These days I tend to take opportunities if they come along, having learnt lessons from the past. Opportunities, I have discovered, become less frequent as I get older.
When I think back to my youth, between the ages of 15 and 25, I was presented with chances that might have changed the course of my life, had I recognised them for what they were and taken them...
Although I am content in my life these days, looking back I might have taken a few more leaps of faith along the way.
Some that spring to mind....
Well, my 'dinner party' story, the one that I have bored people with for years, has always been about the time I turned down a film role alongside Barbra Streisand. Well, kind of... it was my chance to appear with Barbra Streisand when she came to Liverpool filming in 1982. The call came in to the small newspaper I was working for at the time, she needed extras in her new movie. For fifty pounds a day (a considerable amount back then) all I would have to do was stand there looking like an extra, well actually being an extra, while inwardly aspiring to be the star. In my head I fully imagined I would be plucked from the crowd of non-speaking supporting artists by Miss Streisand personally to co-star with her in her next epic.
And even with that illusion buzzing around my head, still I said no.
But that was not the only missed opportunity from back then.
At around the same time as 'turning down' Streisand (and doesn't that sound lofty!), I was offered an exclusive interview by the legendary Frankie Vaughan.
Now this time it did involve a real-life encounter with a big star - and another missed opportunity that I regret a little even to this day.
I was chatting with Frankie (we were never on first name terms though I like to imagine we would have been had this particular encounter progressed further...), but anyway I was chatting with him before his show at the famous Grafton Rooms in Liverpool. Being only about fifteen I was not even supposed to be there, but I had been sent on this assignment by my then editor (who thought I was older than I was, which is long story for another time...). So, in the green room at this legendary venue, I was there, a very unworldly teenager, with Mr Vaughan and his wife as he was getting dressed for the show. It was awkward, Mr Vaughan, a huge star, standing there half dressed with me firing questions at him, armed with my little reporter's notebook. I was clearly getting on his nerves. But he was very kind and he said to me “listen kid, come and see me after the show and I'll give you an exclusive...”. Being the naïve, silly youngster that I inevitably was back then, I turned him down telling him, with a Cinderella flourish, that I had to be home by midnight....
What was the exclusive story he wanted to share with me? Nobody will ever know, perhaps a secret about the time he starred with Marilyn Monroe?
Ah well, who knows....
Other missed opportunities include the time I was offered a job as a radio DJ, I turned that one down because I was going on a two week holiday. Stupid or what? Where might that road have led me? I could have been the next Terry Wogan. Yes, well.
Such are the follies of youth. I have often wished that I had those opportunities today, though, as I said, they don't seem to come along as frequently any more.
There have been a few, more recently, though nothing too life changing. The difference is that I do tend to grab at them now...
On a Mersey Ferry commute one morning about ten years ago, I spotted the British veteran TV presenter Esther Rantzen filming a piece to camera outside on the top deck of the boat. Without a second thought, having learnt my lessons from failing to recognise such potentially transformative moments in the past, I ran up the stairs and approached her enthusiastically and with a little too much gusto, determined not to let this opportunity (or her) get away. Startled, she stopped filming and stared at me with a bemused expression on her tiny face (she was so much smaller than I had ever imagined from seeing her on the television) and then she visibly recoiled from me, this stranger encroaching on her personal space. Before she knew what was happening we were having our photo taken together and, consummate professional that she is, she smiled sweetly as if this moment were planned, and that meeting me was the pinnacle of her career. She was very kind and gracious and was no doubt left entirely bewildered by the unlikely encounter that morning. The photo remains a blurry memento of that moment when I grasped an opportunity, proving that perhaps not all opportunities should be seized.
Sometimes what might have been is better than what is. That's a lesson I suppose.
But I do hope I still have some windows of chance left to take and opportunities to run with. It's not about encounters with famous people anymore. They are, I've found, just people, each as confused about life as the rest of us, they just happen to have found themselves in the public eye and along with that comes all the hassles of fans and intrusion.
So, on reflection, perhaps it is just as well I turned down Barbra Streisand that day. I'm probably not cut out for the Hollywood life. And maybe Mr Vaughan's exclusive revelation would have changed things for me but not necessarily for the better. Who knows....?
Meanwhile I go on my way, content with my life, while sometimes wondering if I could have been a different person had I followed a different path and recalling as I plod on, the words of Lily Tomlin (who I also never met) “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific”
A little poem inspired by a painting....
