Reason to Believe Episode 12: the dog with the golden eyes and a troubled mind

In my previous blog, Reason to Believe Episode 11: the dog with the golden eyes, I describe how a dog called Donut came to be adopted by us from Battersea Old Windsor and renamed Darcy. Now he’s home with us and an unexpected battle begins…

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Darcy did not settle. He reminded me of a caged bear, pacing endlessly from end to end of whichever room he was in. He did not respond to the most basic commands and if we left him in the house we returned to mayhem and a distressed, exhausted dog. He chewed and destroyed so many things – including my treasured recliner chair! No more could I come home from work and settle in that chair with a cup of tea before making dinner!

In an attempt to alleviate the anxiety issues we bought a large dog crate and covered it with blankets, hoping he would see it as his safe haven. He hated it even if we left it open, and if we closed it he whimpered and gnawed at the wire until the top of his nose was raw and sore again.

One day, we were working in the garden so we tied Darcy to a long rope to stop him running out into the road. To say he went berserk is an understatement! You’d think the rope was burning him as he desperately writhed and bit at it to release himself. We managed to calm him down and as soon as we’d unknotted the rope he was panting, his pupils dilated with fear.

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Taking him for walks was an ordeal too because he reacted badly to anyone walking behind us, people wearing hats and backpacks, people with walking sticks, pushchairs and wheelchairs. He growled at other dogs.

As if dealing with all that wasn’t hard enough, within a very short time we were to be tested even more.

One Friday, George was away and dad couldn’t have Darcy until the afternoon so I had to take him to work with me. I was setting up a business centre for start-up IT companies on the university campus and I parked my 6 month old car in front of the small, single-storey building where I could see it from my office. Darcy was in the boot, which we’d made cosy with an old duvet, and I gave him some chews to keep him occupied. I went out every half hour to check he was OK, and I took him for walks around the large car park. All seemed fine and I was pleased with him for settling down.

When lunchtime came and I could take him to Dad’s, I strolled out to the car, smiling in at Darcy who was lying curled up in the boot.

I unlocked the driver’s door, took my seat, put the key in the ignition, started to pull my seatbelt down, and …..

Wait a minute. Why was the seat belt damp and slimy?

Come to that, why was there drool on the steering wheel and dash board? Oh good grief! Surely those won’t teeth marks on the indicator stick and handbrake?

With dawning horror I turned my head to see that the dog guard behind the rear seats was askew. Sweat prickled on my brow at the sight of one of the rear seat belts chewed almost all the way through.

In the space of half an hour Darcy had pushed through the barrier and jumped into the front of the car and wreaked havoc. Then he’d had the presence of mind to climb back into the boot and lie down as if nothing had happened!

I was too shocked to be angry, and once I’d made the barrier secure again, I drove out of the car park with my mind whirling.

He’d caused so much damage already, how could we possibly keep him now he’d done this to my almost-new car?

But we’d promised him he would not go back to a rescue centre. We’d promised that we’d do anything it took to turn him around.

A short while later an acquaintance of mine came for coffee and met Darcy for the first time. She stunned me when she said she was psychic and could ‘read’ that Darcy had been tied up in a dark place, probably a shed or a barn, when he was a puppy. He was, she said, strung up by a thick rope, which rubbed his neck sore. She said he’d been left alone, with his litter mates disappearing one one by one and his mother being taken away too until he was on his own in the dark.

I was horrified at the scenario she painted, but of course I had no way of checking if what she said was true. But she piqued my interest in the possibility of communicating with animals and I bought a book on the subject. It made a fascinating read and I got in touch with author, sending a close-up photo of Darcy’s face and eyes and asking for a reading. Her report contained the same details that my friend had given me, plus a direct plea from Darcy not to give up on him.

Two people who didn’t know each other had given me the same story, so surely it was more than a coincidence? The weekly training class was helping quite a bit, but with this information I felt we needed specific help with Darcy’s emotional state.

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I found a dog behaviourist and put in a call to him. When Simon* arrived Darcy, who would normally be barking furiously and trying to jump up at any visitor to our door, came skittering in from the kitchen and stopped in his tracks. He then came slowly the rest of the way and sat down in front of Simon, something I’d never seen before.

While Simon asked me questions Darcy’s beautiful golden eyes stayed fixed on him and I figured that he was one of those people who was shy and awkward with people but had a very commanding presence to dogs. When I’d finished describing everything that had happened, including Darcy’s reluctance to return to me on command when he was off-lead, Simon stroked Darcy’s velvety ears and addressing him rather than me, said:

“I think I know your problem. You don’t understand the hierarchy of this household and you’re assuming you’re the alpha. But you don’t want to be, do you? It’s too big a responsibility and you want to be relieved of that burden.”

The next four hours were spent leaving and coming into the house without Darcy. I was to say nothing when I left or when I came back, just behave as if all was normal and nothing was expected of Darcy.

Then we took Darcy for a walk and Simon fitted a remote-controlled collar that gave a puff of air into Darcy’s face if he didn’t respond when he was called to return. It wasn’t painful, it wasn’t punishment, it just broke Darcy’s concentration from sniffing the ground so he would hear me calling. He got it quickly, and came lolloping back happily when heard his name.

