One’s Inner Life is Always One’s Own Work(Hermann Hesse: Gertrude)


My early inner life was a gift to myself alone – always on my own. Father off in India somehow defending the freedom of UK, as they say about foreign escapades nowadays; mother consumed by worry for my sister who was starting the awful disease from which she eventually died in 2005. Though I sometimes went up to Hitler-bombed London with my mother in the war years, my father’s back garden he’d brought into being since 1937 was my world: the fundamental nature of my ideas, such as they are, were born in it; they were fashioned from my fiddling around with stones in the rock garden areas, examining newts in the pond (and out of it, somewhat shrivelled under rocks), following the winding garden pathways of varied nature, cemented or paved, collecting apples & pears and in winter studying the composition of snowfall. I was alone but never lonely, as they say. My preparation for school was to regard adults (therefore teachers) as alien creatures who would do curious things to me: some of the things were bizarre and left a lasting sense of the absurd, such as saluting the Union Jack in the playground; other things were formatively monumental – like regularly having to listen to the radio programme ‘Music for Schools’ – all ‘classical’ in that un-dumbed-down era – and watching the film of Benjamin Britten’s Purcell Variations (otherwise known as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra which I still greatly enjoy listening to). Playing in the school percussion band was important too for giving me a sense of rhythm & pent up sound.

I was in the business of creating a very private inner world that I knew for sure nobody else could possibly understand. It was the fragmentary stuff of poetry. I absolutely knew then that it was a private world and I valued it thus. I discovered the way the world wagged entirely for myself. It was to be like this for a very long time. I would create the future even though I were to make many mistakes. Adults might, by their own volition, occasionally offer me things, especially my father who supported my painting efforts, my attempts at musical composition, my meagre bits of writing, after he came back from winning the war, but I had the distinct impression that adults in general were not in the business of helping me much. Or perhaps I just kept them at arm’s length.

In any case, I didn’t want to share my world – there was nobody with whom I felt like sharing it then.

There was always music though. To start with, a few old 78’s which might have come to the house with my father – the oddly sounding but highly influential ‘Puccini Potpourri’, a Tiny Hand in a Frozen state, music for six pianos (Liszt, it might have been), the overture to ‘Poet & Peasant’ (what was that all about?), the ‘Laughing Policeman’. Peter Dawson singing The Floral Dance and On the Road to Mandalay – what absolute glory! And I made my own music leaping up and down the ash-strewn alley between the gardens of our suburban houses, the Grimshaw’s and the Cooper’s, singing loudly my own songs just as they emerged.

You steep your being in the music. You are the music. It’s always been like that. I heard star music and swam round the moon for it. A few years later I contrived to write down on paper the music made up out of my very own Being and listened to others playing it to my infinite satisfaction. One of the things that was accidentally offered to me by my parents (apart from the old 78’s) were a couple of hardback volumes of collections of piano transcriptions of masterworks like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony from which I learned how to make music look decent on a page.

I have always been driven by a kind of personal imperative. My sense of the reality of an inner world carried me forward through school but it contained absolutely nothing about the possibility of working for money afterwards in what people appeared to call a ‘career’. That was alien territory. After he came back from India in 1946 my father went off to ‘work’ every day but I couldn’t begin to imagine what that might mean or entail; surely I wouldn’t ever have to follow suit; things were bound to continue just as they were, idling in a garden. Ultimately, of course, I spent time ‘working’ but I never did have what others called a ‘career’ – meaningless abstraction.

I knew that I could create music just by picking out notes on a piano, making my own harmonies. It was just the same mental process as it had always been – if you want to do something you just have to do it, never mind the rules and the books of so-called wisdom. They didn’t exist in the Stone Age and I was a Stone Age boy.


And these were my favourite kinds of chords – bittersweet, containing both sorrow and peace, discord & concord which seemed even then to be the nature of existence, the world I had created for myself – peace versus a world outside which contained the wicked sorcerer Mr Todd from four doors down the suburban street past the Goymer’s (whose daughter Ann I might have fancied had they not imagined themselves to be Witnessers of Jehovah), the Lewis’s (Mrs Lewis who wore brightly coloured clothes my mother laughed at and Mr Lewis who sang in the Royal Choral Society choir on Saturday afternoons), the Watts’ (comparatively ordinary) – then came Todd (out of Tod Und Verklärung, it just this moment occurs to me) whose very existence seemed to pose a threat to my private world; he was sure to come marching up the street one night like a ghoul and shatter everything that was important to me. On the other hand he might have effected a Transfiguration in me – an understanding of the fundamental dichotomies of life, the good & the bad. I think that Mr Todd complained to my parents about something I had done – it might have been to do with all the ball games we pursued in the road…

Being a Stone Age boy, I thought I would never grow up. I thought I would never be able to tie shoe laces – that was very early on. I was stuck for thinking about how anything could or should be done but at least I was thinking.

