UNIVERSAL DHARMA

So Many Roads ~ I FIND MY WINGS AND FLY

The greatest enemy of Mankind is Ignorance, but there is something good about it, even so.

In the summer of ’64, when I was 18, on the 18th of August, staying with Glen, whose house was also number 18 on her street, some relatives of her husband from Edinburgh came to visit for a week; they were very friendly people, and invited me to visit them sometime; whether they actually expected me to do so or not I can’t say, but it was just about this time that I came to hear about hitch-hiking, and decided to give it a try ~ something really brave and daring for an introvert like myself. Soon after they’d gone home, therefore, one Friday evening, after work (it must have been a long weekend or something), I set off, and got to the M6 motorway (freeway) near Crewe, and this was the be-ginning of my travels, as I’d never even been on such a motor-way before, where there were no speed-limits, and the first ride I got took me zooming along at the to-me-then supersonic speed of 100 mph, the ton! It didn’t take me far, however, before drop-ping me at a service-stop where I had to wait a while for another ride, and in this way, I traveled through the night, arrived in Ed-inburgh early the next morning, and found the house without dif-ficulty. I had a pleasant time there over the weekend before re-turning, in the same manner, to Crewe, where I was briefly re-garded as a bit of a celebrity because of what I’d done, which no-one else had. But although this first trip was only very short, it gave me my wings, and I knew from then on that I could fly. Needless to say, the experience unsettled me, if I can speak of ever having been settled before ~ and I knew I had to go.

I was unable to leave soon, however, as I’d almost no money, and didn’t want to set off without; so had to stay at my hated job and save as much as I could in order to go off on my adventures in places that I had no knowledge of at all. In November, I moved to stay with my parents, who in the meantime, had built themselves a little house halfway between Crewe and Chester; they had grown tired of paying rent to an avaricious old landlord ~ literally, an hereditary lord living in a castle and owning a vast estate, who did little for his tenants ~ and wanted a place they could call, for the first time, their own; but the plot of land they’d bought on which to build their first own home, was in an area that could not compare with our old home, being in low-lying flat farm-land, with no hills in sight; I did not enjoy living there, but for some time, it was home.

It was at this time that I began to paint, although I don’t know why. It was only for my own, shall I say, pleasure or edification, and I noticed that, over the years, whenever I’d return from a trip, I would feel the need to express myself ‘artistically’ in some way; the creative-urge would build up in me and needed re-lease. It didn’t matter if no-one else appreciated what I did.

I continued working at the factory, commuting by bicycle in all weathers, including fog, rain, snow and ice; it was terrible riding along wet and cold. Sometimes, when he knew I’d be working late, dad would come to meet me in his car and put my bike on the let-down boot-door; it was so good to see him coming, and I really appreciated his thoughtfulness at such times, as he didn’t have to venture out into the cold night when he was blind in one eye and couldn’t drive well in the dark; in fact, he wasn’t the world’s best driver even in the daytime! One night, coming home in the dark, my battery-powered back lamp had gone out without me being aware of it, and on a narrow and dark stretch of road, I was side-swiped by a truck which was on me before the driver knew it; I was so lucky to escape being run down! It shook me up a bit, but I continued, because what choice did I have?

Eventually, feeling I had enough money and was ready, I quit my job and tried to psych myself up into the necessary state of mind to set off up the road. But it was hard to leave the comfort and security of home. Eventually, one day, I set off with the in-tention of not coming back for a long time; but I had not even reached the main road, carrying my heavy pack, before I turned back, unable to make the break and go off into the unknown. I’d not told my parents I was going, and they were out at work at the time, so they were not upset to find me gone, although they knew of my intentions.

It wasn’t long before I tried again, in March, 1965. One day be-fore dawn, before mum and dad were awake ~ and they were always early risers, so I had to go before they were up ~ I quietly left the house, leaving a note to say I’d gone, and finally went on my way. When mum got up and found my note, she broke down and cried, blaming dad for driving me off, as he and I had not long before had an argument, as fathers and sons often do.