Moral: Life is short, make time to dance.
To Dance Again
Through all her life she lived to dance,
to sing the songs her heart would sing.
She walked in sunshine, loved romance
and left to fate what life would bring.
She did have cares and many sorrows,
knew not where the road would lead.
She never did presume tomorrow's
happiness was guaranteed.
And after all the days were done,
mere echoes of a sweet refrain,
although her dreams were now long gone,
she hoped that she might dance again.
© Jason Endfield. 2017. all rights reserved
Why do so many of my ramblings begin with 'is it just me....' ? Perhaps because I do more than my fair share of finding faults with the world, or more precisely with myself in the world.
Anyway... (is it just me or...) do other people find that they can't muster up anything intelligible and can only talk gibberish when put on the spot? I don't mean in some important situation where it's okay to have nerves that might make us stumble over our words - no, with me it's just in everyday situations where I should be able to string a sentence together without resorting to babble.
It happens often when I'm walking the dog. People are friendly to me when I walk the dog, or more to the point they are friendly to me because I am with the dog. Conversely, when I'm by myself I seem to be invisible. However, our dog, Ozzie, seems to bring out the best in passers-by and that's when they might proffer a cheery greeting in my direction. Nothing wrong with that is there? In fact it's rather nice and sociable. But that's where my problems begin, because, in an effort to think up something to say in response, you know perhaps just a simple 'hello' or 'nice day, isn't it', my mind goes into panic mode and I start rambling on incoherently or responding with something entirely inappropriate.
Take the other morning when a neighbour (whose driveway Ozzie was in the process of using as a toilet) waved and said 'lovely weather isn't it?' In my panic I replied enthusiastically 'and you too!' which made no sense whatsoever, unless I was offering an opinion that she, like the weather, was also lovely; which I wasn't, although she is - lovely. See what I mean? Gibberish.
At my most normal I might just manage a 'yeah, nice' or some such mundane response but in my best prattle mode, which I find myself in more and more often these days, I have been known to utter total nonsense at some length, such as a few days ago when in reply to a simple 'hello, how are you?' from a fellow dog walker, I managed to come out with (and I quote), 'eher, me know, lovely me, yes'. Then I tried to correct myself which just lead to more of the same, in this case it was, as I remember only too well, 'feheh, sorry, sorry, yes we are'. Professor Stanley Unwin, for those of you old enough to remember him, has nothing on me when it comes to talking nonsense.
And oh, that look of puzzlement mixed with pity on the faces of people who are at the receiving end of my rubbish, that face I know very well and it stays with me as I hold my head in embarrassment and walk on, Ozzie in tow, reliving the whole sorry conversation in my head.
So maybe it is just me.
Perhaps I need to pause, take a moment and think of an appropriate response in future instead of launching into my normal drivel.
Or take a lesson from Ozzie and just do my business in a neighbour's driveway then nonchalantly carry on. That way I get the look of puzzlement and social interaction without having to make conversation....
Back in England....
Having survived my reckless trip to New York, where I could easily have ended up dead at the hands of a crazy stranger in a sleazy hotel room – but didn't – I returned home to find things the same as I'd left them. That is to say I still had the same life that I had before, in spite of my exciting time out, coming out, in the Big Apple, discovering myself and who I am.
As an aside perhaps, I have to tell you that anyone who claims there is no God is lying. He is there, but not in those happy-clappy churches or austere places of worship. He is in the gritty streets of cities where those who are at the lowest point in their lives or in search of solace, might find Him. The lucky ones, like me, will pull through, God might reach out through a stranger's kindness or a fleeting smile from someone in the crowd. Such encounters can change a life. But it takes a leap of faith to get there in the first place. My rash trip to New York had proved to me that part of the responsibility in changing our lives does in fact lie with ourselves and our will to take a chance, even if it seems risky...
I had pushed on through a difficult few years, experienced the lowest of lows and heartache, collecting scars on the way - and just about made it back into the light.
Many don't get that chance and the world is a poorer and less beautiful place because of the ones who left too soon, often beaten down by the prejudice of those who would rather see them perish than admit that individuality and difference can be the best thing in the whole world.
Intolerance - and missionaries again....