The sense of what I suppose for a long time I thought of as ‘stuckness’ lasted many years one way or another, in the foreground or background of my sense of being. ‘Being stuck’ seems to have been part of my make-up both physically and mentally. What to do next? What to say? How to develop what I already seemed to have? How to better my performance? How to hold on to things? But in the last thirty years interesting questions have arisen. Was it really ‘being stuck’? Was I really ‘stuck’? How have I learned to sidestep more or less successfully whatever ‘stuckness’ was? Was there some positive intention behind whatever it used to be? What have I settled for now? I was stuck for words but now they flow…

I track my life from early times, just as I’ve done before, in order to think about these questions. I set out to do so in the hope/expectation that some kind of pattern would emerge. It might be that it was all settled very early on, playing in my father’s garden, doing my own thing, according to my own ‘rules’, singing my own songs in my own key, building curious edifices with wooden bricks on the front room carpet, watching my father’s old mum carefully pushing paint into ready-drawn shapes in a colouring book. One rainy afternoon she reached out of the front room window to the big rose bush there and brought in caterpillars to climb on what I had built with toy bricks. This abiding image of how strange things could happen in the world fitted with my other-than-conscious learning that things would just turn up as they always seem to have done. Everything is accidental.

Then I went to school… Stoneleigh West Infant/Junior School. I can even now in my head stand where I stood the first day waiting to enter the school playground and then Miss Bissell’s classroom. I spit her name out. Bi-stle!

I vividly recall the limp Farmer Dan books which were the first readers we had to cope with. I had a strong belief that just looking at the words would create the ability to read – me versus the words, then the ability to read, as natural and ordered as fishing for newts in the garden pond. I simply expected learning to happen without effort. Called to Miss Bissell’s desk to read something I was supposed to have prepared, I was dismayed that she was angry when I couldn’t perform and she refused to help me. Miss Bissell was a vile authority figure who kept the secret of her ability to read entirely to herself. I had the idea that I’d be stuck without her explanation.

Climbing the hierarchy of class numbering, Mrs MacBain was a small uncompromising misery of a woman with a squeaky voice which told me to take my hands out of my pockets while we queued to go into her classroom for the very first time. Miss Williams was a warm person who told my mother that I ought to read more which was useful. Miss Burridge was a tall serious brittle woman who seemed to have enough belief in me that I would have been able to spell ‘phthisis’ in some national test – I felt so sorry to have to disappoint her!

But she did provide a very memorable event I’ve written about before which serves as an emblem for my entire life! Little could she have known how profound was her lesson for me! It was an after school activity to prepare for which we had to cut with great care an oblong shape out of a small piece of card and take it with pen & paper to the end of Salisbury Road (down which Richard Jefferies will have walked!). Miss Burridge told us to hold the card up to look through the cutout and draw what we saw framed there. In an other-than-conscious kind of way, this is how I’ve seen things for the rest of my life: we put frames round things – observations, experiences, musical events, people, places, ideas – but the great thing about doing so is that, when we have the concept, we can then reframe whatever it might be whenever we make the decision to do so. To avoid a restricted, one way, limited, view of things, agile & provisional framing is what is always needed; reframing can work wonders. A simple example will suffice: I suffered under the way they framed me as ‘shy’; I accepted the framework of their adjective for many years; an NLP reframe at the beginning of the 1990’s made me understand that I was just a great listener, a carver out of experience which didn’t have to be described in words at all; I wasn’t at all shy, just being silent enough to hear whatever was being said.

Another memorable experience in Junior School – one that has too served me well all my life – was spending Friday afternoons one year (1946 or 47) in Mr Bullivant’s classroom with Lenbach’s painting of The Shepherd Boy on the wall in which I lost myself and failed to listen to the stories he read to us. I was a dreamer. This did just come to me without my making any effort; I identified with the shepherd boy entirely; it was a case of natural learning – identifying with, modelling on another Being.


