Norman Allan
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a personal biography
written as

a letter to brenda


Chapter One: Crazy Jane

Of my return to Brighton,
of the Open Cafe, Cissbury Tor
and the route to Marrakech and Teresa,
but first to Crazy Jane.


since I saw you last


So much has happened since I saw you last. I should explain why I didn't follow you, and so speak of my trip to Morocco first, and where that led me...

After I saw you last we returned to Brighton where the household continued to unravel till Karin put me out the door. I crashed a few nights on the floor with Alan at the Free Times, then with Spanish Frank, a cot. I will tell you Frank's story in chapter two. He was a hero, and he ties in with Crazy Jane, who ties in Cissbury Tor and Mike the Chauffeur, and the road to Marrakesh, but before I get to the Tor, that's three seasons since I last had seen you. A fall, what a fall, and winter.

The first time I took my son, Seth, two years then, round the corner to friends, to spend some time with him - oh, I'd walked him to the park, but the first time we were in a neutral house for a while I allowed myself to get emotional, perhaps a little sentimental, maudling. Seth took my thumb and stuck it in my mouth.

Three weeks after Karin put be out of the house, by the grace of God, I moved into a room in Burgess Hill with the Infinity Food people. There I wintered. Ted, my father, asked me if I could novelise "Lies...", his film script. I told him yes, and there in that island, Burgess Hill, I wrote that...

Wandering to Brighton Station to catch the train back to Burgess Hill, I cannot remember the season, was it towards spring? at dusk, outside the station, this poem came...


Twilight sighs
reaching back towards our beginnings.

The night wind breathes a hush
upon our brow.

The sun lies
now behind our dreams: our winnings
and our losings balance in the seed
from which the future grows.

It is the bewitching hour.

Wish upon it.


In the spring I was ready for life. I picked up the most beautiful, willing but shy, young woman on the beach! I was a totally self-absorbed user, a perfect arsehole. What an apology I owe her..

Mostly I have walked alone.

Brenda, why I have not come looking for you? First I got diverted - Mike the chauffeur up on Cissbury Tor said he had a pad in Marrakesh, his own place, which led to the souk, to Hamach, another "crazy",

But before I met Mike the chauffeur up on the Tor, I met Crazy Jane. Later, much later I wrote Jane's story for another would be love. My father said, "You can't call that story Crazy Jane. There are too many Crazy Janes. Call it Catching Butterflies."

Catching Butterflies

Crazy Jane had nothing to hide: it all depended on what was on the agenda. When she smiled at me my heart fountained.

I met her up on the Downs on a sunny May day. Her face lit and I fell into her smile. I'm prone to that. The story I want to tell is of Crazy Jane Ford and of what she said to me, her last parting words in Churchill Square; but to get there I'll have to speak of our meeting, and of the "Free". It is so hard to know what to say, what are the ins and outs. The mess mounds round me, and I try to relate, takes, double takes...

Take two

I just made a connection of Jane to another Brighton clique beyond the Free. To the Unicorn Book shop and Geophrey Harrison. In the back of my "I Ching" I find her address care of Geoff. Jane connects through Geophrey to Ann Clark whose daughter Michelle's hamster Jane butchered! Now that was crazy. But does it necessarily mean that the later attack on the psychotherapist was driven by anger? I think not.

But so much for metaphor, for mind me, for may and Crazy Jane.

I met Jane in May on Cissbury Tor, over the hill back towards the sea from Cissbury Ring above Worthing. Nick the Druid had organised a small spring free bop. (How was it bankrolled? Did record companies in those days of yore sponsor little festivals?) I met Crazy Jane on Cissbury Tor, and her face lit up. A frank face. A trim body. Crazy Jane, bright as a pin. Though battered, she opened to me like the heavens, and I fell into her smile.

"Where do I know you from?" I asked.

"St. Francis," we both replied.

St. Francis is the Big head hospital beyond "H block". I had visited St. Francis through my involvement with PNP, and the Free. I had spent much of the prior two years on the fringe of the Free, and through this I was visiting the hospital where Jane was incarcerated after the Copenhagen incident. I was the incumbent chairperson, incorporation of PNP, People Not Psychiatry, a support group sponsored by the Free. You see, when I had returned to Brighton I had been drawn to the Free like a moth, and Dale had said, "If you really want to help, then take on PNP. I haven't got the time, Otto hasn't got the bedside manner, and Jon just wants to be a Manhattan Queen."

