During a period of virus restrictions this year, Galya and I were walking along the River Dee at Ecclestone, having made our way from Chester.
We continued through the woods at the edge of the Duke of Westminster’s land there, along the Dee. Galya asked me to tell her a story, and so I did. The story
is about a time when I had been around eighteen years old, and studying at Yale College in Wrexham, and living with my parents in Higher Kinnerton. At that time,
I suffered something unutterably terrible, about which I told the story. In a separate episode, a couple of weeks later, we both drove the eighty miles to Harlech, and walked along
the beach on a Saturday afternoon, with the castle in sight. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon the beach was completely deserted, except for ourselves. I remarked that
my story about Ecclestone and the Duke’s estate related to Harlech, too, and a time when I had been at Harlech when aged around eighteen or nineteen.
It begins with a real character, who is also a fictional person as I envisaged him. I never did meet Gerald Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster. But I did see him in person at formal events a couple of times. And, in my personal or imaginative life, he played a great part in years past. Galya and I walked along the little path abutting on his Cheshire estate under a sun hot enough to have given me a slight sunburn that day. I explained that the Duke was, when I was growing up, the richest man in Britain, and that I once wrote to him a letter asking if I could be of use to him in the classic way, of being an artist in need of a patron. I explained to him that I could paint, write, or create more or less anything, but that I wanted him to offer me work as an artist or writer. I had a reply from his secretary, explaining that the Duke was not a man of letters, and had no need of my services. That happened relatively recently, when I can claim that I was more or less of sound of mind.
Further back in time, I had been fixated on the Duke as the embodiment of worldly power, immense riches, and, unlimited desire. While at university in 1998, aged about twenty-two, I had written a poem, a very long discursive book with which I was deeply involved. The book gave poetic information about my journey to supreme spiritual power and intellectual complete development, and, I admit it was a great failure. It recounted my adventure through time and space, culminating with a relationship with the Duke, the richest man. I cast him as a recluse in his castle, where, with the help of a couple of magicians, he performed satanic rituals in which children were sexually abused and murdered. A large part of that poem, that very bad, disjointed, patched together set of fictions, fantasies, thefts, autobiographies and whatever else, also insisted that I had myself raped women and girls, and that I was an outlaw and violent offender. This book, and another one like it, embodied what I thought of 'as state of the art' philosophy, atheism, and radicalism for the late twentieth century. The lies about the Duke, and about myself, were intended to somehow break open the world’s superficial appearance, to bring about in the reader a confrontation with absolute reality: namely, bare material universe without the restraints of vision imposed by human consciousness and its scruples and evasions. Evil, and thinking and doing it, were the means. Evil, and the breaking of laws was the way to break the common human nature and reveal the eternal and infinite, spiritual element of matter and physical substance which is always here with us, but from which we turn our gaze. I would refer to my readings of Georges Bataille at that time, and of Nietzsche. I suppose that I thought of myself as an atheist who takes his beliefs to their utmost radical conclusion.
These books were composed during my time at the University of Surrey. I was living in Twickenham while there. but I usually took the train home to Wrexham at the weekends. I had made no friends while at university, and the loneliness was physically unbearable. I was very proud of my reading, and my writing; and failed to meet anyone among the staff or the students who shared my reading habit, or my view about the urgency of needing to find the truth about life. Whatever else you read here about me, the urgency of my love of the truth, and my desire to find it at all costs is enough, in my view, to forgive everything. My book may have been a merely private matter, but I did want publication, and I was not shy of letting people read it, if they wanted to do so. I think that the book did become available to be read by the staff at the university, and by some others outside, for the following reason: I became fascinated by one of the young lecturers there, and she asked to see the works, which I had mentioned during classes.
