Do you like jigsaw puzzles?
Maybe I’m wrong, but there seem to be less jigsaw puzzles in the shops than when I was a boy. I can remember going through a phase when I kept getting puzzles with more and more pieces - and then, just to make things more difficult - turning the pieces upside down and putting the whole thing together sight unseen.
Of course, there’s nothing worse than a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing, or one that doesn’t quite seem to fit…
Piece 1. ~ The Spirit Guide
I don’t like flying. Actually I love it when the plane has taken off and I’m in the air (did you discover that you could control your flight direction in my last blog post). It’s just that I feel so out of control. I know that statistically it is the safest form of travel - but I still have a feeling of foreboding for days before a flight.
We were due to fly over to Killarney and I was starting to get my pre-flight nerves, so it came as some consolation to hear the spiritual medium at church, tell me that the spirit of a man, a "known" man was going to help me. The medium couldn’t tell me who he was, or had been when he was alive, but she did say that he looked very much like me. I thought at once about George Bernard Shaw and also James Joyce. But I wasn’t at all convinced…
Piece 2. ~ Ann and David
…Later we were all having our usual cup of tea, when Ann, a member of the congregation, asked me if I would read something at a dedication service she and the Rev. Eileen were arranging for her son David who had died at the age of nineteen, eight years previously. Ann explained that David had been beaten to death at the roadside. What a terrible thing for a mother to endure; her only son murdered, leaving her with her memories and grief. Ann explained that David had been a bit of a tearaway, but with “a heart of gold and a wonderful smile.” As Ann continued, her love for David poured out of her. She was planning the service to reassure him that he could ‘go on’ and that she wanted him to understand that she could cope with the rest of her earthly life.
“I don’t want him to worry anymore. He will have lots to do and I want him to feel that he can go and get on with his own destiny and not hang around, worrying about me.”
Piece 3. Death and Danger
I drove the Rev. Eileen home and as we approached her front door, a group of teenagers were picking on a young boy. The boy, who must have been around David’s age, looked frightened and their violence made me think that David’s fate was about to be re-enacted right in front of us. Fortunately the group dispersed -, but death can come so quickly.
Once inside, we sat down with a cup of tea, silently observed by a small group of Irish figurines on the mantelpiece. “They really live” said Eileen. Eight pairs of twinkling eyes looked back. I was due to go to Ireland in a week and I felt uneasy about the flight. “Keep me safe in Killarney” I thought.
Piece 4. The Poem
I then told Eileen about my conversation with Ann. Suddenly prompted by the sight of the Irish figurines, I realized that I would not be able to read at the service because I would be in Killarney on that day. Eileen looked disappointed. We sat in silence for a little while, and then I heard myself say “I could write a poem for her.” Eileen smiled.
Piece 5. The Vision
So the matter was settled, although I had no idea what I would write. I did however; relate to Eileen a visual hallucination that had happened to me a couple of nights previously, which in want for a better term, I could only describe as a ‘Vision’. Up to then I had always viewed the term ‘Vision’ as a rather biblical and romantic way of describing the output of a vivid imagination. This was mainly because I had not had one. I now know that a vision, once received, is unmistakable and cannot be confused with a normal visual-mental image, or a dream. This particular vision turned out to relate directly to Ann and David, although that was not clear to me then, as Eileen and I sat with her husband Ken, who had pottered downstairs to join us:
I was lying in bed, when the normal pattern of shapes, colours and stars that I (and possibly everyone else) see projected onto the back of my eyelids, slowly gained depth. I seemed to be floating in outer space and gazing at the infinity of the universe. The image was so real that I became a little frightened, but at the same time, intrigued at what might happen. I found could still wriggle my fingers and toes and therefore I assumed I was not dreaming - in any case it all seemed so real.
Then the infinity of stars dissolved and I found myself floating through a passage, toward a sunlit garden in the grounds of a beautiful mansion. The colours were unbelievable, like nothing I had seen before. Although I find it hard to believe in a heaven of gardens, flowers and mansions, I was sure that if such a heaven existed, I was indeed seeing it. At this point I was so enthralled with what I was seeing and so aware that I was not controlling the vision as in my normal imagination, that I opened my eyes and found I was simply lying on my bed in my dimly lit room. I was delighted to find that when I closed my eyes again, the vision was still there.
Then around the corner of the passage, came a black and white dog. The dog looked at me intently and then slowly the vision of the garden, the mansion, the “guardian” dog and the wonderful colours faded back into the starlit universe, which itself became again the patterns behind my eyelids.
