Beginning My Adventure With Spirituality

My earliest memory of my journey with spirituality started when I was about six. We lived in Singapore and on some Sundays my Dad would drop my little sister and I off at the Sunday School. I suspect that my mum and dad were after a little free time to themselves. My little sister is four years younger than me but I have a vague memory that she and I stayed together.

I remember that we would have these little books in which we got to stick stamps of Jesus in. I really liked the pictures. They were usually related to the stories that they taught us like the Good Samaritan. This was my favourite part of the Sunday School Class. That is probably why it is the only part that I remember.

When I was in the second year infants in Singapore, I was selected to be one of the narrators in the school nativity play. I loved, loved doing this! In those days, I had a incredible memory and I memorized not only my part but also everyone else’s. We have a tape that my dad made that Christmas when my maternal grandparents came out to visit us in Singapore and a lot of the tape has me reciting all of the narration. I still remember a lot of that narration. It feels as familiar as a glove.

I can still remember the wonderful feeling that I used to get every time we rehearsed and when we gave the performance. It wasn’t just the feeling of accomplishment that you get as you put on a play for parents, it was something else that I felt. It felt warm and safe.

In October 1968, we went back to England and after living with my grandparents in Southampton, we moved into our house in Fareham in January 1969. Whilst living with my paternal grandparents, my grandfather taught me how to pray. I used to say this prayer every night before I went to sleep for years.

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon this little child.
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee”

On my 8th birthday – May 1969 – my friend and I went down Fareham Park Road to a little church down on Gudgeheath Lane. I have just looked this Church up on the internet and it is the Hill Park Baptist Church. I have often wondered which religion it was and suspected that it was either a branch of the Baptist Church or some sort of Pentecostal Church.

I really enjoyed going to this church. I loved to sing the songs about Jesus and to hear the stories from the Bible. I went regularly and even took my little sister along. When I think how old I was and how little my sister was, I marvel at how my mum and dad would let me look after her and walk down Fareham Park Road and take her to church! Not something that I would let my children do when they were small. The world was a much safer place in those days.

I remember the Church giving me and my sister a Christmas present one year. Mine was a circular pink plastic box with a clear lid. Inside were lots of tiny beads of all sorts of different colors for threading. The lid swiveled and a little vent would open up to access the beads. I loved this gift and cherished it for a few years.

After a few months, I was invited to go to their Tuesday night meetings in downtown Fareham. We were always picked up on a coach at Fareham Park Road just outside Coppice Way which drove us down to the hall. I went alone or with my friends. My little sister was too young for this adventure. I went for a little while although I didn’t feel as comfortable in this church service as I did at the Sunday School. I didn’t like the feeling that I had when people ‘spoke in tongues’.

What added to that uncomfortable feeling was the man with one arm. It wasn’t his one arm that frightened me, it was the way that he paid too much attention to me and got into my personal space. After awhile, I told my mum that I didn’t want to go to the Tuesdays meetings anymore and soon after, I stopped going to the church on Sundays. The man was very creepy and I didn’t want to be around him.

Being christened in the Church of England, I took myself off to the Sunday Services at St. Columbia Church at the corner of Hillson Drive and Highlands Road when I was about fourteen. I wish that I could say that it was my spiritual interest that took me there, but it was a good looking boy from school that was in the choir. Just to get a glimpse at this young man entering the church and then singing was enough to get me there each Sunday. Sometimes a friend came with me. She was interested in taking confirmation classes, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I didn’t want that type of commitment. I was familiar with the church service, but I had my own ideas. I didn’t feel that what they taught made sense to me. I didn’t necessarily think it was bad, it just seemed too mysterious and unclear. Spiritually, I felt at an impasse. After about eight months, I stopped attending the services at St. Columbia.

As life got more complicated in my teens and I grew very unhappy and depressed, I prayed often and even branched out from the set prayer that my Grandfather had taught me. I cried out to God to help me, to give me strength and to help me understand the chaos that surrounded me.

