Here are the first three chapters of my first non-fiction book.
The subtitle ‘Finding a Credible God’ sums up the contents. The book emerged after I had finished writing my ‘wildlife’ novels and the characters, both human and animal, seemed to know more about the real Meaning of Life than I did. Oddly, I felt that the squirrels, dolphins, whales and elephants were conspiring to enlighten me and I discovered that I was not the atheist I believed I was but a seeker of the truth.
The Ferry Boat describes my spiritual journey and what I have discovered.
The original title was, Could It Be…? as I kept asking myself this as I tackled such questions as ‘What is truth? Is God all mighty? Where does love come from?’ and of course the big one – ‘Does God exist?’
Part One. Chapter One
From Birth to Disbelief.
When I was in my mid-sixties, I discovered a god in whom I could believe.
For most of my life I considered myself to be an atheist. All the various gods ‘on offer’ did not satisfy two simple tests, even though I felt deep down that somehow, some-where, there did exist something ‘spiritual’ – but what that spiritual something was, I could not describe or identify.
Until then I had had not been consciously or actively seeking a credible god; my life was just too full. I have had wonderful up times – earning my Queen’s Scout award, joining 10,000 other boy scouts from across the world at the jamboree held near Niagara Falls when I was 18, learning the ancient craft of book-binding, marrying the best girl in town, becoming a father, grandfather and, just lately, a great-grandfather.
I have watched the sun rise from the summit of Kilimanjaro, swum with wild dolphins in Wales, Ireland and the Azores, walked through the African bush hand-in-trunk with a fully grown elephant, been kayaking with orca in Canada, enjoyed skinny-dipping in a hot spring in New Zealand, lived near a San Bushman family in Botswana and savoured the unique thrill of having my first novel published.
There have also been many down times – failing to win the promotions at work that I believed were my due, having to sell my house to pay bills incurred in an unsuccessful business venture and losing the next house after falling for a massive con trick. Then, more recently, collapsing mentally and physically due to stress and overwork in a futile attempt to avoid bankruptcy.
When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, he said that he felt his whole life up until then had been preparing him for that role at that crucial time. I feel now that my whole life, both the ups and the downs, has been preparing me to help other people by sharing my discovery of a credible god – hence this book.
No book ever written will be universally popular. If you are a totally committed Christian with a rock-solid faith in all you have been taught, then you will almost certainly disagree with many of my conclusions but I would ask you to read on for I promise that no one holds a higher opinion of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than I do. If you are of any other faith, and are so convinced that what you have been taught is absolutely true and there can be no other interpretation of the nature of God, then you should probably stop reading now. If you have been persuaded by Richard Dawkins and his like that Neo-Darwinism has all the right answers (as I once was) and are as fixed in your beliefs as he appears to be, then you too would be wasting your time reading any further.
However, if you have no firm belief in a God, or find that much of the dogma associated with established religions irks you, then there might be much in the following pages to interest and excite you.
I realise now that I had been a ‘seeker of truth’ all my life. The Persian poet and philosopher, Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131 A.D.) was also a Seeker and his findings are beautifully interpreted in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Unfortunately he did not find what he hoped for –
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by that same door as in I went.
Omar’s doctors and saints would have been the teachers, philosophers and holy men of his time. Four verses later he laments –
There was a Door to which I had no Key
There was a Veil through which I might not see…
Looking back I can identify with these last two lines exactly. Sadly, he failed to find the Key, nor was he able to see through the Veil and ended up finding solace in drink.
Have I been able to find Omar’s missing Key and see through his all-concealing Veil? Whenever I am faced with a difficult problem, or a challenge where there may be several right ways to solve it, I try and stand as far back as I can so that I can see a bigger picture. In seeking a god in which I could believe, I had to stand a long, long way back. My biggest problem was that my upbringing had left me with a deep respect, even fear, of God and this constantly reared its head and prevented logical thought. Only when I was able to use a different name – Mana – in place of the word ‘God’ was I able to break through this barrier and open my mind to truly different ideas. I commend this trick to you if you have a similar problem. In this book I will write ‘God/Mana’ when appropriate – read just the word that helps you most.
