Fairlight Beach

“The root of man’s/ woman’s anxiety’s is his intensity to feel and know they exists”
Although his fate is to die, he can triumph over his anguish that the whole is meaningless by inventing purposes and projects, which will put meaning upon himself and upon the world of objects: But this is exactly his desire, not many are capable of this authenticity”

My mother told me “you were clean”, and “You were right”, and "they had no right to suggest otherwise". I think she was referring to the church. This came in-between a string of unconnected statements. Of which mother pours out a constant stream.

Some of what she says are about her being in the woods giving birth, this is her story whenever my sisters Ann and Jane are mentioned. Presumably the woods are in the south of France that is where my older brother was born. 1952. The story goes that my father his two children Ann and Jane from his marriage to Lillian are in France together. My mother 17 years old is pregnant with my older brother Richard.

My mother told me that my father "stood by her", he had the choice to return to his current wife and their two children, and my mother would have been taken back to England and put into care and no doubt had her baby taken away, but he "stood by her." I can’t mention my brother’s birth to my mother without her whispering about the woods, and she always looks very afraid. It’s a dark place for her involving an imaginary dream court session, she stands in court, but I don’t know what she is accused of or who has accused her.

Dementia with Lewy body in Parkinson’s is the diagnosis. And through this, she has lost so much, not just her independence, she has lost her youth, motivation, some memory, physical dexterity, and her mind is scrambled, sitting between nightmare and a nightmare awake reality. I am constantly frightening her with my old appearance, so she doubts my validity and truth, she can never be sure if I am me at all and looks at me with a blank stare.
“Is it really you?”, “Am I really here,“ “is it a dream?” The carers in the home smear her body with shit and make her lick it off. Drag her around the dining room by her hair laughing at her. Make her drink glasses of their spit. Accuse her of having affairs with the other residents. Talk filth to her and make crude suggestions. Feed her the scraps from the leftover food or don’t feed her at all. They take away her sweets. Steal her clothes. Laugh at her dresses and shoes. She cries every day through deep unhappiness, and I can’t help her.
There is a man named Ken that lives under the home she is in, and works under her toilet underground shovelling all the stuff that goes under and children in the walls. They give her live baby chicks to eat with roast potatoes. She has lines on her face, which shocks her whenever she looks in the mirror.

The woods also feature in stories she tells me about her evacuation on a farm in Devon I think. This is also connected to a toilet scenario, an outside toilet at the end of the farm house garden. The farmer took one look at her in the church hall where all the children were dropped off for selection by the local people and the farmer said “that one is going to be trouble” so he selected her. The toilets were on the end of the farmhouse garden but also at the edge of the woods. I believe she was told that there was a snake in the toilet but at any rate the toilet was a place of wonder and great fear. Years later this trauma is still with her, drifting into real time and tormenting her dreams in this terrible disease.

As for me being clean, that is a first for me as I am not a keen washer, I have to be reminded to have a bath, and never use soap if I can help it, But I remember my beautiful uncle Tommy washing me and my cousins in the large stone butlers sink in Stockwell Road, and the scalding hot baths with my aunty Patsy when I lived with her. Queuing in Clapham North with a cube of bath salt and towel at the public baths, not many homes had baths, we didn’t even have a kitchen in the early 60`s so once a week we would go to the public baths, full of steam, I loved being close to my mother.

At Lavender House, Hastings we had a bath in the kitchen which would be covered with a large board when not in use. This is the bath that my father would tell me he was going down into the deep dark dungeons where the bogey man lives, and go under the water and stay down while I screamed in terror that he was going to die. Although I knew where this was as he had shown me pictures of it by the Spanish artist Goya. I knew all about the bogey man.

But my earliest memory of baths water is where I resisted with my whole body, a full-blown tantrum, being dragged up to a font in a church in Stockwell. I shouted “I am clean, I don’t need a wash” I wonder if this is what my mother is referring to now when she tells me I was right and didn’t need to have a wash at that time. I had to be held down and was washed against my will. Then of course there was the time that I drowned in the sea.

Right now I am remembering a moment in my four year old life when I am pretty sure I came very close to or actually was dead, my big sister can’t remember this at all, my father is no more, so cannot reference, just words from my older brother who, according to him, 50 years later, told me that I was found floating face up underwater in a rock pool on the Fairlight beach.

The memory

I am playing in the incoming waves of the sea on a hot day I am with my Father, my Brother 5 years older than me and my sister 12 years older than me. My sister is to my right on the beach and is entering the sea and about to swim. I want to do everything she does. My brother and father are out of sight.

I am pretending to swim by putting my arm down onto the sand and splashing my legs in the sea, straining my neck out of the sea like a tortoise, mouth firmly closed against the waves and glancing over to see if my sister Jane is looking to see me swim. Then, the sea gets so incredibly warm, the comfort resonates within my soul like music, and this is accompanied by a soft pastel powder light of the palest yellows, baby blues and pinks and white. The light coats the warm sea like a mist, and I am in bliss and moving across the surface of the sea at high speed. I am swimming and very pleased with myself for initiating into the world of the people that know all things, as I thought swimming was worth learning and I was doing especially well at it. I was moving across the warm powder warm steamy sea surface towards the most beautiful light I’ve ever seen, this could have lasted forever but it didn’t. The reality was that I was face up under water floating in a rock pool.

I am instantly in cold gritty sand spewing up salt water, from my eyes sting my ears my nose stomach and lungs are rasping. My face pressing into sharp cold sandy pebbles, and cold brine makes my nose sore from the insides. My father is pressing on my little body so hard and I am coughing up bitter sea water which is ripping out my insides. A man is standing in a suit looking down at me I don’t know who he is. Later I dream of this man who is he? My brother couldn’t tell me.

Everything tastes like brine for days to come. The back of my nose and throat are sore, and what is worse, I didn’t really know how to swim. And learning to swim after that was extremely traumatic as I had fear of water.

Was this traumatic? Was it the beginning of my fascination with death? How this was never spoken about or forgotten is strange to me.

In this case the authenticity of the moment of death was a privilege to have experienced, A sense of achievement and in the words of J M Barry was an “awfully good adventure”.
And the meaning in my life sometimes feels to me to be the need to re-enter that state of bliss, to re connect with the musical vibration of soft light. We exist and hold fears that are planted as seeds in early life, mix themselves into our belief system and get confused in and as dreams or should I say nightmares and pose as reality.

I shall continue to be there for my poor mother while she unconsciously helps me to dig deep into my own belief system I can only pray that I don`t end my days in the torment she is suffering.