When we got home after the free run, Simon asked to be alone with Darcy for a few minutes. I waited outside and have no idea what went on between them, but when Simon called me back in, Darcy was gazing at him with adoration. I was exhausted, but it was obvious that a change had taken place in my dog. He was calm and relaxed and no longer in the ‘fight or flight mode’ he’d been in since we’d adopted him. The set of his body and even his face seemed different, softer.

I don’t know how Simon did it, but from that day on we could Darcy at home and know he would sleep in his bed until we came home. We could take him out and know that he would behave well and come back when called if he was off lead. He particularly loved visiting the beaches near my mum’s house in Wales, where we’d walk for miles on the sands and amongst the rocks.

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Everyone who met him adored Darcy. He was still wary of some people, and he loathed sticks being thrown anywhere near him, but he was a wonderful companion. My dad loved him so much he was glad when we went on holiday and left Darcy with him for two weeks at a time, and was most unhappy when we moved from Farnborough to Wiltshire because we were now an hour and a half’s drive away.

But George and I were happy to make that drive often, taking Darcy with us to spend a Saturday or Sunday with Dad.

I’m glad we made the journey as often as we did, because Dad, now in his seventies, was soon to become seriously ill and I would need all the strength I had to face the hardest decision of my life.

 

*Simon is not his real name. I was sad to learn about a year later that he’d died of cancer. 

~~~~~~

J Merrill Forrest is the author of two novels, Flight of the Kingfisher and The Waiting Gate and a collection of poetry, Natural Alchemy. All are available from the usual sources, including Amazon, in paperback or e-book formats.

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Reason to Believe Episode 11: the dog with the golden eyes

With my CV updated to include my newly-minted Honours degree it was time to return to the world of work. After a rigorous round of interviews with a computer company, I  was highly chuffed to be the chosen candidate. Setting aside my student-wear of jeans, sweaters and trainers, I had my trouser suits dry-cleaned, pressed my blouses and polished my high-heeled court shoes. I was now an executive with a good salary, an expense account and a company car!

I lasted precisely one year.

Having previously worked for Honeywell, 3M and Hewlett-Packard I expected teamwork and respect between management and employees, but the managers in this company preferred to divide and conquer. It was a toxic environment (maybe literally so as it was next to a large household waste centre!) with blatant instances of misogyny and homophobia. Staff turnover was understandably high. I happily took a lower salary and gave up the silver Golf GTi – throwing the keys down on my manager’s desk and telling him just what I thought of the company – to take up a new job at my beloved university. I was overjoyed to return there, with the bonus of an amazing and uplifting view from my office window.

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A year later George and I moved from our small flat to a three bedroom semi-detached house. It needed a lot of work, and we spent evenings and weekends transforming the interior of the house and landscaping the garden.

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I had a job and a home I loved, but there was a growing need in me for something else. I really, really wanted a dog! I had grown up with dogs, had always wanted one of my own, and I thought we were now in a position to adopt from a rescue centre. George wasn’t as keen on the idea as I was, but my wheedling, cajoling, pleading and downright blackmail eventually won him round – or perhaps I should say wore him down!

Battersea in Old Windsor was just a half hour drive away.

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I was so excited when we made the journey over there for the first time, but the reality of seeing so many dogs desperate to be adopted was heartbreaking. Blinking back tears, I walked along the corridors with George, thinking that I’d know the right dog as soon as I saw it. I didn’t want a small dog or a very large one, and pictured in my mind one that was the size of, say, a Border Collie.

The place was very busy, and as I trailed along with the crowd I hoped with all my heart that every family, every couple and every individual would go home that day with a new pet. At some point I realised that George was no longer with me. I retraced my steps and found him staring intently into one of the kennels, the palm of his right hand pressed against the wire, looking at a dog lying disconsolately in a plastic bed. The information sheet pinned to the door informed us that the dog was male, approximately 2 years old and called Donut. He had the black & tan coat of a German Shepherd and I almost laughed when I saw that he was a Border Collie cross! He was the right size and age for us and we liked the look of him so went to the office to get more information. “Donut is a problem dog,” the administrator told us. “He’s not the sharpest tool in the box, and he needs experienced owners to manage his behaviour.”