Looking back over recorded time, some notable figures have openly declared that they had the Truth about God direct from God himself; these include Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and more recently, Joseph Smith (The founder of the Mormon faith) and Neale Donald Walsch (who wrote the Conversations with God books). I am sure there have been many others.
Until fairly recently anyone who was prepared to admit to ‘hearing voices’ was regarded as mad or even dangerous. I do believe that God has spoken to me at least twice in my life and I describe these events in detail in this book, but I do not claim to have been told ‘The Whole Truth’. What I have done is link all my experiences together, given these a lot of thought and come up with what I feel is a credible answer to who, what and where God is.
[Christians and others have traditionally used the pronouns he, him and his when referring to their God, often with a capital letter – He, Him and His. This has been taken by feminists to imply that God is male and they often use she, her and hers instead. It seems obvious to me that any god is neither male nor female in the human sense but the pronouns it and its just feel wrong. I shall therefore use the traditional he, him and his and will generally use a lower case g when it is ‘a god’ and an upper case G when it refers to ‘the God’.]
I had a wonderful childhood. From my birth until I was ten years old I lived on the south coast of England near Weymouth, a holiday resort in Dorset. Even though the Second World War had started when I was two and much of the nearby shore and countryside was mined and cordoned off, by the time I was six and watched the preparations for D-Day, my eldest brother and I were able to swim in and sail on the Fleet Lagoon only a mile away from where we were living. Then, on my eleventh birthday, in August 1948, my family moved to South Wales to farm on the slopes of the Sugar Loaf Mountain near Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. What child could ask for more? Years of sea-oriented freedom, followed by an adolescence spent roaming the hills and valleys of the Black Mountains.
My parents were ‘Church of England’ – C. of E. in the shorthand of the time. When we lived in Dorset they occasionally went to the local church a short distance from our house in the sprawling village of Wyke Regis, and took with them, me and as many of my brothers and sisters as wanted to go. I remember especially the Harvest Festivals and Christmas services in the light and airy Church of All Saints on the sunny hillside above the village centre.
From the age of four, I went to a local Roman Catholic primary school run by nuns, who I recall as kindly and gentle but very strict. Naturally, we children were expected to attend prayers in the school chapel and were taught many of the Bible stories told with the sincerity of absolute confidence in their being true. My very first day was spent making a model of an oasis in a tray with sand, Plasticine palm trees and camels and with a mirror for the water. I still have a childhood memory that this was the type of landscape where Jesus lived. There was no reason for me to go to a Catholic school other than that was where the children of better-off families went.
My father was the son of a clergyman and was the J. in W. & J. Tod Ltd. – Boatbuilders – who were, after Whitehead’s Torpedo Works, the largest employer in the village. My mother came from a wealthy family farming near Sherborne on the Dorset/Somerset border. She had met my father when she visited the village where my grandfather was the vicar, to teach country dancing to local girls in the early 1930s. Her parents were not happy about her marrying this impecunious but clever young man with a passion for building boats.
I was the second boy in the family, followed by two sisters and two more brothers. Such was my mother’s love of children that we had two of my cousins living with us for much of the time and another teenage girl shared our holidays, as she had no brothers or sisters of her own. In addition to this, my mother ran a Girl Guide company through the latter part of the war and a Cub-Scout pack until we moved to Wales. My father was skipper of the local Sea Scouts during the same period.
I was naturally one of my mother’s cub-scouts and grew up with Kipling’s Jungle Book tales setting my moral framework as much as the earnest teachings of the nuns at school. I found the latter much harder to accept. I must have been a precocious brat because I have a clear memory of arguing with one of the nuns at school when I was about nine. She had made a comment based on a passage in the New Testament. The dialogue went something like this.
Sister Mary Catherine, ‘Jesus walked across the water to where the disciples were in their boat.’
Me, putting up my hand, ‘Please, Sister. You can’t walk across water – you just sink!’
S.M.C. (kindly) ‘You can’t walk on water, Michael, but Jesus could. It was a miracle – and he could perform miracles.’