Then one day, He found me and I began receiving the answers that I had needed. It was the day that the lady that I babysat for asked my friend and I to keep two young men company at her house …..

Pomp and Circumstance! By Luke Martin-Jones

Excitement had been building for days; sat in front of the television set, watching the early morning news; I was mesmerized, watching in awe at the people camped out along the wedding procession route. Under tarpaulin, make shift tents, sat in deck chairs, decorated in red, white and blue, they were all waving their union flags, sporting patriotic clothes, draped in flags; a sea of colour, up and down The Mall. Through the streets of London, in front of Buckingham Palace, every available spot was taken as dawn broke over the capital. The cameras were there, Interviewing the dedicated, early arrivals and anyone with a connection to the days proceedings! This was the day The Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer and I like most of the country was waiting with anticipation, happy that our future King had found his bride; this wouldn’t be an experience I would ever forget; a Royalist then as I most certainly am now!

Today was a Bank Holiday, the whole country was able to take part in the Royal Wedding; I was thrilled at the prospect of watching the biggest national event since the Silver Jubilee in 1977. Not everyone was as happy as I, there were those who had no interest in the day and would rather be elsewhere, my Father was one such person.

Dad came down the stairs, he was in a grumpy mood, annoyed at the impending Marriage. As a ten year old boy, I had little concept of the reasons for his irritation, believing it was just a ‘Dad thing.’ I remember my Father talking about wasting tax payers money and the rumblings of republicanism under his breath, as he retorted his customary socialist rant. Dad was left wing in every sense of the word, a point of view that has never changed over the years. As Mother and I sat down in front of the box, Dad paced the room, still moaning about the costs involved in such a frivolous occasion. I however was more than happy, glued to the set.

‘I’m going out!’ said Dad, ‘I’m taking Kevin out for a game of football in the park, where I don’t have to watch this rubbish,’ he continued. I remember thinking to myself, how the park would be full of fathers, kicking footballs around with their sons, equally miffed about the events running across every TV network. Football was never my thing anyway and I was just happy they were going out, leaving Mother and I at home, enjoying the day. Shortly afterwards, they were gone, with a slam of the front door, cursing the day ahead.

The carriage arrived at the entrance to Westminster Abbey, Princess Diana, gracefully stepped out, helped by her Father, the Earl Spencer. As she walked forwards, alighting the carriage, the train on her dress recoiled behind her. Like a meandering river, it stretched for what seemed like miles, light dancing off the shimmering white silk in the bright glow of the day; she looked radiant, her all too familiar smile beamed under her veil; sparkling tiara on top of her head, twinkling as she advanced up the aisle. I sat there open mouthed, taken aback by the majesty of Monarchy, the pomp and circumstance, the emotion stirring music and a vision of history in the making. This was the day I truly felt a bond with our Royal Family and realised just how important they were in all our daily lives. I felt proud to be British, content at my place in the World.

When Dad got in from the park, I continued to watch the reruns, highlights and repeats on my little black and white portable TV, lying on my bed upstairs. Again and again, I relived the wonderment of the day, cementing my growing adoration of an institution a thousand years old. Princess Diana was a powerful figure throughout my life, someone I was lucky enough to meet much later. Her Wedding was an important milestone for me, because I discovered who I really was, what made me tick and most importantly my connection to the Country I was born in, my home, wherever I am living, here or abroad. The Royal Wedding of 1981 gave all of us a brief escape from the austerity measures at the time. With unemployment high and discontent growing, this was a day to escape and enjoy an occasion that encompassed us all; this was a day that defined an era, this was a celebration that would galvanise a nation.

Roaming Brit

Trailing Clouds of Glory!

Last Thursday evening, my husband and I began looking after our five grandchildren aged 9, 7, 5, 3 and 21 months, whilst my daughter went into the hospital early Friday morning to deliver her sixth child.

I think our task was much easier than my daughter’s, although I went back to work this week for a rest! It’s at times like this, that getting old is frustrating with the lessened ability to do as much as I could do in my prime. Nevertheless, we lost none of the children and no-one died. That is a success, right?

For Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we divided the children up with my daughter’s in-laws. This really helped with getting age appropriate activities going and being able to give the time and attention that the children needed.

This is a stock picture, not my grandson.

We received a text and cute pictures of our newest grandson late Friday afternoon. As a mum, it was with great relief that I knew that both Mum and baby were okay and healthy. As all parents know, you never stop worrying about your children and their offspring.

Saturday morning we took the two little ones to enjoy a few rides on the Canyon Model Railroad that were having a free day. They really enjoyed that. I think Grandma and Papi enjoyed it even more. Could have spent all day riding if it wasn’t for the scorching sun! Then off we went to visit my daughter, her husband and the new baby!

In America, it is really cool that the father can stay in the hospital with the mother and the new baby. Everyone has individual rooms with an ensuite. I remember my days in the hospital after the delivery of my children in England. We were in a large ward separated from the other mum’s and babies by a curtain that we would pull around our bed if we wished. My then husband wasn’t allowed to stay. He could come during visiting hours. When I was a child, children weren’t allowed into the hospital. I remember being lifted up and looking in through a window to be able to see my little sister after she was born.

My daughter was looking really well although tired from the birth and sore from the afterbirth pains (which get worse after each birth). My little new grandson was beyond gorgeous. My daughter’s husband introduced little William to his big little sisters. Both were so gentle with him. I think that the youngest finally understood what we had been telling her about the baby coming out of mummy’s tummy and was amazingly kind and tender to her little new brother. Seems this kindness and love just oozes out of this little girl.

Each of my grandchildren have amazing unique qualities that belong just to them. Those qualities came with them when they were born. Being a sociologist, I was always taught that we are a product of our environment. When I had my children I decided to do a social experiment. I had one girl and one boy. Both played with dolls and cars. (Both favourite toys of mine!). I dressed them mostly in unisex clothes and colors. They had the same books and the same opportunities. I know that you can’t control your environment and the way that you behave due to your upbringing so I’m sure that we were modeling many behaviours to our children unconsciously.

I was a single mum when my youngest child was four. Dad wasn’t around much for visiting. When my son was a young teenager, he one day turned around to me exclaiming that I used way to many words to explain things and suggested that I became more succinct! He didn’t mean to be sassy, he was just trying to express a frustration. Well, I’m still female and still use a lot of words to convey stuff; but my son showed me that he was very male and wanted concise conversation.

My daughter and son are like chalk and cheese. I brought them up the same way, but they are very different. They may share some similar mannerisms, but their personalities are distinct and very different. Even as little kids, they were different in the way they reacted to things. My daughter was a go-getter and loved to join in everything. My son would hide behind my skirts and was very retiring.

So too are my grandchildren. Each one has a very distinct personality and interests. As I held my new little grandson on Saturday, and as I have held my own children and each of my grandchildren as they have entered the world, I am moved to tears at their purity, their innocence, and their glory as they came straight from the presence of God. Wordsworth says it so well:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth.

What an honour it is to hold a child of God in my arms! To be entrusted with God’s child to rear, to protect, to teach, to respect, to honour, to nurture and to help them prepare for eternal life back with their Father in Heaven. I am grateful for my call to be a mother and grandmother. I reverence this sacred office and hope that I can do all that is expected of me with the trust that has been given to me by God.

Diabetes! By Luke Martin-Jones.

I was about five or six years old when I realised Mum wasn’t like everyone else. She was a type I Diabetic and had been so since her early childhood. The story was, she was sat toasting crumpets on the fire in my Grandmothers parlour, when flames jumped out of the grate in front of her face, sending my Mother into a state of shock; from that moment on Mum became diabetic. Like most family stories, I really couldn’t tell you if it was true or not; rather like urban myths, they take hold and become the accepted story of how something happened. The reality of my Mum’s situation was really about her good fortune, being born when she was. She was one of the first people to be given insulin, without which she wouldn’t be here today. As Mum copes with the effects of long term diabetes, I am reminded of a childhood, spent with a lady who fought hard to keep herself strong in the face of illness and the challenges around monitoring her condition.

