28 August 2010

A Registrar of Oxford and other deflating gas-bags

This is an account of past events which my colleague Charles McCreery has written, and sent to someone who is planning to write a book about his father (the late General Sir Richard McCreery). My account of the same events has already been blogged.

At some later date I may give an account of how relations with my parents came to break down in 1965, about a year after I took my first degree, and how in my opinion this rupture was deliberately brought about by my mother, by her behaviour over a period of about a year, in order to justify the subsequent disinheriting that was carried out by various members of my family.

Meanwhile I wish to give an account of how my parents were responsible for triggering a slander that I was taking drugs.

Some time between the breakdown in relations between us in 1965, and my father’s death in 1967, they went to visit Oliver Van Oss, then headmaster of Charterhouse school, ostensibly to discuss the breakdown in relations, but in my opinion more likely in the hope that he could put pressure on me to resume relations on their terms. He had been my tutor for modern languages at Eton, but I had only seen him once, briefly, in the five years since I had left Eton. He was therefore not in a position to shed any further light to my parents on why I was currently not willing to see them than I had already done in writing myself.

As a result of the natural evasiveness of people caught propagating criminal slander, it was never definitely established who initially invented the slander that I ‘must be taking drugs’, i.e. whether it was my parents themselves, Van Oss, or one of the academics who passed it on, as described below. My own surmise is that it was most likely Van Oss who thought it up during, or prior to, the interview with my parents. Knowing him as I did I could imagine him producing the hypothesis to make up for his lack of insight into the situation, and, by making me responsible for the breakdown in communication, to let them off the hook. (Clearly no one as statusful as my parents could have been responsible for the breach by virtue of reprehensible behavior on their part, so it must have been me.)

However, even if it was Van Oss or one of the other academics who invented the slander, that does not exonerate my parents as they clearly were quite willing to accept the ‘explanation’ and certainly did nothing to prevent it circulating, as it proceeded to do.

The reason for the slander beginning to circulate round Oxford and elsewhere was that Van Oss was too cowardly to approach me directly. Instead, he approached a friend of his, John Butterworth (later made Lord Butterworth of Warwick), the Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University. The ostensible reason for this choice was that Butterworth had been Bursar at New College during my time there as an undergraduate. However, although I had known him by sight through seeing him around the college, to the best of my recollection I had never exchanged two words with him.

Butterworth evidently felt even more lacking in social leverage than Van Oss where I was concerned, and he passed the buck to a friend of his, namely Sir Folliott Sandford, then Registrar of Oxford University, whom I did not know at all and would not even have recognized if I had passed him in the street. Sandford, like his two predecessors, also lacked the moral courage to approach me directly, and instead approached one of our academic Consultants, Dr Graham Weddell, a physiologist at Oxford (later Professor of Anatomy). Even Weddell, whom I had also never met, failed to approach me directly but instead rang up my colleague Celia Green to describe what had been going on.

Following this telephone conversation between Celia Green and Dr Weddell I myself spoke to each of the participants, including Dr Weddell, on the telephone. Their reactions were instructive. I would say that each of them in their various ways sounded ‘caught out’, as if they had not reckoned with being called to account by the object of the slander himself.

None of them attempted to deny their involvement in circulating the slander. Oliver Van Oss’s manner I would describe as sheepish. I had previously, i.e. during my time at Eton, known him as an authority figure, and had never before experienced him in such a subdued and defensive mode in relation to myself. I remember having an image of him, either during the conversation or subsequently and as a result of it, as a sort of deflating gas-bag or balloon.

Sir Folliott Sandford admitted quite abjectly that there was not a shred of evidence for the slander, that it was pure speculation, and that it had been started in order to explain the rift between me and my parents.

The person who came nearest to adopting an aggressive attitude was John Butterworth. After I had repeated my expressions of disgust at the irresponsible way he and the various other academics had propagated this slander, he started to complain that I was disrupting his social arrangements – he was either preparing or conducting a dinner party of his own or due at someone else’s. I pointed out to him that the likelihood of permanent damage to my career and reputation as a result of his and others’ slanderous activities might be accounted of more importance than any temporary inconvenience to his social life.

22 August 2010

Snatching winter fu-el

The age at which the elderly can claim winter fuel payments, worth £250 last year for the over-60s and an extra £150 for those over 80, is all but certain to be raised to cut some of the £2.7 billion annual costs. ... The handouts could also be restricted to less well-off pensioners who claim other benefits. (Daily Mail, 18 Aug 2010, from article ‘Bonfire of the middle class benefits’.)