I write now with something like a clear head about things which, at the time, were unclear, and touched by various types of illness. At that time, above all, God played no part in my life. I knew of Christianity and some of its history and catechism. But I did not take it seriously, nor make any contact with God by prayer or religious observance. I had read the work of Kierkegaard with great interest, but treated his work in the tradition of the existentialists, seeing him as a forerunner of our new atheism. So I could describe myself, the self of those days, as a man who was serious about learning, reading, and writing, and discovery: in the Humanist tradition, the Enlightenment tradition, where learning and metaphysics are a good in themselves. And I had the same firm desire for learning and education which, let’s say, a trainee priest or doctor has. And that my ultimate aim was to become a lay preacher, a writer, a poet, setting out a new ‘philosophy’ or religion. I aimed to establish, somehow or other, a lifestyle where I could write and think, while earning money. And the substance of my teaching would be a revolutionary new philosophy of materialist atheism. And at the highest fulfilment of such a life, alongside having a perfectly clear mind, and a command of the intellect, one would also have the spirituality of materialism: the pursuit of fulfilment by breaking any and all laws and morality in planned, decisive ways. In this way, we breach our humanity, and take ourselves back to the state of absolute nature and matter. Throwing away the restrictions of the merely human. This was a philosophy which I thought and wrote about more than something I actively carried out.
I was obnoxious in classes, and in my essays. Lecturers found my work hard to read. I had no very clear idea of what I wanted to write about, but simply knew that breaking free of normal standards and normal views was the main thing. My essays were usually aimed at upsetting and contradicting what had been given to me in lectures. My dress sense was counter-cultural, too: I would never leave the house without wearing a three piece suit (but never with a tie). That was my uniform, one of the things which kept me together. It made me confident, gave me an identity. Other things were essential parts of my identity: a book in my hand, and a mind full of thoughts about my future fame, even if it were fame posthumously. and everywhere I went and everything I did was done with a sense of great destiny, and the love of famous men from history in mind. And my mind was ultimately concerned with two things; if I failed to think of these things, then I became unhappy at once: First, my books and ideas for their completion and continuation; Second, a yearning for a female partner.
I was alone; the teachers did not like me much, or take much notice; the students generally did not make any difference to me. The complexity of the problem of who I then was is too great. I should have to jump straight to the point, and leave the rest to the imagination of the reader. I had fallen in love, so to speak, with one of the lecturers, an Italian woman. For a year, we used to have private talks together in her office, but always about work and teaching. When after a year I wrote her a letter suggesting we could meet up during the Summer holiday, she showed the letter to her supervisor, the Head of the English Department. What happened after that was, in common parlance, about two years of mental illness. I wrote more letters to her, of an explicitly sexual nature, but also with literary references, and was thereafter formally reprimanded by the department at the university. Nevertheless, I completed my final year, in 1999, though without speaking to anyone at all, at any time, living in a private world of revenge, enemies, rejected love, suspicion, and paranoia, and of course, my philosophy of evil. At some time that year, I also told a fellow student, who had told me that she had been raped, that I was myself a rapist. She called the police, and posters were put up around the college to warn women about the presence of a rapist around the campus. Obviously, what I told her was untrue, but it then became part of a story I told about myself, in part to gain notoriety, in part to annoy people, an in part because it associated me with the corrupt and legendary last king of Rome, Tarquinius, and all of the sacredness associated with a criminal who has exceeded any natural boundary. All the same, my embarrassing fumblings with girls in the preceding years would make me look more like an idiot than a violent psychopath, if the truth were known.
When I returned to college after the vacation, I found in my student PO box a small note asking me to put my books, about which I had boasted in my summer letters, into a certain anonymous other PO box. I had taken to publishing my books in bound, glued files, like professionally bound works. I put them in the PO box, as requested. I retrieved them a week later. Whether they were ever read, whether the note was intended for me.. I do not know. At the time, I was convinced that the books had become common property for the staff, the police, and ultimately, the Duke, whom they mentioned at great length.
Since I did not communicate with any of the staff or students, all of this was speculation. I became proud, and without forgiveness. I was living in great sin and I received the wages of sin, so to speak; I was permitted entry into a kind of hallucinatory world of grief, loss, anger, vengefulness, and generally the unreal and the fantastic mixed itself up with factual occurrences: everything was isolation, and burning. I lived in that state of consciousness for around two years; it waned gradually in the ferocity of its paranoiac influence, and ended when I joined an infantry platoon in Kosovo.
I had a few brief sexual encounters at the time, and they too went into letters, delivered to the PO box. Whether the police read them.. whether the staff... who knows. A woman did call for the police when, longing for company, and slightly drunk one night, I went to find one of these sexual partners, who did not want me. She told me to go away from her door, but I refused. It was around this time that, running out of money and ideas, I decided to join the Army.
