you know that feeling you get on day two of boarding school them was days when the so far avuncular deputy
head lines up your year single fileon
the stone cold stone Victorian staircase love
a bit of gothic and holds open the door to the corridor for each boy to
walk through one by one by one having first asked each boy to introduce himself
by way of saying his name out loud the
sure fire way of learning thirty five names creating an eager procession of
boy door name usher though with wave of hand boy door name usher though with
wave of hand boy door name usher though with wave of hand as if he’s a black
robed st peter cheerfully welcoming chosen souls into the kingdom of heaven or perhaps a demon at one of hell’s portals to
a backdrop of nervous laughter forward slash general air of boyish bonhomie boy
door name usher though with wave of hand boy door name usher though with wave
of hand until it’s your turn boy door name
but instead of ushering you through with the hand wave thing to join the other chosen
or is it lost souls he pauses you
with a hand just long enough to say oh you’re the adopted one been there done that got the red face before
ushering you through one of hell’s
portals so it transpires well there must be a word for that don’t
On a day for memories, I thought of you all; found some of
my childhood and remembered.
There I was, that smiling child, lying on the carpet,
transfixed by the lift in Adrian’s old toy garage. Up and up and up, then
whoosh; paint-chipped Dinky toys racing down the ramp; no sound was more
I saw myself sitting at the table outside your kitchen, with
Mimi and Pippa (who seem to be something of a sisterly double-act in my
recollections), sitting opposite me, cajoling an uncertain Fergus into taking a
teaspoon of ‘medicine’ (I’m practising
for when I’m a nurse, said Mimi). And when I refused (medicine is surely
yuck), Pippa, who always had a laugh in her voice, telling me that it wasn’t
really medicine, but rose-hip syrup. I didn’t believe you (roses are flowers!).
I relented, of course, and was so amazed that I became a willing patient.
Joanella telling me to wake Adrian up by tickling his feet (That should get him up! or words to that
effect). Who’s that tickling my feet? like
a teenage troll from the Billy Goat’s
Gruff. When I asked What’s that?
he put his headphones on my head and almost blew my little mind, although they
weren’t as cool – nothing was – as his digital watch. I throw it across the room when the alarm goes off in the morning! he
said, to my disbelieving dismay. And, now that I think about it, I’m still
amazed that he managed to pour a jug of milk into a newspaper without spilling
it on the living-room floor (on my ?4th birthday).
Mimi, or perhaps Pippa, explaining in excited tones how the
TV wasn’t working because it had exploded! Being taken to a bedroom to be
played a record by (I think) either Marc Bolan or David Bowie, and I thought it
sounded awful, but when Mimi (was it?) played ‘Sailing’ on the downstairs music
system, I couldn’t get enough of it.
And roses (not rose-hips), and yapping Tara, and your mother
being the only person (apart from my wife) who has ever called me darling, and forever equating horses
with Pippa, and Adrian taking me out on my 11th and 12th birthdays
at the dreaded Ampleforth (and also to the theatre for the first time when I
was 14, to see a bedroom farce), and nervously ushering at Pippa’s wedding, and
Frant, and Gilpin Cottage, and being loved by your mother, and always feeling
happy whenever we saw the Slatterys (sp?!).
It’s probably rather sentimental of me to say so, but I think
that neuroscientists (not many sentences about sentimentality contain this
word, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything) are looking in the wrong place when trying to find which part of the brain houses memories, because, so far as I can tell, they form in your heart; and that is where we
Like many people, I was a Beatles obsessive in my youth.
Unlike many people (or, I suspect, any people), I took my obsession to a whole
new level of nerdiness: I asked the Director of Music at Ampleforth to let me
write my 5,000 word O’Level music project on the music of the Beatles. He
countered with, “If you like songs, why not study Schubert?” I pointed out that
we were already studying his string quartet in A minor. It was still a no. He eventually
relented after I presented him with an analysis of “Yesterday” and a working title:
The Styles and Forms of the Beatles
Melodic Lines. (What was wrong with Melodies?
‘Melodic Lines’? Pffft. What a
waffler.) It remains the only piece of academic work I wrote which had any
originality or insight, and which I am proud of.
Thirty-three years after my Magnum Opus, I find myself in Sgt. Pepperland, being regaled by “It
was 50 years ago today…” nostalgia. It’s a decadal event (it was twenty years
ago… now thirty years ago… now forty years ago…), which is fitting, I suppose,
given that ‘Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band’ is an album which you only
need to listen to every ten years – to remind yourself that, yes, most of the
songs are a disappointment.
This is a common criticism, and there are two counter-arguments which are put forward in mitigation: (i) the sonic innovations were revolutionary;
and (ii) the album was a 'cultural event' enjoyed many millions of people.
In answer to point (i): Revolutionary sonic innovations are
startling at the time, but there’s only so many times one can be impressed by a
flange on the lead vocal; and what was once an innovation eventually becomes
either old-hat or dated – because if you innovate a studio effect which everyone
else can copy, then they will. The thing with revolutions is that everyone else
wants to join in. The Beatles spent nine months in the studio on the sound of
the songs, rather than on the songs themselves. A great deal of icing for a
small amount of cake. You may disagree. I’ll always find ‘When I’m 64’
embarrassing; think of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ as the second photocopy of ‘Yesterday’
(‘Eleanor Rigby’ being the first photocopy); fast forward ‘Within You, Without
You’; cringe at the lyrical tweeness of ‘Lovely Rita’; take a pass on the cloying
sweetness of ‘With a Little Help…’. Elsewhere, the problem with the songs is an
imbalance in the Lennon/McCartney partnership very heavily in favour of McCartney.