From time to time during my Junior School experience we visited the Albert Hall for concerts. Hiawatha (Samuel Coleridge-Taylor) was a great experience! Then our neighbour Mr Lewis gave me free tickets for his Royal Choral Society concerts on Saturday afternoons. I became all the music as it was played – I might as well have been dancing up & down the alley between the gardens to it all – a matter of dreaming again, or just being very open to experience, taking it on board. William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, George Dyson’s Canterbury Pilgrims, Arthur Honegger’s King David… And much more! Oh, crumbs! What afternoons they were! Natural learning.

Unnatural learning consisted of attempting to take things on board without realising I had to make a deliberate effort. In the first few days at Kingston Grammar School for history homework we had to read something and be ready for a promised test on what we’d read. I cast my eyes over the words on the pages and assumed that all would be well – it would be as productive as listening to music or identifying with the slumped out shepherd boy. But no! You had to do something to the words to give them meaning – I failed the test! And five years later I failed History ‘O Level’.

I realise that once I’d settled down, I ploughed my own furrow at KGS, learned to be myself in spite of the teachers; I bet nobody else read George Bourne, Richard Jefferies, Chesterton & Belloc or got excited by Alois Haba’s music and then got taken over by the symphonies of Vaughan Williams; I learned many things for myself; teachers’ lessons were pretty hopeless, to judge them in the way that I assessed students’ teaching methods later on. At KGS I learned mostly how to be an eccentric, a bold carver out of a personal way of being. This happened by other-than-consciously modelling on ‘Bunter’ Brown, quivering-lipped teacher of Ancient Greek, ‘Angus’ McIver with his wide-ranging musical repertoire, ‘Basher’ Bates, staunch, rather amusing disciplinarian, ‘Techy’, the loony art teacher who just left us to it, amongst others.

But it wasn’t till 1964, one dark evening in November in James Graham College of Education, in a class run by David McAndrew, that I found out what learning was really about: one could take hold of something and transform it into something that belonged absolutely to you alone, flaws & voids included – especially the voids, the gaps, the emptiness that clamoured somehow to be filled – something essential to the learning drive.

In my first five years (1937-1942) I developed the belief that I was a lesser mortal, that there were others in the world (mostly adults) who were better at doing things than I was and then experience at school reinforced the notion. In junior school it was Donald Crump, whose father, Jack Crump, was big in the Olympic movement, and Michael Brightwell whose name says it all, a bright well of learning; in KGS there was the shining constellation of Rustin, Gidney, Hayes & Sturgeon (‘Fishy’) – all more proficient than myself in various ways, so it seemed to me. Peter Charles was a technically close friend but capable of maintaining his distance therefore somewhat intellectually unfathomable. Much later I would come to understand that the way you think of other people can only be done via your own construction – it can only be developed by projecting part of yourself into them. So, Peter Charles’ ‘unfathomable intellectuality’ had to be part of myself, Techy’s enormous eccentric nature had to be already part of me, Rustin’s analytical prowess was an aspect of my self, McIver’s musical enthusiasms my own – otherwise how could I have understood any of these things in them? And so on… Parts of them were part of me!

But at the time these individuals carried an aura of perfection – always beyond my capability. Likewise I had a thing about the remote nature of girls; you dare not address them; a sentence ran out of steam when you began to speak it to them – thus it would be with all women – they were different beings, way beyond the boundary of my self. I was similarly stuck for making progress in playing cricket & hockey – I had the idea that others made progress by focussing on what was necessary to bowl outswingers, to hit cleanly, to dribble a white ball successfully. I just did the same thing over & over without getting anywhere, stuck.

On the other hand, I held fast to the notion of ‘difference’ inside myself; I was different, stuck but different. I responded to things differently from the others; I came to be what much later I found was given the label ‘Polarity Responder’. Others seemed to be diligent in the acquisition of knowledge; I would understand the ‘magic’ of Greek letters – idea that learning must have something ‘magic’ about it.

If I had read Hermann Hesse’ Narziss and Goldmund while I was at school I would have probably have identified with Goldmund.