There was a strange idea that I held for many years: that it was unlikely that my books would make me rich or famous in my own time, but that, when I was dead, then the books would be well known. At the same time, I used to imagine that these future readers would not even by from my own kind, or speak English. That is, I was writing and living for a time when I would be dead, and all people around me would be dead and forgotten, too, utterly extinguished in the memory of future times. Where was the reason in this? How could one be so utterly the wrong side of things? Unless, that is, I was passing through a bad time, a very bad time, toward the truth.
I was then twenty three years old, having started university study aged twenty. And so, proud of having done nothing but cause trouble (for the sake of poetry and philosophy, as I saw it), I prepared to leave the university. I had no means of income, and no chance of an occupation. I did however, have good health, and a history of military experience as a child. My brazen ambition, energy, and disrespect for the common standards of learning in favour of my own, would make me a good soldier, I thought. I was right about this; but the Army, when I applied over the years, did not share my view. Although I had by now suffered a great deal in the spiritual and mental dimension, I generally passed tests, achieved what I set out to do, and so on. I never failed in tasks or tests. But I was rejected by the Army, and it was, I felt at the time, the most shameful and humiliating event of my life. They simply did not want me to begin training as an officer of the British Army. But I had depended on that for a future occupation.
Taking the train home from Westbury where the assessment had taken place, I pieced together what had happened, and what had happened behind the scenes, as I saw it. There was a conspiracy against me, involving the Army, Police, the university, and hundreds of other people, and also the Duke himself. Still, another youth who had failed to be selected (who had not had sufficient maths ability) told me that he was in the TA, and that he would aply to the TA Special Air Service when he got back home. And so I then decided to put aside me prejudice about the part time soldiers, and to try to join them, in Wrexham. I was successful there, and joined soon after. But that is another story. Let me conclude this episode about mental illness and sin with the remark that it was at least another year, and only after a tour of duty of the Balkans with the Regulars, that I recovered.
And as for the Duke, and I had assumed back then that he had read my book, and that it flattered him (though today I am not so sure, nor concerned), I explained to Galya how our paths crossed, there at the riverside, mine and his; and also what little I knew about him for sure. He died only a couple of years ago, not having reached a typical age for people of his social position. I knew that he had himself rejoined the TA in 1999, like me, after a break in his career; he had become an officer in the Cheshire Yeomanry at first. When I myself joined, I saw photographs of him at a parade, with drummers in scarlets, and the coincidence of our joining at the same time was just as I expected it to be. (I was so confused that, at that time, I thought that unexpected payments to my bank for TA work were directly from him). At his death, a book was published which described what the TA meant for him. Because he was unprepared to look after so much wealth, and was separated from common humanity by his status, he sought in the Army people who could become friends through shared military life. And, as I found, soldiers do and speak just as they feel, and hold nothing back, regardless of who you might be in private life. That was a great relief for me, to be in an honest environment, and it was so for him. He became head of the TA, as a Major General. I became a sergeant during the same period. I understand that he finally left the Army for the second time after using prostitutes in London while doing his military service. It is my sense that this shame and loss of the Army life contributed to his relatively early death. I pointed out to Galya, a Russian speaker, that his wife was a Russian aristocrat, a descendant of Pushkin and the last Tsar.
I have just told of the first way in which we were mixed up (and whether and what he knew of me as a result of the base spiritual episode just related, I do not know at all, and suspect that he may have known nothing at all of it). The second way is almost the entire opposite. Still walking by the riverside, through some brambles, and past where local people sometimes go fishing, I told about how I used to come running down this pathway when I was in the TA, prior to some course of promotion or other. I used to put a pack on my back, put on my boots, and go running. Around 2005 the Royal Welsh TA battalion were going to France for two weeks training; I was doing both the ceremonial drumming role, and a machine gun platoon section commander’s job. I went running a couple of times down there a the river to get ready; and I used to take with me the bugle, to play it for practice in the seclusion there. I found that I could only practice for a few minutes each day before my lip became too sore, so a handful of good calls was all I could manage; and, it had to be done away from population because it was so loud. Thus I found myself blowing the calls for Reveille and the Retreat at the edge of his land. And, while in France, as head of the TA, he came to see us for a day and ate at the mess with the other officers. I am sure that he specifically was looking at me while the Corps of Drums with flutes, drums and bugle playing, performed the ceremonial sunset beating the retreat while I sounded the call with a couple of other lads. And that is just about as close as we ever came to each other, in reality. Needless to say, I myself, like him, owe the Army and my operations overseas a great deal for bringing me back to the true life, and a relationship with God. By the time I exchanged glances with him in 2005, I had only a single suspicion and unease: whether he had heard me play the bugle near to his great house there or not while practising. All thoughts of him, the Police, the Army, the college, and the public at large being in a conspiracy against me were gone by then. So too, any aggressive instinct to overturn society to reveal a higher humanity by seeking out evil; and the breaking of all barriers, morality, and law, were only a memory.
