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F. David Peat - Biography

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To read more see David Peat's new book "Pathways of Chance"

I am writing this at my desk in our house in Pari, Italy. When I glance to the right I look though the door into the bedroom and out through the open window at the Tuscan hills. To my left is a window open onto Via Gonfienzo. Someone passes, sticks his head through the widow and sees me seated at the computer. "Ah, you're studying," he says, "you like books."

Pari, Italy

Pari, Italy

Our house is not very large, two small bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. Below is the Cantina where we keep books, olive oil and some wine. Walking round the village, doing the "giro" as they say, need only take five or ten minutes but some times it can last up to two hours as I meet people, gossip or have a coffee at the bar.

Pari is located about 5 kilometers off the main road between Siena and Grosseto. Being off the highway means we have few visitors, except during the Festa in August and the Sagra of September when tables are put out in the streets for everyone to eat. Around two hundred and fifty people live in Pari, which means I can get to know everyone. But in July and August there can be as many as a thousand with aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, grand children and cousins coming to visit.

Peat at home in Pari

Peat at home in Pari

So here I am in the Tuscan hills, far away from London, New York, Ottawa or Paris. I have a CD player, a library full of books, a fax machine, a modem and a old laptop in black and white, without a graphics or audio card. We have little money but eat excellent food, breathe fresh air and look out on beauty. How did I get here?

I was born in Waterloo, a suburb of Liverpool, on April 18, 1938. Part of my early childhood was spent being woken in the middle of the night and carried into a damp and smelly air raid shelter. Two persistent dreams remained from that period, at least until the middle of my life. One was of looking up into the night sky. Suddenly the stars begin to move and I experience a shifting of my axis. It was only in 1971, during a power strike in London when the city was plunged into darkness, that I saw, within a dark sky, the lights of aircraft bound for Heathrow or Gatwick. It was then that I realized my dream involved an early memory of searchlights and tracer bullets in the sky.

Another dream is about a forgotten crime revealed by the digging up of a dead body. What Freudian meaning could this contain? In the dream, and almost at the moment of waking, I was clothed in the sense that I must have done something truly terrible in the past, something so dark that it had been repressed from my consciousness.

This time the historical origins of dream revealed itself shortly before my mother died. It dated back to the war days, a time of heavy rationing. Somehow my father had obtained a turkey, no doubt on the Black Market. But by Christmas Eve the bird had begun to stink. As this incident was mentioned memories flooded back - a whispered conversation in the kitchen. How could they dispose of the carcass, which my grandmother jokingly referred to as "the body"? At that time snoopers examined the contents of dustbins and there was a heavy fine for people who threw away food, maybe even imprisonment for those dealing in the Black Market. When it was dark my father went into the garden, dug a hole and "buried the body", with jokes about people digging it up in the future. I remember my fear that somehow the crime would be revealed and my father would be arrested and taken away.

Two dreams and two interpretations that refer to real, traumatic events in the past. Yet these dreams are also doors into something darker and deeper. Needless to say, after the actual historical correspondences had been revealed the repeated occurrence of the dreams vanished.

A happier memory of war time was the availability of live ammunition and the magnesium casing from incendiary bombs. But this would be a few years after the war when I was bigger. I never messed with bullets as some boys did. Anyway my mother had hidden my father's bullets as being too dangerous so that when, as a member of the Home Guard, he was called on to scour some waste land in search of a German who had supposedly landed by parachute, he had to plead with my mother to give him back his bullets. Needless to say he found no enemy agents, but at the end of the war he was given a medal for his bravery in "sustaining injury while fighting for King and Country". He fell over while climbing over a wall with his rifle and broke his little finger.

But back to business. A chunk of magnesium could be lit by playing the flame of a Bunsen burner on it - but once lit it burned though the tripod and began to melt its way though the kitchen floor. But that was really pretty mild stuff when compared to the sort of thing I got up to in the coal shed - making gases, powerful acids and once, convinced I had made nitroglycerin, I spent the rest of the day lurking in my bedroom. Then there was the time I attempted the polymerization of Bakelite and filled the house with dense black smoke that lingered for a couple of days and caused us to go to my auntie's house. Or the time my electrical experiments required me to by-pass the fuse box at the front of the house with the result that I blacked out a small area of Waterloo.

But only part of the time was spent in the coal shed because I was a very sickly child - there was a high degree of neurosis in the home and my mother was a professional invalid in incredibly frail health until her death at the age of 90. And so I was in and out of hospital for minor operations and once for several weeks I was kept home and out of school. This may well have been "a touch of TB". It was only spoken of in whispers since TB was associated with poverty. Being in bed meant being off school and being able to read as many books as I wanted. Or, when I got bored, traveling in my imagination, playing with soldiers, or my toy farm. Or rigging up a pulley system in my bedroom so that I could transport toys up to the curtain rail and back. Hour after hour, day after day, I would lie in bed, listening to the sounds of children playing outside, watching the shadows move across the bedroom ceiling.

I was in many ways a solitary child who lived much in the imagination, although I got on very well with adults and had a group of younger children who I organized into playing the Olympic Games. It was around this age I stood under a street lamp and wondered if the light went on for ever and ever and ever. Or if it reached the end of the universe then how would it travel? Would it simply go on making more and more space.

I had learned about science from a book in Aunt and Uncle's home. It was called "The Marvels and Mysteries of Science" and they used to read it to me before I was able to read for myself, and show me the cut-away drawings of the inside of the earth, sun and atom. Their home in Hunts Cross was an idyl for me. This suburb, to the south east of Liverpool, lay outside the main bomb run for aircraft and there, as a small child, I could sleep at night without the need to go into an air raid shelter. My aunt delighted in self-education and possessed a set of red bound "Universal Encyclopedias". In the afternoon, when I took my rest, we'd discuss Plato, the notion of forms, and the running of an ideal society. I also became interested in the problem of evil and how it originated in the world.

If you would like to read more then why not purchase a copy of David Peat's "Pathways of Chance". This new book contains not only the full autobiography but an exploration of the many ideas that David has explored during his life. For a signed copy contact Pari Publishing at www.paripublishing.com

 

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