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SWIMMING WITH MEDUSA - One Man’s Journey through Abuse to Hope

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Liverpudlian Catholic Peter Murray uses his remarkable memory and snippets from his 45 diaries as well as thousands of letters and other works saved from childhood to write a poignant account of life in very unusual settings. 

From his schooling in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where he was sexually abused, through to life in Italy and the Vatican, the constant is always the love and affection of strong parents, particularly his mother.  

With dozens of mini-adventures at home and abroad, his career as a nurse and, finally facing the death of both his parents, his life comes full circle with a trip to Rome to confront his childhood abusers. What he finds in the corridors of the Vatican proves a disturbing discovery. 

This is a candid and sometimes painful autobiography, not of a celebrity or sports star, but of an ordinary man. 

   

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Online Price:   $AU30.95

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ISBN: 978-1-922229-08-3  
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:354
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Peter Murray
Publisher:
Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2014
Language: English

 READ A SAMPLE:

It started the day I met Fred – Frederique Picault, the son of an EDF employee from Aix.

I was in my tweeds and tie, Fred squatting at my feet. Me the prim and proper little Englishman, a boarding school Catholic captivated for the first time in his life by another human being.

I was in my late thirties, Fred in his early twenties. He was blond, animated, attractive, and of course French. Fred was in London studying horticulture – the nephew of my sister Adrienne’s best friend, Maguy, from Grenoble.

As I lived in Guy’s Hospital and it was Fred’s first time away from home in a strange city, both Maguy and Adrienne had been in touch asking if I could befriend the young man and show him around. Little did I realise this request would awaken in me something that had stayed deeply hidden for so many years. That night in his bedsit in Willesden, sitting on his flimsy couch, he was able to open up my heart and pierce it deeply. I was bowled over and knew in an instant he could get me to do anything he wanted.

After tea we parted with the customary French kiss to each cheek. I wanted to imagine this was more than cursory politeness. I invited Fred over and promised I would take him to Southwark Playhouse where I volunteered, and also show him around the historical parts of London Bridge where Guy’s is situated. Fred willingly accepted and said he would page me when he was free.

I had managed to get through life without a mobile or even a landline but needs must and I was coerced by my agency into accepting I needed to be contacted for work’s sake. I reluctantly accepted a pager off my younger brother, Simon. I thought I was finally getting modern; after all it was 1997.

After a week of restless nights and daydreams at work I got Fred’s message. I replied and he came over that afternoon. I did what I do for all my visitors – I took Fred on an historical tour of Old London – the Tower, Southbank round the Globe and Southwark Cathedral.

We then visited Guy’s Hospital Chapel as well as the gardens and quads which he loved. We took the lift to the 30th floor of the ‘new’ block and looked at the whole of the world beneath our feet.

Then I took Fred to the playhouse where I volunteered, and where I said I’d get him a free ticket. Afterwards we visited Borough Market and Mamma Morruzzi’s for a tea before going back to mine. My little ‘garden’ flat seemed quite luxurious to young Fred; the garden was on top of the communal garage and accessed through a window.

Without saying anything I sensed we both intrinsically realised there was some sort of mutual understanding between us. We each sat one end of my old brown velvet couch, the one I’d got from Lucy in Hillgate Village when she’d moved out to Twickenham to be on the side of the river in 1993. I made tea and buttered some scones.

“Peter,” Fred said, in the way only a Frenchman can, with that seductively attractive lilt that enamoured me so quickly to him, “can I speak openly and ask your advice about something?”

I looked at this beautiful specimen of mankind; he appeared so many things at once – naïve, innocent, strong, honest, hard working and Catholic to boot, and mad about flowers and plants like me. What more could I want?

“Fred, of course you can ask me anything you want,” I replied.

“I want to tell you things about me, Peter! Things you may not like.”

I told him he could tell me anything he wanted, and added that I might tell him a few things about myself.

“Peter, I think I like boys and girls,” Fred said, and started to cry.

I feigned some surprise but caressing him with an arm round his shoulder, I told him I was exactly the same, and then proceeded to shed a tear myself.

We had both got something off our chests that had been simmering deep down inside us and eating away. For me it had taken years, and an adorable young man to be the catalyst. For Fred it was the fact he was away from home and felt comfortable with me.