We could not claim to have the appropriate experience so our offer to adopt him was point-blank refused.

A little despondent at not finding ‘our’ dog we returned home, and it wasn’t until a couple of days later that George – my practical, very down to earth husband, who wasn’t particularly keen on dogs – made a revelation that completely astounded me.

Donut, he said, had locked his black-rimmed golden eyes onto him and he had distinctly heard in his mind the words, “Please take me home“. In response George had promised that he would!

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I could not credit it. It’s the sort of thing I can believe happening, but not to George. He just didn’t think that way. However, he was adamant it had happened, that he and the dog had had some kind of psychic connection, and as we hadn’t been able to bring Donut home, he felt very guilty and wasn’t interested in returning to Battersea any time soon.

I went back on my own and was really pleased to learn that Donut had been rehomed the very day we had seen him. I told George the good news and said, “Of course that dog was desperate, they all are, so maybe whoever has adopted him had the same weird psychic connection that you did. Anyway, he’s sorted but we still don’t have a dog, so please let’s keep looking.”

Convinced he needn’t feel guilty about Donut any more, George came with me the following weekend. About halfway round he stopped in his tracks, grabbed my arm, and pointed at a dog lying right at the back of the kennel. A skinny dog with the black and tan coat of a German Shepherd and the face and ears of a Border Collie. Surely it couldn’t be Donut?

It was.

On seeing George he got up and came slowly forward, head down and ears drooping, but with a slight wag of his feathery tail. His nose was bloody, probably from rubbing it on the wire of the kennel door. We couldn’t believe it; he’d been rehomed just a couple of weeks ago, presumably by someone suitably experienced. What was he doing back here?

As Donut and George locked eyes once again I asked if he still wanted to take him home. “Remember,” I cautioned, “they said he’s a problem dog. If he’s back so quickly  something must have gone horribly wrong.”

We went to the office to find out what had happened. Apparently Donut had wrecked the home of his new owners and they’d returned him because they couldn’t cope. With that news I thought George would say we should forget about him, but what he actually said was, “It’s that dog, or no dog!”

Thinking fast, I pledged there and then that we would go to training classes and get professional advice. “We will do anything and everything necessary to turn him round, because we are certain he’s the dog for us.”

We were taken to a room where we could be properly introduced to him. Despite his skinned nose and rather uptight demeanour he was a handsome boy, and his eyes were truly captivating. Within a very short time we had signed the documents and paid the adoption fee of £90.00.

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We also spent a small fortune on a new lead, collar, bed, lots of toys, treats and food. We piled these goodies in the car and sat on a patch of grass with Darcy firmly attached by his new lead to take in what we had just committed to. A problem dog. A dog who had wrecked someone’s home. And two others before that. We would be his fourth home!

“The first thing we need to do,” I said, “is change his name. Donut makes him sound stupid, so he needs a noble new name to mark this fresh start.”

By the time he jumped into our car, he was called Darcy. Why?

Well, some years earlier the BBC had shown an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice starring Colin Firth. The scene where handsome Mr Darcy emerges from a swim in the lake, his white cambric shirt made transparent by the water, caused quite a stir!

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Darcy had reacted to the news of his adoption by rolling in his own pee in the kennel so had been shampooed and wrapped in a large white towel. For some reason the Pride & Prejudice scene sprang into mind, and as we discussed a new name I remembered it again. If I hadn’t thought the name should begin with D, so the switch from Donut wouldn’t be too confusing, we might have called him Colin!

We didn’t go straight home but instead called in on my dad, who lived nearby in Windsor. Darcy ran around the garden with his new tuggy, no doubt relieved to be out of the kennel once more.

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When we told Dad what we’d learned about Darcy he thought we were crazy to take him on. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was right, but I kept that inside.

We had made a promise. No matter what happened in the coming weeks or months, Darcy was NOT going back to Battersea!

I had high hopes that because of the understanding on some strange, psychic level between him and George, Darcy would understand that he had a forever home with us and would show his gratitude with good behaviour.

How wrong I was!

