Different. Yes, I’m different than most people. I find it virtually impossible to go into the front door of a building only to be told, for whatever reason I have to exit through a different door. I am not the same person who entered that first door.
My brain and me most of the time enjoy each others company, but then, for no apparent reasoning, like changing the exits my brain rebels.
Different has been with me since around seven maybe eight years old when in Mrs Gregory’s class all the other kids were working on simple maths. Me: a big hole just appeared in my head and everything to do with maths/logic dribbled run away never to be seen again.
It’s not just maths: me, and my sense of direction are always losing our way. We become confused, frightened. Everywhere is a major challenge for me and my impairment. I, we have been lost in a war zone when the convoy thought I had gone walk about of my own accord. Wrong.
I thought I would be okay in one of the most secret of all the indigenous native American Indian reservations in New Mexico, easy for most visitors: one way in, one way out. Not for me. Not only, but I took photos inside their church: wrong again.
So while they chased me their side arms banged against their legs and I was just twenty yards from escaping when they, who were all like prop forwards surrounded me, took my ipad and wiped out photos they didn’t want the world to see.
They asked where I was from. They’d never heard of Wigan? My brain seems to like practical jokes, but I didn’t think having a pack of native Americans chasing me was funny, thank you very much.
My sense of direction often refuses to be involved and just leaves me to my own devices. It’s everywhere I go, even in my own town to places where I know like the back of my hand, that is until the route changes because of road works or something like. Then my sense of direction seems to sit down on the pavement like some spoiled kid and just refuses to move.
It’s the same wherever I go. The group/friends or who ever I am with at the time seem to convince them selves I have gone walk about. Wrong. I will be totally lost, frightened and in panic. Even worst still when people give me simple directions, back to where i want to be. I become even more confused and my body and mind become one and refuse to move from the very spot I needed to leave behind.
The most recent was at DaDaFest last Friday. All I had to do was walk across the road and down a short lane, easy for most: wrong for me. Trauma kicked in and I was completely lost in a few yards of Liverpool which could have been anywhere in the world. I was in an unknown land of my own with hundreds of strangers walking past and I felt I was in a kind of see through box where nothing made sense.
On the train home I somehow thought my last stop was Crewe and I would be home in a couple of hours. Wrong. I was going back to front. I was half way to London – bugger. My brain refuses to go into reverse. On the whole I have a good relationship with my brain. Okay, it likes rebelling with a warped sense of humour: regardless we have and are still having great times. It has helped/encouraged me to write six published books of poetry one section of my memoirs, new novel about Orwell, not forgetting my new project a play.
Even with all the above moans I like being different: different is good: being born out of the box is even better than being born in it.
Peter Street, poet writer and Royal Literature Fund recipient
Grave-digging was hazardous work back in the 1960s. There was very little machinery: graves were still largely dug by spade. There were no Health-and-Safety rules. Opening up a grave, after however many years, to inter a new member of the family, was anything but healthy or safe.
The typical gravediggers who I met were hard men: ex-Marines, night club bouncers, bare-knuckle boxers. But I am physically small, and have struggled all my life with epilepsy and dyspraxia, which got me sacked from several previous jobs. But in the cemetery, I was accepted. I rose to the demands of the job. And, as it turned out, perhaps the main thing that makes me different from most of the other diggers is that I went on to become an author.
My ebook is a memoir of my time spent working in the world's oldest profession in the various Bolton cemeteries where for almost four years I dug graves for friends, relatives and complete strangers. Those welcoming cemeteries were for me places where I needed to be: out of society, where me and my epilepsy could get to know more about each other.
Don wouldn’t have known the signs of my grand mal seizure. Apparently he came down, grabbed my overalls by the chest and leg, and then just lifted me up and out. It was an ambulance job. The hospital bed sheets were covered in mud. Trying to move there was big pain. Pain as though elephants had walked all over me. Eventually I managed to move. Leaning down I forced my eyes under the bed where my clogs were coated in mud and my bloody tongue felt like it was in shreds.
Four days later I trod into the cabin. Silence. Harold placed a breakfast on my knee. I was waiting for all the sorries and "Why didn't you tell us, we didn't know what to do?"
