When I was a young child between the ages of 2 – 9 I lived what I now consider a reasonably blissful life. I lived within to bosom of my family. I was safe, protected, engaged and for the most part, happy. I had the companionship of my slightly older brother, the nurturing of my mother and the stabilising presence of my ambitious father. There was fun, focus and clearly defined boundaries. It was a time when children played in the street, the fields, the trees and the back gardens. During those formative years I learnt how to play within a group, to find my voice, to explore and be creative. I felt part of something fun, exciting and alive.
The spirit of that child lives on in me today.
When I met Ade earlier this year I found a new play mate. It became clear early on that here was a person with whom I could engage in adventures. Something was bound to emerge. As time went by we appeared to play naturally together and this easiness eventually developed into the Velvet Rage Journey we embarked on with a group of gay men.
For me it was like a homecoming to the playful child I had been some 38 years ago. The group were my playmates and the weekly meetings were an adult version of my child days when we gathered in the streets for those valuable few hours before we were summoned indoors to prepare for bed.
Of course the games this time were different. In place of physically exploring we went soul searching, where there was once games there was now discussions. But the spirit of belonging, of excitement and of treading the unfamiliar really felt like going back to those special times.
The group were like the kids in the street- diverse, different, unique and each with their own fascinating quirks and traits. But together we did make up a happy gang, a group of playmates intent on sharing time together.
At the age of eight my bubble burst dramatically on Boxing Day. The screams of my brother downstairs shattered the life I had known, trusted and loved. My father was dead.
From that moment life turned upside down. The playful innocence came to an abrupt stop and life took on a new tone. When I look back and see how I survived the pain of losing my father, the pain of my developing gay sexuality and the accompanying sense of being an outsider- I see the fullness of the tragedy. From that moment on I have survived my life.
Co- creating the Velvet Rage Journey which was to evolve into The Quest was a way of returning to the early days. Although the content was exploring the often painful experience of growing up, the method involved joy, expression and security- all the things I took naturally for granted as a child. For me, the sense of play was critical, a way of reconnecting with the very thing I could so easily have lost.
When I was young, we would imagine going on a journey. We would take a Tupperware beaker of juice and a jam sandwich and set off on our tricycles to an exciting and adventurous place. Inevitably it would be the other side of Mr Hibberts privet hedge or the wall outside Mrs Ogdens house four doors down, but to us it was a new and exciting land. It was the sense of freedom, setting off, taking a journey that thrilled me. The going together, the shared thrill of being in something with another. Inevitably, once we arrived, we would slurp our drinks, nibble a sandwich and almost as soon be pedalling back from where we’d come. In much the same way, the Velvet Rage Journey was a way of experiencing the thrill of being with others and going together.
For me, as much as remembering and reflecting on who I have been, who I am and what I am becoming, the Quest journey has reconnected me to the child who was not afraid to be himself. I got to be surrounded with others, free from shame, free from the need to pretend I was something other than what I am and free to explore. It was the way in which we explored more than the details of what we explored that, for me, was so cathartic.