Sunday, 10 March 2013




How tenuous, slender, insubstantial are many of the strands that have gone to make up some lives; strands that appear as frail as those of a spider’s web.  But while a spider’s web has a predetermined regularity, the strands that make up a life are just as likely to stop, divert and redirect with a suddenness that appears all the more perverse and random when viewed in retrospect, than when they are examined while creating the flow of the life.

              It suddenly struck me recently that it is quite certain that Kate, Mary, Oliver, Robbie and young Jimmie would not exist, be robustly alive as they undoubtedly are, if Granny had not been able to spell ‘bicycle’.  Neither would their parents have met - Andrew would not be travelling the world in his professorial role, supervising earth science projects for the Third World; Jamie would not be inspiring students of graphic art; Elizabeth would not be trading in second-hand books - and their respective partners would have other spouses, other children.  I, myself would not have an excellent friend from whom I, for instance, learned the craft of leather carving, nor would I, through her, have met retired art professor Glynne, from whom I learned the skill of actually looking and seeing in my attempts at sculpture and carving.  And it only happened because she could spell ‘bicycle’.

              She had sat across the desk from the Flight Sergeant.  She was seventeen and a half.  She had been determined to enlist in the Armed Forces in this, 1941, the second year of World War II.  She had wanted to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service, the Wrens.  After all, she had grown up by water, indeed had been rowed across it in a ferry four times a day going to and from school - the River Colne - and the names of her villages - Wivenhoe, Fingeringhoe and Rowhedge - are alive even today for those who read about the great ocean-going yachts of yesteryear and the skippers and crews which the villages famously provided.

           And hadn’t her grandfather run away to sea as a boy and eventually joined the Royal Navy in the days of sail, and ultimately served on the Royal Yacht?  And hadn’t three of her cousins learned their seamanship and gunnery just up the coast in H.M.S.Ganges, and one been a Gunner at the Battle of the River Plate?  And hadn’t her uncles also been at sea in the Royal Navy?  And wasn’t her father a shipwright?  Yes, she wanted the Wrens, but they only had vacancies for cooks, and she didn’t want to be a cook.  She didn’t think that the khaki of the A.T.S. uniform would suit her, and maybe she thought that her bum would look too big in the fetching corduroy breeches of the Land Army.  But determined she was to enlist, and so she offered herself to the Women’s’ Auxiliary Air Force - the W.A.A.F.  (Little did she know that she would indeed wear khaki, but that was later in North Africa where she would progress from Algeria to Egypt, and when she was a seasoned service-woman, and had other things to think about than the colour of the uniform).

              But the W.A.A.F. at that time had vacancies only for cooks and barrage balloon personnel.  She knew, had made up her mind that she did not want to be a cook; so this would be her future - to fill and man-handle and control the huge blimps which floated in the skies over our vulnerable towns and cities and airfields.
              The Flight Sergeant looked at this eager teenager sitting across the desk and was temporarily lost in thought, as he pictured her petite form struggling in the dark in a gale, trying to control this surging beast, the balloon, and its anchors and winches, when an idea struck him and he looked up at her - “Can you spell ‘bicycle’?” he suddenly asked.  Totally bemused she said she could, and did.  “Right” he said, “I’ll put you down for ‘Signals’”.  And so she enlisted and was in the W.A.A.F., her future career in ‘Signals’ decided - and then she went home to tell her parents what she had done.
              And thus, on the basis of such a trivial thought and response a whole new career began, as clad in Air Force blue and later khaki, she made her way across North Africa from Algiers to Cairo in the wake of the armies – on one memorable occasion, and from her base in Egypt, connecting some very senior people – one in London, and the other in a tent in the Sinai Desert.  With ‘bicycle’, the whole future course of a life, of many lives, was set in train, and I am left to ponder on the chain of coincidence that brought me an excellent friend.

              So it is with some other of my friends – most excellent friends of some forty years – who would not be known to me if it had not been for…

Half a pound of minced beef wrapped in a newspaper...