~~~

Next time: we have to call in a canine psychiatrist, and two separate animal communicators tell me the same story about Darcy’s beginnings

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J Merrill Forrest is the author of two novels, Flight of the Kingfisher and The Waiting Gate and a collection of poetry, Natural Alchemy. All are available from the usual sources, including Amazon, in paperback or e-book formats.

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Reason to Believe Episode 8: no going back and an enigmatic message

To read all of the previous episodes please go to Reason to Believe

~~~

I was battered and bruised, but getting the brown belt was a huge achievement and I felt on top of the world. Well, almost, for there was one major thing dragging me down day after day: I simply wasn’t happy at home. It was now obvious that my marriage could not endure. We had, like so many couples, simply grown apart. Since my brother’s death I had changed dramatically, we were spending less and less time in each other’s company, and when we were together we either had very little to say or we argued.

The premonition I’d had standing on the concrete foundation in February came true in September, when I packed my personal things in black bin bags, left a letter on the mantelpiece, and fled to my mum in Wales.

All the way along the M4 I kept saying to myself that I should turn back while there was still time to tear up the letter before my husband saw it. But each time I approached a junction and tried to decide whether to take the exit, there was an answering voice urging me to keep going. “Look ahead to your life at 40, 50 and how it will be if you go back,” the voice said. “To be the person you want to be you must be free.”

Eventually I accepted that there was no going back, and I crossed the old Severn Bridge and kept going for another 120 miles.

My mum was so shocked to see me on her doorstep, but she and my stepdad helped me through those first miserable days, allowing me time and space to gather my thoughts and my resolve for when I returned to deal with the fallout.

On my second day there I went to one of my favourite places in the whole world, Marloes Sands in Pembrokeshire. It’s a long climb down on a narrow cliff path to reach the sands and rocks, and this was a very windy day so the sea was wild and beautiful, just as I like it – and I was completely alone.

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As I walked I allowed my thoughts to wander, and, as in quite a few occasions in my life, I was somehow allowed to know a few things about my future: I would not return to my husband; I would marry again; I would not have children; I would find supreme happiness.

I felt sad about never becoming a mother, but if the choices I made now led to ‘supreme happiness’ then that would do for me!

My husband pleaded with me to move back in and go with him to Relate. I agreed to the counselling, but was adamant that I wanted a divorce. I was very lucky in having a little one-bedroom flat to live in at my dad’s house. He had built it in the 1970’s for my gran, and it had been empty since her death the year before my brother died. Dad was happy for me to stay there while I sorted myself out, and I was immensely grateful for it.

I had expected my family and friends to be shocked that I had walked out on my husband, but it surprised me to discover that they had merely been wondering what had taken me so long!

And no-one wondered more so than my dad.

Imagine this scenario. You’re standing at the church door in your wedding finery, ready to make your grand entrance. Your father, who is about to walk you down the aisle, turns to you, clasps your hands, and, looking deep into your eyes, says, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Now, looking back, I laugh to think what would have happened if I had gathered up my dress, turned on my white satin heels and fled, leaving Dad to make the announcement that there would be no wedding!

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The marital home sold quickly, we managed to keep things amicable while we dealt with solicitors and came to an agreement that allowed a clean break. The divorce was granted in August 1990. On the day I received the decree absolute, a rather stark and boring piece of paper considering its importance, I reverted to my maiden name.

 

 

In the meantime I had also come to the end of my karate journey. I was extremely underweight and emotionally drained, and just didn’t have the strength or the will to go on training at such a high level. My concentration was so bad that I risked injury every time I entered the Dojo, and that wasn’t fair on my sparring partners. It was hard to concede, but knowing that a black belt was truly beyond me, I had no choice but to give it up.

img20180619_12483652Over the next two years I settled into life as a singleton, working as a PA, enjoying my social life, meeting new people. I bought a new flat within walking distance of my dad’s house, and I found love again.

 

Throughout it all, the highs and the lows, I took comfort from knowing my brother watched over me, just as he’d always looked out for me when we were children. But then, just as I was feeling settled for the first time in ages and thinking I had my life sorted, something weird and totally unexpected shook me up all over again!

I was driving home from an evening out with friends. It was dark. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, but a sudden sensation, like walking through thick, sticky cobwebs made me squirm in my seat. Without warning, my brother’s voice, clear as day, spoke into my left ear: “I have to go now, Sis. You’ll know me when you see me again.”

Staggered, I gripped the wheel and whipped my head to the side, certain I’d see my brother sitting in the seat beside me. There was no-one there, but I knew I’d heard him.

“Stephen,” I begged, as I tried at the same time to concentrate on the road, “What do you mean?”

But there was no reply. The feeling of being smothered in cobwebs was gone and I was left frustrated and struggling to understand what had just happened.

It wasn’t my imagination, I am positive about that. I hadn’t even been thinking about him. So why, now, had I been able to hear him? In the seven years since his death I had not once heard his voice; he had communicated only through psychic mediums. The shock of hearing his voice this way had jarred me to my soul, and I wondered if I’d missed something, some vital clue to this brief and enigmatic message.

With relief, I arrived home safely and parked in front of my flat. For what felt like an hour I just there, stock still, staring out of the window, my mind spinning and racing with possibilities. I didn’t know much about reincarnation back then, but I wondered if this was a possibility. Would Stephen come back as a different person in my lifetime and somehow I would recognise him as my brother?

I was left with nothing but tantalising questions: Why and where was he going? How would I know him again?

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J Merrill Forrest is the author of two novels, Flight of the Kingfisher and The Waiting Gate and a collection of poetry, Natural Alchemy. All are available from the usual sources, including Amazon, in paperback or e-book formats.

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Reason to Believe Episode 7: the inner voice that would not be silenced

To read all of the previous episodes please go to Reason to Believe

~~~

Our new home was finished and ready for occupation at the beginning of July, 1989. I was so ready for the move, to leave the house that held the unhappy memory of our moving-in day being also the day my brother died.

We closed the door for the last time and my husband went off in his car to deliver the keys to the estate agent and I set off in mine to collect our new keys from the sales office and to await the arrival of the removal van.

Half an hour later I was opening our new front door and stepping into the empty, echoing hallway.

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I tried to feel excited, but knew that the butterflies fluttering inside me were really due to the feeling I had had when standing on the foundation slab just a few months ago. If the premonition, if that’s what it had been, was correct, I would not long be resident in this house.

In my heart I knew the why it could prove to be true, but I just didn’t want to focus on that, or contemplate the possibility that there would be a when.

The house was one of five built in a horseshoe shape in a snug little close on the edge of the small housing estate, and we were the last to move in. It turned out we were all like-minded people, so soon we were visiting each other’s new homes, having drinks in our yet-to-be-landscaped gardens, and getting to know each other. I loved the house and the area: beautiful countryside for rambles and picnics, lovely neighbours, useful shops and a pretty pub nearby — but the nagging sensation, the ‘knowing’ I couldn’t talk about or explain, the overwhelming feeling that I was in the wrong place in so many ways was getting stronger day by day.

