Don’t you find it difficult to know where to start when you’re writing about yourself? You could start with when you were born. Would that really help? Then how would you distinguish between those events in your life which you considered important and those you didn’t – and of course, those you would definitely leave out of the story – probably because you secretly wanted to be seen in a good light.
Enough waffle! Let’s get down to brass tacks!
I was born in 1948 – so am part of the postwar generation, which grew up during rationing and hard times when the country was bankrupt after the war. Of course, you don’t expect me to be aware of any of this.
My first recollection is of being on a “Stratocruiser” (that’s a plane!), going eventually to New York. I say, eventually, because I’m told we had to stop at various places to refuel – Glasgow, Reykyavik, Greenland, Halifax and Boston. I remember there were seats in one half of the plane and bunk-beds in the other. A far cry from transatlantic air travel today!!
We were on our way to Mexico City, where we were going to live for 2 / 3 years. I vaguely remember various events, such as being lost for 2 hours in a place called Cuernavaca. I have no idea why I wandered off. I think it was near a square with a fountain. Perhaps this showed my adventurous side – if so, opportunities to display this were far and few between!
After our sojourn in Mexico, we sailed in the summer of 1955 from New York to England on the “Queen Elizabeth”. I remember my brother, James, and I decided to give each other a crew-cut to look “American” (perhaps!) to our grandparents, who met us at Southampton. They then attempted to drive us back to their smallholding near Honiton. I say, attempted, because on that day there was a rainstorm of such unusual proportions that we were caught in the floods in Bridport. A family kindly put us up until the next day, when the tractors could be used to pull out the cars from the swollen river.
Within 3 years I was packed off to boarding school – which I hated. I remember without fail every time we drove down the hill into the village where the school was situated I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing there was nothing I could do to persuade my father to turn the car round and for us to go back home.
His word was law. I was afraid to cross him. A situation, which remained for most of my life. I was a sucker for being manipulated into allowing others to make decisions for me, instead of standing up for myself. Anyway let’s move on to other things!!
It was the done thing for people in our “social class” to send their offspring to be educated by others at boarding school – i.e. away from home. The phrase used was “in loco parentis”. A cynic might say – to be shot of their children. When I was at “public” school (i.e. one of the top private schools!!) my parents would meet us for just one day in a term of 13 weeks. They were strangers to us. Almost as though they didn’t belong to our lives – which were harsh and unforgiving!
I’ve just seen how much ground I’ve covered in such a short space. Yes, I know I’ve left out a great deal. That was deliberate.
Endings seem to have been significant for me. First of all, at my preparatory school (i.e. up to the age of 13) during my last term, another boy and I decided to dig a huge hole in order to get to Australia (of all places!!). Ironic, since Australia came to me in the shape of a step-mother.
My second “ending” occurred during my last term at the “public” school, when we were told we were being sent out as “leaders of society”. I wonder whether that was because we all just happened to go to one of the top private schools in the country and therefore we were being given permission to be snobs. It was so easy to think this way, especially when it was coupled with family pride in our ancestors. We were special people – not like the riff-raff. We demanded respect. By the way, reader, my tongue is firmly in my cheek. Don’t worry!
My third “ending” – which I would say unhesitatingly was most devastating – was the death of my mother at the tragically early age of 58. As you can imagine, this had enormous impact on the family – especially since we had grown up with the notion that a stiff upper lip would always see you through every situation, and if you could, you’d best sweep under the carpet any awkward issues, so that you didn’t have to face them.
It took me at least 10 years to come to the point where I could accept what had happened and move on. What made things more difficult was the fact that my father asked R to marry him only 6 weeks after my own mother had died, and they got married 6 months later in Melbourne. My mother’s sister told me they had all known each other in the 1950s and my mother had said that my father should marry R if she were to die before him. They have been happily married for 34 years and have been good for each other.
I know beyond a shadow of doubt that my wife has been the catalyst for so much healing in my life. We met at a concert in Hereford Cathedral in August 1985, and were married almost 2 years later. The “crusty old bachelor” that she encountered gradually changed. This took place over many years and was not without a lot of pain on both sides, but because we love each other, and are committed to each other, we have grown stronger. I wouldn’t want things any other way.
Now I’ve reached the point where I can discuss my poetry, my genealogical research and my spiritual journey – all of which are in some way tied up. Firstly, I remember receiving top prize at “public” school for composing a poem in French. The fact I was the only entrant in the competition somewhat tarnishes the result! Secondly, I wrote some verses (?) after my mother died. A question mark is there, because of the questionable quality of the writing!! Then about 4 or 5 years ago I composed some more and had a booklet printed. Looking back, I see they were not really up to standard. Nevertheless, this was preparation for what was to come.
