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Peter Sipthorp

In conversation with Jion Sheibani

As far as the way in which I view the world, my view I would say is very much international. The larger issues are very easily overlooked. So I write poetry. Topical poetry. It is attempting to say something that is direct I would say. Expressing a view rather than what I call flowers and butterflies type poetry. I don’t like that at all. I started writing for a peace anthology here but unfortunately that never got off the ground. I used to think about writing a book but I realised in the annals of time, it doesn’t actually do anything. It’s a glory run. For me, poetry’s about producing something unique. It might be rubbish but at least it’s unique.

February 28th 2005

The blood is flowing in Iraq today
Over a hundred have passed away
In many pieces they took their leave
And hundreds more are left to grieve.
Where is Tony? Does he care?
Or is he more concerned to share
The fears at home that there may lurk
A man about to go berserk.
And if he strikes, as Tony’s done
Who has lost and who has won?
The front pages no longer have this news
Unless you seek The Independent’s views
Others would hope that you ignore
The effects of the country’s rush to war.
Our mass murderers of left and right
Should lose their power to cause such fright.
Others would have known to say
‘Mr Bush – please go away’.

The saddest thing in my life occurred in my first marriage. I had two severely handicapped children. One died at nine. And the other died at twenty-three. They were, as it were, completely handicapped. So they’d got no...life, whatsoever...They couldn’t see, they couldn’t hear, they couldn’t move, they couldn’t...they’d got no senses and as far as anybody could tell they’d got no mentality as such. So that was a great sadness.

But it seems to me to be absolutely bizarre that the authorities of the country in which I live – and I like the country in which I live – but the authorities, of all sorts whether they’re political, religious or anybody else, saw fit to allow them to suffer for that length of time because they are very keen to preserve life and all this kind of business and yet these same people are then prepared to go and kill 50 or 60 thousand people in Iraq and then come back and say ‘We’ve done well, you ought to re-elect us.’ It’s absolutely mad, to me, it’s absolute madness. But as far as children such as my two were concerned, in the case of my two sons, it seemed to me to be quite ridiculous, and I’ve got no objection to the abortion law, that a perfectly healthy foetus can be killed for really no other reason than that’s what somebody chooses, that’s what they want. And once a child is out into the world, and is in this terrible condition, it has to live. I think what went through my mind was that looking after my eldest son was costing the state in advance of £100,000 a year by the time he died. He died at 23 so there were years of that type of cost. And I couldn’t help but feel that when £150 I think it is will give clean water and sanitation to an individual for life, then how many people could benefit from that money rather than spend it on perpetuating an absolutely hopeless life, hopeless existence. But, I mean, that’s what’s sort of carried me along a bit to looking at the world view. I don’t know whether I coped. But I’m still here now. I suppose you could say I coped but there’s been some tricky times along the way. I had what could be called emotional or mental ill health. The first time I was ill, I shouted – now my upbringing was that people shouldn’t shout, people shouldn’t be mentally ill or have breakdowns. My Mum died a few years ago. That was the last time I was in a pickle. I was in a right pickle then.

We must get onto the joys because there have been plenty of those as well. I’ve a 19-year-old daughter who’s done everything right, who’s going up to Bristol, got all As in her A-Level and is currently on a world tour. When my daughter was a little girl then that was all very nice, having a little daughter to hold, sing nursery rhymes with, bath, and take places and all that, all of that is very good, but that doesn’t last for ever and you know it. It is how the outside world responds to her that is the most satisfying. That she’s gone off and done a load of things. When she stopped school she finished up working for the NHS and they kept pushing her money up and pushing her money up, and she’s done very well. Wherever she goes she works hard and she’s civil and so forth. My family are the most important thing in my life. And...to be honest I suppose the Liberal Democrat advance...in this election, whenever it comes.

I’ve had a lot of joy playing sport over the years – rugby, cricket, football, badminton, golf – though my sporting contribution at 53 years is not what it was when I was in my twenties! I went to Loughborough and did PE and I taught PE for many, well, for about 25 years. Then a friend of mine who came to my house regularly to play snooker is a lodge porter at St Antony’s and recommended that I should look at a lodge porter job when I finish up teaching. And just by coincidence the next week there were two jobs advertised. I went for both of them and I got this one. It suits very well really. There’s a sort of strange feeling of destiny about it all almost. As if it were planned. And this is a manic mind working. The reality is that this bloke talking to me and me finishing up at this particular college was just a string of unconnected circumstances. But I somehow thought it was somehow prearranged.