Personal preference also plays a big part in my disliking of this album: I don’t
like big production.
As for point (ii), I’m put in mind of Seneca’s letter to
Lucilius ‘On Crowds’: ‘Lay these words to heart, that you may scorn the
pleasure which comes from the applause of the majority… have you any reason to
be pleased with yourself if you are a person whom the many can understand?’
Surrealists tried to create meaning in a world made strange
and alien by the trauma of war.
The task for the adoptee is similar: to try to create
meaning in a world made strange and alien by the trauma of adoption.
Thus, imagining ‘putting your mother’s sofa up a tree’ to
explain that ‘this how you’ve always felt’ is a surreal attempt to make meaning
out of the strangeness and alienationwhich results from adoption trauma.
Is adoption a state of being which is impossible to explain
or understand with sole reference to the rational?
Or do one's feelings about adoption belong in the surrealist's ‘Kingdom of the
I find that they can often be explained by reference to the
"Everything is the
opposite of what it should be."
‘Go forth and multiply’ young married couples have always been exhorted to do. But who had the authority to say, ‘However, if that doesn’t
work: go forth and divide and then take away’?
Society created the equation (problem) which must be solved:
unmarried mother + baby = unacceptable.
The equation is solved by the division of the whole; the
division of the unit – baby and mother – into two fractions[i].
What you do on one side of the equation must be balanced out
on the other side: the subtraction of the baby from the mother is balanced by
the addition of the baby to the adoptive parents. However, once the division
has occurred, and the baby is subtracted from the whole, you are left with an
incomplete baby: what the adoptive parents get is not a whole child – they get
the fraction of a unit, which will grow up always feeling that sense of division/subtraction
from the mother and from the self.
Society sees and acknowledges only the ‘solution’ to the
infertile married couple[ii]
+ adopted baby = acceptable
This solution is given a big tick and marked by everyone (apart
from the mother and baby) as ‘Correct’. Society knows what division and
subtraction must have been involved in the solving of this equation, but prefers
not to acknowledge it; not to see the working out, which has been erased. Not
only does society only look at the
solution but it also celebrates the solution, and repeatedly demands – insists ad nauseam! – that the child feel
grateful for the solution and lucky that the solution happened.
The adopted child therefore inhabits a perverse reality in
which he is expected to feel grateful that he has been subtracted from his
mother, and lucky that the division between himself and his mother happened. But the loss of mother, and the incalculable damage
that loss inflicted upon the infant, should be acknowledged and mourned, not
Everything is the opposite of what it should be.
fractions which, if later added back together, do not add up to make the whole
unit again; their values having been changed by life’s calculations so that
they can no longer equal a ‘whole’ – which is a shock for most adoptees upon
finding their mothers: they do not find themselves, they find just another
stranger; the fantasy of being made complete upon meeting mother is just that –
[ii] or ‘saintly married
couple’ if they already have their own children and are adopting as a ‘good
deed’ (the ‘good deed’ adoption may also
mask secondary infertility, which can be erased along with the working out
of the equation).
To be Your children.(Are we your children? It’s always a possibility, I suppose. After all – we have to be somebody’s children, don’t we?)
We sing praises to Heaven! (Despite being denied access. Let’s face it – singing to it will probably be the closest any of us will ever get)
And Alleluias!(Alle-fucking-luias all the way, eh? Sorry for the profanity, although, we’re not that sorry; in fact, we’re not sorry at all, and may even say it again)
Oh, guide us, lead us and show us the way. (And then, if history is anything to go by, escort us off the premises)
We, Your Chosen People,(We’re being self-referentially ironic, here: we really wish you’d stop calling us ‘chosen’; it’s utter bollocks, and well you know it)
We humbly offer You our thanks: (Because you can’t be made to feel grateful often enough, ain’t that the truth? Can I get an ’Alleluia’? No? Right, move on) Glory! Glory! (Allulia! Or, perhaps, Alle-fucking-luia again. Sorry: #Sarcasm)
Although we are not worthy,(Actually, it’s bad enough feeling worthless without being made to say it out loud, week after week. Genuinely not funny)
Stop fucking about and tell us the truth already. (‘Nuff said)
Amen (To all that) ...and how it reads without the commentary... Psalm 42
Whilst I, astride some watery steed, charged forth
Towards that awful end that waits for all.
I roared my final words into the into the void,
Defiant and determined to be heard;
And as those words like giant storm clouds swirled –
me broke the wave.
I’m not sure where it
goes from here. I wasn’t particularly pleased with it: there’s plenty of energy
in it, but it seems dated and melodramatic (which I suppose complements the
image: sea see below).
The final appearance of
the refrain, at the end of the poem, is written in my notebook: ‘Around me
crashed the wave’, so perhaps there was an unconscious reason to comply with
Paul Valery’s notion that ‘Poems are never finished, only abandoned...’