My stomach was in a constant state of ‘churn’, my turmoil not helped by the awful, gut-wrenching knowledge that I was keeping inside. I was rapidly losing weight.

The bitter truth that I was trying so hard to fight – that I no longer loved my husband – could not be denied, but facing up to the consequences of leaving, the appalling upheaval and misery that decision would cause, was too much. I knew I didn’t want to be married any more, but the alternative, so soon after moving into our beautiful new home, was just too much to handle. I continued to keep silent, hoping my feelings would change.

I needed a distraction and, thankfully, karate fit the bill perfectly. I continued to go to the club twice a week and the discipline and focus needed throughout each two hour session silenced my thoughts. There were comments about my weight, though, and my karate trousers had to be tightened and tightened so they didn’t fall from my waist and puddle round my ankles!

Two months after moving, the day dawned to draw on all my courage and take the brown belt grading. I had completed the other grades with relative ease, but I was warned by those who had already achieved it that the brown belt was going to be much, much harder. By now I was a mess emotionally with everything I was keeping inside, so I entered the Dojo (training hall) with trepidation.

This is what I had to do to pass the elite brown belt test: five hours of gruelling exercise, non-stop punch bags, running, star jumps, sit ups and examinations — when you weren’t in front of the examining Sensei you had to keep moving – so it was seriously hard going. I performed all my katas (set-pattern movements) successfully, and every one I completed correctly moved me on and up to the big moment: sparring with two men at the same time who wore the coveted black belts. I was already exhausted by the time I stepped up and bowed to my opponents, but I would simply have to overcome it because these two huge black belts were still fit and raring to go! I weighed less than 8 stone, they were enormous, barrel-chested and, if not for the sparkle of humour and goodwill in their eyes, very intimidating.

But karate is not about hurting people, it’s about discipline in defence, so even though you get bruises on shins and forearms, the movements should flow like a dance so that any potentially harmful blows can be blocked. I thought I was doing pretty well, fending off the other two and getting some good moves in. But suddenly I was caught off guard and an unseen kick jabbed me in the stomach and completely knocked the wind out of me.

Down I went, like the proverbial sack of potatoes.

I could hear the black belt who had kicked me whispering ‘sorry,’ but that wasn’t helping. I was in a heap on the floor, in pain and gasping for breath, and my Sensei was counting me down. If I didn’t stand up and complete the grading, I was OUT!

Could I do it?

The two black belts were quietly imploring, their lips barely moving, “Come on, Jane, come on. Don’t give up! Just another minute to go! Get up and finish it! GET UP!”

My Sensei announced, “Five seconds…four…three…” His voice was measured and calm, but I could feel his eyes boring into me, willing me to find the strength to get up before my time ran out.

I could sense the energy in the Dojo, I could feel the other students willing me to move, to stand up and carry on, and for the first and only time in my life I literally saw red. I had not come this far, trained so hard, to fail in the last few seconds of the grading. I convinced myself I didn’t really need breath to haul myself up, so I got to my feet using the ‘red in my head’ to fuel my determination and I launched a roundhouse kick at the black belt to my left. He parried and blocked, but with low voices, both men encouraged me and guided me through the remaining time until at last we were called to a halt.

Exhausted, every muscle trembling and my face flaming with exertion, I stood between the black belts, a skinny, five foot nothing 32-year-old between two giants. The man who had kicked me held me steady with a firm grip on my belt at my back as we made our bows.

All that was left was the Award Ceremony. Had I made it? We all sat cross-legged on the wooden floor and, demanding the torture of patience, the awards started with the lower grades and worked upwards. As each name was called, the person stood and bowed while the decision was given and I cheered with everyone else as every pass was announced.

I could hardly breathe waiting for my own name, and when at last it came I struggled to my feet again.

I felt rather sick from the winding, my ribs aching, but I bowed low, keeping my back straight. When I came upright again and looked at Sensei he was grinning as he announced that I had done it!

The brown belt was mine and I think the cheers that greeted my achievement was the loudest of the day, because everyone had witnessed just how hard I had fought for it!

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But the euphoria could only carry me so far, and as I drove home in high elation my heart was telling me what I really needed to do.

And I needed to do it soon.

~~~~~~

J Merrill Forrest is the author of two novels, Flight of the Kingfisher and The Waiting Gate and a collection of poetry, Natural Alchemy. All are available from the usual sources, including Amazon, in paperback or e-book formats.

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Reason to Believe Episode 6: a life-changing birthday, a new hobby, a big question

To read all of the previous episodes go to Reason to Believe

~~~

The weeks and months following that visit to the Spiritualist Church slid by. I finally plucked up the courage to tell Dad about the messages from Stephen and how I’d first learned about my Great Uncle Benny, and after a short silence, he said he wanted to see a psychic medium himself!