In practice PNP was a once a week tea and sympathy evening at the Free Times cafe, and a once a week visit to St. Francis. Jon and Ros, who with Dale and Otto, were the heart of the Free, visited St. Francis with me once to see Jane, and thus we'd met. A brief and neutral encounter.

Why was I visiting the nut house week after week? Well, Dale had set me up for it, and I couldn't refuse. Since childhood I had told myself that I wanted to understand "mind". I had for a long time felt that an insane asylum would be an important place to try to sniff out "mind" for mind would surely reveal itself where it was batting its little brain against some crazies skull. But I had procrastinated. I had never poked my nose behind those walls. So for six months I became PNP, and visited the bug house, and found that it smells of stale urine, and feels like a railway station with no trains running. Just time crawling on and on, like bugs on a wall.

Then a winter and a marriage gone I went up to Cissbury fair, and there in May met sweet Jane. "Where do I know you from?" I asked. "St. Francis," we replied. We beamed at each other. Don't ask me why. And I felt that I had met my sister. I guess I was just so pleased to see her joy in meeting me. She asked what I was doing, and I told her of my plans to travel. "I'm looking for where to go. I may just have found the keys to Marrakesh."

One of my projects was writing a fairytale. "Pipedreams" was set in part in Marrakesh, and I had never been. Just before, up there on the tor, I had bumped in to Mike the chauffeur who had said he had an apartment in Marrakesh. I should have known better. He gave me the address and the name of the girl who was looking after it for him. A fictitious address, it would transpire, and he got the girl's name wrong too. It was MacDonaugh, not MacDuff, and she had never heard of Mike when nonetheless I found her. But back on the tor I thought I'd travel to Morocco and invited Jane to join me.

"Can't. Home Office impounded my passport. It's cost me two hundred quid to get it back, to cover the air-fare from Copenhagen and two attendants. It's a long story."

"I've time."

"No, another time. Tell me more of you."

I told Jane of my plans, and I told her of my actions, of writings done and writings planned. "I'm researching the Free for a novel. I've got lots of bits and pieces, and I've got a title: "The Fringe of the Free"."

The Free bears explaining. The Free Times was a cafe in Brighton, and was also a species of alternative Welfare Service. The Free were Dale and Jon and Otto. Otto's mummy had the money.

When I met Dale in Brighton some years prior he was en famille with Jon and Otto, ex-lovers. Together they would constitute the core of the Free family. At this time, 1970, they opened a Free Times cafe with a theatre space, and theatre. Kay, my wife, and Jon hit it off - there was clearly some sexual glue - and while we where away in Canada, a year, they corresponded. After that year, and a further year of chasing my tail in the Irish countryside - what other solution was there to the world's problems than to develop extended family and communal endeavour. I thrashed around ineptly at engagement, lost a year, a portion of my wife's small inheritance, and the last shreds of her regard.

The Free drew us back to Brighton; Kay to Jon quite simply, and I, in part to Jon's glamour and enthusiasm, and more, to Dale's posture of involvement and adventure. So we returned to Brighton, and to the fringe of the Free. And I became PNP.

At this time the Free was a Brighton institution. The theatre space had closed, and Dale and family had moved the cafe inland, back from the sea. They leased a corner property and opened a new Free Times cafe. So they ran a cafe and a mini-welfare service. There was a "crash service": they kept a list of people who would be prepared to offer short term hospitality to those in emergency need of accommodation. This was the occasional battered wife, or chucked-out husband, as I was soon to be, but for the greater part it was itinerant youths drifting away from home and with gravity trickling down from London to Brighton.

Dale also offered legal counselling: primarily tenant counselling and drug bust, though I recall him arranging bail, for instance, for a young girl jailed for lifting a milk bottle from someone's doorstep. Where necessary Dale would arrange lawyers, though usually he managed the counselling himself.

Jon, Dale's "Manhattan Queen", though gay thrived on female company. All the time I knew him there was a female companion. With Kay's removal from the scene (our journeys to Canada and Ireland), Jon hooked up with Rosslyn. Ros was a princess. Not that she was royal in the literal sense, nor was she stuck up, or needy greedy. Rather she was charisma incarnate. A human magnet. Through her lustre the Free shone. Jon and Ros and a changing group of friends ran a vegetarian cafeteria on the University campus: the major source of income of the Free, beyond the welfare that most of them claimed.