                In those days, butchers and fish and chip shops could use newspaper for wrapping around the greaseproof paper containing the meat or potato chips.  (This was in 1956).  The minced beef, destined for its role in a shepherd’s pie, lay on the kitchen table at a friend’s house where the mother had stopped to have coffee on her way home from shopping.  She had a problem - where to choose for the family to take their summer holiday.  All their earlier plans had been thwarted by the Suez Crisis. 

             Father had been a tank commander in the desert in WWII and had been retained as a reservist ready to be recalled as and when needed, and it seemed that he would be needed - until the crisis was resolved, and he was told not to bother.  Which left the problem of what to do for the summer holiday, having cancelled their previous plans.  Chatting about this and that and thwarted holiday plans, Mother idly scanned the newspaper around the mince and her eye caught a small ad.  It offered seaside holidays in an isolated cottage with direct access to the shore, and riding and miles of clean unspoiled beaches.  It sounded ideal for a family - three children and very active - mountains and lakes nearby - and so they booked and came.  (It is just a few miles from where I sit now, and the very same place where my wife and I went with our two-year old daughter for a riding holiday two years later.  Run by mother and daughter Joan and Lindsay who themselves increasingly featured in our lives, as riding became our own family hobby)

              So much was this impromptu adventure enjoyed that the cottage became a regular holiday centre for the family.  Later when each child had developed wider interests, daughter Patricia, increasingly keen on riding, came on her own.  In time, the activity of the embryonic riding school increased and it moved to a farm site and adjacent to another farm wherein dwelt two handsome sons.  And in the fullness of time, Lindsay married David and Patricia married Peter.  And it was about this time that I, spending much time with the horses at the farm with my wife and daughter, actually got to know Peter and Tricci and there began a friendship that has grown and strengthened over the years to the point where we regard each other as ‘family’ - my own family having sadly broken up.  Ignoring the actuality of the Suez Crisis - if the butcher had picked up a different piece of newspaper we would never have even met, and their lives would have been so vastly different, and I wouldn’t have baby-sat for Cristen and Tessa, nor played Santa Claus over the telephone for them and their cousins.

But then again, it is wholly unlikely that I, myself, would be here, would even exist at all, if the doctor hadn’t shouted down the stairs:

“Bring me two bricks quickly!”

             No; not exist at all, for my mother was in imminent danger of dying, and I wouldn’t be conceived for another year or so.  My father, downstairs, was already mind-blown with the birth of his first child, my brother, and with the serious situation that had developed upstairs.  But, not knowing just what was happening or what to think, he blindly obeyed the command and dashed outside the house in Toronto Avenue, and from somewhere, he couldn’t say where, conjured up two bricks and ran with them upstairs where he helped the doctor to prop up the foot of my mother’s bed.

           My brother’s birth had been difficult, and my mother was experiencing a severe haemorrhage and was about to go into a coma.  This is family folklore that I didn’t learn of for many years, so the edges are a bit blurred, but my mother was saved and in due course, precisely twenty-two months later, I arrived.  But on one thing everyone agreed - it had been very, very close.  And very, very close came a premature end for me when I was just twenty years old – and, surprisingly, a major factor that contributed to my being so close to death at that place and precisely at that time was because

“My surname begins with the letter ‘V’.”

              You find that hard to believe?  Well, just consider how often many of the decisions and choices in our lives are made by others – people with lists!  Yes, people with lists – lists of names drawn up in alphabetical order!  Tasks allocated, activities at school – sometimes to your advantage; often, if you are the tail of the alphabet, to your disadvantage.  Forgetting school and moving to my war service, and my initial billet - which was with Walker, Walter and Wilson.  Moving to Radar training, and my working partner was another Walker (why couldn’t it have been Chance, or Fovargue, Roskell or ‘Lofty’ Moss – thank Heaven it wasn’t Mimnagh!).  Training finished and moving on to ships and overseas bases – if I had been further up the alphabet I might have gone to Trincomalee or Freetown (where I might have caught yellow fever and nearly died another early death!).
     As it was, I was sent to Malta to join a destroyer, HMS Saumarez, which, six months later – and in ‘peacetime’ – was mined by Albanian mines, with the loss of many lives.  I was burned and physically injured, but obviously survived, although as I look back and study photographs and remember, increasingly I realise just how close it had been.