Galya and I went further along the Dee, and she listened to my story, only remarking that it is strange to go running with a pack on your back; or, confirming that the Duke’s wife was Russian. And I asked if we might walk a bit further along, until we could see a certain chapel spire which I knew could be seen from a field which lay halfway towards the village of Holt, also lying alongside the river. It was warm and there was no breeze in the month of April, there, and we carried on walking. I was looking forward to seeing that slim edifice beyond the tree tops, something which had given me so much consolation many years ago, when I had been in the midst of a severe hopelessness.
The reason I wanted to see the beautiful and distant spire was so that I might recall a day some years before, around 1994, which I mentioned at the start of this essay. I have told you about the time when I suffered or rather actively sought out the consequences of pride and splendid isolation, both from God and man, while at university. But there was, before that, and perhaps the cause of that, a period of the most grievous abjection and depression. These are not hyperboles.
We come into the world - that is, we are born and grow up - with a set of skills which nature has given to us. The world around us is part of us, and our skills or abilities suit that world, too. Our body and activities with it are, so to speak, just part of the world. And there is no big distinction between a child and its world, as far as the child is concerned. So, if we can run fast, we do run fast, because this talent is perfect for the world of fields, playing areas, and little legs. Nothing especially forces this on the child, or teaches it: it is simply a child’s instinct to play and run. He is barely conscious of where this ability or instinct comes from, but it is just natural. It is as if, as is said of Homer's Greeks, they do not seem to have had a distinct word for the entire human individual body. Rather, their body and their mind is somehow an extension of the world which closes them in, on every side. Similarly, if the child is clever, then the cleverness just expresses itself, naturally; musical ability simply pours forth, or skill with a pencil or pen. Further, the child finds itself immersed in a place where there are other people; clearly these people are distinct persons, and yet they are part of the community, just part of the world. The child does not ask whether there is a distinctc person inside the hands and the face of its parent. The idea of an individual will or personality working on the other side of the parent's face, like a brain inside the head, would make no sense to the child, even when it is relativy old. We do not ask where the world or ourselves came from; it is just there. The child comes into the world ready for it, and the world is integrally part of its soul. Perhaps its world is its soul. A child without a world is unthinkable.
Now, around the age of sixteen, I gradually became familiar with the idea that the person, mainly my own self, is something which can be isolated from that world. This was a common topic of conversation amongst my friends when we left secondary school as started to think about adulthood, and to aim to make a place for ourselves in future. It was said from time to time that we, our group of musicians and thinkers, artists, that we could find ourselves on a mountain top for days at a time and we would still find ourselves at home. We would have our thoughts, our self-composure, our sense of being an individual. This type of talk was something of a religion or philosophy amongst us. This, we used to believe, was what made us distinct from those around us at school, and what made us special, and predestined to great things. You could have strange thoughts, you could think things up, create things, and make yourself into somebody else. Only a few people, we used to think, were truly individual; and this was the highest value. It was at this point that I started to lose contact with the world around me.
At the cross over between childhood and youth, this was the idea which haunted me, and gave me great pleasure and strength, at first. The isolated individual with his health, clarity of mind, and self-assertion was the ruler of the world. From time to time, to investigate the resources of our originality and our minds, we used to take drugs such as marijuana, or lsd, and magic mushrooms (the later two not so often). As a musician and song writer, and band leader at that time, I felt it my responsibility to make original music, and to engender new types of sound and words. But I was also fixated and rather obsessed by certain dead song writers such as Jim Morrison, from twenty or so years before (a very long time, it seemed); and it was almost impossible for me to think of myself as something other than a new Jim Morrison.