In this space on campus they held parties, though maybe "dances" is a better description for one paid to gain entrance, and one danced. Danced to the Grateful Dead. The Dead were God to Jon, Ros and their side of the Free. Dale, for his part, might turn up at the bops, put in his appearance shy and lost and at the same time looking like Napoleon. Though fair and balding, he was short, and bore a brooding dignity. Probably the most Bonapart about him was a tendency to slide one arm inside his jacket. But once one had seen this likeness, it persisted. He'd come to the parties and look out of place. He was much more at home in the cafe reading the real estate (always looking for a better place), or in his eyrie above the Free Times, sitting amidst his orange-crate furniture analysing the city and the world, reducing or expanding them with an acerbic humour.

Here he collected the flotsam and jetsam of Great Britain. Adolescence fled or driven from home, or just bursting free to tumble down to Brighton lost. Dale himself had been picked up and restored from near death in his adolescence, and so now perhaps in recompense he hung out with the needy, and patched more than a few through their destitution. I suppose, too, the access to pretty boys was a perk of the trade, though Stephane said he held him chastely, so the inference may be unkind.

Meanwhile Jon and Ros and pals pulsed party glamour. They formed an inner court of the Free. A court of grace, a court of plenty. So a schism grew between the party crew and the welfare Free, Dale and Otto. Then in '74 Dale and Ros surprised us all when out of the blue they announced their engagement. A stately marriage ceremony in St. Michael's cathedral-like church was a fitting climax to the soap opera. Ros and Dale ran off to Wales to raise chickens and children. "They ran off with the fucking car," grumbled Otto. Brighton was free of the Free, and I began to collect data on this phenomenon that had so seduced me. That would be the spring of 1974, when I went up to Cissbury Tor, and met Jane.

"The Free," said Jane. "Now I could tell you some stories."

Jane started off as Ros's friend, and this pulled her into the group loving, and 'tripping', and then as things evolved Jane ended up sort of servicing Otto at Free's laid back orgies (Laid back? Laid back and front.)

Acid and the Grateful Dead were a sacred rite with the party Free, Jon, Ros and friends. Jane had at this time been institutionalised once, after the mania and mayhem of the massacre of Michelle's hamster, and because of this one might say she was in some sense in the care of the Free when they took her up to London on the Holy trip, turned her on with 250 micrograms of primo acid - orange sunset, tangerine dream, some cute name - and they lost her, abandoned her at the Grateful Dead concert, Wembley Arena, twelve thousand people, 1972. It lefty Jane crazy, again.

Oh how the mighty fall. What virtue was left to these knights of the Counter Culture? How fucking disappointing! However, what my meeting with Jane left me with was not so much disillusionment with my cardboard Camelot heroes, but a glow from my encounter with Jane. I know that between two people there are always barriers and limits, but oft time in our first meetings we don't yet meet them, and it feels as though there is no boundary, we are in one harmony, bliss! better than a kiss. We exchanged phone numbers, and said we would meet again.

That was the one lie Jane told me, for when the taxi took me back into Brighton, twelve nighttime country miles from Burgess Hill, though the mirror was shattered with splintered glass scattered, Jane's wrists were intact. She just didn't trust herself to pick up the pieces, or to survive in the gloom of her glass filled room. The gloom of days and night and life. Or was it a simple "block", a clean up the mess block? Throwing the ashtray at the mirror is no great triumph of the will, but it's something. Picking up the mess is so dreary, why go on: pick up the glass and slash.

I picked up the pieces, made her tea, and talked. Then we lay clothed and entwined, and perhaps we dozed before the dawn soon rose. It was hard for me to see Jane as insane for her aura was always clear while I was there. Impulsive, this was the weakness that in bad times took her beyond the brink to the shrink. What I found was a troubled friend; a refugee. In me there is a need to serve, and to love (when I find someone dear). I found Jane open, vulnerable and lovely. No barriers, still. She made herself translucent, if not transparent.

In the morning we breakfasted in a greasy spoon and felt as real as all those truckers. We hitched a ride to Burgess Hill, sat in my room and just smiled. Held hands walking down to the kitchen, cooked lunch and felt at home. Then we spent the afternoon in the May meadows. Bluebells like blue stars in the green sky meadow bank with the dark woods rising behind turning us into archetypes, boy and girl, meadow and spring. We touched hands, but not lips: there was no urgency.

In the evening again we lay together. This time we shed our clothes like old skin. And she let me in. But it started as no pleasure to her, so we stopped.

Jane had been on the game, and even without that sex is such a coin in our civilization that it often confounds relationship. Was it then that she told me about the Copenhagen airport?

