My song today is ‘Sailing’. My song today is ‘Sailing’. This song was composed by Gavin Sutherland of the ‘Sutherland Brothers’ in 1972 and was best known as a 1975 international hit for Rod Stewart.
Gavin Sutherland would comment: "Most people take the song to be about a young guy telling his girl that he's crossing the Atlantic to be with her. In fact, the song's got nothing to do with romance or ships. It is an account of mankind's spiritual odyssey through life on his way to freedom and fulfillment with the Supreme Being."
Written on the beach by Blythe Bridge, ‘Sailing’ was recorded by the Sutherland Brothers – a duo consisting of Gavin and Iain Sutherland. ‘Sailing’ peaked at Number 54 in July 1972. Rod Stewart's version of the song was recorded for his first album in North America rather than Great Britain called ‘Atlantic Crossing’.
I remember first hearing Rod Stewart sing this song, and I was pleased to hear Vera Lynn record it in 2017. Vera was my mother’s favourite singer, and I was very fortunate that she would become a good friend of mine for the last thirty years of her 103-year life. Vera was born on March 20th, 2017, and today would have been her birthday, so the song is a fitting selection to mark the occasion.
Gavin Sutherland quoted that the song was an account of mankind's spiritual odyssey through life on his way to freedom and fulfillment with the Supreme Being. For my part, despite having always been a poor sailor I have travelled on a personal voyage ever since a bad traffic accident crippled me at the early age of 11 years and left me unable to walk for the following three years.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that everything significant or momentous that ever happened to me in my life was influenced by that wagon that knocked me down, ran over me, and twisted my body-spine curvature around its main drive propellor shaft. The accident left me close to death and hospitalised me for nine months and kept me off school for two years after hospital discharge. However, in a strange way, this traumatic experience also brought me closer to a more wholesome and purposeful way of life, every minute of which has brought me tremendous satisfaction and immense pleasure. Virtually every bone in my body was broken after the wagon ran over me, and distorted them out of their natural position. My spine was badly injured, and my chest collapsed with all except two of its 24 ribs broken and matted. I was left with a punctured lung, and all my limbs were broken in several places each. I remained bodily disfigured in my legs thereafter, with half of a kneecap missing, and one leg left 3 inches shorter than the other after having dozens of operations breaking and re-setting over a two-year period.
Although I was medically informed that I would never walk again, it essentially took me two years from the day of my accident to be able to stand on my own feet again and withstand my own body weight, and another year to walk under my own steam. That was followed by two years hobbling about, and I was almost 16 years old before I started to regain enough mobility to start engaging in some sport and other activities again which the previous five years had prevented me from doing. My aim was to regain better body balance, and I needed to learn to walk in a more normal gait. Over 46 operations on my left leg breaking and re-setting had left it almost 3 inches shorter than my right leg and riddled with arthritis. To compensate for my crippled movement, I engaged in every activity I could to ensure that no young man my own age would ever be able to call me a cripple or get the better of me in a fight.
I know how foolish that thought may appear to the reader of my post today, but during the 1950s and 1960s, while we never fought two on one, or kick and bite, or carry weapons, boys and young men still exercised a sort of gang code in which peer group acceptance was given to those who could look after themselves in a street fight, whatever their height, weight or other bodily features.
Between the ages of 16 and 21 years, I engaged in developing my skills in boxing, amateur wrestling, judo, running, tennis, weightlifting, rugby, and I did as much rock and rolling on the dance floors as I could. I would engage in these activities five nights during the week and on Saturday noon and Sunday afternoon, without fail. I did all this to improve my body balance and increase my likelihood of never coming off second best, either on the dance floor or in the boxing ring. I succeeded generally on the dance floor, but I frequently came a poor second in the boxing ring. This vigorous exercise routine worked for me, and although there were many sports and activities that I could not do again (like football or sprinting), I was able to exchange speed of running with the stamina and endurance required to run long distance, and I was able to use the agility and speed of my fast hands with boxing, wrestling, judo and table tennis, instead of depending on any swiftness of foot. Playing football remained out for me as I would frequently become unbalanced and stumble if I turned suddenly, but I managed to play rugby for three seasons between the ages of 17-20 years.
Being a 'with it' teenager and gang member in the 1950s involved being good at fighting, drinking, dancing, and pulling the birds. These were the qualities that, rightfully or wrongly, accorded a young man peer-respect and ensured a high degree of popularity within one’s social group.
I was in my early thirties before I learned that it took more guts to walk away from a fight than to engage in a fisticuffs brawl, especially when one knew that they would win. I would reach my forties before I was obliged to accept that marriage was not necessarily ‘forever’ and that no one person in a marriage can keep it alive once the other person is determined it should be killed off.