When my group of friends moved up to the sixth form I found myself very popular, admired, and I found it easy to make friends and to create impressive music or other things. I had until this point in my life usually been the best student at school, and one of the best sportsmen. At various times, the other children had called me the ‘hardest’ or toughest, most dangerous boy of the school, for my age. I had a particular gift for drawing, and more recently for learning musical instruments and tunes. I now also developed a daring originality of dress, conversation, and general behaviour. I had a girlfriend, too, with whom I had sexual relations, although this was not important to me so much as to her.
I started trying to read a book, in pursuit of more originality, and new ideas. Until aged around seventeen I had never really had much interest in reading for my own sake. It was a book about Jim Morrison, and I hoped to find out more about how to become creative, and brilliant, like him. I found that Morrison himself read books, by certain writers in particular: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Nietzsche. I put aside the Morrison book and began looking for these poets and philosophers in second hand bookshops. And it was around then that the most terrible episode of my life began to unfold. It’s not a thing which ‘happened to me’, or something which is a mere episode. I would rather say that it is the single worst event which happens to human beings other than physical torture, although I believe it is possible to get over the rack and physical damage with the proper medicines. It is possible to come away from bodily pain with your mind still intact. But what I underwent while a young man is impossibly bad, and had no release or escape of any kind. My mind collapsed, so to speak, and with it everything else. I lost 'the world'.
From childhood, we have a loose sense of who we are, but enjoy the approval of our friends, or their enmity, using our naturally given gifts; we play, write, fight, we take part in the world. Then, looking like a young adult, and still enjoying nature’s gifts for music and the physical love, and the like, we begin to recognise our own individuality. At that time, the tutors at the college more than a few times invited me to take the scholarship exams for Oxford and Cambridge – which I ignored. I both felt too good for this kind of studious work, but also not quite right about it. Besides, there was nobody at home to put me on to this path.
And soon after, I found that I could no longer write, at all. I had lost, somehow, all of my natural skill and had gained, in their place, the most painful sense of individuality it is possible to imagine. Self-reflection came on my mind like drowning. It was the summer of 1993 when the members of my then band and I went to the Czech Republic for a month; we had just performed what would be our final musical show, and my girlfriend had left me for what turned out to be the last time. While there, I read something like eight books, with understanding, and I came home unable to do anything, or to think clearly. The books were a collection of essays by Wilde, Wilde’s 'The Picture of Dorian Grey', Joyce’s 'Portrait', poetry by Keats, Sonnets of Shakespeare, a novel by Dostoevski, and some other things. These books made me see something of what the mind can become if left to develop in an original way; they opened up history for me. But at the same time, and throughout all of these years, I was also a compulsive reader of Nietzsche, whose judgements on human beings seem to have pushed me over the edge. From this point on in my life, for around two years, I felt a complete and utter hopelessness. I hated myself deeply. Even down to the details of my body. It semed that my eyes did not see clearly; my skin was pasty and unwell; I felt frail. I could not get up in the mornings; indeed, it was remarkable how it could be that, going to bed feeling like a prisoner to painful thoughts, as soon as the morning came and I was awake, the same thoughts immediately came back, as if there had been no sleep at all.
The chief problem was that I realised for the first time that I lived in a definite place in space and time, and that this point of time and space was kind of – insignificant. And that, given what a man can be if he is great, then I was the very opposite. And, the philosophy, our religion and highest value of individuality and isolation had reached in me, perhaps due to my actions and choices, its true realisation. Nobody else suffered this problem which I underwent, as far as I know. It was something which, when I recovered, has since left made me different and apart from the majority of other people. My deepest desire was both to be loved and cared for, by a power such as God (but it was never God I sought), and also for somebody to tell me, with absolute faith in me and predictive knowledge, that one day I would be a great man. And, because I was not a great man, I felt utterly, irrecoverably hopeless.
I am suspicious about mental illness as a concept. In some respects, I think that I brought this illness on to myself. I had not been a good child when dealing with other children. I had paid lip service to God, but had no faith. I had been a domineering child, bestowed with a strong body and a good mind. I had been looked after, and yet left to my own choices. I had chosen to become a musician and a supreme individualist. Now, I was truly alone, in a place where nobody could rescue me. And, painful, most painful, my problem was an infinite shamefulness, an embarrassment. Underneath it all, I simply wanted the impossible, to be a man and to be great, and to be remembered: I could not complain to others that I was sad and depressed because of my lack of this. So I kept quiet.
