Posts Tagged ‘family’


what new horror lurks
in the near-total darkness
of Llandaff Road? — can
all this ignorance be mine?
— and time only compounds it

My sister commented to me yesterday that our mother has always been a drama queen. I know what she means. Yet I also suspect my dream last night took me back to Llandaff Road which was our family home for four years 1969-72, as an indication or a nudge to remember just how much drama there was back then.



fear of the unknown —
a delicious game God plays
— revealing Himself
more terrible in His good
aspect than in His evil

Pretty rubbish this poem I’m afraid. Written in a couple of minutes. It’s very rare I start with the title. Last night I dreamed of my stepmother’s mother who was the focus for my paranoia when it first kicked in, in 1979. I was maintaining an uneasy friendship with her in the dream. The poem derives clearly from my love of the mediaeval mystical theology of The Cloud of Unknowing:

If I may use a funny example, I would suggest that you do all you
can to cloak your great and ungoverned spiritual urge, as though you
were altogether unwilling that God should know how glad you
would be to see Him, to have Him, to feel Him. Perhaps you think
I am speaking childishly or playfully. Yet I believe that whoever had
the grace to put what I say into practice would have a lovely game
spiritually with Him, just as an earthly father does with his child,
hugging and kissing him.

The word ‘terrible’, used in this sense, as suggesting numinosity — the opposite of twee — was a favourite of my mother’s. It’s used in this sense in the fantasy novels both of Tolkien and C.S.Lewis. The spiritual life for her meant an encounter with that which is ‘terrible’ in us and in the divine. The word summed up (for me) her opposition to any kind of twee Christianity. But this value system was challenged to breaking point by my encounter with my stepmother’s mother, during the time I was living as a member of my stepmother’s family, just out of university. And it got to the point where I believed my stepmother’s mother knew telepathically what I was thinking about her, knew telepathically about the importance for me of this word ‘terrible’ — and by having that telepathic power, was proving that she herself in fact possessed that quality of terribleness. I am glad to be able to identify this kind of ideation as paranoid, now. But I still wonder what it was all about. Incidentally it was my mother who recommended The Cloud of Unknowing to me when I was 20. I loved it.

back story

I don’t want to be
part of whatever this is
— I don’t understand —
why are you all behaving
as though we know each other?

Reading Jung in the seventies, I came across the terms endogamous and exogamous. Specifically with reference to libido, which can be endogamous or exogamous. In the context of psychoanalysis, it’s a way of distinguishing between the energy — emotional, sexual, psychological — which derives from one’s earliest incestuous fantasy-feelings towards members of one’s own family (endogamous libido), on the one hand, and on the other, the energy which reaches out beyond the family towards actual sexual partners — in other words (at its most gross interpretation) strangers. Normal, friendly social interaction outside the family cannot really happen (from what I’ve observed in myself) unless it manages to incorporate an astonishingly powerful component of endogamous libido. In other words in social groups, we make an unspoken, unconscious mutual contract — whereby we agree each to treat the other, in some small measure, as though they were ‘family’. These ponderings formed a large part of my mental life in my twenties, when shyness was really a problem for me. In my dream last night, I felt alarmed at being treated as a long-lost buddy by a couple of young men whom I didn’t know at all. It turned out they were in therapy with the same analyst as me. I was then left with the problem whether that was a good enough reason to accept their premise of brotherhood. On the whole I felt extremely suspicious and disinclined to play ball. There was something not right about it — eventually transpiring to be that the analyst was treating each patient as a sexual partner — so we were bound together by mutual collusion in this situation. All part of my ongoing forty-year-long struggle to decide what I think of psychoanalysis. I still don’t know.

The Hanged Man

the photo shows his
good looks clear as anything
— this is a surprise —
but, to me, the real shock
is the fact that I’m surprised


This is doubtless confusing for the reader: so I must explain. There are 3 or 4 separate images in question, all conflated deliberately.

The poem refers to Leo Trainor, my Irish great-grandfather, who was a music hall artist at the beginning of the 20th century. I must have been in my teens when I first saw a photo of him. It showed him looking quite grotesque in drag, and anything but attractive. But then, less than ten years ago, I saw another photo. This one shows him as himself, wearing a fashionable ‘boater’ of the time. He looks dapper. But his life was a tragedy. My surprise at his good looks taught me to feel a bit ashamed: I had been thinking of him perhaps as some kind of illiterate peasant from Ireland — almost a leprechaun rather than a human being. My pride in my Irish ancestry was all mixed up with an idealisation of the Celtic races for their association (in my mind) with pagan spirituality, and also with feeling sorry for my ancestor who had been viewed as a monster by his wife’s family, because he gave up his livelihood as a tailor in order to tread the boards (coming back home less and less as time went on, so that the family starved). But here suddenly was a very worldly-looking man in the prime of his life, needing nobody’s pity — indeed, looking far more capable in every way than me who had always identified with him. I was quite the black sheep of the family myself, though for different reasons.

