The flat at 15 Dixon Street was, in a sense, a God-send for me, but as stated in the previous post, it was also the place where I experienced some extremely dark times.
I was approached one day by one of the supervisors at work who told me that his mother was looking for a tenant for a flat that formed part of her house. The rent was unbelievably cheap; only £30 per week, and it would give me my own space again. I went to have a look and decided to take it. Mrs Davis was an elderly lady who wanted the flat to be used. She was not interested in making money out of it. She was an extremely honest lady and declared the rent as income to the Inland Revenue. If she kept the rent low, she would not have to pay tax on it, and she simply wanted to provide a home for somebody who needed it. She had asked her son if he knew of anybody at work who was trustworthy and reliable. It was quite an honour to be the first person who came to mind. The flat needed a lick of paint, which I was more than happy to do. I got on extremely well with Mrs Davis, and the fact that I’d painted her flat firmly cemented my place in her good books. It was only on rare occasions that she would come down to see me, so it was really good for me that I had this space and that I was left alone. I was as regular as clockwork with my rent, so all-in-all it was a great situation for all concerned.
Normally when we spoke it was because I had gone to seek her out. During one of our conversations we somehow got on to the subject of spiritual matters and it turned out that Mrs Davis read Tarot cards, which she did for me on several occasions. Living in Dixon Street gave me a bit of stability; it was less than 10 minutes walk from work and right on top of all the amenities that Swindon offered. However, being a basement flat it was rather dingy and not very well lit. I also felt very isolated within myself for a lot of the time that I lived there. In hindsight, my view now is that I’d had so much going on in my life with my marriage and my relationship with Carol, also my business venture and a few other things, that my deep emotional pain had been by and large suppressed since my teenage, and later, my army years. Now I had my own private living space again, my mates were all married or in serious relationships, so I had more time in isolation than I wanted, and it was during these times that I sunk down into incredible depths of pain. It seemed that I’d been feeling like this for years and that there was simply no end to it.
There was a shop on the corner of Stafford Street, which was one street up from Dixon Street and about two minutes walk from the flat. I would quite often go there and buy their tins of extra strength lager. It was vile stuff; in a plain can with the letters “HSL” on the side. HSL stood for “High Strength Lager”; it was like drinking treacle. A can or two was all it took to knock me into a stupor. I suppose, in my own mind I thought I was numbing the pain, but oft-times I would just sit there crying and wondering if or when the pain would ever stop.
At the end of 1991 one of the girls at work who lived less than two minutes walk from me invited me to a New Year’s Eve party at her house. She was from Sheffield and said that her sister was coming down for New Year. Enter Gillian into my life. She had been in an abusive marriage; married to a man who quite often punched and kicked her. We got on very well and romance blossomed. I had no car when I lived in Dixon Street, so most weekends I would get the coach or train up to Sheffield. I usually worked late shifts, so I could stay until Monday morning and still get back to Swindon in time for work. Gillian had a little boy who was two at the time and there was constant problems with her ex. Before I met Gillian his behaviour had been so appalling that he’d caused Gillian’s dad, Roy, to have a nervous breakdown. Court orders were taken out preventing him from having anything to do with the family, but he ignored them and the police seemed not to care. On one occasion he’d put a brick through the rear window of Roy’s car. Gillian had brothers who could have sorted the problem out, but her parents did not like conflict and were typical of their era in wanting to do things in the “correct” manner. So all-in-all Gillian’s ex caused a great deal of stress for the whole family.
I suggested to Gillian that she should just up and leave Sheffield and come to Swindon. By now her parents were living in Swindon; they had the flat that Gillian’s sister had previously lived in. They had come down because the strain of living in Sheffield had become too much with all the aggro. So Gillian and her little boy moved into the flat with her parents. She was however, very independent and tenacious and she wanted her own place. Eventually she was rehoused by the local council in a tiny matchbox of a flat in the Nythe area. Somehow Gillian managed to fall pregnant; I say somehow, because she was on the pill and we certainly didn’t plan it. I, on the other hand, still lived in a world where alcohol was king, and I kept saying to myself, “I’ll start saving in a couple of months”. Although we didn’t live together, when I stayed over at Gillian’s I found the flat to be really cramped. Also, her little one was a real handful. Gillian must have sensed that my heart wasn’t in it, and out of fear of being left alone with not one, but two small children, she announced to me that she was going to have an abortion. She was four months gone and right on the point of no return as far as having an abortion was concerned.
My feelings were that she was the one who had to go through the pain of giving birth, so if she decided she didn’t want that, then who was I to argue. Ironically Gillian had to go to London for the abortion, to St Anne’s Hospital, which was just a stone’s throw from where I was born in North London. In fact, the hospital was directly opposite Downhills Park, which was one of the parks I used to play in when I was a kid. Our relationship was on and off, and I suppose it’s true to say that we were such good friends that we really shouldn’t have been in a relationship. Like a lot of couples, we got on great, but when you cross that relationship line, things start to become stale and you take each other for granted. I should also mention here that when we were talking about doing the happy families thing, I gave up the flat in Dixon Street and moved back in with my mum. The thinking behind it was that I would be able to save some money. Bad idea, bad move!
What also happened was that Gillian’s parents bought a static caravan in a place called Binbrook, which was near Grimsby. It was a lovely area, and several times whilst we were together, me, Gillian and the little one would go and visit. I loved the bones off Roy, he was a very witty man and he always made me laugh. It was sometimes hard to believe that he was struggling with mental illness. I always held the whole family in such high esteem. They were what I call a real family. They were very close; always phoning each other up, and when they were together they would play board games and stuff. All the things that I wasn’t used to. They accepted me as one of their own and I’ve never forgotten it.
In November 1992 the main sorting office moved from the town centre in Swindon to an industrial area called Dorcan. It was apparently a state of the art all-singing-all-dancing sorting office with machines that did the work once carried out by humans. It didn’t really make any difference; there were no redundancies and the new office was about 10 minutes walk from my mum’s place. However, living with my mum was driving me round the bend. The job was driving me round the bend and so was my life in general. Something had to give; but what? It wasn’t long now before my life would change beyond recognition, but before I reached that stage I had to go through darker times than I could ever imagine.
To be continued…