       Injured, I was taken on board an aircraft carrier where my burns were tended by someone whose life, to a degree, paralleled my own.  As I lay drawing my first breaths in South Wales, there was, in Scotland, a little bundle of tenuous life – a life that had arrived just eight hours before me; a life that was so tenuous that seeing it had caused the doctor to say to the midwife –

“Put the child aside.”

         The doctor was not being callous or unkind.  He knew that the child was premature, the early arrival having been caused by the shock to the mother of the father dying some little time before.  He knew the straitened circumstances that might arise and the problems and expense of a weakly, premature child.  So – “Put the child aside”.

       But Granny would have none of it.  “He’ll no be put aside”, defiantly she said, and took the bundle on her lap beside the fire and gently, drop by drop, trickled warm whisky and water into the tiny mouth.
       I learned of these events some years later when the ‘bundle’, now named David, had, like me, joined the Royal Navy.  We became friends, as our passage through the various forms of training was identical.  Ultimately separated, his path took him to an aircraft carrier and mine to the aforementioned destroyer, and to the incident in which I was burned and taken on board his ship. 

         The next day, I was ferried across to a hospital ship, and as I said ‘goodbye’ to him at the foot of the gangway, we neither realised that we would not see each other for thirty-seven years, and that our meeting then would be so unexpected and unusual.  I have written about this encounter and all that followed from it in my book, and will not repeat it here.  But I will acknowledge the joy that followed as I discovered a new family in Scotland, a family of which I am still a part, although, sadly, David himself has died.

David        Marjory         Roy

       There must be many like me who can have such a roll-call of events in their lives, events that are brought to the front of the mind and ‘dusted off’; revisited within the mind and rejoiced over, or mourned.  In the main, they are reminiscences that are welcome, and even though some have sad endings, they can, nevertheless, be viewed, as are old photographs and letters and scrapbooks.
       But think on this – the lives of my brother and I might never have even begun, if it had not been for the fact that…

My father had a motor-bike and side-car
Just like this…

You find it hard to believe?  Well, ignoring the fact that my mother and father met purely by chance – a few seconds either way and they would have passed by, never to speak – a bank-holiday motor-bike ride, together with Aunty Annie, gave a kick-start to the lives of my brother and  our cousin Eric.

       Unlike the model above, my Dad’s bike had a pillion seat, and off they went for a run around the South Wales countryside.  Taking a short-cut, the road became a sort of switch-back, and, determined to give the girls a ‘thrill’, Dad speeded up.  But soon, very soon, there came cries of agony mixed with “Stop.  Please stop.”  Both passengers dismounted doubled up in pain – pain centred in the lower abdomen.

       Now, both Mum and Dad, and Aunty Annie and Uncle Will had been married for three or four years, and yet no babies were forthcoming.  However, within the month, both couples had conceived, and nine months later, Bruce arrived, to be followed within a fortnight by our cousin Eric.

I had to wait a further twenty-two months to be born.  Whether I would have happened at all, if it had not been for the motor-bike and side-car…
 Who knows?

And here I am now, 

moving towards my 88th birthday.  Looking back down the years, many things delight and surprise me.  Most surprising of all, I think, is the fact that I have actually written a book.  A book of some 160,000 words entitled Listening to the Silences.  And I surprise myself even more with the fact that even now I continue to write.  I write for this Blog and I write articles for publication, and the whole of my writing has one theme and one purpose.

       For more than thirty years I have experienced inner voices in my mind, and physical intrusions into my body and senses – a total experience that I know with unshakeable certainty is the result of spiritual intervention and interaction.  And how could I cease writing when what I have written and published brings me emails such as those from ‘John’, a man of more than forty years, and a voice hearer for many of them.