I felt honoured that he had chosen me, and thought how strange life was. Had I had the opportunity to say what he did to someone when I was his age, how differently things might have been in my life. If I had found me when I was 20.

That night Fred and I made a decision. I am not sure if I regret it. Sometimes on cold, wet, dark winter nights I suppose I do, but my life has been decisions and I am responsible for what I do, no one else. I know Fred would love to be here right now with me, even though it is years later. Yes, he’d adore being here in the wilds of Snowdonia collecting specimens, out on the windswept slopes of Murray Mountain where I am writing this chapter, and I would love him to be here as well.

But that night, in my little London Bridge flat, we decided and promised that notwithstanding a feeling in both of us to do more than embrace or kiss, we would just stay close friends and confidants, nothing more.

It was a sort of compromise; after all we were more like uncle and nephew, without boundaries, except sex. Not that I knew much on that topic. I felt Fred might have been more experienced.

This was many years ago. These days we both know we can pick up where we left off, but we don’t.

We have not spoken to each other since 2000. We stayed close, nurturing each other for four years. I even followed him to Sarasota when he was studying there, and Aix more than once, and of course he came to London occasionally. In Florida I introduced him to my American cousin, Eileen Lawson, who fell hook, line and sinker, adored him and invited him over ceaselessly to her luxurious penthouse flat.

A few days after this cathartic evening, Fred arrived with a truck from work and bowled me over by re-designing my little roof garden in the nurses’ home – Sarah Swift – where I lived, working with flowers and plants, pebbles and ornaments. I can see him now changing my little garden for me. I felt so happy I thought my heart would burst with joy.

It was Fred who introduced me to The Royal Botanical Gardens. I had heard of Kew, but had yet to visit it. I now go as often as I can, and I can still hear Fred with his French accent explaining the Latin names and family species of trees and plants. It’s because of him I became a ‘Friend’ and started taking Mum.

The first time I returned to Kew after Fred had finally left London in 2000 I cried on entering the fern house – his favourite place. I was missing his company so much. Today it is not only Fred whom I think of when I visit.

It all started with Fred.

 

***

 

Of course it didn’t all start with Fred.

It all started earlier, much earlier!

LIVERPOOL

  

 

 (Warning: if it is a masterpiece you are wanting, look elsewhere.

This is my story, and my sincere wish is that with ‘Hope’ it serves a purpose for those who read it.)

 

 

I was born on Sunday 27th April 1958... Sunday’s Child is Full of Grace – or is it Fair of Face? – depends which poem you learnt at school I suppose! – the fifth of seven children of Andrew and Kathleen Murray.

Today is 16th July 2012. For Catholics around the world it is the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel.

A Carmelite monastery was situated at the end of a 400-yard cinder path at Leyfield Triangle, Knotty Ash, West Derby, Liverpool, where I was brought up. We had a Scottie dog when I was little – Mum’s choice. She loved them, the kind you see on souvenirs from Edinburgh or Loch Lomond. Our dog was called Crusoe and my brother, Mark, and I would take her for walks down this path. I thought fairies lived there and that they went down the jam butty mines with Ken Dodd’s Diddymen. Later on in life it wasn’t Scottie dogs Mark had; it would be Border Collies he’d breed and train.

 

***

 

There was the naughty girl again leaning up against the trees opposite Carmel, egged on by the even naughtier boy.

“Go on, touch it… it won’t hurt you,” he pleaded as a small bulge became apparent under his white Y-fronts, his zipper and top button undone. I had stopped on my way home from Benediction and was straining to see through the bushes.

Little Sister, as the Extern Nun was called, would rush over and shoo them away, instructing me at the same time to hurry on home, where my family would be waiting for Sunday afternoon tea of weekly sandwiches and jelly, maybe even homemade lemon drizzle cake.

At six years old, I thought it was all interesting and certainly a bit naughty; ‘Catholic guilt’ was already well instilled in me. At that age I wasn’t to know that although it was a wee bit daring what the young couple were doing, it was certainly quite normal behaviour as well.

I was a little boy, a really little boy. I hadn’t even made my First Holy Communion and the Second Vatican Council’s Instructions on using the vernacular had still to be implemented. I think my first words were “Deo Gratias” – the Carmelite greeting at the beginning and end of every action or meeting.