…the library, the cloister chapel, had become only the surface of reality, a trembling outer film, encasing the image-world of dreams, the deep intensity of life. Any trifle served to rend this outer veil; some sound of a Greek word, in the midst of the dullest lesson… a glance at the clustercd leaves which twined over the arches of a window; such nothings as these could dispel the illusion called reality, opening up, beneath its sober peace, the whirling depths, torrents, and starry heights of the world imagined in his soul… a Greek letter become a galloping horse, a rearing snake, sliding in and out among flowers, till it vanished and left him staring down at the dull page of a grammar book… the cup of a flower, or a little, slithering worm on a garden-path, says more, and has more things to hide, than all the thousand books in a library. Often, as I write some Greek letter, a theta or omega, I have only to give my pen a twist, and the letter spreads out, and becomes a fish, and I, in an instant, am set thinking of all the streams and rivers in the world, of all that is wet and cold; of Homer’s sea… Or else the letter becomes a bird, grows a tail, ruffles out his feathers, and flies off.

I would take on board the pattern of tables of Greek Irregular Verbs as though it was a world-grid. The original verb in the left-hand column with outlandish changes often not conforming to any obvious pattern as you went through the tenses. The development of ideas eventually came to replicate this world- grid, one thing could become another depending on context and its position in a grid of some kind… Everything connected.

Greek Irregular Verbs

Soon after leaving school I came across ANWhitehead’s thing about ‘inert ideas’: ideas remain inert unless you transform them into your own possession, relate them to your own way of being, make them come alive for yourself. I think this gave me a form of words to capture what I had already been doing in an other-than-conscious kind of way except in elation to school learning… I remember the very moment I picked up Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas from a weather-beaten shelf of books outside (it might have been) Henry Pordes in Charing Cross Road.

Bookshop CCR
This could very well have been me except I’ve never really worn glasses!

At sixteen I sent a poem to Time and Tide. I received a rejection slip which I chose to let prevent me from sending poems anywhere! Stuck! Until I set up Hub Editions in the late 1980’s and sent them to myself!

I wonder whether I’ve ever actually bothered about working (doing things) for an outside body, organisation, authority. Have I ever operated subject to the whims of other people? Or have I always been in DIY mode?

I left school without really thinking about the consequences and followed my father’s desire for me to take up a Civil Service sinecure as he might have thought of it after his experience of the uncertainties of the 1930’s. I came 8th out of several thousand in the Civil Service Open Executive Exam 1955 and, passing so highly, might have wound up in the Diplomatic Service which might have been interesting and taken me all over the world. But I was already employed in the Inland Revenue and the Power Possessors must have decided to save themselves the bother of getting me shifted; I had to continue to suffer the endless tedium of working out Income Tax calculations I never really understood; once more I hoped that the learning might be simply accomplished by just staring at the figures on the page! It was utterly impossible to make any of it ‘my own possession’ in spite of coming under the influence of the great office eccentric Andrew Merritt. I was stuck in a job I loathed. When I took my inadequate learning to the Income Tax Department of the Westminster Bank, that too became loathsome except for the journey to & fro, morning & night, Basingstoke/London. Got lots of reading done during the hour & a half steam-drawn train journey!

Then I escaped the prison of Wage Slavery. There was a teacher shortage in the early sixties and I fulfilled a dream that had started after two years teaching in the army; I knew how to do it and my four years experience at James Graham College of Education confirmed my new self-image. Though I still believed that other people were far more intelligent than me, I went on to do a B.Ed honours degree.

I heard my then good friend Arthur Cox doing piano improvisations in one of the outside classrooms which were apparently originally designed for hospital patients suffering from TB.


I thought how splendid! I must start doing that. So I did and it freed me up considerably from the chords & cadences I had been hitherto composing so slowly at the piano. I arranged the first piano pieces I wrote for four friends who expressed an interest in playing my music on flute, oboe, trombone & cello and renamed the piece James Graham Suite. When I got to Stopsley High School I made another arrangement of the same music for recorders and then made other pieces for keen volunteer players. I was supported by Michael Marsh-Edwards, one time associated with the Havergal Brian Society. It felt good to have support and be mixing with keen musicians; hearing my music played was quite something.

When teaching I found that I always had a special feeling for odd balls & eccentrics; when I heard a pupil being talked about disparagingly in the staffroom I was determined to find out how they ticked. The interesting thing is that they themselves gave me valuable feedback; I probably would not have received it from conformist students; whatever I did with the odd balls musically, in relation to literary offerings and art projects was successful in their eyes. Many such characters helped to build the Junk Palace (after a lecture on Schwitters) which was, I suppose, in my eyes, my major individual success in Stopsley High School.