3 years ago I stopped going to institutionalized church. The reasons for my leaving are not relevant here, or perhaps it would be better not to express them here – expect for the fact that this “departure” liberated me to write poetry. I found that if a phrase or line “came to me” the rest would follow. The best time for me to compose was midnight or one o’clock in the morning. Probably because there were no distractions. In contrast to the effectiveness of this approach to writing, if I said to myself, I’m going to sit down and write a poem, it invariably never “worked”.
As the words and phrases unfolded on the page, I was almost conscious that it wasn’t me writing all this down. You could say that an unseen hand was at work. Since I believe and trust in a God Who loves us and knows us better than we do ourselves, I feel it was His hand at work.
I have been fortunate to have met Steve who designed my original website, which has become redundant. This one as you will realize is interactive. I am pleased with the result.
Steve set himself up as a publishing company in order to get my collection of poems – Freedom Reclaimed – out in print. Also he has a friend who has a sound-proof studio, where I recorded my reciting all the poems in the collection. Both the book and the CD are now on sale in various outlets on the internet. A Press Release has now come out from a social media consultancy company, based in New Jersey, in order to “spread the word”.
On the front cover of the collection of poetry there is an image of Drayton Hall, which is located near Charleston in South Carolina. John Drayton, 2nd generation American, had the house built between 1738-1742 on the profits of his rice plantations. I am descended from Thomas Drayton, 2nd son by John’s 3rd wife, Margaret Glen. Thomas Drayton’s daughter, Sarah Daniels, married Thomas Smith Grimke, and so this is where you find the combination of the two surnames in my own. Thomas Drayton bequeathed Magnolia plantation (the first Drayton plantation, dating from 1680) to his daughter’s eldest son, as soon as he reached the age of 21, and on condition he took on the name Drayton in his surname.
On the death of the first son as a result of a shooting accident, John, the second son, who was studying for the Episcopal ministry, inherited the property and was the owner throughout most of the 19th century – even through the ravages of the Civil War of 1861-1865. John’s younger brother, Theodore, was my great-great grandfather. He met and married an English lady, Emma Evans, whose father gave him a position in his coal-mining company near Liverpool. For Theodore, who was “at a loose end” in Charleston, as my father described his situation, it seemed the logical step to emigrate to England with a prospect of work.
Nevertheless he wasn’t done with Charleston. I’m told he broke through the Northern blockade of the city at least 3 times. He still had property both in Charleston and along the Ashley River Road or perhaps his brother was looking after his slaves. Theodore was listed in the 1860 Slave Schedule for Charleston County as having 45 slaves in St Andrews Parish, where his brother was living. However, Theodore was not in the 1860 Census – which indicates that he was no longer in the country. Another reason for him moving to England was possibly because he knew the South would ultimately lose the war.
So this is the reason why I am fourth generation British. Or to put it another way, I am 16th American – I think that is right! Now I’m going to skip generations (more about them at another time!) and talk a bit about my spiritual journey, as promised.
Frankly I do not know where to start and how to approach this without sounding pompous or conceited. So I’ll begin with the discovery that God loved me – warts and all!! And I didn’t have to prove this either to Him, others or myself. I grew up with the mistaken notion that you had to strive to succeed in life – that you were therefore absolutely responsible for your failures! If you failed, there was probably no way of getting back up on to firm ground – especially if you were told often enough (or it was implied – more subtle, but equally deadly!) that you had not got it in you to succeed.
Also we (particularly men) are not supposed to show our emotions – which is seen as being sissy and a sign of weakness. So we are totally unprepared when a death of a close relative occurs and we flounder with our bereavement. Sometimes, as in my case, this can go on for years.
Having been unhappy during my nine years at boarding school, I had the crazy idea of choosing the teaching profession as a career. I soon discovered I was ill-suited to the job, but felt this was the only thing I could do, so I soldiered on for twenty years, and, at the end after a nervous breakdown, finally took the offer of early retirement. I taught foreign languages to pupils who really weren’t interested in learning – or a good percentage of them weren’t. I was 11 years in my final school, where the head of languages made it clear to me that, if it had been up to him alone, I would never have been appointed to the post in the first place. The school was situated in a housing estate with social problems – the only one south of the river.
The city was relatively small and situated within an agricultural area with the main industries being found in a cider-making factory, a cattle market, and a poultry-processing plant. The city is the world centre of one kind of cattle. So this background indicates the type of social problems, with which the school I taught in were faced.
My teaching career ended in December 1992 and I began to “breathe” as a person in my own right. This process took many years of counselling. I discovered that I was bipolar – i.e. I had terrific highs and lows. I was put on medication – which I still take – to moderate my condition.