That was the usual; but gravediggers are anything but usual. A room full of nods were aimed at me and that was it. Yes, it had been my first grand mal while I was a digger. It had also been a first for them and they had passed with flying colours. It was then I knew more than ever, I was one of them: a gravedigger.
Rite of Passage is an ebook, not a paper book. If you order it you’ll be sent two versions, by email. The colour version is 98 pages, including photographs. You’ll also get a plain text version without the pictures, for convenience of printing out if you prefer to sit down with a paper version. (Either version can be either read on screen or printed out.)
Order Rite of Passage for £5 by Peter Street from Natterjack
The sun was hitting eighty in Kansas City and we had just refreshed our water bottles in the local supermarket.
I was touring the States to launch my latest collection published by Penniless Press, 'Listening to the Dark.'
After reading my poem about reaching the dizzy heights of local marble champion in my home town of Bolton when I was a youngster, Professor Fred Whitehead could resist giving me a guided tour around The Moon Marble Company, 600 East Front Street, Bonner Springs, KS 66012
It is one of the biggest marble companies in the States. I met the Wicked Witch, Dorothy and The Tin Man within its walls. More than meeting the characters from The Wizard Of Oz I had walked into my lifelong dream: a marble factory.
Wonderful. Could life get better than this!
This was day eight of a tour lasting almost four weeks.
The sun was hitting ninety degrees. Fred reminded me I would need at least two bottles of water to keep hydrated. So with shorts,t-shirts and sandals we hit the road again.
Within a few minutes I knew the day was going to be different. Ok, maybe he should have told me we were going into the desert. Maybe I wouldn't have been as nervous about the rattle snakes and the one scorpion we saw scuttling past us in the midday sun.
But my hands were now feeling like they were going to burst into flames. My lips were as dry as dry could be. Yet I wouldn't have missed the experience. Everything about it was breathtaking.
Okay, me and the desert didn't really hit it off, but it was our first meeting. Maybe next time? Trouble is there are no deserts in Wigan to practise and that could be the problem?
Day 6 of the tour of my launch of 'Listening to the Dark' across the US. There is something strange about leaving Kansas City. It's a bit like feeling you have lost something, but you don't know what? There is more to the place than meets the eye and I definitely had a feeling that I was missing out on whatever was hiding there. Whatever it was I would catch it on my return from New Mexico about one thousand miles south of this wonderful city.
Everywhere I looked in and around Kansas City there seemed to be wagons/ trucks the spitting image of the 'Autobot Transformers' - like they were somehow on the prowl for Decepticons?
Our last visit was to see the Kansas desert. The sun was hitting 90 degrees maybe more. I was still in my open-toed, hippie sandles and was enjoying the moment even though the extreme heat made me feel as though the back of my hands were going to burst into flames. It was about then that I saw my first ever scorpion scurrying past me and Professor Whitehead, who then warned me about rattle snakes. Man I was out of there. I do most things except snakes and anything that even vaguely looks like a scorpion.
Back on the road and we were heading south. Our first stop was Greensburg, Kansas which had almost been wiped off the map after a tornado hit it in 2007, killing eleven people. Now, I don't know if this was just coincidence or not, but there were two wagons (Autobots) near the entrance to Greensburg that were standing next to each other like they were somehow on guard?
Next stop major stop Texas: eeehaaaa!
Day 5 of the tour of my launch of 'Listening to the Dark' across the US. Eight in the evening of my second night and hungry, so Fred took me down to Mad Jacks fish place. He promised it was the best fish place in the universe. I had never eaten 'pike' especially coated in corn flour. My dear lord it was amazing. So too was the whole experience of the fish shop itself. With permission I took their photo'. I even got a kiss from one of the workers who had deep fried my pike.
Usually around four in the morning is when my epilepsy' rattles me awake - so each night I had to remember to cover the mattress with my waterproof sheet, which I took off every morning, to stuff in my rucksack and replace nightly; a real pain, but, after all the family had done for me I couldn't take the risk of my seizure wetting their bed. My medication was in boxes marked for each day and night. I hadn't to miss them.
Insurance to cover both my epilepsy (including multiple seizures) and osteoporosis to the U.S cost £120 cover for £10 million lasting twelve months.
Fred and Me hit an early morning road on our tour of my launch of 'Listening to the Dark' across the US. There are things to do and things to see like the work of Thomas Hart Benton, regional artist, whose work is breathtaking.
