Archive | April, 2014

Listening

15 Apr

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My friend said to me “I saw this, and I thought of you”. This little treasure resonates. I am a survivor having reinvented myself following my own personal holocaust with this man’s help. I shall not name him, out of respect, for he too is a survivor.

My friend listened to my diseased ramblings for the best part of 10 years on a regular basis as part of my journey back from mental illness. He really listened; to all the bollocks, whining, mithering, self absorption, narcissicm, bullshit and tedious solepsistic repetition of my life history, and over time sifted out the treasure and passed it back to me. Like panning for gold.

His particular gift of listening – without passing comment or judgement – is rare. His prodigious memory helped him to turn what I had said over in his mind, and when the time was right, feed it back to me like showing me a crystal mirror. Each time this happened I found some clarity, moving away from madness. I stepped away from creating that ‘self-made tomb’ from my own holocaust.

Survivors of The Holocaust speak of having to talk about their experience. Please rest assured I make absolutely no comparison between my own puny experience to their profound witness, merely the subject of ‘listening’. Holocaust survivors talk not as catharsis, but out of respect to the millions of kinfolk that did not survive, to honour their memory. It is a deeply moving aural tradition, we need to listen to them in order to hear the scratching and snickering of our own demons and by understanding them, learn to quell them.

Listening honours not only the speaker, for it builds trust and then respect: Listening offers the opportunity to learn to listen in return. It is an honourable gift.

BiPolar disorder is fabled for its manifestation in the ‘hyper’ phase of behavioural symptoms such as arrogance, vaulting hubris and generally – ‘not listening’. As one shrink said to my wife “Why would Henk listen? When he knows better than everyone else.”

Nowadays I find it more fun to just listen.

My wife runs a quirky little tea shop called ‘Tea with Percie‘, which gives me much needed practice.

In it you will find peace, gentleness, food and coffee and the finest of leaf teas. It takes time to make a proper pot of tea and a decent fresh sandwich. It is worth waiting for the home made quiche or soup, or the special of the day. Anyone in a rush wanting chips may need to find a different sort of establishment. In this tea shop you will find that people make time to listen and appreciate time just passing by.

 

Hat

8 Apr

Fedora

I have always had a penchant for a good hat.

My most spectacular purchase was from a lovely speciality hat shop in Madrid. I was travelling with the Senior and U16 rugby teams of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne for a tour of Spain in 1999 and we were due to meet a local club for festivities and ritual blood letting. I felt I could do with a bonnet to inspire my young charges (a rather talented U 16 squad). There in the window of La Favorita, Plaza Major, in the centre of the main display window was a magnificent Borsalino, Fedora. “I’m going in,” I decided “and if it fits I’m having it, stuff the cost”.

For those of you that know, Borsalino, is the name of the finest hat maker in Italy. Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Errol Flynn all sported the brand at rakish angles in many famous films. It is the hat of peacocks, mountebanks and gangsters. It is my kind of hat.

Well I went in and asked in poor Spanish if I might try on the magnificent head piece. The young senorita obliged by fishing it out of the window and handing it to me with a flourish. I was wearing a rather natty linen two piece suit, and as the hat settled, nay caressed my head, I was in sartorial heaven. The senorita beamed at my reflection in the mirror. “Yo lo llevaré (I’ll take it)!” I pronounced. I paid  with a flourish reflecting on the fact that I had just blown a month’s salary on a mere hat. Profligate.

The next day at half time during a rather one sided rugby match I was busy fielding moans from the U 16 players who were losing heavily against a very hirsute and manly opposition:

“Sir, it’s just not fair, they’ve got 17 players on the pitch!”

“They’re MEN sir!”

“Sir, the ref is totally biased and keeps giving his side penalties”

“Sir, we’re going to lose”

….and so on, and so forth.

I nodded sagely in my new hat and said “What do you notice about the ref lads?”

“He’s biased!”, “he’s blind!”…..

“Come on lads, be specific”

“He’s a fat bastard sir!” said Matthew Thomas – the hooker

“Correct ‘Hom. What do we know about fat bastards?”

‘Hom, “They don’t like running about sir!”

“Brilliant, so what you are going to do is ‘exhaust the ref’. Make sure you move the ball around the field and play as far away from him as you can, even if it means running backwards. When he is completely knackered, then you can play rugby. I’ll have a wee chat with him about rule interpretation right now”

“Yes Sir!” they all chimed

I strolled over to the club chairman (an ex-patriot Englishman) and asked if it would be ‘ok’ to meet the ref. He areed and we sauntered over to the centre spot in full view, but out of earshot of the partisan crowd (who jeered my hat). I asked the chairman to translate for us:

Me “Could you ask Bluto here if he is clinically blind or just a fat cheating bastard?”

Chairman – colouring up slightly, addressed the ref. “Por favor, etc, etc, blah blah blah ???”

Bluto, and I translate “Tell this fucker to take his hat off my pitch and go and play with the fairies”

Me “Well Senor Fat Boy, if you don’t start refereeing the match properly – Voy a pulverizar a usted. Entender? (I’m going to pulverize you, understand?)

Bluto….laughs. Chairman laughs nervously. I slap Bluto on the back. Hard. I walk off.

The lads used the new strategy to good effect before scoring 8 tries in the second half and thrashing the opposition.

I now know that I was probably having one of my manic mood swings during this period. Something which gave me quite an edge as a teacher, but marred my private life with profound periods of depression. Spending stupid amounts of money was another clue.

Hatters often went mad in the 19th century due to the constant exposure to Mercury salts used in curing the fine pelts used to make fine hats. They developed mood swings, and a behaved as if afflicted by the manic depression I live with.

Nevertheless, I’m sure it was the Borsalino, that inspired me and the lads on the day. Like the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland, I was able to steal (half) time. In the story The Hatter was punished by being perpetually forced to live at 6.00 pm at a tea party. Coincidentally I now inhabit a perpetual tea party with my wife Clare, having opened a Tea Shop called Tea with Percie in Sheffield. 557 Abbeydale Road, S7 1TR tel: 0114 327 0020

Mind you, I reckon I can rock a boater too

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