Yet, it was more than an attitude of mind which made me exist for nearly two years in a state of unbreachable isolation and despair: I suffered what is something like the abyss of reality, and that abyss is there always, and for everyone. I was, so to speak, just the lucky one who has seen it. I never considered suicide. My desire was to become the greatest human being who ever lived. I ask, in a world without any higher power, why would you not chose also to become like a god? And, when you realise the futility of this dream and this ambition, why would you not notice the supreme and everlasting emptiness both at your feet, and all inside and outside of you?
Everything I did at that time simply failed. I literally lost the ability to write words on a page. The more I dreamed and urged in myself perfection, the more pitifully poor at life I became. I could not draw pictures anymore - as if it mattered. I found it difficult to talk in an organised and spontaneous way. I could not make it to school most days. I used to read continuously, Blake or Nietzsche, or Dostoevesky, or whoever, and yet the words did not seem to make any sense. I began studying Greek from books from a second hand shop, utterly embarrassed and weighed down by the shame of not already knowing how to understand Latin or Greek. I worked terribly hard at it, and made modest progress only. And above all, for day after day, failure after failure, I kept on living. Only one or two writers made me feel better about myself, since I seemed to understand what they meant, and I admired their simple and humble prose alongside their very clear poetry: that is Yeats and Eliot.
There were days, around Easter one year, when my mind was so disorganised, and fixated on making my life meaningful, and yet my fate was so obscure and pointless, the land of my birth so bland and pointless, that I imagined that I myself was, one day, going to become Jesus Christ returned for a second time. From the little that I knew about Christ, I understood enough that he was the greatest man, and the one to whom God spoke, - and I needed that same situation and that same reassurance. Most of the time I simply suspected that I was God's son, at others, I believed fervently and with a sense of resignation to the only solution to my problem, that I was clearly God's son. There could be no other explanation for the unending longing and sense of loss which I had inside me - and which nobody else shared.
I was happiest when in the fields around our home village, walking alone, spending evenings in the forest, and the night. Which is why more than a few times I simply left home and walked as far as I could in any direction, looking for a new life. As if walking to some place ten miles away would somehow open up a new future of possibilities, some kind of decisive way forward. That was why, when I was around eighteen years old, I had come to Chester one morning, and picked up a book for fifty pence, some little old thing about musical history and theory, and maybe something else about the practice of Christianity, and had then determined to walk along the river out toward Wales, so see what would happen to me.
Knowing I was doing this, my parents would simply remark that I had gone mad. Which I had, I suppose, but I didn’t need or couldn’t use their help.
I walked toward Handbridge in Chester, then down along the Meadows, toward Ecclestone; in my mind, I expect, was the vague idea that something would happen, somebody would come, who knew my future, or who knew how I could get better, and how I could learn all of the skills I so clearly and painfully lacked. The walking kept me away from the abyss of total self loss and self loathing. Walking was pretty much the only thing I could still do – which is why I knew for certain, in future years, that I would make a good soldier.
When, late in the day, I passed the Duke’s Estate, I saw the white shape of the church spire rise into the evening summer sky, and I sat down to eat some scraps of food I had brought. I lay down for an hour perhaps, then walked on into the night. I reached Holt and sought out the castle which is supposed to have been there, and did not find it. Whether I slept there that night, or walked though the dark to Wrexham, I don’t know. But I got no further than Holt on my journey, and eventually arrived back at my grandparents’ house. There, I was welcome, and could simply exist. Hoping for better days, if I persisted in living, I existed, unashamed and unconsolable with my grandparents. But what was the point of living if this humiliation were to persist? I had to hope that I would recover some kind of ‘being at home’ sense within the world.