During her second hospitalization, that which followed the Dead Concert, Jane was in therapy with a pleasant and intelligent young man who helped her some, and with whom she communicated easily. After her release, hastened perhaps by his thoughtful therapy, the sessions continued on an outpatient basis. One day the therapist invited Jane to come touring with him through Denmark in his Volkswagen camper. "No," said Jane. She couldn't go with him because she didn't feel "that way" about him.

"You misunderstand. It's not like that," he protested. He wanted her company. And he persuaded her that indeed it was simply friendship that he sought: they got on so well together. So off they went touring Denmark.

But it wasn't like that. He was constantly courting her and pestering. On the third day - would they be or not be at Elsinor - wherever they were, Jane had it! She told him to turn the bus around and take her back to the airport. She told him that if he tried to cop another feel she would kill him.

They got to the airport. She got her ticket. They were in the lobby saying goodbye, and he tried to grope one last time. All she had to do was push him away, to scream, to walk away and get on the plane, and, and he would have learned nothing. He might try the same scam on the next comely patient: might hurt some innocent. All Jane needed to do to escape herself was to get on the plane. But she took a knife out of her handbag, and stabbed him!

He spent a few days in hospital, and maybe learned a lesson. Jane went home in handcuffs escorted by two white coated attendants, and spent a year in the St. Frances Hospital, Haywards Heath, where I met her.

I've told this story, the Copenhagen airport, many times, because I think it's important. Almost as important as walking camels. Some of those I tell the story to say Jane stabbed him out of anger, rage, but I don't think so. I don't think she stabbed him to hurt him, or to hurt herself, to put herself back in hospital. I think she stabbed him out of compassion. It was a sacrifice to save him and save others, to teach him not to fuck about with a sacred trust when entrusted with fragile souls. I really think it was a noble act, selfless love, and honouring of self (though I'm probably the only one who ever saw it that way... Jane didn't. Jane didn't have an opinion. She just did it).

So we didn't make love. We slept curled up together, like babes in the wood. With the morning we walked again amid the meadows, banks of flowers, bluebells, lush green above and behind the smoky black of tree trunks rising above the bank, the trees still leafless, though burgeoning with bud. Hand in hand but going where? I gave it no thought, just pleased to share.

Jane went back into town in the afternoon - some affairs to look after - and we arranged to meet at her place the next morning. So eleven o'clock next morning I arrived and walked in - the door was open - and found her fucking. In flagro with some swarthy fellow, squat and hairy and humping her. Some acquaintance from her gutter life in London. He made his living running one-armed bandits.

"Excuse me!" I walked out into the kitchen to wait. Jane threw on a housecoat and came to explain. No apology, just "it's better this way." Thanks a lot. I believe the message was meant to be that she didn't feel she deserved me, could hold me, could have me, could serve me. I felt disappointment, sad, but I felt no betrayal. I did feel relief. And I wondered at her caring. Honesty deserves honesty. Caring deserves caring. Jane was straight with me. And just as I think Jane was selfless with the therapist, I know she was honest and caring with me. She tried to save our friendship and our honesty from what she felt was impossible; that we could be together for any length of time.

Jane told her "friend" she had some chores, and dressed, and we went out and walked. A silent walk of missed love, of "how close, but..." We walked all the way to Brighton's then new and sterile downtown Mall, Churchill Square. We stood by metal railings, painted grey, marking the edge not of the world I know but simply of the shopping centre, centre of Brighton, edge of our small meeting. The sky contracted grew into my heart. Limits. We wake from another dream, empty. She readied to leave. And I had no argument except "I love you", or "I want you", and they were lame. They didn't walk, they wouldn't work, so I stayed silent.

"If you want to catch a butterfly," she said, "you have to be a professional." And with that she walked away.

I wrote this short story for Lea Harper, a brilliant poet, and singer/songwriter, when I fell in love with her. She thought it over. Came nearly to my side and said, "Gnagh. I've got a good thing." Then gave Ted whisky kisses. Rather like Crazy Jane.

Back on the Tor, on my way to not following you, just after I met Crazy Jane, I meet Mike the Chauffer, who steered me towards Marrakesh and Teresa, and Hamach. Hamach said, "Crazy. Hamack means crazy. You must not call people that. It can get you in trouble, but me, it is my name, Hamach." It was Hamach told me I had thirty years, one month, two days, two hours of life. That will bring us to August eighth...

Seque. Before I tell you of Marrakesh, and Teresa, and Hamach... I should tell you about Spanish Frank and Crazy Jane.


Chapter Two: Spanish Frank.