Me. ‘How do you know miracles were true?’
S.M.C. (patiently) ‘They’re all in the Gospel’.
Me. ‘How do you know the Gospel’s true?’
S.M.C. (less patiently) ‘The Gospel is true. People say, “It’s Gospel Truth” when something is absolutely true.’
Me. ‘That doesn’t mean it’s true, just because people say it is. They could be lying!’
S.M.C. (severely). ‘Thank you, Michael. That’s enough. You must have Faith! Please be quiet now.’
No one had ever explained to me what ‘Faith’ was. I would define it now as ‘believing in the unbelievable’.
This sort of exchange left me totally unsatisfied and now I think it was this that led me to challenge everything teachers were trying to tell me. However, the belief in a God who lived in some mysterious place called Heaven and who had a son called Jesus was never challenged. That was accepted as fact – everybody I knew believed that. God was all-mighty – he could do anything. He knew everything I did and everything I thought; if I did the right things I would go to Heaven when I died and, if I did bad things, I would burn in hell for ever and ever! It is a comfort to know that fewer children in this country today, are subjected to this horrific propaganda than was the case then.
It was also accepted that God was bigger than the whole Universe and had made it all in just seven days. I was taught to bow my head when I said the name ‘Jesus’ and to fear God as someone who would, at some time in the future, judge everything I had done and punish me accordingly. I don’t recall much about God loving me – it was probably there but was overshadowed by my fear of what would happen to me because of my frequent childish misdemeanours. Even so, the concept was fixed, the rules clear and if my parents didn’t openly challenge it, that was how it had to be.
In 1948 my father sold his share of the boat-works and, on my eleventh birthday, the whole family moved to a 70 acre hill farm in Wales. I started at the local Grammar School where I idled away most of the next five years but became a very keen boy scout in a troop which my mother started in the local village of Llanwenarth Citra. Actually it started as a Girl Guide company and expanded to include boys as there were not enough boys or girls to have separate meetings for each.
At first the scouts and guides met in a semi-derelict barn half a mile from our house and it was whilst walking back from there one frosty night when I was thirteen that I had a mind-blowing revelation. I looked up at the vast numbers of stars and realised that a God bigger than that could not possibly be interested in me – a tiny speck of animation on a minor planet circling a second class star on the fringe of just one of many huge galaxies. It hit me like a hammer blow and all my previous beliefs vanished overnight.
In the days that followed, I wrestled with the realisation of my own insignificance but spoke to no one else about it. My respected aunt and uncle (he was an eye surgeon) attended church every Sunday – my uncle even played the organ there – so they must believe. My mother read short prayers at the scout meetings – so she must believe. Our R.E. teacher at school, Mrs Jones, who was special to me, must believe – so who was I to have doubts? I put it all to the back of my mind and went along with the religious rituals when I was called on to do so. Besides which life was getting exciting – I was discovering girls!
When I was sixteen I met my future wife, who was then fourteen and lived in the town of Abergavenny about three miles away from the farm. Her parents were not keen on our relationship – her step-father was a teacher and naturally disapproved of my casual attitude to school work and examinations so, to gain extra opportunities to meet, we attended confirmation classes together at our local church. Frankly, what the vicar was asking us to learn, and confirm that we believed, was mostly gobbledy-gook to me and I just went through the motions. I could not make out the supposed relationship between eating a rice-paper wafer, taking a sip of wine from a silver mug and communing with a god, whether I believed in him or not. The subsequent confirmation service and the ‘laying on of hands’ by the bishop was no more than a pantomime to me, although I would not have dared to say so at the time, partly through fear of social ostracism and partly though a lingering if irrational fear of being struck down by a thunderbolt from a vengeful God (even if I did not believe in him),
Life now speeded up. I left school, knocked around on the farm for a while wondering what to do, before becoming an apprentice bookbinder and after two more years I was called up for National Service in the Royal Air Force.
Part One. Chapter Two
RAF to MLM.
