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A Shout From The Attic: Journey To The Amazon Basin

...Holy Trinity churchyard was at the terrible end of the continuum of infancy inhabited by danger and dread and by the certainty of unseen but powerful entities. It served as first alternative to Greenhead Park for special purposes. It was, above all, the place of the DEAD. Although I did not understand death, I entertained the lingering uncertainty so common to childhood about how 'dead' the departed really were...

Ronnie Bray tells of the wonderful, and sometimes frightening, imaginative world of childhood.

To read more of Ronnie's richly narrated life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

As a child, I dreamed of exploring the Amazon Basin. Scenes of lush jungle growth either side of the mysterious, treasure-laden river flashed onto the cinema screen in a rare splash of colour in a black and white age, gripping my imagination and setting my soul on fire. It was one of the last great undiscovered places left on earth, and I would not rest until I saw it with my own eyes.

The thrill of discovery was not altogether lacking from my otherwise mundane and miserable childhood. Some scenes when viewed for the first time sent a ripple of excitement stirring through my body. Certain places were scenes of delight and wonder, whilst others loomed dark and dreadful, full of repulsive terror and enchanting seduction. Some remained but remote possibilities, beckoning through mist-filled lanes with dim, dead fingers.

Holy Trinity churchyard was at the terrible end of the continuum of infancy inhabited by danger and dread and by the certainty of unseen but powerful entities. It served as first alternative to Greenhead Park for special purposes. It was, above all, the place of the DEAD. Although I did not understand death, I entertained the lingering uncertainty so common to childhood about how 'dead' the departed really were.

Untutored by the wisdom of my elders, who were constantly occupied with their own life-and-death concerns, my beginning times were full of malevolent spirits who lingered about their crumbling tombs. Our arena was comprised of the narrow strips between their sinking graves, and the grassy clearings beneath the rhododendrons. We never walked on graves out of respect for the dead, but most of all from dread fear of them.

One timeless afternoon, my sister Rene, Peter Coletta, and I were playing in the graveyard. We sat in our place of meeting discussing major issues of childhood such as whether McGowan’s Cream Toffee was better than their Banana Flavoured Toffee, attempting to resolve the point by consuming vast quantities of both. Even after we had done so the question was left hanging. We decided to continue our research on another occasion when our funds were replenished and further stocks of McGowan’s satisfying products were bought.

We were suddenly distracted from the issue of our conference. What was that sound? Ears can play tricks, especially in graveyards. There it was again! Was it a twig snapping under spectral feet? We dared not breathe. Looking around we saw a shadowy figure crouched behind a large upright memorial stone. It moved mysteriously in our direction. Rene and I fled in different directions in the general direction of away from the apparition. Peter, with great presence of mind, ran in a straight line and leaped over the two feet high wall into Back Wentworth Street. The drop on the other side was seven long feet, but he was unhurt. We did not return until our fear had faded.

Once, we were confronted by a ghost. Five of us entered the churchyard through the Lych-gate on Wentworth Street, and were just about to mount the cold stone steps when we saw at the top a figure in a luminescent robe. Its head was orange coloured and its right arm raised as if holding a knife. It was every man for himself. I found myself at the junction of Fitzwilliam Street and St John’s Road, a good half mile away. No one went back to have another look but even now we know we saw the ghost of a dead person.

Perhaps it was the combination of the excitement of such strange adventures and the stirring images produced by adventure books and travelogues that turned my mind to the Amazon Basin. I knew it was a forest of considerable dimensions, home to primitives who hunted with poison-tipped blow darts and painstakingly shrunk human heads. Perhaps it was the sheer exotica of their location and lifestyle that attracted my attention. On the other hand, it could have been their endless sunshine, in contrast to my fog-bound, rain soaked, smoky, dirty, noisy, Northern mill town. And so I dreamed.

But even on the longest of days, the sun goes down. Children go to bed and sleep to dream other dreams. As favourite toys are replaced then forgotten, so it is with the fancies we conjure in childhood. Children need the power and blessings of dreams. It removes the sharp edges from life’s confusions and uncertainties. Yet if childish dreams remain to plague adulthood, the sorry dreamer becomes a foolish daydreamer with slight grasp on reality. But dreams have other purposes.

Dreams can tell us important things. Jacob’s son Joseph was a dreamer, but his dreams were of a different order than mine. They were given him to declare the future. His brothers laughed at what they saw as his flights of fancy, mocking him with the title, Master of Dreams. Nebuchadnezzar was warned of coming judgement by a dream. The Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and Pilate’s wife dreamed a dream that revealed to her that Jesus was innocent. A dream that Pilate dismissed as unimportant.

Some dreams may be God-given pointers to future possibilities. Discounting our dreams, or laughing at them, may mean we place too little importance on them. Both could lead us to ignore something we are being inspired to do.

Many have thought the dreams of my childhood unimportant, dismissing them as mere flights of fancy, or worse, the ruminations of a diseased mind. I still walk through churchyards and cemeteries, tearfully reading inscriptions of long dead and sadly forgotten people from the old times, remembering my dealings with the dead but now void of terror.

And in my wanderings I remember with fondness and longing, the lush green timberlands and waterways of the wondrous Amazon Basin. Did I ever get there? No. But I can dream!

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