At first I would not have admitted there was anything wrong with me. Remember, I grew up with a “stiff upper lip”. I know it sounds painful. It was. For example, my nervous breakdown was described as “your recent upset” by a member of the family. I do not blame him for doing this, because his way of coping was to pretend it did not exist. A family trait of long-standing! Looking back through the generations, I can see where denial was the order of the day to keep things at a superficial and manageable level.
In stark contrast to this, you feel liberated when you discover the love of God Who reveals Himself in Jesus. Jesus did say: “When you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father”. God’s love for me as a Father’s love is like that illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son, who, after squandering his inheritance and coming to his senses, returns home to confess his sins and ask to be made a servant in his father’s household, but finds that the latter, who has been looking out for him all the time, runs to embrace him and tells his servants to put on the best robe on his son because they are going to celebrate his return. The son has not been able to complete his prepared speech. He is swept up in his Father’s love.
I received Jesus into my heart within the context of church membership, because I believed that was where I should belong – as part of a church fellowship. I first went to a baptist church, because of the example of one person’s life within the school at which I taught. At her funeral service I recognized the same celebratory mood I had encountered when I was studying at college in Cambridge. I even became a paying lodger in a small evangelical theological college, not realizing that for 2 ½ years all I wanted was to be accepted. I was fooling myself into thinking this had anything to do with having faith in Jesus. I also thought I was fooling everyone else. I later discovered that this was not the case. People in the college were displaying God’s love but I was not ready to fully understand it and therefore receive it. I had just left boarding school and had issues with family and myself – of which I was unaware at the time.
It took almost 30 years for me to make that commitment to Jesus – only after I had gone through some difficulties, when I had to learn the hard but necessary lesson of taking responsibility for my own actions – including selfish and hurtful ones!
While we were on holiday on Crete, my wife and I met a couple from Southport. They were wonderful Anglican Christians. I remember the last evening when we had dinner together at the hotel, and then walked to the centre of the town to have coffee at one of the cafes in town, Alan and I were walking together. I said something which at the time seemed so out of character. I told Alan that I believed we were living in the last days (where did that come from?!?). At one point in our conversation he indicated that I was very near to accepting Christ in my life.
I did precisely that on an Alpha course, taking place at the same church at which I had been to the funeral service. Alpha is an introductory course on Christianity for those with some church background. It has been used worldwide across the denominations.
For seven years I was a pain in the proverbial, because I tried to do God’s work for Him. I was in “achievement” mode – attempting to gain evangelism scalps!! Not realizing that I was trying to win arguments by bludgeoning my “opponent” instead of just showing them God’s love without indulging in counter-productive arguments.
Everything I did was within the context of church membership. Subconsciously I must have thought myself a cut above others. On one occasion at work two colleagues pointed their accusing finger at me, and said: “You think you are so superior!!” Looking back, I know they were right. I could not know this, until I had left the institutionalized church. What caused me to leave was a message I received from one of the pastors. I had had problems with the house group, talked with the “leaders” of the group and come to a mutually agreed decision that I should move to another. Then I had an infection in my left ear, so that I could not hear out of it.
I sent an email about this to my friend in Charleston (South Carolina, USA), who had in the meantime sent me information on a forthcoming healing meeting a few days later. She suggested I sent an email requesting healing. At the meeting, before my email had been read out, a young man came forward to say that he believed there was someone with a blocked left ear and the Lord wanted to heal the ear so that the person could hear perfectly. My email was then read out, and they prayed for me by proxy. The result was that from that moment I could hear perfectly here in Christchurch.
I then received an email from the pastor of the church I was attending at the time. He said he hadn’t seen me and asked how I was. I suggested we met up at a cafe. He thought this was not a good idea, because he didn’t want to “usurp the spiritual authority” of the house group leaders “over me” . I replied that I had decided to leave the church and using such an expression was not helpful. My authority comes from God Himself.
It was not easy, taking such a huge step. I soon came in contact with four other men, who had also left the institutionalized church. We meet every Wednesday morning for fellowship and discussion on spiritual issues with no agenda. We are able to talk about things which matter in a candid and honest way. We can disagree with one another but we learn at every meeting. There is an unseen “guest” whom we recognize. He directs the conversation, we believe.
Since not going to church, I started writing poetry. I was fortunate enough to be able to rely on Steve’s expertise as a publisher. He set up himself in order firstly to publish my first collection of poems – Freedom Reclaimed – through his website – Augusta Books. This is linked to http://www.createspace.com, which in turn is linked to the amazon.com site. This caters for the American market. The books and CDs ironically are produced in North Charleston.
That is more or less a summary of who I am and what I’ve done. I could have written a book, but decided against it!!