Soon after joining the R.A.F., I married my childhood sweetheart even though I was not quite twenty years old. Eleven months later our first baby, a bonny girl, was born, to be followed twelve months later by a bouncing boy. I was severely criticised by my in-laws for gross irresponsibility but I have never regretted starting my family so soon. Four years later, soon after becoming a civilian again, we had another baby girl, a darling ‘Lammas Lamb’.
I served in the Royal Air Force for six years, leaving when I had a crisis of conscience at the time of the Cuba confrontation. My job at that time involved guarding nuclear bombers at a base in East Anglia and I found that I could not do a job that might play even a small part in the deaths of millions of Russians (our planned targets). There were other reasons for my ending my R.A.F. service but Cuba was the catalyst.
I did learn a lot during those six years, during which I served in the U.K. and in Kenya, which was then still a British colony. Here I was accompanied by my wife and my children and it was a pleasant time for us all. Whilst in East Africa I climbed Kilimanjaro with four other airmen and, on another occasion, to the third highest point on the incredibly beautiful Mount Kenya.
The Royal Air Force taught me to give and to obey orders, how to ‘rub along’ with other men from wildly differing backgrounds and, during desert exercises that went wrong, I learned (painfully) how to
…force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they have gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them, ‘Hold on’.
(Rudyard Kipling – IF.)
While we were abroad, my mother had developed breast cancer from which she died within a year of our return, when aged just 52. It seemed most unfair both to her and to her very young grandchildren, that this so-loving woman should be taken just when she was about to contribute such a lot to their lives and to enjoy their company as they grew up.
Her early death convinced me even more that there could not be a god, especially a loving one, when such things could happen. Surely a real loving and all mighty God could organise things more fairly?
So I now had the two most powerful arguments against God’s existence ranged alongside each other. Any God that might exist and was bigger than the Universe, was too remote to care about we humans far away on Earth and, even if he did, he could not be almighty and loving (as I had been taught) to allow such unfair things to happen! This confirmed my belief that God could not, and did not, exist.
However, I am quite ready to admit that thoughts of the whys and wherefores of a god were not uppermost in my mind. With three children and a mortgage, I had to put my major efforts into earning a living. I had several jobs after leaving the R.A.F. During a nine-year spell at a local manufacturing company, I progressed from Assistant Material Scheduling Clerk to Production Control Supervisor, leaving when another person was appointed to the managerial position I had expected to be mine.
It turned out to be a good move. I joined Rank Xerox, who were then the UK’s leading supplier of photocopiers, at the time of their greatest success. Like most Brits I had a contempt for salesmen who were considered by most to just be ‘in it for the money’ and would happily rip-off customers if it increased their commission.
Rank Xerox taught me to sell ethically and put the interests of the customers as my top priority and I was with them for five enjoyable and relatively affluent years but the company had underestimated the ever-increasing Japanese competition (it was 1975) and started to seriously lose business to them.
I was tempted away to join a rival company but it didn’t work out and I then joined a business selling the first of the small computers. I don’t think that young people believe me when I say that I was selling a computer with a tiny 8K processor and a slow dot-matrix printer for £8,000. I know they don’t believe me when I say that we could run an integrated accounts program fast with just 8K!
A few years later I found that developments in computer technology were advancing so quickly that it was hard to keep on top of what was happening. At the time I used to say, ‘One has to read for eight hours a day to learn what had happened in the last twenty-four hours.’ It meant that, whatever hardware or software one was selling, it was already out of date. Unhappy to be promoting what I knew was obsolete I therefore left the world of computers and got a job designing and selling top-of-the-range timber and glass conservatories.
My fortunes during this period were very up and down. The children were now in their teens and sometimes cash was short. A significant event occurred in the 1980s. I was in one of my least affluent periods and my wife and I needed a holiday. Seeing a fortnight in Malta advertised at a very low rate (it was January) I booked a self-catering apartment for us. I was determined that I would not listen to a radio nor read a newspaper during the whole time I was there but, on about the twelfth day, I succumbed to the temptation of a three-day-old Saturday edition of The Daily Telegraph. Sitting in the sun on the hotel balcony I read it right through, even to the last page of the weekend supplement, which I usually threw in the bin unread. This particular edition had a full-page advertisement on the back. It was headed, ‘Are You Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Any Real Money?’
