ESSAY Lloyd Jones

NWR Issue 101

Four Days in September

A warm welcome to The Autobiography of a Supertramp, newly reissued in the wonderful Library of Wales series, most of which I’ve really enjoyed. I was particularly wowed by Jampot Smith by Jeremy Brooks.

WH Davies was a tramp-poet, a boy from the Newport docks who turned to poetry when he lost a leg while trying to jump a train in North America.

He delivered simple, heart-felt lyrics and many still know his most famous couplet:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

But it’s the autobiographical Supertramp which is best known nowadays, almost a century after it caused a literary sensation. Unable to shift a book of poems, Davies combed Who’s Who and sent copies to the great and the good, including George Bernard Shaw, who turned him into a celebrity. The poet Edward Thomas was also immensely helpful and generous. Davies became a publishing phenomenon, mixing with the cream of the London literati. Taken up and fêted as a ‘primitive’, just as John Clare was, Davies was ill at ease in their company and ‘sneaked away like a thief’ whenever it got too much for him...

from Four Days in September

Leave everybody and let them leave you. Then only will you be without fear.
Gwen John, Diary

Life is normally a slow process of closing one door after another as we pass along the corridors of time.

But twelve years ago I found a hidden entrance and stepped through it. I left this world for four days; I went walkabout. They were wonderful days, full of sun and freedom. I left the human race, and I haven’t fully returned.

Back then I was leading a normal life. Good job, two kids and a little house with a blue door. But the past was about to catch up with me. Many children start to walk on their first birthday, it’s uncanny. And many people start to disintegrate around their fiftieth birthday, which is equally uncanny. I firmly believe that childhood is the key, in my case the disappearance of my mother when I was a kid (to a nearby village, I didn’t see her for almost a decade) plus a year strapped to a frame in an English hospital, plus an abusive alcoholic father with whom I shared one small primitive farm and an awful lot of mud. I survived, but I’m pretty sure that all those weird events created an inner tension which finally burst and bloomed like a dry rot mushroom when I was fifty. It’s a common experience.

But this is not a sob story nor a salutary tale. It’s about freedom, beauty and joy. It’s the story of four days which eventually became months, then years of pleasure and happiness. In effect I made a jail break – from the confines of my own mind.

But first I must step back to 2001, when I went on my own little odyssey...

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