As an Altar Boy nodding my head every time I heard or said the name ‘Jesus’, I picked up a bit of Latin that I’d mostly forget. All under the tutelage of Father Cronin; he was lovely or so appeared. He appreciated me considerably; and when I was a little chap, I thought he was a god, and treated him accordingly.

I would bow down with my head touching the red tiled floor of the Carmelite chapel, like an angel from a Wilton Triptych, till I heard the moving words, “Hic Est Enim Corpus Meum,” then I would rise and ring the bell, while adoring the elevated Sacrament. It all sounded so much more beautiful than the English equivalent. However, that didn’t stop me saying, “Me a cowboy, me a cowboy, me a Mexican cowboy,” when I should have been reciting my Mea Culpas.

Carmel was part of my life back then. I liked the nuns and helped Little Sister as often as I could. She was the Extern and hailed from Oban where she was born 58 years before me. As the other extern sister, Mary Hammond, from Birkenhead was of a nervous disposition, more responsibilities fell on Little Sister’s shoulders. Even at six, I sensed this and stretched out an ever more helpful hand. Sometimes I would do a bit of shopping for her, go to the post office or dust the large iron grill that was the means of separating the nuns from the rest of us in the chapel – I was so small I had to stand on chairs to reach the top.

Sister Mary Gertrude across the road in Broughton Hall was a Mercy Nun and she would occasionally poach me to serve in her chapel. I would reluctantly oblige, but always return to Carmel. Gertrude told me I looked so angelic in my cassock and cotta, and her fellow confreres wanted me to serve at their Masses, but I rarely said yes to their requests.

If I missed serving Carmel’s early morning Mass before school at the Christian Brothers’ in Sandfield Park, I must have been very unwell.

The nuns enclosed in their monastery, spouses of Christ, ‘left’ the world and lived together in community and prayer, and to make ends meet sold altar hosts to the local parishes and a small selection of cards and little wooden shrines at Christmas. I loved them all. They were to play an integral and important part in my life, and that of all my family.

It was round this time when I was six or seven, serving at Mass before school early one morning at Carmel, that I noticed Mother Prioress was not in her usual place at the front right-hand side behind the grill. There was no one that morning to give me my daily sweet smile.

After Mass I found out that Mother Prioress, called Mother Mary of St Joseph, was seriously ill in the infirmary and Little Sister asked me to pray for her. So I began an extraordinary period where I decided to recite continually the three prayers I knew best – the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the prayer to St Joseph, all for Mother Prioress’ recovery.

As the weeks passed I was told how Mother Prioress was still alive but getting closer to going to her God. But I didn’t want her to go to her God; I didn’t want her to go anywhere, so I kept up my prayer regimen, saying over and over again my prayers for her recovery. Whether I was at school, home, playing or even in the bath, I kept up my vigil. Six weeks later Mother Prioress was still alive, but a strange command came from her to me. She called me one morning after Mass and asked if I was praying for her, and hearing I was from my very own lips, not just praying, but asking God continuously for her wellbeing, Mother Prioress asked me to stop, saying she wanted to go to her Saviour. I said I couldn’t possibly stop and with tears in my eyes Mother Prioress told me it was okay and she’d be all right whatever happened. I very reluctantly did as requested and that afternoon the Prioress slipped away.

I saw her rose-covered body laid out in the vestibule behind the little grill the next morning. The community was on the other side behind the big grill; she was all mine, as I served from the ‘little-grill side’, and I decided from then on I would refer to her as Saint Sister Mary of St Joseph and would pray to her. I still do today.

One of my first experiences in life was death – strange for a small boy. I’d had pets that had died, my tortoises for a start. Toby’s numbered one to four; they all died on me, much to my big sister’s relief. Geraldine detested them, and to this day can’t even bear the word tortoise let alone look at one. I realised early on things didn’t last forever; but this experience of a human death seemed different even to me. It was more upsetting, more final, but with my faith, one I could live with, or so I thought.

In the summertime when I was off school, I was sometimes invited to help collect the pears and apples from the orchard in the monastery grounds. Occasionally my cousin, Damian, from Bootle would help me.

A bell would tinkle and we knew it was a tray of lemonade and arrowroot biscuits left for us in a corner – our reward. I’d ring the same bell when we had finished so no words were spoken and we could be escorted out without being seen by any of the community.

 

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