On Board
Narrowboat "FRILFORD"
(British Waterways No. 500645)

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - "Drowning, Not Waving and other Clichés"

Whether or not it was because I was in Ripon and thus at my initial destination I don’t know, but it was in Ripon that the doubts and questioning set in again. Until then I had managed to keep them at bay. Mostly. There were times when… but mostly I was feeling reasonably good about being Adrian Rayson.

When I planned to go away on FRILFORD it was to run away. When I left on FRILFORD I was running away. In Ripon I was cruelly reminded that you can run but you can’t hide. Despite having all the trappings of a successful life, despite having all the opportunities one could ask for, and having the courage to take some of them up, so despite wanting for nothing, really, I have not been comfortable with the business of being alive. I fact I don’t like it much. This might be seen as a terrible thing to say, given what a comfortable life God, fate or what, has bestowed upon me, but that is the thing that has coloured and shaped my life – I don’t actually like it much. I can appreciate what a wonderful thing it must be and I feel ashamed and foolish when I think of those millions of people for whom life has no opportunities, but who make something of it and rise above their terrible afflictions and constraints. I have a problem with depression which drags me down a lot of the time and causes me to have major doubts about myself and my role in the life I find myself leading. I lack self-confidence and self-esteem. I do not like myself, particularly, and often find myself wanting. Not for nothing am I on my own. I remember years ago a friend of mine being dumped out of a relationship by another friend of mine. We were close, so I was able to see this situation developing, and the denouement. It was not a messy split as these things go, but it caused the usual pain and anguish. I was with my dumped friend one day and she looked miserable. A few words passed between us then she looked up and said “Ah well, thank God we have the love of ourselves to fall back on at times like these. I get comfort from the relationship I have with myself.”

I didn’t say anything at the time but I was quite perplexed by what she’d said, which is why I remember it so clearly. Love of oneself? Do people have that? I suppose they do. Indeed I suppose that it what shapes individuals, gives them their character and their strength, and shapes the relationships they have with others. I honestly can’t say I enjoy a good relationship with myself and I know that that shapes the relationships I have with others. What relationships, however? I know a lot of people and try to be affable to all. But close relationships? No. I have tried and failed to know myself, to have a close relationship with myself, and thus am unable to have a close relationship with others. After all, if you don’t know what you are offering, selling maybe, it is hard to live with oneself if one is, none the less, trying to be appealing to others. I have spent a long time, all my life in fact, working on creating a façade which might look a bit like the person I think I ought to be and might satisfy the rest of the world as an impression of Adrian Rayson. It has not been easy and gets no easier. I’d hate to think of those who, perhaps, think they have a close relationship with me thinking that they don’t, in fact, have such a relationship, but it is difficult and the problem lies with me. I don’t stop trying, however, but the trying is very trying.

The Adrian Rayson Show has been on the road a long time; too long, maybe. The Show gets no better. The cast and crew are tired and uninspired by the script and the story which changes all the time, whilst, all the time, remaining the same. The Show is a long series of one-act plays, but there is no overall drama. The props are tired and damaged and the scenery is badly faded. The flats move and are propped up weakly with aging timbers which are cracked and creak loudly. In the flies is a host of stuff which can be used to create impressions of different moods and situations, but it is dangerously dilapidated and limps rather than flies when needed on stage. Yet still they come, the audience. Still they come. There is a show every day and when there’s a show there is a Full House. Sometimes the audience applaud politely, sometimes they laugh, cry out; occasionally they stand. Sometimes they are silent, unresponsive; sometimes they are angry and shout. Occasionally they walk out. But whether they approve or disapprove they always come. Always there. The show must go on. Will go on. Whether they approve or disapprove it is only disapproval which registers on the stage. Yet there will be another show. Success? The only good thing about success is that it is not failure. One does not have to defend or apologise for success.

“Hang on a bloody minute” - I hear the cries. “What makes you think you are so bloody special? There are millions of people all over the world who suffer massively from personal crises which leave them in an emotional hell. Who are you to bang on about yours?” Well, quite. I’m no-one, but I can only comment on me. I suspect I know, sometimes, a bit about how others feel but I can only write about me. I might not know as much as I’d like to know about me, but I know more about how I feel than how others feel.

I climbed on board FRILFORD and sailed away not for the adventure, not because I am a characterful chap who has courageously stepped out of the rat race for a time in order to explore an alternative life style. I understand that is how it looks to people, and I am happy for people to think that. No, I stepped onto FRILFORD to see if I could do something about the Adrian Rayson Show. Change the script, the story, the scenery and make it smaller, much smaller, with little appeal to an audience. But the audience is always there. There has to be a show. There is a show. And the audience are as demanding as ever. The audience is everywhere, judging. The audience without don’t know what a challenge they are. Indeed they might be disturbed to learn what a challenge they are. They might not want to be a challenge. They might want to be part of a thrilling and enjoyable experience. They don’t know that they cannot be. They don’t know…. They just don’t know. The audience within, however, they know. They are the critics and they have a lot to say. Very occasionally they see a good show and might make their approval known, briefly, but any one show is an ephemeral thing and almost at once there will another. A scene change, props change, a new act, and a new show. A new show created with all the same creaky flats, cast and crew; a new show that is threatened with disapproval, indifference or hostility. The audience within are the critics. They never rest and have much to say. They don’t like the show but they like to criticise and they are always there.