It was Monday morning, a school day, approaching 7 am. Mum was calling from the bottom of the stairs, trying to get me up for another day. I was never good at waking early at the best of times, let alone at the beginning of the week. Having to go to a school that I hated; suffering yet more bullying, that by now had become commonplace, was a part of my youth, I would rather forget. Laying in bed, I sighed, stretched my arms into life and reluctantly fell out of bed, slowly walking towards the bathroom!

I had had a bath the night before; Sunday was always bath day! After a quick strip wash at the sink I cleaned my teeth and brushed my mass of 70s hair, a huge birds nest on top of my head that made me look fatter than I already was; yes I was a fat kid; yet another reason to get bullied. At nine years old, I had already become impervious to the actions of others, staying very much away from the fray, keeping myself to myself, ignoring the haters. I stamped down the stairs, turned right at the bottom and headed into the kitchen.

The kitchen was a hive of activity. Mother was busy cooking breakfast for my brother and I, as well as Dad, who was due home from his night shift. She had already been up since 6 am and was due to work at the local Co-op after everyone was fed and watered ‘Sit down at the table you two, breakfast wont be long!’ she exclaimed, a little more distracted than usual. Mum hadn’t had her morning injection yet, something she had to do three times a day, before eating and was feeling a little queasy. At the time, we didn’t really know what was going on with her health, just that she had to inject herself each day, a process I never witnessed fully, turning my head away, not wanting to see the needle pierce the skin.

With breakfast on the table and Dad’s food left simmering on the stove, Mum finally sat down. She looked tired as she lent back on the kitchen chair. From her bag she took out her hypodermic needle and reached over towards the fridge, where her insulin was stored, producing a small vile of the clear liquid, that kept her alive. She pierced the rubber top of the bottle with the needle, pulling back the head of the syringe, allowing the liquid to pour inside, finally flicking the glass tube with her fingers, removing the air bubbles inside. ‘Turn away if you want to, I know how much you hate it,’ Mum said gently, smiling, eye brow raised; we both looked towards the wall.

Peeping behind my hand, I managed to see Mum lift the bottom of her blouse, exposing a her stomach. She had been injecting for so many years that this was the only place she could now use to insert the needle. ‘All done, you can look now,’ Mum announced, as she placed the syringe into her bag away from our tiny inquisitive hands.

This was a typical morning, a procedure I witnessed throughout my childhood. Mum never had it easy, but always coped remarkably well; she never complained and just accepted her lot. Spending a lifetime on insulin has taken its toll, Mum isn’t as well as she used to be, wheelchair bound and suffering from a double leg amputation. She remains stoical in the face of adversity, not wanting to accept help from others. The time is coming however, when the children at the breakfast table, will have to take on the responsibility that Mother afforded to us.

Swimming! By Luke Martin-Jones

It was Wednesday afternoon, not my most favourite day of the week, Wednesdays were swimming days and in truth it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had tried playing hooky before and been caught out; hauled up in front of the class I was given a good dressing down and told to ‘buck my ideas up’ if I wanted to complete the compulsory course of lessons, designed to make us water aware, submerging undignified in a pool of filthy water, used by everyone else and all the germs that bred in it. I wasn’t fond of Wednesdays at all, in all respects, not just the swimming but the whole darn process.

As a teenager I was an early developer and objected strongly to spending time in changing rooms and showers with those I went to school with. I mean, who actually thought it was a great idea, to throw a group of adolescent boys together, during puberty, showering together in front of a PE Teacher; it really wasn’t for me! At thirteen years old, I was well aware of my sexuality, the signs were always there. If I was sure of who I was, then others were aware too. Once over the embarrassment of changing in front of ones peers, it was time to begin the lessons.

It was cold, as I tiptoed out of the locker rooms and into the swimming arena. The pool was alive with the screams of children. In the distance I heard the sound of a whistle being blown, by a lifeguard perched at the far end of the pool. It was time for the first group of kids to leave and us to begin our lessons.