I went to teach in Putteridge Bury College of Education in 1971 and there found many more opportunities for getting my music performed. When it was closed in 1976 I went to Barnfield FE College – even more opportunities with a piano-playing friend, Mike Miller.

Great colleague at Barnfield, Ann Worrall, and I wrote a collaborative epistolatory novel which after some few years of laughter, writing, fashioning & re-fashioning, came to be called The Gardener of the Universe. Its concoction (finished in 1990) released the flow of words in me that then went into poems, a couple of solo novels and ROOM books, as well as haiku – joining David Cobb in The British Haiku Society was the beginning of a considerable New Wave for me – I edited the journal on and off for fourteen years. NLP and Gurdjieff further helped me to charge forward creatively.

Composing music became a matter of just getting on with it. Reading became a source of found poems. An NLP course in ‘Systems Thinking’ in 2000 gave me a process.


In 1992 aged 55 I retired from full-time teaching, went off on the third & last bicycle ride from John o’Groats to Land’s End and started my life with NLP. I felt that I was in the process of re-owning my self, my life, the who I was, who I really could be, how I should be. I’d already joined The British Haiku Society to which I contributed much in its early days. Personal close contact with James Kirkup, its first President, was the start of a new feeling of certainty at my own grasp of ‘what it’s all about’. I told him I was learning to work on life with NLP. He wrote me on 24th October 1992 thus:-

You have caught me on the hop with Neuro-Linguistic Programming – what on earth is that? Please fill me in… It sounds almost Scientological. I’m not so sure that your projected novel [Structures] using these principles will be accessible to ordinary minds. The extracts you sent are not the usual sort of novel, and Calvino would have made more of a story of his intellectual investigations and self-examinations. But there are some fascinating seeds of thought and image which may well develop into something new and not too neurological. Particularly the image of the bridge seems to me a good way to go… Let me know how the experiment proceeds. It may succeed in raising your consciousness (which in my opinion needs no raising, it is a good deal higher than mine or of the ordinary run of mortals) but will it raise the consciousness of others?

This was the cover of the novel, depicting a ‘reframe’…


On the 22nd April 1995 James wrote this letter thanking me for sending him the Hub published version of Structures:-


And this is chapter LXXVII from Structures which perhaps demonstrates how in those just-after-early-retirement days I began to find my self, specially with James’ positive comments.

How glad I am that I went just at the time I did to a school just as it was with its head in the clouds, perpetrating an academic dream with no bearing whatsoever on the world of machinery and commerce, more inclined to excitement about Xenophon’s traipses than movements in the prices of shares or progress towards better cloning for all.

Being at that school, just as it was, minor public, on the Thames, outside London then, founded in the 12th Century, attended, inter alia, by Edward Gibbon, RC Sherriff (with whom I once shook hands) and Michael Frayn, masters just as they were, still shell-shocked from the late Battle for Democracy, left me innocent of the world; left me with the idea that participation in the world’s affairs was as pointless as translating Thucydides or Catullus. And I am so grateful for this. How bloody glad I am!

Education there, then, was a matter of responding, having ducked the ferociousness of Tongue-chewing Bunter, Wayward Basher, Curious Gasbag and Tuneful Mac, as best one could to arbitrary events, managed, or more likely mismanaged, by very learned and very cranky teachers who nudged ideas and books towards you in a most nonchalant manner – I suppose because they had never analysed the learning process and did not know how to capitalise on the idea that the best and only real learning really does happen arbitrarily and in relation to the utter uniqueness of individuals.
Did they know this?

How glad I am they were so cranky. They must have been almost the last of the Great Eccentrics; perfect models of the kind of excellence today’s world is hell-bent on stamping out of existence – ‘Don’t be eccentric or we’ll stop your dole money!’

On the whole, I don’t think they did know what they were doing, otherwise they might actually have recommended that we read some of the books that were handed to us annually but never referred to. The book of essays in which I discovered Belloc and Chesterton, for instance. Or was this the very accident that they hoped might happen? “Here’s a pile of interesting books,” they might have said, “but don’t bother reading them…” Thus presenting the brain with a powerful negative that it would not be able to deal with.