After the state pension had ceased being independent of means-testing, additional payments for specific purposes were introduced from time to time, supposedly to reduce the hardship of those who now received significantly less than those with fewer savings.

But such specific items are vulnerable, and it is now proposed that the winter fuel allowance should be received at a later age than before, and also possibly be paid only to those in receipt of other benefits (i.e. with sufficiently small savings, and receipt of some other benefit to prove it).

Thus the proportion of the pension that is free from means-testing is to be decreased, and the extra percentage which I would receive if my savings were small enough will be increased. At present I would receive 36% more per annum if I were poor enough; if the fuel allowance were made dependent on means-testing, that would increase to about 40%.

As a matter of fact, even if I were eligible for the income supplement I would probably forgo it, and I think that pensioners as a whole should think very seriously before applying for it, since it can only be got by exposing yourself to scrutiny by those who may decide that you are no longer fit to live in independence, but should be incarcerated in a care home for your own good.

Since writing the above

Today, 19 August, I read that it is proposed that winter fuel payments to pensioners should be delayed to the age of 75, which means that those on reduced (means-tested) pensions will have their annual payment cut by about 5%.

There are criticisms that this will cost lives. For those of us who are still trying to get started on our adult careers by building up the capital necessary for an academic institution, it is simply an extra handicap, making an already grim situation just a bit worse.

21 August 2010

The sacrifices of sadism are the greater

It may be observed that General McCreery was prepared to spend a good deal of money (Eton fees for five years) to prevent Charles from being at Eton as a scholar, which severely damaged his prospects in life, as well as his well-being throughout those years. If Charles had got a scholarship the fees could have been saved, which was not a negligible consideration even for the McCreerys, to judge from his father’s complaints about the costs of servants, central heating, etc. (*)

In fact, it appears that his parents wished to spend that much money to prevent Charles from getting the advantages out of his ability which he could have done. Cf. my aphorism:

It is supposed that self-sacrifice is the prerogative of altruism. On the contrary; the sacrifices of sadism are the greater.

* It was not a foregone conclusion that scholars did not have to pay fees, and the McCreerys might have wished to pay the fees for the social prestige of being able to pay even if Charles had got a scholarship.

17 August 2010

My ineligibility for social security

It is important to emphasise that it was my ineligibility for so-called social security that placed me so much at the mercy of everyone’s hostility. I couldn’t pretend I was seeking a job because I wasn’t regarded as qualified for any of the many academic careers the requirements of which in reality I could have fulfilled. This certainly seemed to me very terrible. Going to the Society for Psychical Research made me aware that there were neglected areas of potential research, and I hoped to make use of them to work my way back into a university career. As a first step, I would set up a research institute to provide myself with the necessary conditions of a tolerable academic life.

The fact that I could never draw ‘social security’ (although it would have been pretty horrible to do so, even if I could have done) always made me vulnerable to the worst social pressure.

When I had resigned from the SPR, I did not have even a minimum of income to provide the barest physical survival, so I was forced to seek funding from the research committee of the SPR, and Rosalind Heywood used this situation to make me do the most pointless and tedious sort of ‘research’. If I had been able to draw ‘social security’ as an unemployed person, it is easy to imagine I might have preferred even going along to sign on once a week to undertaking the sort of ‘research’ that the SPR was prepared to pay me a pittance for doing.

The story that I had deliberately turned my back on a university career in order to do research which I found ‘interesting’ in poverty and social degradation became dominant and persists to the present day. I suppose that it was initiated by Rosalind and/or Somerville. It has a woman’s touch about it.

I remember a conversation I had with Salter before the plan for the research institute in a house provided by the Coombe-Tennants began to break down.

‘Would you have really wanted to have an academic career?’ he said.

‘Well, of course!’, I thought, but I said, ‘It was the research I really wanted to do anyway, so if this place gets set up it will be as good as I could have got out of a university career.’

‘But you wouldn’t really have wanted to teach, would you? A university career would mean you had to do teaching.’

‘I don’t mind about teaching, actually,’ I said, ‘although I would want to be doing research as predominantly as possible as soon as possible. But I have taught various people in Somerville unofficially in various subjects, and if that is what you have to do to get the academic lifestyle, its OK.’