I read this with growing interest, as I believed then that Making Real Money was all-important. The advertisement was for a book ‘that would show me how to change my life for the better’ by using a simple technique but not giving a clue as to what that technique was. At £10 it seemed a good deal and, when I got home I sent off my cheque.
The book, when it arrived, told me how the author, a money-focused American, had made a fortune for himself by using a technique he called ‘targeting’. His secret was to decide exactly what it was that you wanted for yourself (The Target) and set a time (which had to be reasonable) in which to achieve this. You then had to concentrate on this target many times a day and, for some reason he did not explain, picture yourself enjoying whatever it was you had chosen. He then assured you that it would turn up. Needless to say, I did not believe that it could be as simple as that but he gave an example of how he had targeted a ‘Black Ford Thunderbird Car’. In an unbelievably short time and, through an impossible-to-foresee route, he became the owner of just such a vehicle. He then went on to tell how he had targeted ‘A boat like the one owned by his friend, Bob’ and ‘A house on the coast’, both of which also turned up soon after. He went on using this technique and was now a very wealthy man.
I was still sceptical but thought that I had nothing to lose by giving it a try. At that time I was driving a clapped-out Ford Zodiac which was costing quite a lot of money in repairs to keep it going. Rather half-heartedly I targeted a ‘Volvo estate car’ though I knew I could not possibly afford one of those. Two days later I was driving along a road I did not normally use and passed a garage with a number of used cars on the forecourt. I noticed that one of these was a Volvo estate car. Something went click in my head and I reversed back to have another look. There were in fact two Volvo estate cars each priced at about £2500 – which was far more than I could afford. Despite this, I got out of my car and walked across to look at them. An eager salesman spotted me and offered a test drive. I replied that ‘I did not have £2500 to spend on a car’ and he said, ‘No problem, we can do hire purchase.’ I countered by saying my credit status (at that time) would rule this out and he said that he ‘could get round that’. The deposit would be ‘Only £500 – with a monthly payment of just £50’. I laughed and said ‘Where would I get £500?’
‘I’ll allow £500 part-exchange on your Ford,’ he replied.
I knew that it was costing me at least £50 a month to keep the Ford on the road and, within half an hour, I had signed a deal (at an APR of 49.5%!) and drove away in a Volvo estate car – just like the one I targeted!
I still didn’t believe that this had happened through targeting and that it was all due to my having ‘Volvo estate car’ on my mind that day.
Somewhere about this time I was recommended to read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene, which influenced me hugely. Here was a logical, if bleak, explanation of how life formed and evolved on this planet. Here was an answer to the mysteries that had puzzled me for so long and I was literally trembling with suppressed excitement as I read it. There was no place in Dawkins’ world for a god nor any aspect of spirituality. Neo-Darwinism explained everything! I was even more convinced that I was a full-blooded atheist.
A system of selling known as Multi-level Marketing (MLM) was being introduced into the UK and one participant had got hold of the mailing list for the Targeting book and sent me a postcard explaining how Bottled Water was the fastest growing market in the UK. The postcard went on to offer me an opportunity to have my own business selling water-filters, using the MLM system and building a network of other agents by recruiting and training them.
It all seemed above-board and ethical and I committed a lot of time, effort and credibility to this project. Being trusting and somewhat naive, it was a long time before I realised that most of what I had been promised, and all of what I was being told about other agent’s sales, was grossly exaggerated – if not downright lies. I pulled out – but not before I had been badly burned financially and mentally.
Whilst getting myself back together, another deeply significant event occurred. I went to stay with my sister and her husband in Pembrokeshire, painting their house to earn money to pay some bills. My brother-in-law ran a diving school and had a fast boat with an outboard motor. One afternoon my sister asked me, ‘Would you like to come and swim with our dolphin?’