With my new-found skill of hitch-hiking, I was soon on my way to London, though dreading getting there and wondering how on earth I would get through the teeming metropolis, where I didn’t know anyone. Even in later years, when I would return to Eng-land and had to pass though London on my way home, it was an ordeal getting through the place, but the first time for me was mental anguish, such as I never want to experience again.

Somehow, however, I got through and onto the road to Dover, the ferry-point for leaving England for France and Belgium, but was unable to reach there that night, so, tired and hungry, I lay down to sleep on the heights above Dover about 10 miles out, in an improvised tent I’d made for myself from sheet-plastic; I had quite a good ex-army sleeping-bag I’d bought at a junk-shop, so wasn’t cold, even though the wind was strong and chilly (I was young and hardy, and prepared to rough it), and early the next morning, I caught a ride down to the port and waited a few hours for the first ferry of the day to leave; it was to Bologne, if I re-member aright, and there I presented my passport for its first foreign endorsement and was on the Continent, not really know-ing where I was going or even why, without a friend, and with just £65 to my name. But it was good that I was so ignorant about what lay ahead of me, because if I’d known what I would have to face along my way, I don’t think I could have made the break; I’d have been too scared, and would have stayed at home, and then what would have become of me? Facing my fear, therefore, I went, and whatever happened to me thereafter ~ and so much did happen ~ no matter if it was pleasant or not, whether I liked it or not, was all good, even the bad times, as everything played a part in where my way eventually led me; nor is it over yet, if it ever will be; we came from the past and are here now, but the future is unknown, and life open-ended.

Taking the road to Paris, I walked a long way without getting a ride, and when I did, it took me to Lille, a place that meant noth-ing to me, although terrible battles were fought around it in WW1; every place has its history. I then had to walk again and wait another long time for a ride. I passed a farmhouse, and my water-bottle empty, went into the yard to ask for water; the woman there, however, was unfriendly, and drove me off, say-ing, “Ged nudding!” so I had to go elsewhere, and next time was lucky and got not only water, but coffee, too. That night, I slept in a wood somewhere, and the next day reached Paris, crossing which ~ and by this time I had no desire to stay there, and wished to get to the warmer climes of Spain as soon as possible ~ was in some ways an even greater ordeal than getting through London had been, as I spoke not even school-boy French, hav-ing dropped French class in ‘college’ almost as soon as I’d started, scared off by the teacher, a ferocious woman named Mdm Wozniac, who looked like I imagined a witch would, with dyed red hair piled up on her head, scarlet-painted nails like tal-ons, and heavily made-up face like a mask; she was far from young, and used to drench herself in so much perfume that we could smell her coming long before she hove into view, roaring as she entered the room, “Taisez vous! Ferme la bouche!” So, although I wasn’t aware of it, Mdm Wozniac was with me ~ along with countless other people ~ as I traveled on French soil!

Somehow, I negotiated the Metro and got through Paris, and was on my way towards Lyons and Bordeaux. One night, it was raining so hard and I had nowhere to spend the night, so en-tered a caravan-park, intending to creep beneath a caravan and sleep there if I could have found a dry place, but I didn’t, so moved on, and where I spent that night I don’t recall, nor is that surprising, as I’ve spent so many nights in so many places, and if I slept out in the rain on that particular night, it might have been the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

By the time I got to Bordeaux, my feet were so sore and blis-tered from the hiking-boots I’d bought thinking they would pro-tect my feet, that I had to buy some ointment for them and resort to wearing some old but more comfortable shoes I’d brought with me, and in these, was able to stagger on. It brought to mind a comedy-program called “The Army Game,” in which one pri-vate had such sensitive feet that he couldn’t wear boots, and was known as “Excused-Boots Bizley”!

I crossed the border into Spain with little formality, and contin-ued as a virtual dumb man, but managed to buy things like bread and cheese by pointing at them and making a gesture in the universal sign-language for “How much?”