‘But you were teaching people you chose to teach yourself, and if you had an appointment you would have to teach everybody,’ Salter insisted, as if he was proving that I really could not have wanted a normal academic career.

I wondered why he was making so analytical a distinction, which did not seem characteristic of the way his mind usually worked.

Of course, I had hoped to be able to start higher up the career ladder, and I should have been able to do so.

In retrospect, I could see that Salter, probably already under Rosalind’s influence, was working towards the idea that, since some of the things in an academic career did not appeal to me, I deliberately preferred ‘doing research’ in poverty and social degradation, which I suppose is the standard ‘drop-out’ position. And, of course, if I was doing exactly what I had freely chosen to do, everyone was let off the hook about thinking that I might need any help or support of any kind.

14 August 2010

Slandered by academics (part 1)

It is probable that widespread slanders had been spread about me and my incipient research institute from the time I was thrown out in 1957, but one seldom had direct evidence.

However, it happened that one of our Consultants, Graham Weddell, a physiology lecturer at Oxford, rang me a year or more after Charles McCreery had graduated in 1964, at which time he (Charles) had called a halt to communication with his family so as to recover from the run-down state he had got into as a result of his mother’s constant pestering.

Dr Weddell sometimes seemed a somewhat tactless person, who revealed inside information, perhaps to gain the confidence of the person to whom he was talking. On this occasion, he said, ‘They are making an awful lot of fuss about your research assistant.’

I was nonplussed and thought of various part-time workers we had employed whom I had not known very well, and wondered what any of them might have done.

‘Can’t I at least know who it is you are talking about?’

Weddell seemed to hesitate. ‘Well, he has a very important father and his father is beside himself about his drug-taking.’

‘You mean Charles McCreery, son of General McCreery?’ I said, surprised. ‘There is no question of his having ever taken drugs.’

After a bit more reiteration of this, Weddell seemed to accept it and said that it must have arisen from the association of ideas between parapsychology and drug-taking.

I had reservations about this, because when some really damaging slander or piece of hostility against us was revealed, and we gave our side of it, people always found it easy to brush it aside with, ‘Oh, it’s just the subject’ (‘the subject’ being parapsychology). Actually I thought that was a rationalisation, and the reasons for the hostility were more profound. But I went along with the idea on this occasion, partly to show that we did not regard ourselves as part of some ‘parapsychological’ population.

‘I suppose it has not helped that Steve Abrams* has been in the papers recently,’ I said. ‘He has been going to the Home Office to tell them that marijuana ought to be legalised since he claims it is an aid to creativity for writers.’

I asked who had been saying these things about Charles, and Weddell gave me the names of three people whom Charles subsequently proceeded to tax with it by phone: Oliver Van Oss (headmaster of Charterhouse), John Butterworth (Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University) and Sir Folliott Sandford (Registrar of Oxford University).

* an American parapsychologist with a research organisation in Oxford

More about this episode can be read here.

10 August 2010

Slandered by aristocrats (part 2)

The situation has always been that I had to reject so many false assumptions, before getting to anything that was really the case, that it has been very hard work to get anywhere near the point, and people have been extremely reluctant to listen to anything that did not reinforce their preconceptions.

My colleague Charles McCreery always had the same problem. The storms which his parents provoked really had the effect of preventing him from getting started on a ‘normal’ career, either in the university or at the Tavistock Clinic in London.

We knew Charles as an undergraduate, and on graduating he started to help us set up an effective fundraising campaign, which we needed to get going.

If this campaign had not been aborted by the terrible storms of hostility, it would have been possible for Charles to combine a normal salaried career with continuing his association with us. It was never my idea that I or any associate should spend their time acting as their own research assistants and secretaries. A primary object of the institute was to get me back into a suitable university career, and the only reason I was not in one myself was that my attempts to return to one had been blocked.

If we had ever managed to get set up, it would have been possible to consider whether it would be better for Charles to work at the Tavistock in London and come to Oxford at weekends, or do a D.Phil. at the Department of Experimental Psychology and make a career as a psychologist in Oxford. As it was, we were forced into so constricted a position that we had to give up on these ideas, as we could only survive at all (even physically) by huddling together as closely as possible. (This made it possible for people to refer to us as a ‘commune’, as if this also was a deliberately chosen way of life.)