Without the Adrian Rayson Show there is no Adrian Rayson. I am sure there ought to be. I sat in Henley with a Community Psychologist a few years ago . A charming woman but I got the impression that in her head she was working through the Community Psychologists’ Manual For Dealing With The Every Day. Not her fault; she was trying to help. I failed completely on the ‘Have a Conversation with Your Mother’ exercise. I mean, come on. How long have you got? Then somewhere in our cliché-ridden exchanges came up the subject of walls. “Adrian,” she said, “I sense you have a wall around you which you like. You must break down that wall in order to progress. I want you to break down that wall.” “Please,” I said to her, “of course there’s a bloody wall. I have spent my entire life building that wall and every day I am out there maintaining it. Indeed I often reinforce it and make it thicker in places. Everyday I do this. You want me to take that wall down? I am not saying I can’t, but I can’t just like that. It takes great effort to maintain that wall and it will take far, far greater effort to take it down.” “But what does the wall protect?” the CP asked, rather obviously. “It protects the real Adrian Rayson,” I said, “but the sadness of it is I don’t know where that real Adrian Rayson is anymore. I suppose when I started building the wall the real Adrian Rayson was in a chamber, or something, somewhere at the centre. I have been out building the wall for so long, and it is now so big and so complicated, that I have absolutely no idea where that original chamber is. I don’t know how to look, never mind where to look. And I don’t know if the real Adrian Rayson has survived being in there for so long. If I were ever to find the chamber what would I find inside? Yes, yes, I know, I have to find the chamber to find out and I can’t find the chamber without taking down the wall. I know that. I know that. But I need help. That’s where you come in. I need help. Help me…” “Yes, well we don’t have time today, I’m afraid,” was the inevitable reply. “I am away for the next couple of weeks and then I have to be in Reading. Shall I make an appointment for you after that? Say in about six week’s time.” Wow – I know she was the Community Psychologist and not some sort of private shrink with time, but I take a brick out the wall by saying I need help to take the rest of the wall down and I get told we’ll talk again in six weeks. The brick went back in at that moment and a buttress was built around it. The wall is what protects me. I won’t be taking it down without a lot of help. I didn’t go back, not least because whilst I’d been hanging on six weeks to have another go at loosening a brick or two, I got a letter from her saying that her schedule had changed and that she did not know when she’d be back in Henley but that she’d be in touch. Not with me, lady… Not with me. I can self-help better than that even if the ‘help’ involves more bricks and mortar.

I like analogies! A previous time we’d been talking about potential and development etc. Again she was saying about me helping myself. I explained that I did, every day, although it might not look like that to third parties. “Think of me as a piece of barren ground,” I said. “Once fertile, but now barren. A derelict garden, perhaps. You want me to regenerate, to rehabilitate, to thrive, to nurture, to produce. Well, okay, but I need help. Having been left alone I have become dilapidated. I have potential but I need help. Think of yourself as the gardener in this analogy. You cut away the brambles, clear the moss, dig up the bindweed, pick up the stones, take away the matted clumps of grass. Help rid the barren plot, me, of the detritus of dilapidation and I’ll do the rest….!” Help me to regenerate, to rehabilitate, to thrive, to nurture, to produce. Apparently we’d run out of time on that day too. One only has half an hour. One should come through the door spouting this stuff but one has to work up to it a bit, doesn’t one?! One should sit in the car park for an hour having the exchanges with oneself then walk in and get it all out. But things don’t work like that. She didn’t like me using the term ‘one’ when, apparently, talking about myself. I suggested that when I used the term ‘one’ I was not necessarily talking about myself. She said I should talk about myself and use the terms me and I. I ran out of time that day. I do have those conversations with myself. Endlessly, in my head.

Another time I sat with a large, boorish man dressed in heavy grey and black clothes who asked me a whole lot of ordinary questions about my past. Another Psychologist of some kind. Private this time, I think. My GP had kindly put me onto him; even got some NHF funds to pay for me to go, I remember. I answered the man’s questions but was wary. He seemed to be very judgemental and not a little distracted. He made several call to his receptionist whilst I was with him. Later he said he had to get something out of his car. When he got back he asked me if I thought I knew which his car was. Odd, but I answered him. I said I thought it was the aging black seven series BMW parked just inside the front gate – the one half blocking the drive. He asked why I thought that. I told him it was because it reflected the man himself: older and in dark colours. I said, also, that I understood him to be the head of the practice and that he’d parked where he’d parked because he was not prepared to be blocked in by anyone and there is no-one there to tell him that he cannot park there. “The other thing, I said, “is that the car key you have just put into your pocket has a BMW fob on it.” It seems he’d then run out of time that day. Clearly it is not the answering of questions in these sessions which is important, it is the answering of the questions correctly that matters.