My absence of mobility, along with my rheumatic legs considerably worsening yearly from my mid-40s to the age of 53 years, when I was obliged to retire early from my Probation Officer career on the grounds of disability and ill health. Only then did I realise how productive life in retirement can be. Initially, I involved myself in gardening more and more, and the more I learned about my garden and its plants and natural inhabitants, the more I learned about the needs of my wife and children, and friends and neighbours. Nature taught me more about nurture and vice versa. I gradually grew to appreciate the similar needs of plants and people for the life of each to thrive. I learned that humans needed emotional nutrients every bit as much as flowers and botanical plants require the nutrient of water, sun, shade and proper positioning to survive and thrive in their respective environments. I learned that we all grow better when we are perfectly placed and are given our own space, and face no unwanted invasion. Just as plants need their own space to grow better, so a family unit is happier if it t remains uncrowded. Also, moving to a new house can be just as disruptive to the human nervous system as moving a plant from its favourite shady spot to a different place in the garden. Just as good next-door neighbours are missed by people moving house, plants being placed elsewhere in the garden greatly miss the presence of their neighbouring soil which they were supported by for many years.
I learned that just as water, shade, sun, and nutrients are needed by every garden plant to grow and thrive, so humans need their equivalent boosts to thrive in life also. The similarities to be found in nature and nurture, and in plant and person are too many for any sensible person to ignore. Plants and humans need constant attention, care and encouragement to live and thrive in their individual splendour. They need love shown to them; they need the love told to them, and they need love felt by them. Everyone mocked Prince Charles for ‘talking to his plants, except the plants which thrived as a consequence of his loving care demonstrated. .I learned that humans thrive on being appropriately attended to, just like plants, and that there are also times when they hate being fussed over. I learned that humans and plants hibernate in their own respective ways. Each requires restful periods where they can ‘take time out’ and be allowed not to be at their best and loudest. This enables the rebirth of both plant and person when they are reinvigorated with life before they bloom again the following spring.
My 60s witnessed a rejuvenation in my own life when I needed to return to many activities of my youth. I took up bopping again and started attending rock and roll clubs all over the country with my sister Mary, and her partner Richard, and their rock and roll friends. I also increased my writing of poetry and rapidly increased my writing of novels. I had over five dozen novels published by 2017. I was also able to give all my book sales profits (over £200,000 between 1990-2003) to charitable causes and I became a good friend with hundreds of famous people who read my books to thousands of children in their Yorkshire schools.
My seventies also brought me back to singing regularly. Having been a good singer in my youth, I did not sing in public again between the ages of 21 years and 74. My recent cancers aggravated my restricted mobility, and two heart attacks within the same week,15 years ago, depleted the functioning of my lungs to COPD level. After reading that daily singing practice can greatly improve lung capacity and increase oxygenation, I began a singing regime of two hours daily three years ago. I sing and I post a new song daily on my Facebook page and have now recorded over 1000 (one thousand) videoed songs. My lung capacity and oxygenation levels have improved by 20 percent, and I am once more within the normal levels. I have also found joy in singing again.
I am now in my late 70s and my increasing immobility and experience of having to contend with three different body cancers, plus numerous cancer operations and cancer treatments this decade has taken a significant toll on my body. Yet, despite these medical issues, the past decade has strangely witnessed the happiest years of my life. My aggressive skin cancer has spread all over the RHS of my head and is now in my forehead, neck, cheek, throat, shoulder, and ear. I have been offered a rare place on a very expensive cancer drug trial (£4600 a shot every three weeks) at St. James’ Hospital in Leeds. I start on March 29th. The drug cannot cure aggressive skin cancer as it has advanced too far. If the drug can be tolerated by my body, and if it works positively on my behalf, while it cannot cure my cancer, it could possibly extend my life a bit longer. However, its toxicity can cause fatal side effects like inflammation in the lungs and other major organs, that even though it cannot cure, ironically, it can kill the patient taking it by advancing their death.
Despite having been diagnosed with terminal blood cancer three months after my wedding to my beautiful wife, Sheila (14 years younger than me) on my 70th birthday, I feel like that I have at last learned how best to enjoy my life. It is ironic that only when I faced certain death, am I enabled to face life more purposely. I am happier today than in any year before I met and fell in love with Sheila. Despite having had nine cancer operations, two lengthy courses of chemotherapy, twenty sessions of radiotherapy, daily monthly blood transfusions at the hospital for three years, I have also faced extensive restrictions in my daily life to keeping my social distance and maintaining a lockdown in the home for nine months annually over each of the past eight years. And yet, I would not swap my life today, for any part of life I previously experienced for all the tea in China.
In my 78th year of life, I have finally realised that each part and period of my life has been experienced by me for a purpose. Even the experience of my extensive pain in my earlier life has provided me with a high pain level threshold today, which has been of itself, lifesaving during some operations I have had over the years when I have seriously faced death.
However strange it probably seems to any outsider I feel more loved at this moment in time than any man has ever felt or has a right to feel on this side of the grave. Over the past eight years, I have had more prayers and masses said on my behalf, and candles lit by people all over the world; each one giving me continual comfort and reassurance in my efforts to make this final voyage of mine last as long as possible before landing me on the shores of a pain-free and promised land.
When my time eventually arrives, I will sail into the eternal sunset knowing that I loved and was loved in return by my wife, family, friends, neighbours, and one-time strangers turned friends. No more can any man ask for! I appreciate all my life experiences to the extent that no amount of expressed gratitude given by me to my Maker could ever prove sufficient.
Love and peace