Lines Chapter 5: Frequencies

  1. Frequencies


I remember just two things from the time spent, studying physics in my first two years at senior school. I am from that generation who, come the third year of their secondary education, dropped several subjects from their curriculum to concentrate on the subjects that we liked, were good at and were going to pursue up to O-level. Physics was the first on my list to receive the heave-ho.

My first memory is of “a force”. The physics teacher was a Mr Clark, affectionately known as Nobby Clark, but not to his face. He was a very tall man. And very wide. And very deep, but only in physical stature. One morning he chose six of us from the class and instructed us to form a line at one end of the classroom with arms linked as if we were about to perform a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.  Taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves, Nobby walked to the other end of the classroom. Positioning himself as if he were in the starting blocks for an Olympic 110 metres hurdles final, Nobby announced:

“I am Newton. You are six atoms. This experiment will show what happens, I say, what happens to atoms, when they come into contact with a force. I am a force.”

I forgot to mention that he had the same repetitive speech pattern as Fred Elliott from  Coronation Street. With that, he sprang from his blocks and hurtled towards us tiny atoms with his massive belly bouncing like a trampolining Old English Sheepdog. The force got to within two inches of the atoms when we quite reasonably broke our link and scarpered. Nobby careered headlong into the blackboard whilst we atoms shook in a combination of relief, and fear of the retribution heading our way.

Nobby was furious and threatened a week-long detention for any atom that carried on ‘behaving like a pathetic weakling.’ Back into his starting blocks he went and once again he delivered his script: “I am Newton etc etc…”, and once again as he got to within inches of us, instinct took over and for the second time we broke ranks. Crash. The blackboard easel went for a Burton. Nobby was so angry that snot shot from his nostril. Fair play to his creativity, and his determination not to be outdone, Nobby thought of a different way in which to teach us about forces hitting atoms and got us all to bend over. His slipper became the force and our bottoms became the atoms. Thank you, Mr Newton.

My second memory of Mr Clark’s physics lessons is even patchier. I do remember that it took several weeks of setting up the experiment and that we were meant to learn something about frequencies. Nearly fifty years later, my knowledge of this vital area of physics is pitiful. I do recall having to construct a Heath Robinson circuit board jobbie. There was a maze of wires that connected a series of knobs that ran around the outside of the board. Once our contraption was complete, our pathway to understanding frequencies should have been clear. We were expected to work out why it was that when you pressed the knob with the sticky label “E” attached, the bulb with the sticky label “H” lit up, whilst the bulbs with the sticky labels “G”, “I” and “J” remained dimmed. I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. Apparently, Nobby reassured us, it was all down to conductors operating on a different frequency. This could have prompted one of the class wags to come out with an Andre Previn joke, but as we had learned from the Newton lesson, Nobby had little capacity for humour when such life-enhancing learning objectives were on the line.  One of the girls stuck up her hand and asked why her bulb with the sticky label “C” had lit up and she was sent out to walk around the playground five times. Let’s just say, Mr Clark and his young band of atoms were on different frequencies back in 1971 and probably still are in 2019. I know that I am.

Something did register though and I’ve often found myself pondering questions of frequencies in the years since Featherstone High School. In my professional counselling work, I have seen many people who have been propelled into therapy because they are clearly on a different frequency from the loved one, they have chosen to live their life with. It’s what keeps Relate in business. I’ve encountered many people who glaze over when I press my E knob in an attempt to explain why Sparks were the most underrated band of the Seventies. I have to accept that, not only have I completely missed their H bulb, but every other bulb in their circuit. It’s irritating, but I can’t really attribute any blame to them. If they don’t appreciate the Mael brothers, I know which one of us is losing out. A walk around the playground for you, chum.

My counselling tutor had many mantras. One that has stuck with me is, “There is no place for humour in the counselling room”. At the time he said it, I had never been in a counselling room as the therapist, but I was suspicious of his reasoning. Actually, he didn’t give any reasoning, which further aroused my suspicions that he was incorrect. Laughter is one circuit board where we quickly learn about each other’s frequencies. You either find Billy Connolly funny, or you don’t. The bulb lights up, or it stays dark. There is never any midway flickering. In my work, I can turn up the empathy to maximum volume, but if you’re on alien frequencies, you ain’t going to hear a single word.

It’s always been a fascination, but has never been as tested to its limits as it was until after Steven came along. When you find someone whom you love more than your heart can reasonably manage, you expect your frequencies to click like a beginner’s jigsaw puzzle. Steven was transparently on a different frequency. Not just from me, but, it seemed at first, from the whole world. It never appeared to bother him, though. Quite the contrary, he was completely at home on his frequency. I learned very early on that there was no point waiting for Steven to join me on my frequency. That wasn’t going to happen. I needed to build a whole new circuit board of relating, and then hope, just hope, that I could occasionally light up his bulb.

I don’t know how many years I’ve got left on this mortal frequency, but I’m pretty sure that whenever my final day comes, my greatest source of pride will be the same as it is today. Steven and I have found a frequency that we can connect on; mainly through music, comedy and our shared history. If truth be told, that’s how my frequency connects with most people, but with Steven, it’s been a magical miracle. And my goodness, am I protective of it. I will fight any person who tries (usually inadvertently) to scramble our frequency.

I wish I were on the same frequency as Steven full-time. I prefer his to mine. It’s direct and uncomplicated. It’s honest and real. It feels like it comes from a different time, a different age. And it’s powerfully intuitive. Mine gets too easily clogged up or diverted off to lesser, insignificant bulbs. It’s no coincidence that Steven spotted William Worley before I did. His pathway is unfettered and more open to receiving magic.