The other side of Burgos, I came upon a Norwegian girl and Danish guy hitch-hiking together; they were on their way to Ma-drid, so I joined them. It wasn’t hard for them to get rides as the girl was young and pretty, with long blonde hair. While waiting for a ride, she suddenly felt like a change of clothes, so stepped aside and casually stripped to her underwear to do so. I was amazed, particularly because Spain was still under Franco at that time, and very conservative, but we soon got a ride! Not knowing where I’d stay when we got to Madrid, I accepted the offer of the girl to go with her to her boarding-house, where she arranged for me to sleep in a small alcove, curtained off in the hallway (not in her room), and left me on my own when she had to work. Alone, therefore, and sometimes with the Dane, who took me for the sucker I was and borrowed money from me without ever intending to repay me, I saw something of Madrid in the few days I was there; in particular, I remember visiting the Prado Museum, where hang such memorable works as those of Goya, Velasquez and Hieronymus Bosch. I also recall causing quite a stir in some of the bars, as my hair was rather long, and although I also had a beard, some Spaniards were clearly un-sure if I were a man or a bearded lady, the fashion of long hair on guys not yet having reached Spain.

Catching a bus out of Madrid, I headed south to Andalusia, and that afternoon reached lemon-land; it was the first time I’d seen citrus of any kind growing. Before bedding down for the night in one such orchard, I cut and squeezed enough lemons to fill my water-bottle, adding enough glucose I had with me to sweeten it; how good it tasted! I had enough for the next day, too.

Still heading south, before I got to Granada, I came to orange-groves stretching in every direction as far as I could see, and without any fences around them, I was able to eat to my heart’s content, but there are only so many oranges you can eat at one time, no matter how hungry you might be; I repeated my juice-squeezing, and of course, orange-juice tastes so much better than lemon!

Reaching Granada, framed against the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, I found a cheap hotel where to clean up and lay my tired body. The next day, I went to see the incredible Alhambra, the last stronghold of the cultured Moors until the Christians, united under Ferdinand and Isabella, wrested it from them and expelled them from Spain in the same year ~ 1492 ~ that Columbus discovered the ‘New World’ (actually, he didn’t discover it; people had been living there for thousands of years already; what he discovered was the ignorance of Europeans about these people and lands, just as I was discovering my ig-norance about people and places beyond the hitherto narrow confines of my own little world back home, where I’d been living like a frog in a well).

The Alhambra was fascinating, and I had the place almost to myself, as it wasn’t yet tourist-season, and Spain anyway, had not become the destination it was later to become for the hordes of northern Europeans fleeing colder climes.

History was always my best and favorite subject, but I was too young and unlearned to appreciate much the beauty and art of the Alhambra; however, it was my introduction to Islamic art and architecture and over the years, my appreciation for it has grown and never waned; I’m glad that the Alhambra at Granada was my first taste of this lovely art-form.



The Alhambra, Granada

Court of the Lions, The Alhambra

The Moors ~ so named because they’d come from Morocco over the Straits of Gibraltar ~ developed a brilliant civilization in Spain over the 7 centuries they held sway there, preserving the classical knowledge of the Greeks and Romans which had been discarded and destroyed in Europe when the Church in Rome became the dominant power upon the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century A.D. For a thousand years, Europe languished through The Dark Ages, so-called not because the sun didn’t shine and there was no light, but because the Church preferred to live and keep people in the darkness of ignorance, and the only people who could read and write ~ unlike the rela-tively cultured Greeks and Romans before them ~ were the monks in monasteries; even the kings and rulers ~ who were all thralls to the Popes, of course ~ were illiterate. And if any of the few scholars in Europe wished to avail themselves of the ancient knowledge unavailable in their own lands (where, apart from iso-lated pockets of persecuted Jews, everyone else was Christian and had no choice about it), they had to go to places like Moor-ish Spain, Sicily, Alexandria or Baghdad ~ places of high culture and civilization during the Dark Ages ~ and in the universities there were given free access to it, without being pressed to con-vert and become Muslim. Can we imagine this happening today, either in Muslim or Christian establishments? Islam then, was far more tolerant and open than it became in the 20th century. We owe so much to the Muslims of that time.

Granada was the highlight of my first trip abroad, and though I traveled back through southern France, northern Italy, Switzer-land, Germany and Belgium, that’s just what it was: traveling through, with little worthy of note about it. I just want to tell, how-ever, of crossing the border of Italy into Switzerland in the region of Lugarno late at night. It was so cold, and there was snow on the ground; I was very tired and had nowhere to stay, so crept into someone’s front garden to spread my sleeping-bag under a fir-tree, and there spent the night; when you’re really tired, you can sleep anywhere, not really caring if you wake up or not.