            John writes frequently, and frequently he expresses gratitude for my book and other writing.  He also tells me that I have saved his life by drawing him back from thoughts of suicide, and at other times he says that I have saved his sanity.

           From the Philippines, a seafarer Al Cab.- sent  a very harrowing email, which ended ‘… Now all I want is to be a husband to my wife and a father to my daughter.  Now you inspire me a lot.’

           While from Poland, Jacek wrote -

          Hello Roy, thank you very much for your answer.
Yes I am still in trouble with evil spirits they still talking to me all the day long and still hitting me which is very painful.
Dear Roy could you please write me how did you become fully free from evil sprits, what did you do to be released from evil sprits.
What should I do to be fully free or released from these evil sprits.

Kind regards,

        As well as being available as a free download on the Internet, the book also appears in paperback, but, unfortunately, it receives no useful publicity from my chosen publisher.  Consequently, I have to rely on my website and Blog to publicise the book and to try and ensure that it reaches a wide public and is read.

I shall, therefore, be very grateful if you will tell your friends on Facebook about my book and Blog, and please ask them also to pass on the addresses to their friends.




During the nineteen-eighties, I maintained a regular correspondence with a member of the ‘White Sisters’ religious order (Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa).  Sister Marie McDonald was in charge of a Bush Dispensary in Uganda, and was trying to restore its function after the overthrow of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator.

      The Sisters were desperately short of money, and at one time, Marie wrote to say that they could not get medicines, even if they could pay for them, “Could I help?”

         My former employer, British Nuclear Fuels, gave generously of material from the dispensary at the local Calder Hall Works, while in the meantime I pondered what I could do myself.

      At that time, I was making a personal study of herbal remedies, and had become impressed with the efficacy of comfrey herb (symphytum officinale), particularly as a treatment for a variety of skin conditions and for wound healing.

           With no further thought, I sent off my existing supply of comfrey ointment, and awaited comments.  When they came, I could not have been more delighted.  The ointment had been used to treat a large ulcer on the leg of an old man who had walked for three days to reach the dispensary.  Marie reckoned that such an ulcer would take upwards of a fortnight to heal using conventional remedies.  The ointment was applied on a Friday, and by the following Monday, new pink skin was developing around the ulcer, which then healed rapidly.

          With the help of Lawrence Hills of the Henry Doubleday Research Institute, several kilogrammes of ointment were shipped out, as were some comfrey seeds that Mr. Lawrence obtained from seedsmen, Thomson and Morgan.

          The ointment rapidly acquired a reputation as a ‘cure all’ for skin problems. 

      I also sent a copy of the book Comfrey, written by the indefatigable Lawrence Hills.  In the book there was a photograph of a lady who regularly bought at cattle markets, young calves that were ‘scouring’ – i.e. had diarrhoea – and which no one else wanted.  These calves she took home, and fed with milk in which she placed chopped comfrey leaves.  The scouring soon ceased, and the young animals thrived.

         One of the Sisters in Uganda saw this in the book, and thought that the remedy that cured the calves might also work on African infants.

       Dehydration following persistent diarrhoea is one of the killers of infants in the developing world.  To the delight of the Sisters – who surprisingly found comfrey already growing in their garden - the strategy was successful, and with this remedy, infants began to thrive where previously they might not have done, with the almost inevitable early death.

        Subsequently, I lost contact with my White Sister friends, and so I have no way of knowing whether they developed the use of comfrey any further, or whether they informed a wider world.

     At one time, comfrey root became suspect as a potential cause of liver cancer, and it has been largely removed from sale for internal use.  The ‘research’ on which this view had been based had involved a high dosage in rats, and was itself very suspect.

          Commenting purely from my own experience, I rate comfrey ointment and oil very highly for all skin ailments, and particularly burns and scalds.

I also use comfrey leaf internally in its tincture form with no harmful effects after twenty-five years intermittent use.

Used properly as a medicine and not a food, as some individuals were doing, it is very valuable, particularly in its role as internal vulnary.