I was raised in Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera in the Bahamas by my Danish father and English mother, both of them writers. We had a house full of books. We didn’t have a TV–there wasn’t even electricity on the island when my parents arrived in 1949. There also weren’t any doctors. So as I was my mother’s first pregnancy, and she was 41, she went back to England for me to be born. I was a month overdue and born caesarian – if she had stayed on Eleuthera I doubt either of us would have survived.
Eleuthera being an “Out Island” (the modern PC term is “Family Island”) there was little in the way of educational opportunities. So I had ten years of boarding school: age 7 to 12 at De Carteret in Jamaica, and then Stowe in England to 17. As was normal under the British system at that time, I started Latin at 7, added French at 10, and took ten “O” Levels at 15. In my last two years I studied three subjects (English, French and Spanish in my case, two different teachers for each – with minor forays into Russian and computing for variety). At 7 I was top of my class in most things. By 17 I barely scraped by with “A” Level grades of B in English and D in both French and Spanish. Not good enough for Oxford or Cambridge, and, combined with a negative character report from my Headmaster, not good enough for the next 12 universities I applied to.
Eventually I got into Dundee University (ranked somewhere at the bottom of the UK’s 103 universities at that time) on the understanding that I was “not a long-haired intellectual misfit and malcontent”. I cut my hair, but couldn’t do much about the rest. I failed all my first term exams, and moved on, with Matthew Arnold’s “Scholar Gipsy” always in mind:
The story of the Oxford scholar poor,
Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
Who, tired of knocking at preferment’s door,
One summer-morn forsook
His friends, and went to learn the gipsy-lore,
And roam’d the world with that wild brotherhood,
And came, as most men deem’d, to little good,
But came to Oxford and his friends no more.
So, five years in my father’s birthplace of Copenhagen, working in factories and at the airport and as a janitor. 17 years as an immigrant to Canada, working in factories, and as an income tax preparer, having a secondhand bookshop for a year, working in federal penitentiaries as a living unit officer and as a sentence administrator. Marrying, having three children, getting divorced, remarrying and thereby acquiring two more children… and all the time writing novels and poetry and never publishing anything.
Eliza and I started a training company using a board game simulation under licence. We moved to the US, developed our own Income|Outcome simulation, and ran the business for 25 years. One of the side benefits was travelling together (once the kids were older) and teaching workshops in 20 countries for our clients: Abbott Labs in Ireland, Heinz in Russia, HP in Brazil, Zamil Industries in Saudi Arabia, Chambishi Metals in Zambia…
And in 2004 I finally had a poem published! “For Peter, Drugged in a Mental Hospital”, written in 1975, at last appearing in print in Candelabrum in the UK. “For Peter” is not exactly formal verse, but it is largely in iambics and uses a lot of rhyme. From the 1960s to the present there have been very few outlets for formal or even semi-formal verse, especially in Canada and the US – and they were very hard to find before the Internet came along.
Now, though our training business continues, Eliza and I have managed to retire to Governor’s Harbour–a long way from Edmonton, Alberta, for her, but home for me. As Eliot wrote in Little Gidding:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Along the way I have acquired various nationalities: British (by birth), Jamaican (by registration before independence), Danish (by descent and by living there before age 22), Canadian (by immigration), and Australian (by descent from my Australian-born grandfather). Fortunately they all allow dual nationality. But… despite being conceived here, and baptised here at the age of a couple of months, and raised here, and my first job working in a bank here, and my father buried here, and now being a Permanent Resident here… I have never attained Bahamian status in the eyes of the law.
Do I care? A little, or I wouldn’t mention it. But I’m here with my Eliza, and writing and editing and publishing poetry, and swimming (in the long summer) and gardening (in the warm winter)… I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such fairytale happiness, other than long having tried to follow the fairytale rules: be kind to animals, share your food with the hungry, listen respectfully to old people, and trust in human goodness. To which I add: question belief structures, enjoy sarcasm and flippancy, and write in formal verse when you can.