During the time that I was targeted by missionaries, I witnessed vile reactions from them to anything gay. There was a real hatred towards homosexuality and a very vocal and irrational intolerance of gay people. The twisted interpretation of scripture that these people preached was manipulated to justify their prejudice and fuel their own fears. It was precisely due to this propaganda, which is still rife in these cultish pseudo-religious groups, that many young gay people committed suicide. Although I escaped from the clutches of that nasty world, my heart sinks when I think of those who didn't. And how many people were pushed into 'straight' marriages through fear of being outcast by those who they thought cared about them. Personally I have a very big problem with those who set out to preach their dubious morals to others. That 'be like us or be sent to hell' message is vile. Playing on the fear and insecurities of the vulnerable and scared, it is so far away from the truth and so very very cruel.
Off to Israel, Jason in Jerusalem (and Tel Aviv)...
So, anyway, after New York, it was time to begin living as a gay man in my world and hopefully on my terms. This was going to be the most difficult time of all in some ways because, even though I was ready, some people around me would not be ready to accept the man they had known for over thirty years suddenly coming out as a different person. So to many of those in my life, I remained firmly in the closet with the door closed, only coming out in the dark hours after the sun had set.
I dipped my toe in the local scene, had some awkward encounters here and there but decided that I had more lessons to learn before emerging as a fully transformed 'butterfly' and that these lessons might best be learnt away from home.
That's how I found myself in Israel. Coming out was certainly involving a lot of travel....but at least I was doing it on a budget.
My Grandmother knew Israel well and had often urged me to visit. A courageous and amazing woman, not content with seeing images of people suffering on the news, she had in her 70's packed her bags and set off for Israel to work as a volunteer in a hospital for several months. I realise now that she must have known I would benefit from seeing a diverse society where everyday life was lived on the edge of danger – but ultimately successfully. A metaphor for my life at that time perhaps.
The time felt right. I had read that Tel Aviv was very gay friendly and so I made the first of several visits to that vibrant city. Initially I was still very self-conscious, so I would walk up and down the long streets past gay bars and clubs without going in. I also travelled to Jerusalem where, perhaps ironically, I found a rare inner peace in that troubled city. It was a time of tension in Jerusalem, in the street outside my modest hotel there had been a bus bombing a week or so earlier and there were still signs of the attack in the damaged pavements and roads. In the Old City I was challenged by a very angry man in the Arab quarter, an unsettling confrontation which was only diffused by another man who realised I wasn't a threat but just a bewildered tourist in the wrong place. Everybody was eyeing everybody with suspicion and on occasion tension flared into loud confrontation. If there was a gay scene in Jerusalem then it was well hidden. So, as is the tradition, I wrote a prayer on a small piece of paper, pushed it into a crack in the Western Wall, then got on the bus and headed back to Tel Aviv.
Surreal life in the park, Dana International and finally home....
Independence Park in Tel Aviv, not far from the Hilton hotel, is well known as a gay meeting area. It is a surreal place, Orthodox Jewish families glide along the paths on sociable walks in the park, while gay men sit on benches overlooking the sea – or meet and mingle in the bushes... Despite the apparently sleazy gay underworld in the undergrowth and the stark contrast between two very different lifestyles, the gay scene and the Orthodox world managed to exist alongside one another with some kind of tolerance in spite of their differences. I found this refreshing, it seemed at least on the surface that worlds could collide or co-exist without causing a whole load of fall-out. And that resonated loudly with me. My two worlds were in the process of colliding and I had no idea what to expect.
Not having learnt any lessons from the dire Malibu Hostel experience in NYC (see my earlier post), I had again booked a budget hotel for my trip to Tel Aviv via the internet because, well, it was an affordable option in what was quite an expensive city. But this time it worked out very well. The Hotel Ami was surviving, just about, being squeezed in between the brash developments of Crown Plazas and Radissons near the sea front in the city. A slightly crumbling, shabby exterior and a dated but comfortable interior made for a pleasant and central base from which to explore. The staff were friendly and I got to know them quite well over three stays in as many years. I always felt they knew about me and my journey and they smiled at me and were kind. Kindness really does mean so much.
One day I plucked up enough courage to spruce myself up as best I could and take a trip to the nearby Independence Park. I'd read all about it prior to my first visit. It was, as I mentioned earlier, the place where gay men would meet. It was famously, I was told, the place that Israeli transsexual singer Dana International had frequented prior to becoming an international Eurovision sensation, the first transsexual to win the legendary song contest back in the 1990's. Dana was a real ground-breaker and, very importantly, a signal from Israel to the world that it was a country where LGBT people would be welcomed.