I was so surprised by his reaction. I had expected anger, disbelief, even ridicule, but now I was tasked with setting up a reading for him. I chose a woman in Maidenhead who had been highly recommended by quite a few people, and booked a reading for both of us. When we arrived at her red brick maisonette in Maidenhead, a large woman with dyed red hair looked from me to Dad and back again and, pointing to Dad, said “You first.” As she led him into another room she turned to me and said, “Go for a walk and come back in an hour.”

When I duly returned I entered the maisonette expecting to have my reading, but Dad was sitting, silent and white-faced, in the tiny hallway and the medium suggested I take him straight home. “You don’t need anything from me,” she said, “but your Dad has a lot to think about.”

Dad never told me what went on in that reading.

Saying that life goes on has become a cliché, but it’s true. Suddenly, it was 1987. My husband and I were settled in the house, I was busy at work and having a fun social life, but my mind was in a constant whirl about supernatural matters. I was enthralled, totally hooked by the subject, and I was reading every book about life after death I could lay my hands on. I went back to the Spiritualist Church a few times and visited psychic fairs and similar events, places I could talk to mediums and learn more about their world.

Everything I read and experienced cemented my new belief that there is an Afterlife, and that our loved ones can communicate with us if they so choose and if we are in the right environment for them to do so. They would do their part if they could but we had to do ours too. However, nothing much more was happening directly to me. After the exhilaration of those first few astonishing messages from my brother, he seemed to grow silent and everything felt like a giant anti-climax. I felt flat, and in truth, disappointed and let down. How selfish that sounds! But a milestone birthday was approaching and I knew I had to find something else to focus on. My best friend Jane was concerned that I was too wrapped up in it all, to the point that she insisted on coming with me to various meetings and events as my protector! Clearly I needed something that would keep my feet firmly on the ground while I digested all I had learned, even though I was still secretly yearning for more.

The answer came in an advert in the local newspaper. It was something I’d always wanted to try: karate. That would focus my mind and steady me!

My husband laughed when I’d said I wanted to try martial arts and scoffed that I wouldn’t last more than a month. He could have been right, but how would I know if I didn’t try?

The club met twice a week, and I loved it from the very beginning. It felt wonderful to don my Gi (the suit of white jacket and trousers) every session, wrapping the obi (narrow fabric belt) twice around my waist and tying it in the required way before stepping barefoot into the Dojo (training hall). I loved the rituals: bowing on entering and leaving the dojo, bowing to the Sensei (leader) and my fellow students, a clenched fist of the right hand into the open palm of the left. We always did these respectful rituals before commencing practice fighting or performing katas, which are patterns of movement performed solo or with a partner. We had to learn several Japanese words, terms and numbers in order to follow the Sensei’s commands.

How proud I was that by the end of that first year I had passed the first two gradings, earning the right to sew first one then two black bands, called tabs, onto the ends of my white obi.

karate passport

While my karate was keeping my mind and body busy and active, other things were going on at home. By the end of the year we had decided to place our house on the market, and had put a deposit down for a detached house, still to be built, on a much smaller estate twelve miles away. I looked forward to once again choosing the tiles, kitchen cupboard doors and carpets of a brand new home, and watching it rise from the ground until it was ready for us to live in.

But before then, it would be my 30th birthday, and this really turned my thoughts inward, for this was the age my brother had been when he died. In fact, he’d lived for exactly 30 years and 57 days.

Fifty-seven days after my birthday happened to be Christmas, and while I joined in the family celebrations, a very difficult question was going round and round in my mind and would not be silenced: if I were to die this day, would I die happy?

The conclusions I came to did not sit comfortably with me at all, but I kept them to myself and cheered with everyone else as 1987 rolled into 1988.

I kept my focus on the sale of our house, gradually packing our possessions into boxes, and planning new furniture and furnishings when we moved. In early February, we learned that the foundations and ground floor slab had been laid and we went there immediately to have a look. My husband had some questions about the build, but I wanted to see the spaces we would live in, the views we would have, and feel the energy of the new place. He went to the sales office to ask his questions, and I walked alone to the concrete rectangle that was the footprint of our soon-to-be new home. Other houses around ours were rising rapidly from the ground, like mushrooms after rain, and the site was filled with the noise of hammers, saws, builders calling to one another, whistling and singing along to a radio that was playing pop music full blast.

I turned a slow circle in the centre of the slab, my breath pluming in the wintry air. It seemed so small, but I knew that was deceptive and I tried to imagine the rooms built, the walls, doors and windows in place, our furniture neatly placed.

Then, as if by divine request, the opening bars of a favourite song of mine* blared across the building site. I stood stock still, the hair inexplicably rising on my neck and my arms inside my thick coat. I stood facing where the front door would be and raised my eyes to a line of trees in the distance, their bare branches stark against the grey sky. Thoughts I’d been suppressing for a very long time careered into the forefront of my mind, and I had to stop myself from crying out.

