At least a decade ago, my great friend Jono and I sat in the Cricketers pub in Chelmsford, one Saturday lunchtime after he had exhausted me on a mountain bike thrash around Galleywood, Mountnessing and Ingatestone. His ears pricked up after several pints when I mentioned a long-held, totally intuitive and utterly unscientific notion that our DNA might contain memories of past lives. Jono is a canny devil, and pointed out that this might be great subject matter for the novel I had sometimes talked of writing. Getting drunk with Jono has sparked some of the wildest and greatest conversational pleasures a human could experience.
About a fortnight ago, my physiotherapist Rob told me about an academic study proving that mice trained to fear a specific smell would pass this emotion onto their offspring and future generations. Scientists applied electric shocks to mice as they exposed them to the odour of cherry blossoms. The children and grandchildren of the affected rodents demonstrated a fear of cherry blossoms the first time they smelled them. A more recent ‘epigenetic’ study of nematode worms found that memories were passed down for 7, and in some cases 14 generations. Nearer the knuckle, there appears to be evidence that the children of Holocaust survivors have increased likelihood of stress disorders.
No scientist me, unless you count many years analysing horse racing statistics with a fine toothcomb, for betting purposes. Might that have been related to my grandfather the bookmaker, who would throw his dinner at the wall after a losing day? I’m straying from the point, which is that at key points in my past I have been utterly traumatised with fear, while concurrently trusting nobody in whom those fears could be confided. And have wondered long and hard where those deeply negative emotions came from.
Two fear snapshots. The first in November 1978, still in Birmingham, just over a year after the Northern Soul debut. I pace up and down the bedroom in my lodgings in Pershore Road, Edgbaston, listening to the wind, which has been rising in strength all day. Through the tall windows I can see trees bending in the nearby park. Another dance evening is on the agenda, but how can I go in this gale? It will blow my hair in every direction, exposing my still insignificant but nonetheless growing bald patches, which are concealed with a careful centre parting of still relatively thick follicles that withstand less fierce weather. The options are twofold, both traumatising. To venture out and risk being mocked, or to stay at home, and be forced to explain my absence to my girlfriend, who knows nothing of my anxieties. I can appreciate now that other options existed, but saw only paths to potential humiliation. I stayed at home, and invented a sickness excuse.
25 years later, in May 2003, I am happily bald, but with a new and equally excruciating anxiety. I pace up and down my office in the garden, knowing that all of my emotional cut-off devices are exhausted. I can no longer hide a situation where I am forking out some £2,200 monthly in repayments on a palate of debt worth around £95,000 – or over £100,000 if you count the car loan. Not only is this sum utterly independent of our near-£120,000 mortgage, it’s also a sum that my wife knows absolutely fuck all about. With my bank manager pressing me ceaselessly to come and see him, I cannot take the pressure of keeping this to myself any more, of quietly robbing Peter to pay Paul. So I pack a bag, leave Maureen a truthful explanation, and catch a train to Devon.
Nearly a decade on, in August 2012, a vivid dream comes to me, on the last night of my ‘deceased rites’. I have been participating in a week-long Buddhist ceremony for my ancestors. In the dream, I find myself in an old, overgrown and dilapidated square surrounded by tenement flats gone to ruin. Ornate glass panels facing the square at the foot of each flat are missing most of their square sections and rusting, with piles of sand and dirt and rubbish and weeds everywhere. Two males are chatting just within voice range, talking about having their way with a woman in my family. There seems to be no escape for her, or me.
On waking, I sense the echoes of so many past dreams, where surrounding males go bad, violent, drunk and mean. Which in turn makes me contemplate the karma of the Gorrell family, my mum’s side. The family lost a hotel at one stage, and had tentacles in Australia, almost certainly convict stock. I have four criminal convictions. The family name means something like ‘muddy place’, and originates from……..Devon, to where I returned, salmon-like, one spring. And don’t forget Lloret de Mar.
These are random thoughts about origin and legacy. Do any of us really have a clue how the world works?