Yesterday, the schools broke up for the holidays and for many people it was their last day of work before Christmas. You could feel the collective sigh of relief.
We made it! The holidays. Freedom. I remember that sweet feeling well.
In an instant, the world is transformed. Suddenly, it is full of excitement and possibilities. We have all this spare time to fill. We could do anything. We will probably end up watching tv, eating and drinking too much and catching up on sleep. Nevertheless, the possibility is there. We. Could. Do. Anything.
The reality, of course, is that it is always possible to do anything. If we have the strength. If we are prepared to accept the consequences. Most importantly, if we have glimpsed what might be possible. If we have not ever been shown the possibilities. If we do not even know they are there. Then, we cannot possibly choose them. Being made aware of what might be possible is absolutely fundamental to our development. Possibilities provide the potential for Transformation. The people who explain the possibilities, I call “Transformers.”
When we are small children, life’s possibilities are mapped out by our parents, mainly. We don’t have much say in the matter. The world, by and large, is what our parents say it is. They form our early world view. They form us. Siblings and extended families may have input. But they come from the same world as your parents and are likely to reinforce the parental world view.
I was lucky. My parents belonged to an organisation called the BP Guild. The Guild consisted of people who had, at some point in their lives, been involved in the Scout movement. BP stood for Baden Powell. They all felt that they had benefited from their time in the Scouts and wanted to put something back. So, they volunteered their time, mainly at weekends, to put on events and create facilities that would in turn benefit the present generation of young people. The Guild’s activities centred around Kinver Scout Camp – an area of woodland in rural Worcestershire where young people could come to camp and experience life in the outdoors. Life closer to Nature. My father was Head Warden of the Camp.
So, most weekends throughout my childhood, I was taken down to the Camp and released into the woods. To spend all day playing with friends. Outdoors and away from adult supervision. There were trees to climb. Caves to explore. Dens to build. Dares to be made. Close shaves, scuffed knees and the occasional broken limb. It was wonderful. And very important. Out there I learned that I am part of Nature. I learned to take risks. I made friends and learned to trust. Many of those people remain my friends to this day. Our lives have taken us to different places. We have chosen different journeys. That is right and good. And we still meet up at the Camp every year. To honour what we were given. That we were so lucky.
And there was more. The Guild was a kind of extended family. The adults in the Guild shared a certain amount of common outlook on life. That is what brought them together. But they were not identical. As parents they were all a little bit different. They parented in slightly different ways. But they trusted each other. Trusted each other enough to leave their children in each other’s care. So, I was not just brought up by one set of parents. I feel that, to an extent, I had several sets of parents. I saw different examples of how to be a family. Not hugely different. But different enough to make me realise that there was not only one way to live. There were choices to be made. I wasn’t yet in a position to make choices. I was still being formed. But it was really important. It meant that later, when I was able to choose, I was ready to transform.
And there was more. As well as the Guild parents, there was a supporting cast of characters who appeared from time to time. The Guild organised a number of activity weekends at the Camp when Scouts would have the chance to have a try at a variety of outdoor pursuits. Canoeing, kayaking, climbing, horse riding, parascending, archery, shooting and so on. Some of the instructors who came into our world for these weekends were to be my first Transformers. There were many but the ones that made the greatest impression on me were the Mikes -Kendrick & Lyndsey – and the young instructors they brought with them – Dave Beale, Jez, Roger (or Bibbly Bobbly as we named him). Young men not much older then ourselves. But they had been places. Done things. Things that seemed impossibly exotic and attractive. Canoed in the Alps. Climbed in the Himalayas. And they burned with life. Like gods. I wanted to be like them. Do the things they had done. See what they had seen. They were the first people that showed me a world far removed from the suburban land I had inhabited thus far. I was transformed. I could never be the same again.
The thing about Transformers is the element of choice. Transformers just show you possibilities. It is up to you whether you explore the path they illuminate. Nothing will change unless you are ready to be transformed.