I'll save the tales of my encounters in the park for another time (or a book!) but suffice it to say that it was an enlightening experience.
Every evening I would email my friend T (the chap I met in New York) from the computer in the hotel lobby. He was now one of my best and most trusted friends. He told me that he was living his own life vicariously through me which felt like quite a responsibility on my part but actually my life was turning into a real roller coaster so I knew he would not be disappointed.
My meetings with gay men in Israel were interesting. It is estimated that 25% of people in Tel Aviv identify as gay, so the scene is lively, diverse and visible.
But I did have to return to England....
Back home again and still not out to most family and friends, I was reluctant to be too visible too soon. So I went back online. The internet was awash with gay 'dating' sites. Although I was very much out of my comfort zone, it was what I had to do in order to meet people. I was not yet part of the 'scene'. And very many of us weren't. Looking back, I realise that there were thousands of scared gay men out there, locally, who were just too afraid to be seen.
I was not going to be one of them. I didn't want to be scared for the rest of my life. The time had come to show my face.....
Being a dog lover and the very proud owner of a 14½ year old rescue dog, Ozzie, I am always interested in hearing about those who devote their time, often their whole lives, to saving animals and generally being kind to the creatures in this, often less than hospitable, world.
Ozzie was already nine years old when we found him in a pen at the dog's home. Although we saw many people admiring his rather elegant poise and handsome stature, as soon as they spotted his age they moved on. It's the main reason we chose him because we knew that if we didn't adopt him then the likelihood was that he would spend the rest of his life in a pen. And of course he has proved to be a most loyal friend and a special member of the family.
While there are many well known big charities that raise funds to care for and re-home dogs, there is one very special charity which devotes its time to what might be considered a 'niche' market when it comes to finding new homes for less fortunate pooches and they focus their efforts on saving those dogs who don't perhaps have the same chance of rescue as their more conventional brothers and sisters.
Blind Dog Rescue UK (BDRUK), as their name suggests, raise funds to save blind and partially sighted dogs that they rescue from the shelters and streets of Europe, bringing them to the UK where they help to find them their forever homes. Many of these dogs have been abused or abandoned and have suffered immense distress in some horrible conditions. BDRUK's motto “The Kind Leading The Blind” really sums up their ethic and the amazing work that they do.
Blind Dog Rescue UK raise money to pay for veterinary fees where needed and then organise transport to bring the lucky dogs to the UK where they settle into foster homes and await adoption by a kind new owner.
As BDRUK explain, “We rescue the most vulnerable dogs who have been subjected to the worst of humanity yet still have an astonishing capacity to adapt, love and become perfect ambassadors for blind dogs everywhere....the dogs in our care are victims of abuse, neglect, disease or trauma. Many are struggling to survive in shelters, tethered on short chains, or straying on the streets in countries where there is no infrastructure for animal welfare or animal rescue....”
It's a unique and special organisation and deserves a whole load of support and publicity, which is why I'm writing about them here. If sharing their details here can help to find even one blind dog a good home them I will feel very happy indeed.
And don't be too worried about the practicalities of caring for a blind dog, BDRUK's website has some helpful information that will reassure you – blind dogs, whether partially sighted or entirely blind, are very adaptable and can live life to the full – and they can be the most loving and companionable dogs who enrich the lives of their owners beyond words.
BDRUK point out that “No matter how it seems or feels...your dog's blindness is much harder on you than it is for him/her! Eye sight ranks only 3rd in importance compared to smell and hearing to your dog.”
To see their current list of dogs needing foster homes or forever homes just take a look at the details on their new website:- https://www.bdruk.org/adopt
Or if you cannot offer a home then please do consider making a donation so that the good folks at Blind Dog Rescue UK can continue their excellent work, saving these wonderful dogs from some terrible conditions.
You can even sponsor a dog, knowing that you are helping to provide loving and caring support for a dog in need.
When the inevitable happens (though hopefully not for a long long time!) and our Ozzie ups and leaves us for his journey across that rainbow bridge, then I am sure we will be looking at adopting a dog from Blind Dog Rescue UK, just take a look at the faces of those lovely dogs looking for a home on BDRUK's website and I know you'll be tempted to offer a kind and caring home too.....
To make a donation: click here: https://www.bdruk.org/donate
You can sponsor a dog here: https://www.bdruk.org/sponsor
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