The 2nd image I’m using (though it’s a literary image not a visual one) is the Tarot card The Hanged Man. All through the eighties and nineties, this was a firm association. Hanged Man = Leo Trainor.

Thirdly, the image itself is of the Roman god Mithras. He sprang to mind this morning as being the closest I can get to the quality of pathos I see in Leo Trainor’s photo, and life.

Interestingly, both Mithras and The Hanged Man are connected with sacrifice.

My dream last night was of Leo Trainor’s grandson David, who does in fact share his grandfather’s good looks. Or did. He is an old man now. In the dream, I saw him at the wheel of a car, and thought to myself just simply what I’ve just said: he shares his grandfather’s good looks. Dreaming of David Trainor is a result of having yesterday done some work on a poem about Leo Trainor’s daughter, my grandmother. Here it is in its reworked form. I wrote it originally in the late nineties.


Best of all my family,
I loved my grandmother —
her venom and her vigour.

I loved her insufferable
vindictiveness, straitlaced severity
— her Christian morals directed

hardest against the very things
she loved most — with an exuberance
of the imagination, frenzy,

even humour. All things bright,
blood-red and beautiful —
she damned them all.


the winter is cold —
I help myself to my dead
grandfather’s waistcoat
— but what use against my own
coldheartedness is clothing?

My mother’s father was one of the most warmhearted people in my entire family, although he also had an analytical side to him, able to stand back and reason systematically. My father on the other hand can have a certain coldness about him. These two men never found a way to dialogue — or not that I ever saw. Sometimes I feel like my own personality is that dialogue that never happened. Not just in terms of warmth and coldness. Having witnessed such a drastic failure of communication between the two men closest to me in the family as I was growing up, I still live with some kind of futile wish to see that relationship healed, even though my grandfather is dead since 1986 and my father will be 90 this year. I carry them as parts of me.


Fate, Destiny, Shame
and Guilt — to feel their touch is
to pray for release

The gods are still with us, and maybe monotheism is to blame for encapsulating the divine aspects of our all-too-human nature into a supposed single truth (the existence of “God”), which constitutes an open invitation for non-believers to throw out the baby with the bathwater. For me at least, polytheism, compared with monotheism, seems much more amenable to interpretation as being that “the gods” are our own drives. Human beings go a little bit crazy when they start talking about the One God. Hardly surprising, since by definition, nothing can be said about Him. My dream last night, which has given rise to these reflections, entailed my being rejected by the family of the gay lover I had in my teens. In reality his family were welcoming to me, while it was mine who were rejecting of him. All very traumatic — hence the sense of fate, destiny, shame and guilt.

pencil scribblings #1

I was born in 1956 in the Lake District of England, in a place called Kendal. My father was a church organist; my mother had a Fine Art training, but gave up painting in order to become what was then known as a housewife.

Without being too Freudian about it, I can say I think that I was in love with both my parents. Maybe all families are incestuous, in the way their energies of love flow so abundantly towards each other. Or maybe ours was more like that than most. I really don’t know. It feels, looking back on it, as though there was something unusually intense going on. But maybe that is a comment on me rather than on the family.

I grew up with an older sister Pauline. We used to fight a good deal as children, the way children do. In my thirties I began to look back on the way we had fought, and to feel seriously ashamed. Why should physical violence between children be considered ‘normal’? For all I know, these days maybe it isn’t, so much.

Pauline was a Beatles fan, and I learned from her to love their music too. I’ve just checked the release date of their song It’s Only Love: 1965, when I would have been nine years old. I remember the lyrics Is it right that you and I should fight, every night? used to make me well up, because I thought of my fights with my sister when I heard them. Then the lyrics go on to say:

It’s only love and that is all
Why should I feel the way I do?
It’s only love and that is all
But it’s so hard loving you

And that was what made me well up. But I never told her. And I never got the point of making a decision not to fight with her. I wasn’t that conscious of myself.

I used to fight physically with a girl named Helen whom I sat next to in class. This would have been 1964-65. Again, much later in life, I looked back on this relationship with horror. Why was aggression, rather than tenderness, my default way of relating to the opposite sex?

The last 14 years since 2001 I have been in a loving relationship with a woman named Lizzy. Or at least I call her Lizzy. Most people call her Liz. We’ve talked sometimes about past girlfriends/boyfriends. She had a boyfriend at that sort of age when all I could do was hit Helen. I envy that.

Going back to Pauline though. As children, we were affectionate enough in our own way. But we became somewhat alienated from each other during our teens, and drifted further apart for the next twenty years, only beginning to mend our relationship during the latter half of the nineties. These days, we have a rich and rewarding relationship, which is a great turnaround.