Tables of Greek Irregular Verbs with parts missing, or sometimes made up from alien, unrelated, verbs, learned for homework are, now, a potent emblem for the way the world can be controlled by being chunked into a series of paradigms arranged in a grid: every event, idea, image that you come across is a variation on others you have known; if there’s a part missing it can be supplied from an event, idea, etc, with a different root; start anywhere in the grid & you will get to somewhere else by nightfall. Tables of Greek Irregular Verbs represent now a way of seeing the world – the essence of shifting paradigms – but then they were prison bars, uncomfortable little rectangles into which you had to fit your brain during the evening or get shouted at in the morning.

It is perfectly possible, as it was at this school, even desirable, to learn things from randomness, from dreaming. I learned to ride my bicycle in a dream. One evening my father still held the saddle; then the dream, during which I took off for celestial realms – the next morning I could ride. The world, and all its infinite paradigms, mine.

From that moment, though I did not have the words till Time D [1962-66] or make them my own till Time A [1977-81], I began to realise the power of mental rehearsal; what had previously made me immensely shy, for instance, soon became a powerful tool for handling the world: you anticipate the course of events, feel your role in them, see yourself as an actor playing an unaccustomed part, based perhaps on the antics of somebody else: the chap who fell backwards off his small wooden chair in the Prom Concert queue outside the Albert Hall – how I admired him for just lying there, totally composed, saying, “What a beautiful blue sky!” or Humphrey Bogart in any film, gangster, good guy, funny man; go on hold, do mental stop, dissociate and, behold! you find yourself able to deal with the world at last.

In 1994 David Cobb suggested that to get some of his haiku set to music he was going to contact a world famous composer who lived near him. I asked if I would do rather than the famous composer whose name I have forgotten. That’s how we came to take the scores for his own Images from our Natural Path and The Autumn Fool (James Kirkup settings) for soprano, flute, violin, cello & piano to Romania in 1994. The glorious Russian soprano couldn’t do English or Romanian so she vocalised the words; the musicians hadn’t seen the score till we got there so we spent evenings rehearsing; they couldn’t speak English so we communicated through the music. This was probably the highlight of my life till then.

My great friend Mick Miller showed me how to make decent paperback books with a well-made spine in 1987. I have ‘published’ under the heading of Hub Editions more than 200 individual titles some for myself, more for other people. There was no sense of being stuck here! More of a constant flow.

I first met Ed in 1994 at the Templeton’s private school in Kensington when I was unloading my recently acquired NLP prowess to the teachers with whom I’d been working on things like Study Skills since 1987. Ed was impressed by NLP and we soon built a formidable duo running self development courses from which I made a lot of money which came from the training outfit he’d built. The cash enabled us to convert & make Longholm livable from 1996 onwards. Though it eventually fell apart, for many years the partnership made me feel that I had ‘arrived’. I could easily manage groups of high-powered people from industry!

After my sister & mother died within 20 days of one another in 2005, I decided that I wanted to make a shift into something new. How about beginning to take musical composition more seriously? I Googled ‘amateur + composer’ and found that there was an organisation called CoMA, nothing about being in a very sleepy mental state, but an acronym for Contemporary Music for Amateurs, as it was then. In 2006 I went to the CoMA Summer School in glorious surroundings in High Melton near Doncaster and met Michael Finnissy. I was completely entranced by the workshops he ran, the things he said, his way of working and what he inspired in me. One of his mantras was that a piece of music should go ‘from Brighton to Timbuctoo’, trapping emerging patterns & sound clusters. I wrote a piece called that which was first performed under Michael’s direction in Colchester Institute after I had joined the Colchester CoMA group in the January of 2006. It was subsequently done in Doncaster in 2016 again under Michael’s direction – I was charmed to be congratulated then by Judith Weir, mistress of the Queen’s Music. This was to be the last CoMA Summer School I attended; the College in High Melton was privatised in some way and CoMA went international. How I miss it all!

Participation in Colchester CoMA was the regular highlight of my life till Plague-isolation struck. Improvisation on the recorders demonstrated to me the way in which I really wanted to compose – just like dancing up & down the alley between suburban houses 80 years ago. I continue to be a member of the fast shrinking Norfolk Composers’ Group, writing pieces for my grand-daughter Rosie and her Larisa Trio. Whilst I remain voluntarily isolated I do feel that I have arrived at last, very confident now in ‘doing my own thing’ under the influence of James & Michael.


James Kirkup & Michael Finnissy come together in the latter’s five hour piano piece The History of Photography in Sound (‘Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets’). Everything is connected though it doesn’t seem so – Ouspensky’s assertion (rough quotation) has had a profound influence on me, as did EMForster’s imperative ‘Only connect’, essential in teaching, some time before.

