Books and My Life: Part 9

This blog outlines my life, seen through the lens of the books I have read.

The summer of 1982 was difficult. No job, no home, no money. I wasn’t living at home and Clive, my flatmate, and I had given up living in our flat so that friends had somewhere to live after getting married. I remember hitting rock bottom while staying at my friend Lucy’s house. I have no idea why her family put up with me. On one day I got up late and had not a single thing to do for the day except to post a letter.

Tony Bird, my youth pastor, gave me a lifeline when he suggested I go to Moorlands Bible College – not to study, but to look after their trees. What a great idea! After Moorlands, where I spent around 10 weeks, I visited a bunch of other colleges. At each place there were opportunities to listen to lessons, speak to students and lecturers and spend time in libraries reading books as well as surveying the trees, making work schedules and doing the work.

One place I visited was Oak Hall, in Caterham. I had been on an Oak Hall skiing trip to Schwarzwald in Germany (while I was working in W. Germany). I stayed at The Oaks and dossed down in the pool room/library. I remember lying on the mattress on the floor, looking at the books. One by G F Dempster was particularly inspiring; ‘Finding Men for Christ’ told of a worker for a sailor’s mission hunting for people in the 1930s depression who had drifted or run away from their loved ones. His faith and straightforward approach to his bleak surroundings was awe-inspiring. I remember one incident when he went into a pub to ask about someone and got caught up in a brawl. He just fought his way out, giving as good as he got, which surprised me as I thought he would be a pacifist.

It was here, too, that I discovered Oswald Chambers’ ‘My Utmost for His Highest’, which has been a devotional mainstay for me ever since. I love Oswald’s clear-eyed approach to reality. He is not sentimental at all and figuratively douses you with a cup of cold water (on a good day, bucket, if not) through each day’s section.

In summer 1983 I got a job as a supervisor on a Youth Training Scheme in Warwick. I was there for 9 months. My boss for this time was Ron Cole, an ex-Royal Navy sailor who learnt his forestry skills in New Zealand during the 50s and 60s. He challenged me to think and to read about things outside my comfort zone. He told me about Tom Paine and I went and found out that he was a radical thinker who influenced both the American and French revolutions. He was a champion of democracy and the ordinary man. ‘The Rights of Man’ is his most important work.

The music that sticks in my mind from this period includes Jethro Tull, and Ian Anderson’s solo album, and also Chris De Burgh.

When I left Warwick, I packed a small (too small) rucksack and headed to Israel with a friend for six week’s travelling. That was a great time for meeting other young people and exploring a country massively different to the UK. Tensions between Arab and Israelis were still high, but we managed to see lots. I really loved the old town in Jerusalem. Magical. It felt medieval and smelt intoxicating with fragrances of food, textiles, people and animals all swirling together to make a multi-sensory experience. While we were staying in Jerusalem, we frequented a small music bar. This was just when MTV started and it was wonderful relaxing in the bar, watching the music videos (especially the long video of Michael Jackson‘s Thriller), listening to the music and hearing the young Aussies shouting their heads off. I’ve never met a louder nationality. (That’s not meant as an insult.)

The only book I’d taken with me was a New Testament, which was daft as most of the time we were surrounded by an Old Testament landscape. I remedied this by finding a large second hand bookshop outside the old town, though the books I chose had a very different mood. I remember buying the memoirs of the actor David Niven. They were great fun. He comes across as a down-to-earth sort, not snobbish and with a gift for telling entertaining stories. I thoroughly recommend ‘The Moon’s a Balloon’ and ‘Bring on the Empty Horses’.

There was a painful undercurrent during this time though. I was plagued by dreams about my mum and when I got back to the UK I realised I was still struggling with bereavement.

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