I cannot say that calling out to God would have helped. Do you think that I did not ask God for help? Of course I did, but God does not help you to become a powerful individual, does not help you to realise dreams about mastering other people and becoming famous; you do not speak to God and ask for help because you want new skills which will make you similar to Julius Caesar (which is what I wanted). I do not need sympathy from the reader, as you see. It was peraps my own fault that I was self-hating since I had set the bar so high, and so terribly off the beaten path of the good. I could see no sense in existence if I were not as important to other people as I was to myself. And you may see what I was aiming at, when, four or five years later, I had regained my power of writing and creating, painfully, and over many failed attempts, and disappointments and real humiliations, to eventually end up at university, and to employ my new talent as… a pretend rapist, a writer of child murderings, and a seeker for the very destruction of the world so as to reveal the depth of the abyss to others. And, somebody obsessed, too, with still being alone, and a rebel; obsessed too with Britain’s richest man. No, we approach God with true emptiness, and accept it, and God fills us up. The abyss is certainly underneath every person, as I saw it. Medicine does not make it go away.. but God will help those only when they ask truthfully, to be filled up with the Spirit. When they do not say: ‘Let my will prevail over others,’ but say, rather: ‘Thy will be done’.
I made a similar desperate trip, to escape my home town, to get anywhere else, to be someone else, when I took a bus to Harlech one day, and ended up sleeping on a bench overlooking the sea from a cliff top. I remarked on this to Galya when we were there the other day. I can only speculate on my reason for coming all the way to Harlech by bus, and as I told her, I must have been looking for somebody who would show me the way, and reassure me that I would make a success of my life: a wild, unimaginable success with riches, fame, and respect, a life which I could live with confidence. I never did find anybody who would reassure me of this. Let me point out again, there were times when I was half content with existing: when drinking and talking with a couple of friends I had back then. But generally it just seemed that there was no possibility of my becoming what was the only worthwhile outcome for any human life: to become godlike, undying, untouchable. This was not a desire, or something that I wanted. It was an absolute imperative, a precondition for any sensible appraoch to existence. I could not escape this dreamlike ambition, this 'childishness'; and, I could not escape the actual prevailing conditions in which I then lived, and my actual abilities. Everything about life was empty and utterly without any point.
I tried striking out in random directions many times: again, when, for Christmas one year, aged just nineteen, and having worked in a factory for a few months to save up the money (still in the depths of despair while doing this), I spent three weeks travelling across Europe, through France, Spain, Italy, and then Greece. I wanted urgently to set up a new life somewhere overseas, in order to set forth on a new life; eventually, I made my precarious way home when I ran out of money. But on first arriving in Greece, I went north to Thessalonica. I recall that this was the end of the line for train journeys at the time, because of the trouble in the Balkans. I asked the station master how I could get further north because, as I understood it, there was a monastery up there, ancient and famous, and I wanted to escape life to live there, and perhaps learn the truth. The station master pretended not to understand, and I gave up on the idea. That day, rather than find access to Mount Athos’ monastery, I made my way by foot to what I thought, by looking at the map, was Mount Olympus, home of the pre-Christian gods of Greece. After sleeping at its foothills for the night, I made my way back to Thessalonica and then to Athens, where I lived on the street for a week or so.
In a final and successful effort to assert myself on the world, I ended up, nearly a year later, in London. By this time, I was well again, and had begun writing and thinking of university. And you know what comes next.
I don’t think any of it makes any sense unless we consider that this is the wandering of a person who, eventually, learned humility, and then approached God, and was welcomed. And that, to some considerable extent, this is what the world has been made for, and what the ‘meaning of life’ is.
And, although it is common these days to have framed my account in terms of mental illness, I should rather frame my account with the observation that it was good to have seen the abyss
and to have responded to it with self-assertion, ambition. And that I saw this depth of despair - the vast gulf between my ideal self, and my real self; and then the sickness of
confusion and anger which I went through, years later. They were good because these experiencees made me find, at last, the truth
in God’s Church, and his nearness in my humility. But it had been easier if I had known, from the first, that the Church was there, and to have known,
from childhood, the true history of the world and the meaning of life. But we do not live in such an age where the truth is taught like this.
Galya and I finished our conversation by remarking that, at least, I had my maternal grandmother, who looked after me during all of this. I pointed out that she was not clever, and we never spoke to each other about my ideas or my decisions. Galya pointed out that maybe she just liked to have me around, to be with her. We made our way home, back along the river, towards the town. We were going to church the following day, to celebrate the feast of Pascha in a secret liturgy and Eurcharist during the time of government lock down and the closing of all churches. We spent the rest of the day walking, and making desultory remarks about how the lockdown would achieve nothing, etc.