John Horder

The Never-Ending Quest
Part 1 of a Memoir

Since 1963, I have worked with one self-effacing psychotherapist, one egotistical confidence trickster, and one diehard music therapist as obsessed with music as I am with words. This is my account of the first.
  Fyodor Ploddington (not his real name), a White Russian, came nearest to my ideal of perfection. He was a plodder but in the very best sense: twice a week he was always there for me, melting will-o-the- wisp-like into the Victorian canopy that made up St. Luke's Hospital. Woodside Avenue, Muswell Hill, he didn't overwhelm me incompletely. (Spike Milligan was to St. Luke's what Milton was to my old school, St. Paul's, when in Hammersmith, before moving to Barnes: the most self-brutalising old boy.)
  Plod was unlike as he could be to Rick Wilcocks, the conman therapist, who was so full of his three women partners, and the children they had produced despite his objecting strongly to the "messiness" of sex. (More of that R.D. Laing-trained trickster in part 2).
  At the age of 14, when I had only attained visibility briefly in a debating series, Junior Wranglers, on BBC TV in 1951, while at a public school awash with highflyers like Oliver Sacks and Jonathan Miller. My mother had only died of cancer just before Christmas 1949, at the age of thirty-nine, and I hadn't got the slightest idea how to grieve her death from my father, who was so in the dark, he took to drinking three quarters of a bottle of Haigs whiskey a day.
  I fared no better socially, emotionally or academically ending up with an ordinary BA degree at a Cambridge college. Women were not to be admitted for some years. By I963, understandably, I was suffering from anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
  I hadn't been hospitalised for more than a few weeks at St. Luke's, when, knowing of my determination to kick-start myself into journalism, one of the night nurses had introduced me to her partner on The Guardian.
  The partner had inconveniently gone and died soon after I had met him at a greasy spoon off the Grays Inn Road. But not before I had interviewed Brigid Brophy, the delightfully gifted and Mozart-obsessed novelist and eccentric, for the main features pages.
  Brigid and I both strongly objected when the piece was brutally shunted off into the siding of the barely visible women's pages by the ascetic-looking Features Editor, the late Christopher Driver. He was a passionate lover of music, and editor of The Good Food Guide, years before celebrity chefs were screaming for out for our attention on television.
  I wouldn't have been surprised if Chistopher had worn a hair shirt to work from his home in Highgate. He clearly would have been happier working with Lewis Carroll in the Alice in Wonderland archive of an Oxford college.
  Right from my first weeks of therapy, Plod encouraged me to get stuck into interviewing for The Guardian and BBC Radio 4. This I did, but not without resistances.
  As recorded in her authorised biography of Stevie Smith by Frances Spalding, in my second month I had to be physically put on a 134 bus to get to Broadcasting House in Portland Place to interview Stevie Smith, the poet, who had drunk a sherry or three by the time I arrived. This was after I had fallen deeply in love with her Selected Poems. They had hit me with the emotional force of a blunderbuss.
  No therapist would have been in any way capable of acting as compassionately today. Plod went on to be the near-perfect midwife to my first hardback book of poems, A Sense of Being, (Chatto & Windus with the Hogarth Press 1968).
  Cecil Day-Lewis, the poet and father of Daniel, was my editor, writing the blurb himself when he was not churning out detective novels under the name of Nicholas Blake. A Sense of Being received one ecstatic review from David Benedictus, the novelist, in The Queen, one luke-warm one by Elizabeth Jennings, the poet, in The Guardian, and a demolition job in the TLS. That didn't stop it from being read for a whole week at closedown by Joe Melia on ITV, and by Julian Glover and Pauline Williams at closedown on BBC 2.
  Before the therapy sizzled out in I972, after I had started following the impossibly contradictory teachings of Meher Baba, the silent Indian Avatar for 44 years, Plod had partly re-united me with my Irish ancestors on my Irish mother Molly's side by introducing me to the oral tradition of storytelling.
  Most therapies end, like life before death, with God knows how many loose ends still to be untangled. That I have realised is, as the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron said in her book When Things Fall Apart, just how it is. I had only just hit he therapy trail.
  Plod's greatest gift to me was his parting words: "I never promised you a rose garden". He never said anything truer. That is exactly how it has turned out for me.

Part 2 about the con man therapist and R.D. Laing-trained guru, Rick Wilcocks (not his true name) is still in the pipeline...

John Horder © world copright 2009