet got my degree, I haven’t learned to drive… and I’m still a virgin.

“I want to live a bit before I die.”

She did.

But that did not dull the agony when in May 1990 I stood and shared heart wrenching tears at her funeral.

She was just 23.

For me, my memories of Andrea always remain, and often been my driving force to live.

Her smile and her laughter as she beat me in a physiotherapy game of football in the hospital gym, where she was only allowed to use her right leg and I only my arm. At the end of the game we collapsed side by side on the floor guffawing at how silly all this was.

Then there was the Wednesday night visit to the local rugby club for a game of bingo and a half pint of beer. We walked slowly back to the hostel at 10pm. She rested her head on my shoulder as we walked and suddenly whispered: “I love you Nic… we are going to win, aren’t we?”

I kissed her forehead and answered: “Of course we will.”

A year before her death I visited Andrea again in a hospital in Birmingham, where she had undergone a hip replacement operation in a last attempt by surgeons to remove the seat of her cancer.

I sat and clenched her right hand and looked into her sparkling eyes.

I giggled: “Hey, you’ve got freckles and hair!”

“Yes,” she answered, “I have been off chemotherapy for three months now to build up my strength for the op’.”

I had only known Andrea as a tall, underweight, pale-faced girl stooped under a horrendous NHS wig, which at times made her look like an extra in the Addams Family.

But now, holding her hand, this was how I was going to remember her.

True love never dies.

And something remarkable happened during my trip to south Wales.

After laying flowers at the cemetery where her body rests, I decided to post a copy of my first poetry book The Hill (with a brief accompanying letter) through the letterbox of her old home – vaguely hoping it might reach someone in her family.

My book included two poems I had written to Andrea.

Time passed and I naturally assumed the missive had failed.

But always be prepared for the unexpected.

Suddenly, I unexpectedly received an email from Andrea’s younger brother, asking if he could buy more copies of my book for other members of her family.

I fought hard to fight back tears as I read his email.

And later I cried again when he told me that her father (now in his 70s) was writing to me with some photographs of Andrea – the one thing I have never had is a photo of my beautiful departed friend.

In the words of Bob Dylan: “Death is not the End”.

I have faced the death of family and friends many times over the years.

The grief is always immeasurable, and in recent years some of those deaths were untimely and shocking.

Three years ago, I discovered that my former brother-in-law Dougie had died suddenly aged just 54.

It was a total shock. I had not seen or spoken to Dougie for many years, since my former partner and I split, but he was a lovely man and the world became an emptier place with his passing.

Then a few weeks later, I found out that one of my oldest and dearest friends Gill Gilson had died in the summer of 2014 after a long battle with lung cancer. Gill was just 56.

We met at university and became the closest of friends. We were never romantically attached… we were just good mates and stayed in touch for many years after graduating. She sometimes came to stay and we would sit and laugh as we shared many student memories.

I also remember Gill giving me a lift home from Yorkshire to Sussex in her old Morris 1000 Traveller and eating cold bacon sandwiches which she had secreted wrapped in foil in her glove compartment.

Memories of life are made of this.

Gill was a musician and a fabulous piano teacher. Her only weakness – and her charm – was she loved beer and I still remember the mornings I had to knock on her door to tell her to get to lectures because she had imbibed in a few too many jars the night before.

Gill oozed fun, gentleness and companionship in everything she did.

I miss her.

Then in the summer of 2016, I took a long overdue holiday in my old haunt of Chichester in West Sussex.

Whenever returning home – as I still call Sussex – I always made a point of catching up with another old friend, Jayne West.

Jayne and I met as teenagers while nursing together.

Any hope I may have had of a romantic attachment disappeared quickly when on our second date she told me she was gay and lived happily with her partner Julie.

She was the first openly lesbian woman I had ever met – in a time when personal sexuality was more closely guarded.

So instead of romance, we became lifelong friends. Each visit we would swap stories of the directions our lives had travelled and how much weight we had both gained.

I had not seen Jayne for over 10 years, so this holiday visit was going to be an extra special catch-up.

But before I set off for the drive down south, I discovered that Jayne had died in November 2013, aged just 56.

Her partner Julie was with her to the end.

It seems that time, life and death waits for no one.

So we live our lives as constructively as we can, seeking happiness and pleasure, loving and caring, and at times grieving.

And always knowing that our own time is limited.

And each day might be our last.

I recall two sets of lines from the movie Dead Poets Society.

The late Robin Williams, playing the role of school teacher John Keating, teaches his charges the essence of life: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.

“And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for… that you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

“That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

And later, turning to fading sepia school photos of students taken decades earlier, he reminds them of the passing time and the brevity of life: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel.

“The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?

“Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Listen, you hear it? Carpe – hear it? Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

We should all make our own lives extraordinary as we pass this way just once.

My own is almost run, and it has certainly been extraordinary

So my advice to all my children and other young people I know: live today as if it is your last… carpe diem.