169. Twenty-seven, twenty-eight……


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Consensus among child psychologists is that the first seven years of a child’s life are a formative influence in how that human develops, with the next seven also highly influential. The next seven, up to age 21, have some effect, relatively small. This seems to be the academic conclusion.

I wonder about the next seven? For example, is there anything more than coincidence grouping six successful and talented musicians – Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin – who all took their own lives aged 27? I suspect that birthday number 28 has an immense power, resonating unseen through our subconscious and our psyches.

Two writers exerted a huge influence on my life between the ages of 21 and 28. Henry Miller (Blog 122) was the first, with his books Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer. Also Sexus, Nexus, Plexus, Black Spring and the Colossus of Maroussi. Miller stepped into my head and never left. The first person who had ever clearly said to me that it was not just OK but actually very sane to reject the main ‘life’ option offered to adults.

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He asked: Why on earth would people follow such a narrow path? Wake, wash, travel, work, eat, work, travel, home. Eat, wash the dishes, listen to the news, iron the shirts, tidily fold the newspaper, sleep eight hours and do it again. Then recover at the weekend from this shite. No thanks, said Mr Miller. Nobody else in my life had ever questioned the predominant paradigm. Not my parents, nor my teachers. My friends mostly spoke of ‘getting on’ in the world, all bar one.

Miller spoke of baloney, waste and tragedy. Somebody else’s fake rules, foisted upon the unthinking. Why not do your own thing instead? Join your own dots. He did, and lived in near-poverty for much of his time. Still, I wanted to run around punching the air, screaming ‘hooray’. Somebody else knew what was in my head. They knew. It wasn’t just me that felt alienated by the notion of a career, or perplexed as to why people would wear suits, like kids unable to leave their school uniform behind. Henry Miller wrote with a poetic Shakespearean gravity, the wit and levity of Oscar Wilde, and the lewdness of a natural porn scriptwriter. He was the masterful wizard for me, and also for Steve Lowndes, who was inspired to write a letter to the Guardian, entitled ‘Why Work?’ This triggered a shedload of reactions, for and against.

My second major influence was Colin Wilson. Author of ‘The Outsider’, and then a hundred or more other books, usually non-fiction. Whereas Miller was chaotic, anarchic, unreasonable, excitable and volatile, Wilson was anything but. He came charging head on at the same challenge – what are we doing here, why are mainly wasting our time on the inessential, why do some of us feel cut off from society and how can we self-actualise – but with a precise scientific mind. Wilson did the hard yards, drifting from job to job, sometimes sleeping rough. He concluded that expanding one’s consciousness was the optimum route forward for humanity, and that sex or other forms of intense focus were the window out of the asylum, away from ‘the robot’ that keeps us in familiar channels.

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These two guys had shaped – or reinforced – my take on life by early 1985, as my 28th birthday approached. My working week still stole six of my seven days, albeit at a location nearer to home. I had persuaded Ladbrokes to relocate me to a betting shop in Harold Hill, near Romford. There I bussed each day, and back, to manage the gaff.

Ian Dury once mentioned Harold Hill in his song ‘This is what we find’

Home improvement expert
Harold Hill of Harold Hill
Of do-it-yourself dexterity
And double-glazing skill
Came home to find another gentleman’s kippers
In the grill
So sanded off his winkle
With his Black and Decker drill

Great vengeful lines but not very relevant. My kippers were grilled exclusively in Maureen’s very warm, luring oven. Nobody brought a drill into the shop, which was busy but more boring than the colourful East End equivalents of yore.

Big forces were now pulling and wrenching me, linking back to the three promises made to self in January 1982 (Blog 26). One of these – a pledge to write a book – was nowhere in sight. One day, but not now. But the aim of being in a long and happy relationship was well in train. I was head over heels in love with my partner, and happy that we were to be wed on April 6, 1985. I couldn’t imagine being with anybody else but Maureen.

The last target was to discover or invent a profitable system of selecting winning racehorses, and then use that to make money. I had latched onto methods described by a Dutch guy (Van der Wheil, Blog 143) who had written reams of stuff about the winning factors of form, class and race times, and how these could be rendered into simple numeric columns that pointed to the horses with the best chance, especially in races with the bigger prize money.


VDW cited the opportunity to become the captain of your destiny, overcoming the “odds against” offered up by the material world. With honesty, he stressed again and again how only practice could open the floodgates, how only repeated discipline carried out over a span of years could bring about the desired effects. Not unlike the 10,000 hours of practice later famously recommended by Malcolm Gladstone.

VDW talked of how, on a number of occasions, he was certain that he had cracked the formula only for a set of previously overlooked criteria to pop up and return him to base; or his own undisciplined desires would get the better of him and he would bet too much; or stray beyond the tight confines of his rules and back horses whose names had no right to appear on his betting slips.

I read this bloke’s articles over and over, obsessively. Like a madman in a Dostoyevsky novel, for about 18 months, I had filled exercise books with race analyses, based on his methods. As these had become refined, with practice, some very fine results had emerged in the month before Christmas 1984, and the one after. A couple of hundred quid ahead.

There was a shade of Colin Wilson about VDW. Especially the talk of real freedom and transformation. Totally uninterested in gambling, but utterly absorbed by a mental problem that he was fixed on conquering, and taking control of his material circumstances as a result.

That was what I wanted. The desire had become almost overpowering and unbalancing, as my 28th birthday approached. Could it be conjoined with a happy relationship?

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