I closed my eyes tight, willing the thoughts and images to go away, but when I opened them again it was as if a thick fog had descended and formed an unbreachable wall around me. All sound was muffled except for that song, and two particular lines seemed to echo over and over again, as if the singer of the band was sending me a message: ‘It’s the final countdown’ and ‘Will things ever be the same again?’

All at once I knew. I just knew without a shadow of a doubt, that I would not be living in this house for very long.

 

*The song is ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe and this is the official video of it on youtube:

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J Merrill Forrest is the author of two novels, Flight of the Kingfisher and The Waiting Gate and a collection of poetry, Natural Alchemy. All are available from the usual sources, including Amazon, in paperback or e-book formats.

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Reason to Believe Episode 4: first contact

To read previous episodes click on the links:

Episode 1     Episode 2     Episode 3

Bob asked everyone if they’d return to the other room so he could concentrate and make a clear connection with my brother. Bewildered, tearful with shock and, it must be said, fear, I trailed behind the other guests and once again took my seat in the circle. Everyone could sense how I felt and offered smiles and words of encouragement. Someone pressed a clean handkerchief into my hand. Determined to keep my expression neutral yet with my heart full of hope, I levelled my gaze at Bob, determined to hold onto a little scepticism so I wouldn’t be taken in by him ‘fishing’ for information or cold-reading me.

With a big grin he started by saying, “I can see Stephen very clearly. You look alike.”

An easy assumption to make, I thought, but I said nothing.

“But he’s laughing and telling me that your eyes are different and there’s something significant about your hair. It’s a bit of an in-joke between you.”

OK, now that caught my attention! I waited for Bob to elaborate.

“Your brother’s eyes are blue, yours are brown. His hair is very curly and you, I can see, also have curly hair, but he’s telling me that your hair is naturally straight. He’s saying that he tried to straighten his, and you have yours curled? Is that the joke?”

Spot on! Stephen hated his thick curly hair and at night used to put strips of Sellotape on it and a tight-fitting knitted hat over his head in the hope that he could straighten it. I, on the other hand, have fine, straight hair and spent a fortune having it permed! I was pretty jealous of his blue eyes, too.

steve & me montage

Bob went on to provide little glimpses into our childhood, such as board games like Monopoly played with red dice (Monopoly was one of our favourites) and having fun with friends in a nearby park. That I loved school and reading while he only wanted to play football. Then he followed up with details about my brother’s illness, his home and family, the chair in which he felt most comfortable, the caged birds he kept, the bottle of lemonade that was always to hand.

I was spellbound, but there was more to come. Bob started to rub his head with the fingertips of his left hand, in a gesture that was exactly like my brother’s.

“All those curls fell out because of the chemotherapy,” he said. “Your brother is showing me at his worst now. Very thin. Skin almost yellow. He needs a wheelchair.” Bob hesitated, his head on one side as if listening. “He tells of a cricket bat kept in an under-stairs cupboard. Now he’s showing me a chocolate cake. He says this means something to you.”

By now I am sobbing my eyes out. Everything Bob is telling me is so accurate. I might have mentioned Stephen’s curly hair and blue eyes to my work colleague, and she might have told her mother who in turn told Bob, but I hadn’t spoken about us playing Monopoly when we were little, or the games of cricket in the back garden. Nor had I ever mentioned Stephen’s dislike of school, his love of birds, or that he always kept a bottle of room-temperature lemonade to hand when he was ill. And the significance of the chocolate cake? We shared one the last time I saw him alive. It made Stephen feel a little sick, but he’d enjoyed the indulgence.

How could Bob know so much? Either he was reading my mind – quite a talent in itself – or he truly was communicating with my brother. And he wasn’t finished yet.

Bob said that I’d asked Stephen to promise that he would come and see my new house.

“He didn’t make it in life,” Bob said, “But he has been there. Oh yes,” he chuckled when he saw the look on my face. “It was your brother moving things and doing things to get your attention. He tells me as additional proof that he has visited your house and he’s seen that you have a red plant on your window sill.”

Astonished, I confirmed that there was, indeed, a pot plant on the window sill of the dining room. I didn’t know what it was called, but it did have red stems and leaves.

I had been shaking my head in awe and wondering if there might be even more evidence forthcoming when Bob surprised me yet again. “There’s someone else here, a young man who died in the war.” I didn’t recognise this person and assumed this was for one of the others in the group. I have to admit I was a little resentful that he was interrupting my brother’s communication!

But Bob insisted he was a relative of mine and identified him as Benny. Bob thought it confusing that Benny had appeared wearing a sailor’s uniform yet was showing him an aircraft.

“I see bombs on trolleys. He was shot down over the sea during a mission. His headstone is in another country but his body was never found. If you don’t know about him you’re going to have to ask your family. He wants you to learn all you can about him.

“And now your brother’s back. He wants me to tell you that he’s healthy and he doesn’t mind the curls now they’re back. He’s very amused by your expression and he’s saying that he understand why you’re struggling with all this. It’s a huge surprise to him too! He wants you to know that he really is here and is communicating through me, but he knows you don’t really believe it – you’re looking for a rational explanation! He brought Benny through as his story is something you’re going to have to find out for yourself. It will bring you the proof you need.”