I recrossed the English Channel and before I got to London, was picked up by a young couple from the City, and invited to spend the night at their place, and in the morning, they took me to the motorway where I could hitch my way north, so I didn’t have to struggle my way through London. I reached home late at night, just three weeks after setting out. My parents were very sur-prised and pleased to see me, as they’d not been expecting me (the postcards I’d sent from various places along my way had said nothing of my intended return), and my mother soon had hot food ready for me (it was the first thing she did whenever I returned from my subsequent trips). And when I took off my shoes and socks, she cried when she saw the blisters on my feet; I pricked one with a needle, and a small fountain shot out!

Of course, with my adventures behind me for the time being, and my meager resources almost gone, I had to find a job, and got one in a rather high-quality family-bakery about six miles from home. The pay was not high-quality, however, but what could I expect? It was a job, and I worked there for six months, starting very early in the morning until about 5:30 in the evening, thirteen hours a day, 5-and-½ days a week, going by bicycle for some time. Now, the owner had a strategy by which he tried to bind people to him when he saw they were good workers ~ and I was quite a good worker, operating various machines skillfully ~ he offered to lend me money to buy a motorbike, the cost of which he would deduct from my wages in small amounts until it was paid off. I fell for his ploy, and got a motorbike, and when I got tired of that job and wanted to leave, my parents lent me enough money to pay off my debt in full, and I foolishly decided to return to my old job in the tailoring-factory, instead of search-ing for other work. Soon after I resumed there, the management decided to implement a new system that directly affected me.

My job was to issue cloth to the cutting-room, and until then, had just sent out rolls of cloth for the cutters to take what they needed and then return them to me for checking back into the store, after marking off what they had cut. And it was noticed that, while the cloth was in the cutting-room, some of it ‘disap-peared’ ~ and we are talking about very expensive cloth here. The new system was devised to obviate the losses, and I was to issue only the exact lengths required, and so, I carefully meas-ured and cut the lengths off and sent them out. But this wasn’t popular ‘out there,’ as there was no longer any ‘extra’ cloth to go elsewhere, and so began a movement to sabotage the system and indirectly discredit me. What they ~ and by ‘they’ I mean some of the cutters; I didn’t find out who ~ began to do was to cut a few inches off the lengths I had carefully measured and re-turn them to me as ‘too short,’ and so, what seemed to be my mistakes, and which I innocently took to be so rather than an ef-fort to destroy the new system, reflected badly upon me in the management’s eyes; I became a scapegoat. Well, what was quite uncomfortable for me at the time, I later came to appreci-ate, as I began to look at the people I worked with and ask my-self if I was going to be like them, working all my life at a job I hated, with little prospect for improvement; and knew I wasn’t; my first trip had broadened my horizons and made me even more different; I couldn’t stay, nor did I want to, but didn’t leave there immediately, as I needed more money for the next trip.

Somehow, I got through that winter ~ always my least-favorite season ~ and with what money I’d saved, set off on my second trip. This time, I traveled again through France, where I met two English girls, and soon got a ride together with them from a friendly young Moroccan guy driving down to southern Spain. Willing to take us as far as he was going; how could we miss the chance? And how could we to know he was on a drug-smuggling mission? So, all unsuspecting, right down through Spain we went with him; he treated us kindly and bought us meals, until, at Malaga, he began to act suspiciously and ran out on us, fortunately leaving us our baggage, and not implicating us in his nefarious activities. By this time, we’d had enough, and turned to head back to England, but not before revisiting Gra-nada again. We then traveled together until southern France, and then split up; I don’t know what became of them, but I got home alright after being away for a month this time.

I went to stay with Sheila and Frank again, and got a part-time job in the hotel-bar, old enough for this now. It didn’t pay much, but with the tips I received, it was enough for my needs. I bought a racing bike (I’d sold my motor-bike to finance the last trip), and applied to join the art-school of the ‘college’ where I’d formerly studied. I took some of my paintings and drawings to the inter-view with the principal, and was accepted, to start that Septem-ber. I was even able to get a small grant from the education-department to supplement my uncertain income, and bought the necessary beginner’s gear ~ paints, brushes, portfolio, smock, etc., ready for the first day. Art-school had a certain aura about it, and I used to consider the students thereof as somehow su-perior to students of other things, probably because they were more bohemian and ‘beat’.