Piece 6. ~ The Poet
The next day I woke with a favourite line from a poem by Dylan Thomas, running through my head:
“the ball I threw whilst playing in the park has not yet reached the ground”
Dylan Thomas was the first poet I had encountered when I was around sixteen years of age, and the line that repeated again and again in my mind as I made my morning coffee came from “Should Lanterns Shine.” David had experienced such a short life and the idea that the ball was still flying through the air, seemed to underline this. Sipping my coffee, I considered that sending Dylan’s poem to Ann might be sufficient.
Piece 7. ~ A Poem for David
It was at this point that the poem I was to eventually write that day, started to form - seemingly of its own accord. We were opening at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton that evening and as I drove to the venue, thoughts words and phrases bounced through my head. Ann wanted something “young” to read; David had died eight years ago, so in a sense he had been re-born into the spirit realm at the moment of his death. Ann wanted David to “go on” and learn. Thoughts of my own first day at school and how I wanted to go home for tea and cuddles and how excited I was to see my mother waiting for me at the school gates replayed in my head. The thoughts and images kept coming during the sound-check and the preparatory staging for the evening’s opening night and I became more and more impatient to get the poem down on paper.
Eventually all the pre-show preparations were complete and I was able to go across the road from the stage door, to the local “Naff-Caff” a fantastic and dying English tradition, where steak-pie, lamb chops, egg chips and beans and the like, can be obtained for under a fiver, including a slice of bread and butter and a large cup of tea (so much better and cheaper than double burger “Whoppers” “Tortilla Wraps” and the rest of the new generation of fast food plastic digestive nightmares that are overtaking our simple and surprisingly nutritious – but totally un-trendy private enterprises.
After sausage egg and chips and still drinking my tea, I wrote David’s poem down in one rapid burst. The words came through me as if from somewhere else. Looking at the poem, completed in around twenty minutes, with so few corrections, I was stunned at the depth of meaning within it, even if the style was rather naïve. I had written it as if I was Ann. As I wrote, I had become Ann and David, my mother and myself. However, even though the poem was finished, I felt compelled to add Dylan’s line at the end. I also felt it was “ok” to change it to “The ball you threw whilst playing in the park, has not yet reached the ground.” I thanked Dylan Thomas in my mind, for whatever part he had played in guiding, or at least inspiring me.
Piece 8. ~ The Dog
The following Sunday, I met Ann. She was delighted with the poem and I was starting to explain that it had seemed to come through me, as if I had been guided, when my attention was drawn to a black and white dog, sitting at the feet of Christine, a medium and a member of the congregation - it was the dog I had seen in my vision of the wonderful garden.
After the service I asked Helen, another member of our church, if she knew the name of the dog that had been sitting at Christine’s feet that afternoon. Her reply sent a shiver of excitement right through my body, “Dylan” she said
“As in Dylan Thomas.”
Piece 9. ~ The Bomb Scare
Landing in Dublin a week later, on route to Killarney, there was a bomb-scare, in which I became involved and which hit the front pages of National newspapers – I remembered the Irish figurines and my feeling of impending danger.
Piece 10. ~ The Poet and the Dog
One evening in Killarney, near the end of Act 1, a title I had seen years before, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog” flashed through my mind. In the dressing room during the interval, Spencer the Company Manager, Russell “the Baker” and Richard “the Cowboy” helped me look up the title on the Internet. This is what we found:
"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog" – An autobiographical collection of short stories, prose and Poetry by Dylan Thomas.
All of the above happened around eighteen months ago and I decided last weekend to write the whole thing up as a spiritual investigation, a jigsaw puzzle if you like. All of the pieces seemed to fit well and I didn’t even consider piece 1. and the ‘known’ spirit guide - in fact my original first piece was piece 2…
…until I started to read the excellent accounts of the life of Dylan Thomas on the website of BBC Wales.
Piece 11. ~James Joyce
Dylan Thomas had called his collection of poems and short stories "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, after Joyce’s semi-autobiographical work, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" This made me think of what is now piece 1., the ‘known’ spirit who was going to help me.
But the medium had said that the spirit had looked like me, and James Joyce, apart from being rather thin, bore no resemblance. So I read on…
Piece 12. ~ Augustus John
…James Joyce had been painted by an artist called Augustus John. Joyce it seems had complained that John’s drawings of him had failed to represent accurately the lower part of his face…
…Augustus John had also sketched Dylan Thomas, as well as introducing him to (and having an affair with) Caitlin Thomas, Dylan’s wife.
So was Augustus John, the ‘known’ spirit and the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle?
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