So really Charles's parents prevented his career, whatever it might have been, forced him into a breach with them, and forced him to appear as if he had chosen to be an impoverished dropout, out of ‘interest’ in something unusual. (As, in fact, I too had been forced into doing something I could never have wished to do, as if I had deliberately preferred poverty and social degradation on account of ‘interest’.)

Actually Charles had absolutely no previous knowledge of, or interest in, anything that might be regarded as associated with ‘parapsychology’, but only in psychology and psychiatry.

Of course, as soon as his parents made any contact with anyone connected with us, they came under the influence of the tremendous forces of hostility against me, and proceeded to act as the forces would wish: placing Charles under pressure by covert hostility combined with excessive social demands, which could only lead to a breakdown in their relationship with him, as was no doubt (at least subconsciously) intended, although Charles struggled for a long time against this outcome.

08 August 2010

Slandered by aristocrats (part 1)

The hostility which I have encountered has always been extraordinary, and I think that it is expressed in a more extreme form in situations where I am involved than is usual. Rosalind Heywood, for example, would apparently stop at nothing to make my life a misery.

Having destroyed my original plan for setting up a research institute, and reduced me to surviving in poverty in Oxford, she managed to make herself into the person who was running the affairs of my institute, and negotiating on our behalf with potential sources of funding, which she was only going to let us have on the most penal terms. Suffice it to say that I was reduced to feeling worn out and hopeless before Cecil King and Charles McCreery arrived on the scene, both providing hope of an adequate level of financial support for some meaningful work to commence.

Storms of hostility and slander immediately arose, and Charles was surprised at the overt hostility he encountered on visiting some of my ostensible ‘supporters’, such as Admiral Strutt.

On the face of it, there seemed no reason why a fundraising campaign could not proceed successfully, Charles’s family connections being what they were. Charles’s father and mother became Patrons. However, his mother used the position openly to act as a saboteur.

Looking back, I am not surprised at the complete negativity of the outcome, as the hostility was not inhibited by any principles of decent behaviour, and the intention was simply that of preventing me from doing anything. Influential and determined people do not fail in achieving their objectives.

'I won’t have that Celia getting her hands on any McCreery money,' Lady McCreery said on at least one occasion. (Like Professor and Lady Hardy, she usually referred to me as 'that Celia'.) If this could only be achieved by slandering and disinheriting her son, so be it.

And so accusations against Charles, as well as me, began to arise. These were wildly implausible to anyone who knew Charles. He was just about the last person to start taking drugs or to become a hippy, and reject the values of aristocratic respectability. Nevertheless, such allegations were made. Decades later, at an upper-class party, another Old Etonian, who knew Charles’s family, sneered at him, 'I am surprised to see you dressing smartly and not having a ring in your nose.'

The result of all this was no doubt as intended. Not only did our fundraising attempts with a professional fundraiser break down, but Charles was cut out of several inheritances which would otherwise have come to him if he had continued to be regarded as an acceptable member of his family.

04 August 2010

More about means-testing of pensions

As I was deprived of a means of earning a living, I could not apply for income support (or 'social security'). So I was entirely dependent on building up capital and making gains on it (very hard work) to support myself, and work towards setting up an institutional environment for myself. So on reaching what they like to regard as retirement age, without having been able to start on my real adult career, I have savings built up which reduce my state pension to less than 75% of what it would be if I had sufficiently small savings outside of house ownership.

How could a person who had been deprived of an academic career have avoided this? Well, by accepting the social interpretation of one’s position and allowing them to medicate one into a zombie-like state, as did a certain Somerville graduate, by no means as exceptional as I was, but set on an academic career. (She was certainly no stupider than the average Oxford professor, and was clever enough to have learnt Polish on her own to a useful level.)

When thrown out of Somerville without a research scholarship (in history) she had about twenty jobs, each lasting no more than a fortnight (if I remember rightly). She then invoked the 'aid' of the social services, who diagnosed her, gave her a year’s resident psychiatric treatment, and released her to spend the rest of her life on the streets of Oxford, free from any need to support herself by 'earning a living', but also having surrendered the use of her own mind to the anaesthetising drugs provided by the NHS.

Her pension contributions were automatically paid for her. So she has presumably qualified for the full state pension, and it is unlikely that she had built up any capital, so she would not have lost over a quarter of it as I have done.

So you see one pays for one’s independence, and for even trying to increase it.