Coincidence occurs to me too much for it not to be coincidence as far as I’m concerned. Day by day I will think of a word, instance, person or something and then their name will come out on the radio, just like that. I’ve had a number of completely non-understandable events. I was talking to a woman once, and I started talking to her and, like a light bulb going on her right eye, or the left eye as I was looking at it, went gold. Like a light going on. This was in the middle of the day, a sports event, and somebody said, ‘Well, did the light come over her shoulder?’ But it wasn’t like that. She lives in Australia now. I never told her. Because I thought if I said to her what had happened, she would phone up the headmaster and tell him I’d gone round the bend or something. Another time, I was talking to a woman outside my house who lives up the road, and it wasn’t very warm so I said ‘Do you want to come in and have a cup of coffee?’ And she said OK. She sat down and whilst I was talking to her, a bit like oil on water, her face just began to change shape – I was sober as a judge – her face all changed shape, and I’d got my mother sitting in front of me. Now both of those things you could say you could conjure up within your own mind. What you see is what your mind is telling you to see...So it could have been some sort of psychological thing, I don’t know. But the third thing was a physical thing where I’d popped over to the shop over the road from my house and there was a girl there serving at the counter, there was nobody else in the shop, and I asked her for some stamps. So she got the book of stamps out of the till and she tore off however many it was I wanted and I asked for something else and then I said ‘Oh, look, I need more than that. Can I have two more stamps please?’ And she started going underneath all these papers trying to find this book of stamps and I was just standing there, I was just stood there and I felt slowly something coming up into my hand, which I grabbed hold of, this book of stamps! That is true. I can still tell you the name of the girl. Something Holsoworth her name was. I think she thought I’d pulled some kind of trick, I don’t know.

But these sorts of occurrences certainly give me a feeling that there is a God. It’s quite reassuring in a way because when you’re spiritually high or on a mood high you can get to a stage of feeling more powerful really. Everything you want to will go your way. God-like. There was a radio programme about this saying that all the manic depressives think they are God. Well, these occurrences are sobering to me because they make me feel, well, I know bloody well I’m not God! Because you see these scientific people who run around as if they’re God, as if they know there’s no God and they know how this has happened, how everything else has happened. It’s only when somebody pins the likes of Professor Dawkins down and says, ‘Well if you know so much about it pal, that you say it’s all a matter of certain elements and components that make life work, you turn something from dead matter into live matter and then we can start taking you seriously.’ And of course that is the point at which they have to concede that they can’t do it.

Cowardice

There was a poetic fellow
Whose lines were firm and mellow
The nations rose
On the tips of their toes
And saw that the whole world was yellow

It is clear we do not like pain
Especially again and again
On death there’s debate
But if the pathway is hate
A balance is hard to regain.

My biggest fear is...I suppose some sort of crippling illness. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Because when you have...psychological type illnesses, then you are full of fear but it’s all quite artificial. You are frightened but you haven’t actually got anything to be frightened about. In reality. But the fact that it occurs to you can be very frightening.

I haven’t got any enemies. I would say I’ve got people who disagree with me. But when there’s someone unfavoured towards me then my attitude has always been to engage with them rather than to move away from them. And that may not be wise. I suppose I don’t want to have the feeling that I am disliked. The people I really relax with are a really small circle, they are the people who have shared everything that’s occurred since I was a teenager. With them, I feel as if I’m talking to someone who really knows me, whereas the people I have known latterly I feel will never know me in the way those people do. It’s like people who share war service or military service or something like that. There are things that occur that sort of bond those people.

In terms of the future, I would like to get healthier and fitter again. I want to see things evolve the way I want them to – like, I suppose, everybody else. I would like to get a better job, with a bit more responsibility but whether I see that being in the Lodge, I don’t know. I don’t think so. But in terms of making it ‘complete’, your life is never complete. That’s just the kind of thing advertisers use, ‘Use fairy liquid to make your life complete.’ Life is a series of pleasures obviously, but it’s also a series of challenges. I don’t see life as containing any actual magic ingredient that is going to make my life complete. I will feel a little bit better if various things happen and a little worse if some other things don’t happen but you have to keep finding compensations.

I should not close before mentioning and paying tribute to my wife Eileen. My bumpy road has inevitably been bumpy for her too and she has to bear the responsibility of being the person who knows me best. Eileen teaches at Lord William’s School, Thame.

Schemes

I wonder could I devise a scheme
Which made the whole world really clean
Where no one had a suspicious mind
And all humanity was kind

This great feat requires no fear
The curse of ages year on year
Bridges of trust require patience and courage
Mutual tears we all should encourage.

March 2005