It seemed that a wild dolphin had decided to live in a nearby bay and loved to swim and play in the water with humans and was known locally as ‘Simo’. I was kitted out with a wetsuit and we motored out in the boat from the village of Solva to find him. We had gone less than a mile before Simo was sporting in our wake and when we anchored he swam around, obviously inviting us to join him. Bottle-nosed dolphins are big – Simo was about fourteen feet long and more than twice the girth of a human. In my experience up to that time, one always had to move carefully in the presence of large creatures in case you startled them and they kicked out or otherwise hurt you.
It was not like that with Simo. There seemed to be an invisible signal coming from him which was saying, ‘Don’t be afraid of me. Come in and play – I won’t hurt you.’ There was also a feeling that I can only describe as ‘dolphin-love’ radiating from him. I dropped over the side and he swam all around, diving down and leaping over my sister and me for about half an hour until I was tiring and swam to a nearby rock where I sat, half-submerged, to rest. Simo came and laid his head in my lap whilst my brain crackled with his attempts to communicate with me. Without a common language, all I could do was try and reciprocate the waves of love flowing around me. It was a day that has influenced my thoughts and beliefs ever since. I would wholeheartedly agree with the statement, ‘Swimming with a dolphin is a life-altering experience’.
Part One. Chapter Three
I was now 55 years old and feeling battered by the world but, buoyed by my experience with Simo, I managed to get back in with the conservatory company and, on one of my sales visits, I met a man, Aeron Clement, who, at the same age as I was, had written a book called The Cold Moons. This book, with badger characters, had become a best seller and earned him, so he told me, half a million pounds. This really made me think! When I was a boy on the farm my role was to control vermin, especially rabbits, rats, pigeons and grey squirrels. I had carried a .22 rifle with me much of the time and had become a competent marksman, although I never shoot animals or birds now.
Whilst hunting wild creatures one does learn a great deal about their habits and lifestyles, and I had always recognised the parallel between the way the American grey squirrels had taken over from the native red squirrels in the U.K., with the way we arrogant Europeans had taken over land and territories from native people all around the world. I decided to write a book myself, somewhat in the style of the badger book but with squirrel characters and a colonisation theme. I unleashed my imagination and wrote busily during the time when I was not visiting customers or designing their conservatories and, after a couple of false starts, the book, The Silver Tide, flowed out of my mind and on to the page.
The story is set in Dorset in the early 1960s and follows the adventures of a community of Red squirrels as they are forced by colonising Greys to leave their homes around the beautiful Blue Pool and eventually find refuge on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour – ‘where their descendants live to this day’.
You may recall that I was thinking of myself as a full-blooded atheist at this time and I was very surprised to find that my Red squirrel characters were not. They saw the Sun as their god and all their actions were designed to be in tune with what they perceived the Sun required of them and who, in return, provided for their needs. The Reds lived according to wise sayings known to them as Kernels of Truth. A typical one is
The life-giving Sun
Provides all we need. Father
Of all the squirrels.
Many of you may recognise the 5–7–5 syllable pattern of the Japanese haiku verse in the above. Another Kernel, which is a favourite of mine, relates to the burying of nuts in the autumn –
One out of eight nuts
Must be left to germinate
Here grows our future.
In the story, when a red squirrel dies the others bury it at the foot of the dead one’s favourite tree, saying the Farewell Kernel –
Sun, take this squirrel
Into the peace of your earth
To nourish a tree.
Unlike the Reds, the Grey squirrels were only concerned with grabbing and holding territories for themselves. They mocked the beliefs of the peace-loving Reds and modified their own behaviour in line with edicts from their current chief, known as The Great Lord Silver, who resided in the Oval Drey at Woburn until he was deposed by a stronger rival.
More and more I found environmental and Christian beliefs infiltrating the story. The Reds had in their group a story-teller named Dandelion. When the occasion was appropriate, she told stories to the other squirrels and I was intrigued to find that her stories were mostly from the Christian Bible – with squirrels playing the main roles rather than humans.
Other authors will tell you that, once their fictitious characters are established, the characters take on lives of their own. It is unwise to try and tell the characters what to do – they just won’t do it. You, the author, give them a personality, set them in a situation and then write down what you see them doing and what you hear them saying.