The principal ~ Jack Shaw ~ was a small man, and a bit of a ty-rant, as short men in positions often are ~ and I didn’t like him; but there were other teachers who were easy to get along with. Jack once put on an exhibition of some of his work, but I wasn’t impressed with most of it; among it was a meaningless piece called “Nineteen Lines,” which was just that ~ nineteen pencil-lines of various lengths, criss-crossing the paper in no apparent order; it meant something only to him.

During the first week, we were introduced to our two models, both female, who proceeded to undress before us in such a casual and unembarrassed manner that it put us at ease; of course, as art-students, though we were just beginning, we had to be cool. One of the models was very fat, and the other just the opposite, very thin.

A young teacher-couple, Tom and Sandra Wall, would now and then invite some of us to their home, where we could relax in-formally, and call them by first names; at times, we also went to pubs with them. Over-stepping the limits, however, one day I addressed Tom by name at school, and he quietly reprimanded me, saying it was inappropriate to address him so in that situa-tion; he was quite right, of course, and I respected him for that.

My studies began okay, but with two overseas trips behind me ~ short though they were ~ the wanderlust had taken firm hold of me, and the glamour of attending art-school soon faded. I wasn’t able to settle for long, having seen that the big wide world awaited me; how could I resign myself to being confined by class-room walls? By term’s end, therefore, I’d already decided to quit and make another trip, but had to wait for reasonable weather, so passed the winter working and saving money. I never saw any of my art-school associates again. Something that remained with me from that time was an understanding of perspective, which was of benefit to me later.

At the end of 1966, I read a novel, The Satanist. Its author, Den-nis Wheatley, wrote a number of such books on the occult and 'black magic', and had obviously done a lot of research in these fields. At that time, I had no conscious knowledge of Dharma (that was to come later), but one passage in it had such an im-pact on me that I copied and kept it. I consider it an important in-troduction; it resonated with and activated dormant memories in my mind, and although I may not agree with all the sentiments therein, I’m grateful for having found it. I reproduce it here:

In its highest sense, Light symbolizes the growth of the spirit towards that perfection in which it can throw off the body and become Light it-self.

But the road to perfection is long and arduous, too much to hope for in one short human life. Hence the widespread belief in Reincarnation, that we are born again and again until we begin to despise the pleasures of the flesh.

Yet it is the inner core of truth common to all religions at their inception. Consider the Teachings of Jesus Christ with that in mind, and you will be amazed that you have not realized before the true purport of His mes-sage. Did He not say that "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you"? And when He walked upon the waters, declared: "These things that I do ye shall do also; and greater things than these shall ye do, for I go unto my Father which is in Heaven", meaning, almost certainly, that He had achieved perfection, and that others had the same power within each one of them to do likewise.

Unfortunately, the hours of the night are still equal to the hours of the day, and so the power of Darkness is no less active than it was when the World was young, and no sooner does a fresh master appear to reveal the Light, than ignorance, greed and lust for power cloud the minds of his followers; the message becomes distorted, and the simplicity of the Truth submerged and forgotten in the pomp of ceremonies and the meticulous performance of rituals which have lost their meanings.

Yet the real Truth is never entirely lost, and through the centuries new masters are continually arising to proclaim it, or, if the time is not propi-tious, to pass it on in secret to the chosen few.

In early ’67, I had my first ‘joint’ of marijuana. I’d never smoked cigarettes before, and never would, not succumbing to peer-group pressure to start. I can’t say that my first joint ~ passed to me by someone else, as is usually the case ~ did anything for me, but it was another mile-stone even so. Over the next few years, I would smoke dope many times, leaving it forever in 1970, after it had served to open my mind, but by then I’d had some bad experiences on it, as well as bad trips on LSD, and even now, I have memory-blanks caused by it; I didn’t become addicted to any of the substances I used, and though I don’t re-gret trying them, would never encourage anyone else to get into them; there are better ways to open the mind than that.

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