Early on in Narziss and Goldmund, Narziss says to Goldmund:-

“I am only your superior in this: I am awake, whereas you are only half-awake, and at times your whole life is a dream. I call that man awake who, with conscious knowledge and understanding, can perceive the deep, unreasoning powers in his soul, his whole innermost strength, desire, and weakness, and knows how to reckon with himself. The task that brings us together, the whole aim and purpose of our friendship, is that you should learn from me how to do it. In you, Goldmund, nature and intellect, consciousness and the world of dreams, are set very far from one another. You have forgotten your childhood, which still strives up from the depths of your being, to possess you. It will always make you suffer till you heed it. But enough: awake, as I said, I am your superior. There I am stronger than you, and so I can help you…”

All that time ago, in my father’s garden, I roamed around in Feeling, thinking enough to ask myself what I was doing in this life. But then I forgot my childhood in the search for ideas. I had to come back to it so that the arid concepts I spent many years pursuing could be put into practice, united in feeling. I think this is how it was:-


Ed was stuck in Doing but I took that on; I was very much in Thinking but learned from Ed’s innocently primitive Doing; Michael & James must have long ago combined Thinking & Doing into Feeling which I learned from them. Then there had been NLP & Gurdjieff…

“To be sure,” Narziss concluded. “Men of dreams, the lovers and the poets, are better in most things than the men of my sort; the men of intellect. You take your being from your mothers. You live to the full: it is given you to love with your whole strength, to know and taste the whole of life. We thinkers, though often we seem to rule you, cannot live with half your joy and full reality. Ours is a thin and arid life, but the fullness of being is yours; yours the sap of the fruit, the garden of lovers, the joyous pleasaunces of beauty. Your home is the earth, ours the idea of it. Your danger is to be drowned in the world of sense, ours to gasp for breath in airless space. You are a poet, I a thinker. You sleep on your mother’s breast, I watch in the wilderness. On me there shines the sun; on you the moon with all the stars…”

Lost somewhere in between Thinking & Doing for many years I did Feeling with absurd abandon and suffered from it on its own. I was a person of dreams, a poet, keeping Intellect somewhere apart from both. The union of Thinking & Doing finds itself in Feeling; all three are necessary. Goldmund goes off on a long journey to make sense of this while Narziss is stuck in Intellect. As he says,

“…a monk’s whole life may be spent in learning Hebrew; or he may live to annotate Aristotle, to decorate his cloister church, or shut himself up and meditate on God, or a hundred and one other things. But none of all these are final aims. I neither wish to multiply the riches of the cloister, nor reform the order, nor the Church. What I wish is to serve the spirit within me, as I understand its commands, and nothing more…”

Whereas Goldmund thought that

Nobody really knew anything. People lived; they went here and there about the earth and rode through forests; so much seemed to challenge or to promise, and so many sights to stir our longing: an evening star, a blue harebell, a lake half-covered in green reeds, the eyes of beasts and human eyes; and always it was as though something would happen, something never seen and yet sighed for, as though a veil would be pulled back off the world; till the feeling passed, and there had been nothing. The riddle was still unsolved, the hidden magic unrevealed, so that, in the end, people grew old, and looked comic, like old Father Anselm, or wise like old Abbot Daniel, though really perhaps they still knew nothing, still waited, pricking up their ears. He picked up an empty snail-shell; it had rolled, with a tinkle, off a stone, and was warmed through and through by the sun. Sunk deep in thought, he stared at the notched spirals, the curious twist of the little crown, the frail, empty house, in which light was pearly. He shut his eyes, to know it with his fingers only. That was an old game he often played with himself: holding the shell gently between his fingers, he stroked it lightly round and round, not pressing it, rejoicing in all shape, all magic of corporeal things. It seemed to him that, with our minds, we are inclined to see and think of everything as though it were flat, and had only height and breadth. Somehow or other, he felt, this denoted the lack and worthlessness of all learning, yet he could not seize his thought, and define it. The snail-shell slipped through his fingers: he felt very drowsy, and longed to sleep. His head fell forward over his plants, which gave out a powerful scent as they started to wither, and so he fell asleep in the sunshine. Over his shoes swarmed ants; the bundle of fading herbs lay on his knees…

He wonders what could be left from all this.