In 1879, someone else was struggling with her frequencies. Mary Ann Holloway, for that is what she demanded to be called in those days, had been an in-patient at Hanwell Lunatic Asylum since 1875. In fact the date of admission had been 11th September 1875. The observant doctors had not missed the fact that her arrival at the asylum had been twenty years to the day since she married.

To the doctors and staff, Mary Ann was a source of great puzzlement. What was clearly a case of a mild malaise four years ago had now reached a point where the poor woman was now in the grip of extreme insanity. Brief moments of lucidity had long since passed; the doctors had abandoned any attempt at treatment and were offering nothing more than containment, until her eventual demise. This could not come soon enough, as her increasing acts of violence towards herself and others threatened the efficient running of the hospital. The doctors had discouraged the family from visiting, as a means of alleviating both the patient’s and the family’s distress; and for everyone’s safety Mary Ann was confined to a solitary cell.

Back in 1875, it had all been so different. Mrs Mary Ann Worley, as she was then known and which was her conventional title, had seemed troubled and of a highly nervous state, but she cooperated with the treatment and spoke freely about her life. Slowly, and by careful listening, the ward matron built up an understanding of Mary Ann’s malaise, but was perturbed that the telling of her story and the prescribed water treatment only seemed to accelerate her mental decline. That went against all modern thinking and it needed to be considered that perhaps Mary Ann may have been cultivating her nerves. At thirty six years of age, one would have anticipated a full recovery, but Mrs Worley remained a strain on the public purse.

These days, the slightest mention of her home life caused Mary Ann to commit extreme acts of unbecoming aggression. Food was thrown, clothes were torn whenever the family entered the conversation. Mary Ann spent most of her days praying that the good Lord would end her misery as soon as he saw fit.

Mary Ann’s life, prior to the asylum, appeared full of contentment. She was married at sixteen to  a brick labourer from the neighbouring village. His name was William Worley Junior. Their attraction to each other was simple: Mary Ann adored William’s reliability and optimism; William loved Mary Ann’s beauty and her commitment to building a loving home. William had big plans, that were slowly forming and of which, he thought it best if he didn’t yet speak. He had become tired of working in the brick fields of Seer Green, and wanted to broaden his horizons. He had heard the stories about the new towns, springing up all around London, and he wanted to be part of this excitement. He loved the village that he had grown up in, but if a man is to make his mark on the world, he needs to aim higher than the relative comfort that he already knows. Mary Ann had listened attentively to William’s dreams of a better life, but felt torn. She wanted, so much to spend the rest of her days with William; bringing up their children, but why couldn’t he be happy with what he had already got? Mary Ann chided herself. They weren’t planning on moving to the other side of the world. She would still be able to see her dear mother. If only she could silence these misgivings and share her husband’s enthusiasm.

Motherhood proved to be a trying time for Mary Ann. Whilst William pursued his big dreams, Mary Ann struggled to devote herself to her eight children. They were good children, but demanding nonetheless. She lost three other infants and buried her pain with the babies.  After her mother passed over, she realised that she had nobody else in the world with  whom she could share her sadness. It was during this time of so many losses that Mary Ann began to fully understand what feeling lonely, really meant. As the years passed, Mary Ann lost all interest in herself, her children, her husband, and her home. Her mind became consumed with tormenting thoughts of how she could escape from it all.

There was one day that would be forever locked in Mary Ann’s mind, as the day when the world that she knew, ended. And she knew, with bitter irony, that William looked upon the same day, as the day when his new world began. William, full of anticipation, had taken Mary Ann on a short trip where he planned to reveal his big secret.  For a brief couple of hours, as they rode through the familiar lanes of Buckinghamshire, Mary Ann even shared in her husband’s excitement. As the journey progressed, the landscape started to feel bigger. It was less homely, and more daunting. Eventually, they arrived in the wide open fields of Southall and Heston. The wide-eyed William helped Mary Ann from the cart, and holding her hand firmly, he escorted her out into the middle of the field. With each faltering step, Mary Ann felt the knot in her heart tighten. Oblivious, William picked up handfuls of soil and smeared it into his face, laughing at his own mischievous game. Mary Ann felt like she was in the company of a boy, younger even than her own sons.

“We are going to build Southall, my love. We are going to build this town, with homes and places where people can work. We are going to build something that will provide a better life for our children.”

Mary Ann tried to hide an escaping tear. She knew that there was no going back, but that was precisely what she wanted to do. To jump onto the cart, and drive away from this nightmare, as fast as the nag would pull her. She hated her husband for taking her away from all that was dear to her. She hated herself for not being able to share William’s joy. She also knew that once the children saw this new space, they would fall in love with its potential and she would be left quite alone. William pulled her close, to plant a kiss on her cheek, but she was repulsed by the soil on his face and all that it stood for. William let go of her hand, and started a playful dance by himself, across the field. It was at, that point, that Mary Ann could no longer conceal her tears, and she felt her heart starting to break. William didn’t notice. He was talking enthusiastically to another happy young couple about the possibilities of building a pub on the very spot on which they stood.

“I think The Jolly Cricketers would be a most apt name for such an establishment.”

Mary Ann Worley died in Hanwell Lunatic Asylum on 1st October 1879.

William Worley Junior and Mary Ann were the first Worleys to be connected with, and to settle in Southall. I grew up in the town that William helped build.




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