Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly: better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy.

William Shakespeare

Trying to catch forty winks, lost in a train of thought, I’m jolted by a nagging premonition of the approaching tunnel… dont fret, whispers the angel… you lose in worry… rest assured… our story makes method...

With distance in the hands of the gods, I do what many travellers do, go up on deck, find a quiet spot and let the mind drift… searching for an answer, out on the horizon, an answer that begets a question that begs another. I’m pondering the equation, relaxing, with a handle on the fix, when a terrifying thought hits into view, knocks the skittles for six, then shoots off, like a roadrunner, in two directions at once. And that, I tell myself, is a warning shot!

Take the sedativeor we will be forced to constrict you… thoughts can get rough, mean, razor blade angry, spiralling out of control, sucking up the best of attentions… blink, and that circle of thought morphs small, revolves wispy quick, balloons big, then whips-thin to a width and trails off before you can catch the tail. A heart forgone endures nothing but anguish, while a change of heart can release a formation of thought so intricate, so focused, the microdot turns an atom.

Some internal mappings can drive a person to distraction, while other such plotting set a global stage.

Left to their own, free to roam, thoughts can seem feral, impulsive, pull them together, rein them in, the deliberation hits on a plan… a plan that remains dormant, unless it manifests as structure, a structure that maps out legislation… thoughts reason… reasoning makes law, laws define boundaries, build principals… principles that lay claim to sovereign, to governance, to kingdom… to a realm of unparalleled riches… allegiance and adoration from across a nation… with cause for celebration.

A long way from the party, chasing the monkey, bemoaning the loss, searching for reason in tree lined suburbs, a blur of easy joggers, washing lines, sparkling homes and crewcut lawns… up one way down the next, I made it through to the outskirts, only to see my primate friend, on the other side of the road, disappear down a narrow path, through some thicket and into the jungle. Catching breath, I picked up a strong stick, blundered on, slashing and kicking at the undergrowth, keeping apace until I stumbled, sweat drenched and browbeaten, upon a small clearing in a pool of light amid the dark, damp, forest floor.

With the shriek of the monkey out of reach, unstuck, alone, in need of rest and a safer distance from any predators that might be lurking, I grabbed a wooded tendril, reaching down from the gigantic girth of a magnificent kapok tree, swung up to a low lying bough, then clambered upwards toward the canopy.

Halfway to the top, tired to the bone, I settled on a bed of leaves, spread over a broad passel of branches woven and grafted together through a century of weather. A shallow burr, adjacent to the trunk, wide enough and feathered with a perfect amount of moss, invites my head to rest on a damp pillow… cool.

Shafts of light, dancing across the underbelly of green, brought my attention to leaves and hanging vines, the likes of which I’d never have imagined if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes. Islands of ferns, orchids, cacti, bromeliads, mosses, and other such plants, throwing out root tendrils to airborne humus and any slight surface, appeared to be defying gravity, levitating in space. Frogs, cicadas, howls, shrieks, trills, the buzz of pollinators and triumphant birds, brought the noise of the parade to ear. Wasted on the pungent smells, caressed by a soft warm breeze, a subtle kindness cooling the contours of my face… swaying to rhythms of the interior… heartfelt in paradise, my eyes closed, turning the cacophony to an incantation… within seconds… I was drifting in a sea of dreams.

In exile… playing out on the Spanish Main… I was a corporal, with other unlikely recruits, sometime friend to Richard Hawkins, marauder, pirate and privateer, El Draque, the slave trader, naval officer and explorer… I’d run with the woodsman and those seadogs, staking our claims to the new world, outsmarting and kicking the Spanish conquistadors into retreat for our place in the Americas…. there was a chief… Metacomet, aka King Phillip, of the Wampanoag ancestry… it was always the same dream… sitting with the King… having been setup as a hero, I’d find myself slapped down and dragged off as a traitor, then waking up, as I was about to be lifted to the yardarm, from the end of a rope.

Like the firecracker shock of a hard slap, a howler suddenly leapt out of nowhere, screeching and shouting… you’re an imbecile, a buffoon, good for nothing, lazy and in the wrong place… so unexpected I stood straight to attention, smacked the mosquito and fell out of my tree!