I think that I was ready to be transformed from an early age. Something within me was hungry for new experiences. A lot of this was, I think, due to my father. I remember him saying to me, “If you don’t like what you are doing, change. Do something different.” From an early age, he exposed me to new experiences. Put me in challenging situations. It was not always an enjoyable experience. Sometimes it verged on dangerous. Often there was a thin line between excitement and fear. He taught me to walk that line. I learned that it was worth the terror. Dad didn’t transform me. I was too young. I had no choice in what I was doing. What he did was form me in such a way that I have been very open to Transformation. For that I will always be hugely grateful. He gave me a great gift. When Transformers turn up in my life I am ready for them.
And they have turned up pretty much on cue: when I have most needed them.
First, the teachers at school who encouraged me to write. Introduced me to fantastic foreign worlds in the pages of books and grooves of vinyl (and so I show my age.) They were critical because sometimes, if you are not able to meet them in the flesh, you have to seek out your Transformers in literature and music. I read Jack Kerouac and wanted to drive across the U.S. I listened to The Birthday Party and wanted to be in my own band. I did both. Which led to further adventures. Those works of Art absolutely changed my life.
Those teachers also encouraged me to go to university. I was the first of my family to go. And there I met my next Transformers. For me, university was like being thrown into the biggest sweetie jar in the world. I was suddenly surrounded by possibilities. Almost overwhelmed by choice. I went to Lancaster University. On the edge of the Lake District. It was easy to get out into the mountains and satisfy my love of the outdoors. Spend time in Nature. Do what I had always enjoyed doing. But there were new worlds too. I met people who wanted to form a band. I met people who wanted to write. I met people who wanted to think about the big questions. Why are we here? What’s it all about. I made friends with anarchists, artists, musicians, witches, drug dealers, antique clothes dealers, daughters of tax exiles, sons of caretakers, princesses from Persia, diamonds from Wigan. I had a fantastic time. I will write about it in more detail some time. Suffice to say, now, that the people I met transformed me.
Not all Transformation is good. Sometimes it leaves scars. In some ways, Lancaster was too much. Too much choice. Too many possibilities. Not all my choices were wise. I made mistakes. Hurt some people. Hurt myself. By the end of my time in Lancaster, I was a bit broken.
So, I went away to the Lake District. To Nature. Home. To rest for a while. Take stock. Slow down. Rebuild. Figure out who, from all the possible configurations of me, I wanted to be.
When I felt strong enough, I returned to the city. A different city. Sheffield. To train to be a teacher. Which was a surprise, as it was something I had never thought I might be. That is another thing that I will write about more. Some other time.
For now, what is important is to note that it was in Sheffield that I met my next Transformer – my wife, Jo. She is, without a doubt, the most important Transformer of all. When we met, I treated her badly, let her down, refused to commit. Pretty much standard behaviour for me at the time. Yet she had the courage to stick by me and show me that I did not have to remain broken for the rest of my life. She showed me a world where I could reconcile the various different me’s fighting for space. Showed me a place where the poet, the mountaineer, the philosopher, the rock star, the performer, the recluse and the teacher could co-exist. When Jo asked me why I wanted to marry her I said, “You are the person who best suits my differences.” That is still true nearly a quarter of a century later.
She transformed me. She showed me a world where showing your emotions was a strength rather than a weakness. She slowly coaxed me from my protective shell. She continues to transform me on pretty much a daily basis. This stuff I have been writing about in my Yule Calendar, is the stuff we talk about every day. We always have. I think it is the greatest gift to spend your life sharing a home with someone that helps you continually transform and grow. I am very lucky.
There have been other Transformers in my life but that will have to wait for another day. The solstice is very nearly here. I think it is the time of the year when we should pause, take stock and think about whether we need to Transform. And, if we do, are we ready. Which is why I have been thinking about the Transformers in my life. But my main Transformer says that it is time to sleep now. So, good night.