When The Silver Tide was finished I had the usual difficulties that new writers have in finding a publisher. However, it was eventually published and sold some 30,000 copies in English, Dutch, Danish and German.
By the time I had finished the sequel, The Second Wave, and a third squirrel book, The Golden Flight, to make up a trilogy, I found that I was no longer comfortable in calling myself an atheist and asked myself, ‘Was I now a Christian?’
I remembered, from my confirmation classes, that the Nicene Creed, which had been first compiled in 325 A.D., listed all the things in which Christians are supposed to believe and looked up a copy. The text struck me as archaic and mostly irrelevant to a real belief. No! – if I had to believe all that I was definitely not a Christian! And yet, having heard my squirrels retell the bible stories I had learned from the nuns so long ago, it struck me that Jesus had got so much right. I knew I couldn’t now call myself an atheist but I was not a Christian, despite a growing love for the teachings of Jesus. Here was another dilemma – I could not say ‘Jesus Christ’ as the word Christ means The Messiah or the Son of God, which I was not prepared to accept. I therefore always use the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ to denote the man whom I love and respect for his teachings, even though he died some two thousand years ago.
I was still working at conservatory design as the books had not produced the income that many people believe comes from being a published author. In each of the Squirrel books there were dolphins who, based on my experience with Simo, communicated with the squirrels by telepathy. My readers were asking for more books and told me how much they loved the dolphins in the first three. I therefore decided to write a book that later became known as Dolphin Song.
My only experience of dolphins had been that single magical day with Simo, so I set out to learn more. Simo himself had disappeared and it was feared that he had been killed by a ship’s propeller, a real hazard to friendly dolphins. However, I had learned of another who had lived for several years in the harbour-mouth at Dingle, a small town in County Kerry in western Ireland and was known locally as Fungie. Dolphin Song was to have both dolphin and human characters and I had decided that one of the humans, Mary, a girl in her late teens, was to visit Ireland where she would swim with Fungie.
In the story, Mary had been brutally mugged near her home in London and she was going to Dingle in the hope that Fungie could in some way help her recover from her trauma. She was to travel by ferry and bus and stay in a hostel and so, to learn at firsthand what she would experience, I too travelled by ferry and bus and stayed in a hostel. I duly swam with Fungie, once again enjoying the dolphin-love that radiated from him. Now I needed to find a way for him to pass an important message to Mary – but how?
I had already used telepathy between the squirrels and the dolphins in the earlier books and needed something different. This was the first time I really experienced what I now know as Synchronicity. It is something beyond both coincidence and serendipity. I define it thus: When you have set yourself on a benign path the most amazing things happen to help you along that path – but you must be receptive enough to recognise what is being provided.
(In his book – Synchronicity – Joseph Jaworski defines it as ‘When we each discover our own destiny, synchronicity enters our journey and assists us in realizing our mission’.)
At the time I did not even know I was on a benign path, just that my book might help people recognise dolphins for the wonderful creatures that they are and I might play some part in protecting whales and dolphins from exploitation.
I was sitting on the base of an elegant dolphin statue on the harbour-side in Dingle town, wondering how I might get my Fungie character to communicate with Mary in my story. Interspecies communication was to be a key element in Dolphin Song and I wanted this aspect to be really original.
As I sat there musing, a minibus pulled up and stopped just next to me with a sign on the windscreen advertising ‘A tour of the ancient and historic sites of the Dingle Peninsular’. Without apparently making a decision, I stood up and got onto the bus and was soon on a circular route through the magnificent coastal and mountain scenery. The first stop was near a standing stone which had horizontal and diagonal lines cut up to and across, one corner. ‘Those lines make up Ogham writing,’ the driver explained. ‘It is named after Ogham, the Irish god of eloquence.’
I loved the idea of having a god of eloquence, it was so wonderfully Irish, and wanted to know more. It seemed that Ogham writing was devised well over a thousand years ago and each letter of the Irish alphabet could be portrayed by up to four lines on one side or other of a vertical line, with some crossing over that line. The other lines could be horizontal or diagonal, as I had seen, and could be read by those familiar with Ogham as easily as you are reading this.
