Welcome back to Cathy Bryant’s very open interview where we are now going to swap places and I get to “empty my bag”.
Ooh, how lovely! I always want to ask the interviewer questions and I never get to! My first question is – when did you first realise that you were an otter? I have something to confess – I’m an otter too. One of my early poems (now lost), about Keir and I, talked about Puppywolf and Otter, trotting side by side under the stars, no longer staying curled up in burrow or kennel. I also have a rather horrible poem about an otter being too angry and scared to go outside.
I’ve always got on far better with animals than humans. My spiritual path has led me to have several (erm, dozen) spirit animals with me. Some are of creatures like my raven who existed but is now back in spirit form. Otter…just slid into my life as if down a muddy bank. When I moved into this village where a small river runs through I was drawn to it more and more often. I knew then that the otter-spirit was pulling me and since then, she has taken over as one of my main totems.
What happened in your childhood? (Big question I know, so please share only what you’re comfortable sharing.)
Well, you’ve been very frank, so here goes. I had religious bullying too. My mother was a “spiritual tourist” who changed religions more often than most people do underwear but in my formative years she was a fire and brimstone Christian which wasn’t very pleasant for me. By the time she was a Buddhist and being nice to me, the damage was done. Add to this that when my father was dying from stomach cancer, I got psychological problems and developed annorexia. I was four and nearly died. Losing him and being left with my loony mother completed the job.
You’ve been through so much I know, and come out so warm and caring.
I wondered about that too! My psychiatrist explained to me that I had such a rotten time as a kid that I am trying to “mother” everyone I meet so that they get a bit of the childhood on which I missed out. I do care. I hate to think of people suffering, probably because I know how it feels.
Where does your gift for wit come from? Were any of your family literary and funny, or is it all sparked newly in you?
My Aunt Muriel has a wonderfully dry sense of humour. “Funny” for me, started as a defence mechanism. I was bullied at school but discovered that if I could make people laugh first, I de-fused the situation. If I meant them to laugh, then they weren’t laughing at me. Wit I suppose comes from my heritage of Scottish, Irish, Jewish – all known for their humour. It has become a habit. Also I fight demons by laughing at them. They shrink and become cross little plasticine figures stamping their feet and swearing in squeaky voices then. You can’t be afraid of that! Laughter is my best weapon, no matter what happens.
What jobs have you done and what were they like?
Wow! I can’t remember all of them. Loved: veterinary nurse; liked: administrator, PA, ice-cream vendor and language teacher to adults. Hated working in a fish-canning factory and in a zoo. I had thought I could change things from the inside but had not taken into account the selfishness and greed of the owners. Generally I’ve beenin the right place at the right time to land something interesting. Couple of times I’ve fallen on my ass but mainly it’s been fun. The four years being a sea-going wife in the Merchant Navy was the pits and it sounds the most exciting – never can tell.
You don’t talk about your relationships often. I don’t want to press on any sore spots, but it would be interesting to know your background (and wisdom) about them.
I have no wisdom. My advice to anyone would be “take your time, don’t get rushed into setting up a permanent relationship”. For pity’s sake please don’t fall in love with the notion of the ceremony and get married for the frills and frippery. There is a lifetime that follows and as a two-divorce survivor, I’m here to tell you that it can be less than fun and hard to get out of. Marry your best friend. Sounds trite but where passion can fade, friendship lasts. Ask yourself : if one of us were badly mangled in an accident and couldn’t have sex any more, how long would we stay together, what would be left?
What are your ambitions? I know that like me, you’ve had to slow down due to ill-health – a horribly difficult lesson to learn. But you can still do things; you just have to prioritise. So what would you like to achieve?
Really honestly? I have none. If I can continue to recover, keep my mental illness under control and if possible, carry on writing, I will be more than happy. My recent accident, coma and major surgery have left me struggling to write. That is not a good situation so if I have an ambition it is to get back to my old writing-output.
One thing that you and I share is a love of animals. I think that this comes partly from a childhood where humans were not kind and friendly but animals were; also that animals are often hurt the way we were, so we feel kinship. Could you talk a little about the animals in your life?
I could, indeed may, write “My Animals and Some Family” which would be a large volume. There is a connection between me and animals which I don’t find with most humans. As a child I was isolated and bullied so I found comfort in the uncomplicated friendship of animals. Call it telepathy if you like but I seem to know what they are feeling. All my life I’ve had animal companions, not just dogs, cats, tortoises or budgies but also, pigs, cows, horses, a bat, snakes, ferrets, just about any critter that came my way and needed a home and I’m still like it. I tried to steal an elephant from Regent’s Park zoo when I was four (read about it here) and that set the style. Animals aren’t duplicitous or hurtful. They tell you straight up if they like you or not and only hurt you with good reason.
It’s very kind of you to answer questions and thank you. What a luxury! I always want to say to interviewers, “What about you? What do you think?”, so it’s been lovely doing that here. I shall climb on the magic carpet and sing the Shake ‘n’ Vac song until we get home (hmm, perhaps it goes so fast in order to avoid my singing). Give Cameron my best! xxx
I will do, perhaps he can come over and visit you some day. The carpet loves being sung to, it tends to fly in time to the music so avoid “Flight of the Bumblebee”! Lovely having you xxx