The Wounded Healer

January 19th, 2022 | Marten's Perspective

Life is a struggle. In the context of world events it can, for many, be all too much.

So I don’t want anyone reading this to think I am unaware of the misfortunes of others. There is always someone worse off than we are.

However, as my father once told me, “If it’s important for them, then it’s important.”

I should add that I am talking of a man, a vicar, who used to thrust our pet cat up to the ceiling, gripping it tightly so its legs were splayed to all four corners of the room, to quote Biblical texts, before releasing her from his clasp to shoot away into the distance in a state of bewilderment – as we all were.

Her name was Pandora, as in the box, and when she died my mother told me it was the only time she saw my father cry. And he had served on the North Atlantic convoys and seen things that most of us cannot even imagine.

Why am I writing this? Well it’s all to do with overcoming adversity.

My father was a troubled man, dumped by his mother on a maiden aunt and with a father who he never knew. Sent to work dressed in a second-hand ill-fitting suit at the age of 17 and, given his height and awkward manner, he was constantly the subject of ridicule.

He knew only one thing in his early days. Rejection.

Rejected by his parents, rejected by society and rejected by his peers. His aunt was ill-equipped to bring up a young man, but he went on to serve his country in one of the bitterest theatres of war and then, one day, wrote a letter to his aunt, from a ship in an undisclosed land, asking her to look into what was needed to seek ordination into the priesthood.

I never asked him what gave rise to his calling. Was it something he had seen? A visitation of some kind? Had somebody said something that aroused the spirit within him?

Anyway, what came about from those early experiences was a priest who devoted the remainder of his life to giving. His time, his work and his sanity.

Yes, he went away for periods of his life, but in the words of the speaker at his funeral, he was the authentic ‘wounded healer’ – a person who turned his experiences of pain, suffering and rejection into something positive, someone that changed the lives of the many who encountered him for the better.

Why am I writing about this?

Well, I would never wish to compare my early life experiences with those of such a great man. But long after his passing there is hardly a day, and I mean, this, that I don’t think of him.

He was, and still is, an inspiration to me. None more so than when I decided that I wanted to write about horse racing.

I was about 17, in my first year of sixth form, when I summoned up the courage to write to every racing journalist I had heard of to ask how I could get started. I must have written about two dozen letters – I can remember the struggle to afford the stamps – and I received four replies, from Peter Scott of the Daily Telegraph, Clive Graham of the Express, Len Thomas of the Sporting Life and Brough Scott of ITV racing.

Clive Graham succinctly advised me that I would struggle and that estate agency was the way forward, but the others were more encouraging, none more so than Brough.

“Come up and see me”, he said. “I’m at York next week.”

I lived in the south of England, without a car and with barely enough to afford the train fare. However I managed to buy a ticket, buoyed by the expectation of a budding career in front of the cameras.

On arriving at the course I hung around waiting for Brough to emerge from his tv presentation hut. I lunged forward, reminding him of our arrangement, but he said that he was very busy – I am now aware that he had a deadline to meet – and that we should try to see each other some other time.

I was beside myself with grief, wondering if he was aware of how much of a struggle it had been to get there.

He had casually said he would be at Newmarket a week or two later. I spoke to my father, who said I should go. And he gave me the money to pay for the trip.

I wasn’t sure what to expect this time, but bumped into Brough as he was making his way up to the tv area.

“Oh Marten, so glad you’ve come. I want to interview you on tv.”

I was stunned. I had sent Brough my racing notes and observations for the past few months and, to my surprise, he seemed to have read them all.

Without warning, he then asked me questions live on tv about forthcoming races, past results and my ambitions for the future.

It was a few years later that he gave me the chance to join him on the Sunday Times, writing a weekly feature entitled ‘Warm Up.’

I still have clients who recall those days – over 50 years ago.

I owe my career to Brough, who believed in me and gave me a chance against all the odds.

But I owe something else to my father. I’m not sure what inspiration quite is. How can a dead person empower you?

But that is what he gave me. The energy and determination to follow my dream and make it become real.

After almost half a century of writing Bulletin Books, Dark Horse Annuals and pamphlets aplenty, I sometimes wonder what my father would have thought.

I think he would have been rather pleased. We both turned it around.

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