When I had been delivered back to my starting point on the harbour-side I thought that it was time I bought a present for my wife, left behind in Wales. The obvious present from Dingle would be a pair of dolphin shaped ear-rings and I went into a nearby jeweller’s shop to buy a pair for her. To my surprise and consternation, in a town with its tourist industry dominated by a dolphin, there were no such ear-rings for sale!
Whilst I was waiting to be served, I picked up a leaflet from the counter which offered a service in creating individual ear-rings carrying a message in Ogham writing and this could be done, ‘While you wait and watch’. The leaflet also showed how Ogham writing could be translated and, needless to say, I ordered a pair and watched in a backroom as a young man engraved the lines declaring my love on two slivers of silver. On leaving the shop with the ear-rings in my pocket I felt myself being drawn irresistibly past the quays with their moored boats and on along the side of the estuary to the harbour-mouth and as far as the lighthouse on the point. From here I could look down on anchored boats and the swimmers who were enjoying the company of Fungie.
As I watched, a fishing boat came down the channel from the town, leaving a straight line of bubbles in its wake. I imagined Fungie swimming through this wake in patterns which would replicate Ogham writing and I knew at once that here was the answer to my need.
Funded by my earnings from the conservatory business, I made other research trips to prepare me for writing Dolphin Song, notably to the Faroe Islands where pilot whales, which are a species of large dolphins, were still being killed in their hundreds each year, and to Vancouver Island where I observed killer whales close-up from a two-man kayak.
On a whale-watching trip in the Azores, not only did I swim with a bottle-nosed dolphin mother and her calf but watched in awe as huge sperm whales surfaced and dived not far from the boat. Perhaps the most memorable experience on that trip was when hundreds of dolphins were spotted heading towards us, leaping and diving in the sparkling sun-path, obviously joyful at finding us and relishing the opportunity to take turns at riding our bow-wave. Their joy was infectious and I lay on the foredeck, my head over the side, only a few feet from the nearest and looking directly into its huge eye. Somehow it drew me into its joyousness and projected what I can only describe as intense Love in my direction. This magical experience lasted for several minutes, then at some signal, unseen or unheard by me, they were gone. All dolphin experiences leave one with a sense of privilege and after that encounter, a strange spiritual glow stayed with me for hours.
When writing the squirrel books I had to imagine the details of their culture and their life patterns, based on my observations of squirrel behaviour. That was relatively easy to do for land-based creatures that I had been watching for most of my life. With dolphins it was much more difficult. Dolphins and, as I learned later, elephants, live in groups consisting of females and their young, with the males living more solitary lives. What did come across most strongly was the feeling of love and joy in their lives – so much so that I changed the collective noun for a group from ‘a pod of dolphins’ to ‘a joy of dolphins’ – it seemed much more appropriate. But, as most recorded dolphin behaviour has been learned only from watching captive animals, I had considerable scope in imagining their culture as wild creatures.
Although I was unaware of it at the time of writing, my spiritual journey was still progressing. One of the leading human characters in Dolphin Song, Mary had been brought up as a devout Roman Catholic but had lost her faith after her mugging. In her anger at God for having allowed this to happen, she rejects him and then finds her life empty and bleak. As the author, I set Mary down in Dingle and watched and reported as her involvement with Fungie and other dolphins guides her back to a position of belief and fulfilment.
My own involvement with dolphins also made me realise how arrogant we humans are to believe that we are the only really intelligent creatures on this planet. I discovered this perceptive passage in Douglas Adams’ A Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy –
“It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man has always assumed he was much more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York and so on – while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed they were more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons”.
Dolphin Song emerged from my mind, via my computer, over some two years. I took the finished draft, which was some 160,000 words long, to my editor, who had told me that the squirrel books had ‘done well’ and that she ‘was looking forward to seeing Dolphin Song’. Imagine my horror at being told, without her having read the story, that she wanted me to cut its length to 40,000 words and target it at a readership of children. I refused and, when I later gave my reasons, explained that it was like being told by a film company that they would star my daughter in a film – if only I would cut her arms and legs off’!