I did not go back. I would not have wanted to take up any more of his precious time. When his letter to my GP arrived it was straight reportage of the answers I’d given to his questions. Except that it wasn’t because the majority of the answers I’d given were reported incorrectly. Straightforward facts recorded wrongly. We used to do that sort of thing in Prep. School when I was seven years old. Teacher reads something out slowly; we write it down. Marks are given for correctly writing it down. This sort of treatment by people in a position of power (for they do indeed have power; the power, potentially, to help someone out of a very difficult place) is not good for a person with low self-esteem. It is hard enough going to see someone in the first place, particularly if one goes with an open attitude and a naïve hope that this time this will work – this might be the answer – without then being dismissed by schedule changes which postpone an already six-week distant appointment, or by reporting simple facts in writing incorrectly. How much attention was being paid to the state of the person the other side of the desk? Me, in this case, or these cases.

Maybe the car thing is a standard psychologist ploy. I had a few sessions with a very eminent man at Priory Hospital Roehampton (yes, that Priory, favoured drying out haunt of supermodels and other celebs various, except I was in the other bit: the upmarket Funny Farm). Lovely chap, but again, time was restricted. I used to see him for half an hour on my way into work as a shipbroker in the West End of London, paid for by the small firm for whom I was working. Again, it didn’t work out, but it could have done, and I did so want it to. Mind you it was not without its problems. I had already explained about lack of self-esteem, crisis of confidence, that sort of thing, in an initial appraisal meeting. They wrote to me afterwards confirming I could be seen again and giving an appointment date. They got my name wrong in the letter. “Dear Mr. Ransome”, or something. I pointed this out to John Cole (I think that was his name) when I saw him. I made a bit of a joke of it, as is my way. “It is a bit ironic that we talked of self-identity etc when we last met and then your letter, from here of all places, gets my name wrong,” I said, handing it to him with a chuckle. He had the good grace to blush to his toenails then said “Ah – there’s nothing wrong with your sense of humour is there, Adrian…!” “No – there isn’t,” I said, “and I use it, because I have to use it, to gloss over what otherwise might be upsetting situations.”

We enjoyed a good relationship but the nature of the timings could not work. One day I was looking tense and he asked me what was going through my mind right at that moment. “I am sitting here at 8.45 am talking to you in Roehampton, but in my mind I am having the telephone conversation with a broker in Hong Kong which I would be having now in the office off The Strand if I were not here, a conversation I will be having when I eventually get to the office, provided I can still talk to him, given that by then I shall be the best part of two hours late. Sorry; not your fault, of course.” One can be mentally ill, it seems (“Do you mind your condition being described as being mentally ill?” John asked early on, “given that we are skirting the edges of mental disorder with you.” “No,” said I. “Call it what you like. I know how I feel and a label is just a label.”) but life goes on around one and one has to perform. Perform, perform. The Show must go on.

He paid me what I took to be a huge compliment one day, not that it did me any good either immediately or in the longer term. I was fretting about the cost of the sessions and he said that in some cases where fees are an issue he passes people on to his more senior students. “It can work very well,” he said, “they get a lot out of working with a ‘live’ case and the patient gets succour from being part of the learning process.” “But, he said,” I can’t do that with you. You are too quick-witted. When I ask you a question you answer it, and then answer various questions I was about to ask before I have had the chance to ask them. You move forward so quickly. It is like the difference between the family Volvo and a Ferrari. My students can drive the family Volvo but I would not let them loose on a Ferrari. You are a Ferrari.” I laughed and asked what that made him. “What sort of car do you think I drive?” he asked (that question….!). “I think you drive the dark blue Volvo estate down there,” I said nodding towards the window. “Why?” “Because of the picture of your family on the desk: wife, three young children and two Golden Retrievers. A family like that needs a Volvo Estate. And you just mentioned a Volvo. Anyway it is parked next to the front door.” “Sorry, Adrian, I can’t let you loose on my students but I hope to see you again soon.”

He didn’t. I stopped being a shipbroker and went to work in the bush in Nigeria instead. Pity. Had I had more money, and more time, and far fewer excuses, I really think he could have helped me and I think of him often. I think his name was John Cole. Well, is John Cole, of course. Not the ex-BBC political reporter; another one.

In Ripon I moored FRILFORD in the British Waterways marina next to Bell Fellows Lock. The Ripon Racecourse Marina in fact, for it is right beside the racecourse. The idea was to hitch up to the shore power and to spend a week writing and enjoying having got to Ripon. I spent a week wrestling with self-doubt and wrote not a single word.

What the hell was I doing? What the hell am I doing?