Back in the world… dazed, shaken, certainly confused, but by no means clueless… fact, fiction, head cracked, or not, nothing broken, accept my pride… I drank in the air, breathing life into the body, until the heart and mind were coordinated, everything together, calmer and in one place.

I wasn’t dead. I felt the ground beneath my feet to be dynamic, bore witness to the ebb and flow of nature’s fluctuations. The earth was alive, and so was I! I bowed to the sun, in gratitude for rain. Without the dynamism of earth, nay, the universe, there would be no gravity… no gravity, no landing, no landing no feet on the ground… streams, rivers, plantings, mountains, trees, seas, plains, houses… everything would fly off.

Painful as it was, crashing to the ground put my life into stark perspective. I was back in the small seat, between heaven and earth, blown open wide and deep… it was then I began to realise, not an IQ realisation as such, more a revelation, a mixture of clear insight and overwhelming loss.

Past, present and future, no matter who or what I conquered, whatever the distance, by foul means or fair, however high I climbed, however low I fell, whatever beauty might prevail, unless I lined up the crosshairs to the all-encompassing vastness, a mass of conflict followed wherever I laid my head.

The King says in my dream… you ok, but you no hear the broken man.

Favouring one category over the other, the adult’s realm, remained as ever, relentless and unforgiving… the ship’s captain gave the order… felled and felled again, in merciless succession, until I’d taken enough hits, enough to replicate and inflict the same tyranny of division I was running away from.

Educated to ways and means of a bigot came perceptibly, imperceptibly, from every direction… the spirit broke… while death, like a shroud of fog creeping across a mote, seeping up ramparts, over battlements, through arrow loops and under doors, found a way in… by then it was almost too late.

As it was from the first day in the nursery, closing my heart to the world, was the lesson I never really saw coming.

The love I’d shown to others, the hurt, the pain I’d inflicted, the patterns I’d drawn on this earth, however insignificant, are replicated, made exponentially larger, light years away. For some I am the enemy, or at the very least a fly in the ointment, better rubbed out than in. This is not some lame excuse for self-pity, or trumpet for an entrance… like it or not the intolerance, in this broken man, was inherited from a broken system.

Corporal punishment and playground punch-ups played a central part in the life of a schoolboy, growing up in the smoking remnants of an empire. If a severe caning didn’t catch you unawares, a fist was bound to smack you off guard sooner or later. Fight. A fight, Where? Back of the sheds, now, said the wretch to the angel… quick, there’s a fight. A FIGHT! Not there, Over here… fight..!

Boys keen to settle a score using the fist, seemed more adept physically and were no doubt shown appropriate moves from a world-weary father, or a hardened brother. There were a few without such marked understanding, and we did our best to shy away from such a violent proposition… but at some point, even the meekest were sucked into the fray.

When it came around to my turn in a punch-up… I held my nerve, until my nose got hit, then I’d lose it, smashing out in all directions, missing the target by miles, a tear driven snot ball of rage, egged on by overexcited boys braying like spectators hungry for blood at a gladiatorial arena… do it, do it… go on, smash his head in… kill, kill, go on… kill him! If I had any pride left, I offered up an admission to my failings… not an apology as such, but enough to leave the ring with a thimble full of respect.

In truth, I’d hold my head high until out of sight, then skulk off, vie for some mean fisted payback, of which the torment and pent-up fury saw little or no respite, till the deed was done.

On the backend of a sleepless night, revenge seemed sweet in repose… restless by a mile, pacing the floor, the thought of a dagger, thrust into the scoundrel’s back when least expecting it, was nothing less than a just and practical measure… and given the ethics of the curriculum and rigorous school policies hardly surprising.

Noble, or dirty, fisticuffs proved mettle, showed strength of character; a way of settling a dispute that we as a nation thrived on.

Survival of the fittest saw playground bullies and sadistic teachers having the last word. Along with relentless schoolboy one-upmanship, me and my class mates were officially taught that the preservation of favoured races, in the struggle for life, was exemplified in taking civilisation, ethnicity and governance, across uncharted waters, to untamed continents and the wild beyond.

NEXT PAGE… A LESSON INTERN