Situated at the shallow end, were floats, arm bands and other strange looking contraptions, designed to keep us afloat, as we all strived for the same thing, learning to swim. Most of us were well versed in the procedures employed by Mrs Hanson, a formidable looking lady, dark permed hair and what I can only describe as craggy features, heavily wrinkled face, sporting an almost burnt orange tan. Dressed in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white T shirt, she was tall, thin and a force to be reckoned with; she scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach to teaching can only be described as ‘sink or swim,’ her lack of empathy was typical of the time. There were no allowances for failure; you did as you were told, or else.

There was just me at the shallow end, everyone else had already migrated to the deep side of the pool. For the life of me, I just couldn’t swim, it really wasn’t in me and with a coach like Mrs Hanson, it was highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. I stood in the middle, still holding onto the side with my right hand, when Mrs H, told me to let go of the edge and slowly swim towards her hands, stretched out before me. I hesitated, panicked and shook my head in protest. She asked again, firmly, with a scowl on her face. After thinking for what seemed like an age, I threw myself forwards and swam towards her hands.

I was nearly there and could almost feel the end of her nails. Everything was a blur, my eyes were soaked in water, my mouth and nose also, I could barely breath; flapping my hands with terror, I really thought I would make it. Then she took her hands away, quickly without warning; I sunk like a brick. Shouting for help I gasped for air, trying to get to the surface, finally lifted out by the lifeguard, who placed me at the side of the pool. Coughing, spluttering with my heart pounding, I finally came back to life; battered, bruised with loss of dignity and pride, I gingerly left the pool, never to return again.

In the end I was awarded a certificate like everyone else, not for the metres I had swam but for endeavour, for trying hard; a piece of paper, that I still have to this very day, a momento of a time I would rather forget. That final lesson was so traumatic for me, that I never learnt to swim again. I am content enough to realise I tried my best, leaving a mark on my life that I can write about today!

Rejecting Modernity! by Luke Martin-Jones

It was about a year before, when I was at a friends house that I realised I wanted one. It was truly amazing, another world and one of the best presents a young boy like me could wish for. In the mid 1980s modernity jumped head long into my life; a technological revolution and the development of a personal computer was firmly planted into the psyche of a generation, just waiting to break away from the past, establishing their credentials as inheritors of the crown. The future was rubber keys, the future was Sinclair.

The shops were heaving, customers were pushing and shoving their way around the packed isles. Supermarket trollies were full to bursting with everything one needed for a gastronomical feast. As Mum and Dad paid for their weekly shopping at the checkout in Sainsbury, I briefly wondered outside. Looking past the cafe in the centre of the Mall, I spotted Curry’s electrical shop directly opposite; in the shop window the newest gadget to hit the shelves was displayed, the ZX Spectrum 48K. I ran over as fast as I could, nose pressed against the glass, watching ‘Daly Thompson’s Decathlon’ being enacted on the screen. In awe of the graphics, amazed by the colour, I imagined myself owning one. Looking down at the price tag, 125 pounds, I realised it was too expensive for me to buy, sighed and walked back to the supermarket, waiting outside.

Mum and Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I took the chance. I wanted ‘The Spectrum computer’ and hoped they would agree. At first they were a little unsure about what I was referring to, so I grabbed a copy of Mum’s Kay’s Catalogue under the coffee table in the lounge, flicking through the pages until I found what I was looking for. ‘Here it is, this is what I want. It will be the bestest Christmas present of all’ I retorted excitedly. After several minutes of hesitation, confused expression on their faces, they both agreed; I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.

Santa arrived early once again. It always seemed strange to me, that the old man arrived before I got up, never did I catch him, not once, even when I surfaced at 12am. This was a present, delivered directly to the bottom of my bed, placed in a pillow case, rather than being left in the sitting room, as was usual. I guess this was a gift, that was just too bulky to be left under the tree. At 3am I was up and awake, ripping wrapping paper and trying to get to grips with my new toy; a personal computer, the modern age sitting on my lap; shiny, untouched waiting to be unlocked.

