Last week, I began to look around inside my head, and I found out – it’s a very messy place. It’s like a jumble sale, where some strange person (me, presumably, as I think I’m the only one there) has mixed together clothes, bric-a-brac, books and CDs. So, it can take a lot of time to find things, and then whenever I do, it’s probably sitting right next to something completely different. This can be confusing but it can also help me to notice connections or comparisons between things that a more ordered mind may not see. It helps me when writing poetry. Like, have you ever noticed that when heavy raindrops bounce off the roof of a parked car, it looks like white sparks from fireworks?
I also wrote last week about subjective ideas. Like standing on a pier at night and feeling as if I was a child again. I wasn’t really remembering this exact event, but I needed an example, so I imagined it from bits of life I knew.
I suppose I could have explored ‘feelings’ in these two posts, instead of ‘subjective ideas’, but I had an inkling it wasn’t the right word. I think a feeling is different: it comes after you’ve had an idea or before or whilst you are thinking of an idea. A blinding headache, a twinge in your stomach, an overwhelming sense of dread. Each feeling is different from an idea but feelings and ideas are often so closely mixed together in our lives, that – like the ingredients of a cake, they form the overall taste of our existence. Ideas, feelings, material things – can all share the same moments in our lives. Like a unicorn, a ghost, and a cat sharing the same flat.
I think I’ve always been interested in how we get our ideas, as well as our feelings, from what’s going on in our lives, as well as from reading and other kinds of learning. Our ideas can help us to survive, to keep on struggling when the odds seem against us. Sometimes, malicious ideas tell us we are worthless or that life is hopeless.
A man who has given up hope may head to a bridge to end his life by jumping into a river, and it is likely that his sad feelings are as real and cold to him as the freezing waters of the Tay. Also tragically real to him are the ideas pushing him to the bridge.
As we head into scarier times, with many more pressures upon people, I cannot think of a more important time to try to understand some of the links between the world, our ideas, and our feelings. To prepare ourselves for the storms ahead. Making connections, such as comparing rain to fireworks, is fine for writing a line in a poem, but we may need to see and understand many complex connections when the lives of people become more jumbled than the inside of my head. I’ve noticed, in trying to help people living in poverty, how – many problems pile up on some people, until they fall down under the weight. A child struggles at school, because she is exhausted. She gets little sleep, in a house where the adults are forever drunk and noisy. The child stops going to school, becomes an angry teenager and gets fed up of all the noise at home and runs away. In the years that follow, she lives on the streets, falls into drug abuse, claims and then loses benefits many times, and ends up asking for help many years later. 45 years old, but looking much older. A face and a mind covered with scars. Asking for help in a world which, most of the time, doesn’t see the child in her or any of her feelings or ideas. Most of the time, all that people see is a damaged person. Or, “a junkie”.
Sometimes, thinking about all these connections between what we experience as a child and our mental health as adults, poverty and drugs, and lost socks (okay, maybe not lost socks), and a million other things seems a bit too daunting, even for my thinking-methods. So, it’s easier for me to start with the story of a smaller problem, which took me only 10 years to solve. I think it shows how my messy, peculiar mind helped me to work out was really happening in a situation where nothing was clear, at first.
For a decade, I gathered masses of evidence during a long and sometimes risky investigation into a bunch of spies: the kind of spies who infiltrate trade unions and groups like Greenpeace, in order to wreck campaigns. The wrecking is usually on behalf of some corrupt politician or business man. The spies I wrote about ran dozens of fake companies and used fake identities for decades. They were experts in ‘dirty tricks’: smearing or framing people or causing bitter, artificial divisions between friends.
After my 10-year investigative stint, I was interviewed by Kit Klarenberg of the Russian news service Sputnik. He had helped to expose another British spy network, called the Integrity Initiative. By then, I’d tried to get my story told in The Guardian and by the BBC without success, although journalists from both organisations met me and spoke to me at length and did not dispute that I had an intriguing story. Kit went much further and got the story out. I will always be grateful to him for that.
The interview in Sputnik explained much of what I found out about the biggest of the spy networks I exposed. Over the same period, I helped to organise and spoke at the first Scottish public meetings, in Glasgow and in Dundee to expose undercover police spies.
My spies investigation resulted in piles of evidence, so I can only give a truncated account here. To start with, all I had were a handful of disconnected clues: including, a phone call from one of the spies pretending to be a documentary filmmaker. He called me when I was popping up on TV and radio, campaigning for Iain Duncan Smith to debate benefit cuts. I also had the name of a company – Citizens Network , and a hunch that I’d stumbled upon an operation by a notorious bunch of ex-Mi6 spooks called Hakluyt & Company. It turned out I had. The problem was proving it.
For years, I studied thousands of Companies House records, and true stories about spies by other investigative journalists, and snippets of information from a bizarre mix of sources: a prison Blog by a cocaine smuggler; books about spooks; street maps of Kent, London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I travelled to London a few times, eventually visiting one of the spy network’s offices in Richmond. I looked at charity accounts; phoned and met dozens of people, including Tom Watson MP for an hour in Parliament, in the days before he became very unfriendly to socialists. I got help from investigative experts, including David Miller and Eveline Lubbers.
Remember the idea of my mind as a chaotic jumble sale? That’s what the huge mass of details I built up about spies looked like, at least in the first two or three years of my investigation. So, I tried to be organised: filling a large filing cabinet, creating electronic records, numbering and dating and cross-referencing notebooks: more than a hundred of them. But I wasn’t too worried when it all still looked a bit chaotic, because I knew that the proof was in there, somewhere. And very slowly, it all came together. By looking at the most mundane of details: postcodes, dates of birth, names, I gradually made more and more connections and I began to see previously invisible patterns across a vast jumble of facts. I got as close as I could to proving that this creepy spy network is Hakluyt, and it is older too, suggesting it’s part of where Hakluyt came from: the official British Security Services.
One day, I will finish a book about those spies, but other projects have grown out of the jumble sale of my life and mind and grabbed my attention. I found out, to my great surprise, that I could write fiction. I transferred all my energies to writing about people trapped in a brutal welfare system; and I wrote a book about it. As I write these words, I’m waiting to find out if it will win a national award (I’m on a shortlist of 3 writers). That book tries to deal with some of the issues discussed here. In it, I tried to show through stories – how people living in poverty whilst ill face struggles made much harder by brutal welfare rules. I wrote about how people feel to be trapped in a maze made in hell. I also wrote about their ideas about their fight to survive and to maintain hope. World. Feelings. Ideas. And how they interact.
I wasn’t sure how to end this post until I realised that the ending should also be a beginning. I cannot yet say if my messy mind will be able to understand and help other people as much as I want to, through writing. I don’t know if I can add to our understanding of the ways in which world and feelings and ideas interact. I don’t know if I can develop ideas which are true enough to help some souls see that there is hope, where perhaps there was none before. Yet, I have learned – as long as I keep noticing and collecting thousands of scraps of ideas, sometimes I will be able to write about what’s really happening.