Late summer was hanging on to the heat as much as possible before giving up the fight to autumn. First stop Benton's house; brilliant, especially when the man himself who had died thirty odd years before was waiting to greet us. Surreal was just beginning...
Nelson-Akins Museum of Art was another step into surreal where thirty 'standing figures' (Magdalena Abakanowicz, Polish, b.1930 1994-1998) greeted us. Then for three hours and gob wide open, my eyes took me on a magical journey such as they had never seen before.
Late afternoon: my first reading in the University of Missouri, Kansas City with an audience of about twenty including a young artist: Trent Coffin with a Tourette's impairment. Trent who later congratulated me on my reading and like everyone else; bought my book and went on to inform me of his art, his exhibitions, his ambitions.
And then on to the Jones Gallery in downtown Kansas City. The owner of this independent gallery had already exhibited Trent's work
He described him as "Brilliant with a great future!" The gallery has full access.
16th Street, Kansas City the late summer heat was hitting 90. I walked a mile or so down onto Central Street where I was expecting hustles and bustles of every size and colour. It was a walk into a nothing; not one human being, cat or dog was in sight.
So I turned right towards the Mexican quarters. Ok my conversational Spanish is not as good as it should be; by that I mean, I don't really know any.
Still no signs of humanity. Determined to find someone I turned round and walked another mile the other way heading towards uptown Kansas City. It was now feeling freaky like I was somehow stepping into one of those Hollywood horror road movies where there is no one there to help out with information of any kind. Mostly I just needed to know where every one was?
An elderly Vietnam Vet' just came out of knowhere and rested under the shade of a walnut tree. I talked to him and he guessed my accent was English. Trying to find out where everyone was his words began to slide out of his mouth: "This here is a blue collar area. They're all working, those who can't are in their house."
Introducing himself as Mo he then started to tell me about the war in 'Nam'. I gave him ten minutes... Leaving him I am so sure he started humming "Mad Dogs and English Men..."
Airport: there is something rather strange about going through check-in especially with assistants waiting for me. Wonderful really, a first: leaving able bodied passengers standing their gobs wide open while watching me walk through to the boarding gate.
I'd never flown through clouds; even as far back as childhood I thought they were something mystical, wrapped around some kind of secret; a light moveable secret. Those were my thoughts lying in Astley Bridge park in the hot summer of '58.
Now years later U.S. Airways are carrying those secrets over with me to Kansas. Strange. Yes of course but when dreams are turning into reality anything could happen.
I was flying to Kansas via Philadelphia where I had a four hours wait and where the flight assistants where wonderful in making sure I was on the right flight.
Fred Whitehead is waiting for me at the airport. We shook hands and talked about my journey. I climbed into his Chevy truck and I automatically grab the steering wheel: for a split second i want to call the police: someone had stolen my steering wheel. Of course I feel silly; worst still when I try to press the brakes at our first junction.
We talked of an American, English Professor, John Crawford, who suggested Fred should read my work. After twelve months of emailing each other Fred invited/ funding everything for me to read my latest collection: Listening To The Dark ( Ken Clay: Penniless Press) in Albuquerque and everywhere in between, where he thought suitable and could organise.
America, for most never happens. Free-Thinking founder, Fred Whitehead was making it happen for me thanks to: Disability Arts Online, my Royal Literary Funding grant and James Morrison's: "Accidental Poet" Guardian: 17th December 2008.
September 18th 2012: I am about to launch my sixth poetry collection: Listening To The Dark (Penniless Press) in Albuquerque via Kansas City.
Professor Fred Whitehead (retired) University of Missouri has a keen interest in what he calls proletarian writers. He wanted me to launch my book with other proletarians at the lit festival in Albuquerque and take me on tour. We are to travel together for the best part of 2000 miles.
6.45am: Rucksack the size of a parachute was packed: I was every half inch the paratrooper but i was ready for my expedition and yes travelling such long distance on my own was a real first for me, my wife and my epilepsy.
So with best foot forward and thoughts of a chance meeting with Dorothy, the Tin-man, not forgetting Scarecrow and Lion. I kissed my wife and with nerves of plastic I walked with a cautious hurry to the waiting taxi.