Setting up the ZX Spectrum on my desk was the easy bit, connecting the wires to the TV, loading games was another matter. One had to place a cassette in a player then wait for it to load; a screeching, whining rendition that sent shivers down my spine; so much so, I left the room, made a turkey sandwich, popped the kettle on, used the toilet on the way back and still had time to spare, before the tape had even loaded. I managed half an hour or so at the helm before everything went ‘Pete Tong!’ Two hours later I was back playing another round until the inevitable ZX Spectrum problems kicked in once again.

In the end, I probably used my new computer no more than ten times. Frustration, impatience and annoyance at the cumbersome piece of 80s kit got the better of me. After throwing it across the room, on several occasions, I decided it was best to retire the rubber wonder before it drove me insane. This slice of retro design, remained in my parents loft, until it was sold at a local car boot sale, ten years later. I never bought another PC again until the late 1990s. Sir Clive Sinclair had done what no one else could: turning my love of gadgets into a dislike of the modern world. I remained steadfast in my rejection of all things avant-garde and progressive for many years, although look back with fondness at the little black box that made my life hell, after all if it wasn’t for Clive, I wouldn’t be typing on this laptop today. I am truly amazed at just how far we have come in such a short space of time!

(First published in Roaming Brit on 3rd June, 2018)

Why I Run.

It was 1966 and my family and I were living in Cornwall. My dad had been stationed there with the Navy. My little sister was born there. Yes, she decided to arrive right in the middle of the May Day Festival so it was touch and go for my mum and dad to get through the festivity traffic to the hospital. No dancing around the May Pole for my mum on that day!

I remember sitting on a swivel stool in the middle of this large sterile room. There were lots of grey looking cabinets in the room, some being used as dividers to make pockets of workspace.

The nurse was an older lady in her late fifties. Clothed in a nurse’s blue and white striped dress and a white starched apron, her short gray curly hair graced a small white cap under which sat a cross face. Her voice was sharp.

“Take one of your arms out of your cardigan”, she trilled.

“Take your cardigan off”, my mum said. I took my cardigan off and gave it to my mum. She folded it up and held it on her lap where my little sister sat. “It won’t hurt,”, my mum said.

I wondered what wasn’t going to hurt. I sat back on the stool. I looked around. There was a stainless steel sink in the room, cotton wool, lots of different types of grey canisters. Despite so many objects in the room, the grayness left it barren and cold.

“Keep still” the nurse said in her loud shrill voice. Startled out of my reveries, I turned towards the harsh voice and saw the syringe and needle flying through the air like a dart. As it pierced my arm on landing, I howled in pain.

The nurse tutted and sighed. Impatiently, she stuck a plaster on my arm. The tears poured down my face.

The nurse walked briskly and emotionlessly across the room. My mum cuddled my sister as her screams joined mine. Then we were ushered quickly out of the room.

A few months later after our small pox injection, we flew out to Singapore where my Dad had been reassigned. Every six months we had to have a booster. Filled with that memory and terror, I took full advantage of my mother looking after my little sister and ran away as we queued up for the jab. My mum would have to leave my little sister with someone in the queue and chase after me. She was not happy with me. But jabs frightened me more than my mother’s disapproval.

Today, when I go in for my flu jab or to have my blood drawn, I wish I was five again and that I could run away. I remind myself that I volunteered for this; that is a beneficial thing. I breath deeply and try to focus on something else – anything else – but my brain is not disciplined enough and my body tenses up in anticipation. My head starts to spin and my breathing becomes shallow and fast. My legs are unable to run but my heart is racing faster than my legs ever could.

Then as fast as this anticipated event came concurrent, it is over. I am able to breathe more deeply, my muscles relax, and relief washes over me. It didn’t hurt that much and I wonder why I worried about it so much. But then I remember the nurse with the scowled face and it all makes sense.