Many influences were those of my early life. I kept coming up against that my name depended on who knew who I was. For example my step father would say that my name was Peter Francis foster Armstrong, and that was because I was adopted - the foster part. The point is that young kids need stability. They need to know what they can rely on. Don't tell them stuff they can't rely on. It's no use to them at all. Then, my father decided I ought to go to boarding school, a very English habit, although not exactly Rhodesian. Boarding school is a bad place for people who are insecure. Every single kid in there hated it. They coped by becoming very aggressive and beating up anyone weaker. I looked around for something to give me a feeling of permanence and all that seemed permanent was my depression. I clung to my depression.
Achieving permanence of some sort became my philosophy for a while. I became very gloomy. If I felt lost, I would just revert to my sadness. When you're at boarding school, you're getting knocked around all the time. It's not hard to find something to be sad about. Just being left at the boarding school, away from home, wasn't a good feeling. Even at home, I felt I couldn't rely on my parents. They were both unpredictable. My father could be very hurtful. He was a bit messed up. My mother would suddenly start beating the hell out of me. I can only guess she was feeling uptight. She'd had a hard life. When she remarried, and I don't think it was a very happy marriage. Dad insisted on taking control and he was a very negative person, pedantic, perfectionist and fastidious. He was verbally abusive. Mum used to hit.
After school, I would walk around our garden. We had five acres. My parents had put a lot of work into the garden and it sort of contained their personalities in the garden. I noticed that as I walked around, I'd come across the water pump, pumping water out the ground. As I looked at it, I would remember all the agony they'd undergone to put it in there, and in a way the water pump became filled with their personalities. If I wanted to relate to my parents, I would look at the water pump. Since I found I could get stability from objects, in a trivial way, I took to stealing. I would help myself to sticks of a chalk as I wanted those colours.
In boarding school you had to have a rest every afternoon. From our lunch, which would be about two o'clock, you had to go lie on your bed,and no talking was allowed. You had to be there until three o'clock, at which time a bell would go and you could get up and do your thing. I read books. I actually remember the day I realised I could read. The teacher was away and I was sent to another classroom. I sat down with a book and I went though all the processes of sounding out the words in my mind, and slowly began to make sense off all the words. When I got to the end of the first story, I was excited. The mystery of the disappearing cat. From then on, I started to read.
I learned to link certain situations with experiences I had. If the story involved Christmas, I visualised my family at christmas and built the story around it. For me, reading was a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. If the story was too exciting, I'd get all wound up, because I'd become part of it. Almost every story became exciting. By the time I was ten or twelve, I thought I could fly a plane, since every time I read a book about flight attendant Bigglesworth, I would envision myself flying all these planes. By contrast, arithmetic was absolutely awful, because if couldn't visualise myself in it. In a book about a world war two guy who escaped in italy, he was shot. In my mind, I made it so real, that I woke up with vomit down my side.
When I was about eight my parents next off some place and left me for about four hours. While they were gone, I suddenly saw flames on top of a hill next to us. These flames were twice the height of a house. The only time I'd seen smoke coming off from anything was a train. When my mother came back, I told her there was a train going over the top of the hill. It was a bush fire, but it could have been a train, as I used to hear train noises at times. There was plenty to cause fear.
I was sent to bed at eight and the noises would start. One was a steam train in the distance. Our house was an amateur building job with a thatched roof. The thatch was laid on wires. There were lots of geckos. During the night, the temperature changed and the wires would strum like guitar strings.