Perhaps, thought Goldmund, fear of death is the root of all our image-making, and perhaps, too, of all our intellect. We shrink from death, shuddering at our frail instability, sadly watching the flowers fade again and again, knowing in our hearts how soon we shall be as withered as they. So that when, as craftsmen, we carve images, or seek laws to formulate our thoughts, we do it all to save what little we may from the linked, never-ending dance of death.

I’d been after making some kind of meta-meaning to my life perhaps through image-making – poems, haiku, music, sketches & Magic Cities. In later years, there have been valued individuals with whom to discuss things, a sharing as never before. Ed, stuck in Doing, was sadly not up for discussion; he simply envied my Enneagram 5-ness.

Otherwise there emerged in the last thirty years a harmony of ideas, a Oneness, unity, a being with others.

I wonder if I have always been a kind of professional hermit, though? In the world but not of it, in my own world but not really sharing it until I began teaching, especially after I achieved early retirement from it. At around 12 midday on the 4th October 2022 I shall have lived 745,104 days or 17,882,496 hours. My mother always said I arrived in the world just in time for dinner. Early on, after I entered the adult world, some of those 17 million hours were devoted to, going through the motions of, what I supposed one was expected to be – tolerably upright citizen, ‘working’ for a living, paying taxes, doing all the right things. But there was always a protest against the way things were. School was there to be overcome, employment offered a scheme of things that was always to be suffered and worked against. I quietly made sure that my principles were followed against all circumstances.

The bombers who practise death above The Wash on bright autumn days – how I should love to be able to develop the personal capability to bring them down in flames by sheer strength of mind & focus of superior energy, like the man I once saw in a film. Never mind the pilot who should never have volunteered to be an agent of Death.

Music remained a constant through everything.

Was not music the secret law of the world? Did not earth and stars move in a harmonious circle? Should I have to remain alone and not find people whose natures harmonised well with my own?
Hermann Hesse: Gertrude

Hail, James & Michael! Bright stars!

Life, of course, seemed a forever thing when I was young; plenty of time to sort things out and achieve something – being a poet, novelist, composer, artist, wanderer. Now, when there’s only a small time to come, it’s evident that being a wanderer is all I’ve ever really done and perhaps not enough of that in real earnest. I’ve wandered hills & valleys, wandered from words to music and back & holding forth to groups of people who seemed reasonably content to listen to me, wandered around with pen & paint brush, done miles & miles of things on paper. Wandering without aim or achievement, though sometimes it’s seemed as though I’ve conquered some small part of the world without glory or recognition.

A very small insect settles on the page my pen dangles over – I care as much for glory or recognition as it does, just being content to fly from one side of the garden to the other on this fine early autumn day. What else is worth doing. I nudge it with the tip of my fountain pen nib and off it goes.

There is only small time to come.

A large regret is that I never really got to know my father. I can only recall two or three occasions when we talked man to man about this & that. Perhaps he kept himself to himself because he was a Disappointed Man and didn’t wish to open up about anything in case he found himself on the edge of having to express his disappointment.

If he had lived long enough to read the things I’ve written, heard the music I’ve composed, seen the Magic Cities, perhaps we could have grown closer together. He was responsible for it all.

He took his India of the Mind off to Never Never Land and just left me to it; he apparently wondered what I was doing that afternoon he gave up the struggle – so my mother reported.

Suddenly there’s a great wind in the trees, the sycamore and the silver birches and I’m brought into the present moment wondering what all that was about. Fifty years ago. No time at all. Seventy years of Richard Jefferies. Fishing for newts – eighty years ago. And back into the womb – the World Womb. Stuck in the present moment, wondering if all my stuckness was in fact a thoroughly composed being in Meta-I.

One thought on “One’s Inner Life is Always One’s Own Work(Hermann Hesse: Gertrude)

  1. Marvelous, full-of-living bio, Colin. We are of the same age yet I feel you have traveled ever so much more widely than I. One of the things you have done is what I failed to do, despite my father’s urging: learning Greek and Latin. Music has been an essential part of my life (until my deteriorating hearing rendered it as noise), but I never learned to compose/write it. You seem fully steeped in Gurdjieff/Ouspensky; I came by them mostly second-hand through my father and his family, although I did spend a few years deep in their writings and the writings of their acolytes. I have no complaints, however–you and I know this would be useless. I wish you well in your future endeavors and look forward to learning of and from them…

    Liked by 1 person

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