At that extraordinary point, Bob ended the reading. I was advised to stay for a strong cup of tea; I was trembling too much to drive! The other participants hugged me and smiled encouragingly before wishing me well and saying goodbye. I eventually drove home wondering what other revelations would be coming my way!

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J Merrill Forrest is the author of two novels, Flight of the Kingfisher and The Waiting Gate and a collection of poetry, Natural Alchemy. All are available from the usual sources, including Amazon, in paperback or e-book formats.

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Reason to Believe Episode 3: entry into a new world

To read the introduction to this blog and previous episodes click on the links:

Introduction Episode 1 Episode 2

Episode 3: 1985, entry into a new world

“It could be your brother, you know. You ought to talk to my mum, she’s a medium.”

All eyes which had been glued on me while I was recounting the strange things that had been happening in my brand new house, swivelled to my work colleague.

She laughed at the expressions on our faces and asked me if I’d like her to call her mother and arrange for me to go and talk to her.

I wasn’t sure. I mean, a medium? Someone who gathered a circle of people in the darkened back room of a spooky house and called out, ‘Is anybody there?’ and then supposedly talked to the dead?

Well, I might be sceptical, but how could I not be curious? I loved ghost stories and had never doubted the existence of psychic abilities – I possess some sort of sixth sense myself – but I had never given any credence to the existence of an afterlife.

My visit was arranged and I parked in the driveway of an unassuming semi-detached house, wondering what I was getting myself into. I was expecting to be swept into a candle-lit parlour by a heavily made-up lady wearing a billowing, brightly-coloured dress, an exotic turban on her head and multiple rings on her fingers. Instead I was ushered into a brightly lit kitchen by a motherly woman called Joan in a pleated skirt and pastel pink twinset. I took a seat at the table and Joan made a pot of tea and offered me a freshly-baked and still warm shortbread biscuit.

She told me that she knew from her daughter that my brother had recently died, but she could not sense him at that moment. I didn’t really know what this meant, but she went on to say that I was to tell her nothing at all about him so that if he did start to communicate with her, she would be able to prove it was him.

While we waited we drank tea, ate her delicious biscuits and talked about all sorts of things. I sensed she was trying to put me at ease, because I was very tense waiting and hoping something amazing would happen, and I really warmed to her.

But Stephen did not make an appearance.

As I was leaving, Joan squeezed my hand. “Just because I can’t see or hear him,” she said, “doesn’t mean he isn’t with you. His passing is fairly recent so he may be finding it difficult to connect with me. I know another medium who is much more experienced than I am, I think you should meet him.”

She invited me to return to her home on 11th May, for a group meeting, or séance, which would be led by this other psychic medium. I drove home wondering if I was wasting time chasing rainbows, but of course I went back.

This time I was shown into the living room where seven other people were already waiting. The sofa and armchairs had been pushed back against the walls and a circle of chairs placed in the centre of the room. It was daylight and the floral-patterned chintz curtains were open and lacy net curtains provided privacy from the street.

I took my seat and glanced quickly at the other guests as introductions were made. The medium, whose name was Bob, immediately started to relay messages.

As he talked I was able to study him. In his late fifties or early sixties he was a large man with sparse, grey hair, pale blue eyes and sallow skin. His trousers had shiny patches, his shirt cuffs were frayed and his pea-green cardigan had holes in the elbows. I guessed from his threadbare appearance that the rusty old banger I’d parked next to was his.

He didn’t go into a trance, his voice didn’t change, it was as if he was having an everyday conversation with the people I could see in the room, as well as several that I couldn’t see.

After a while of listening incredulously to what their late relatives supposedly had to say, I gathered that everyone else in the circle was familiar with Bob and each other. One message that stands out in my memory was an aunt speaking to her niece, telling her that she was worried about her niece’s husband balancing on a ladder as he hung wallpaper in their bedroom.

Really? I thought. Is that the kind of thing dead people concerned themselves with? It seemed so trivial, and not at all the kind of communication I had expected. Surely they had better things to do than watch people decorate?

There was no message for me, so at the end of the séance we had tea and sandwiches in the kitchen and I asked the other guests if they really believed in mediums and how often they went to séances. They were all happy to offer glowing testimonials for Bob and to regale me with their stories. The woman who had received the message about the ladder placed her hand on my arm and said, “I didn’t believe any of it not so long ago, but when my aunt was dying she said she’d come back and prove to me that there is an afterlife, and so she did. I sincerely hope you find out for yourself one day.”

I must admit that by now I was envious of the others who were so firm in their beliefs and obviously comforted by the messages they had received. But as there had been nothing for me, my scepticism remained, and I was ready to finish my tea and go home.

I had placed my cup and saucer beside the sink when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned my head to see Bob beaming at me.

My answering smile faltered and the blood drained from my face as he said, “Your brother’s here.”

stephen ghost

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J Merrill Forrest is the author of two novels, Flight of the Kingfisher and The Waiting Gate and a collection of poetry, Natural Alchemy. All are available from the usual sources, including Amazon, in paperback or e-book formats.

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