My time at New College was extremely enriching, sometimes a lot of fun; whilst at the same time very difficult. I was the only full-time mature student on the course, although there were other mature students doing separate modules. I got on like a house on fire with the kids, who were mainly 16 year-olds. This was a great honour for me, considering that the other mature students were quite often the butt of the kid’s jokes. There were also some older kids, between the ages of 18 and 21; these were the ones who tended to lead the younger ones astray, however, I also got on very well with them. I suppose I’ve never really grown up and always had this child-like practical joker side to my character, which has always appealed to young people. I also found that I was able to use my own experiences of my childhood and adolescent years in order to provide help and guidance when needed. I got invited to nights out with the other students, I got invited to birthday parties and even got to meet some of the parents.
However, it wasn’t all rosy. With the kids being so young and having the negative influence of the older, stronger characters, there was usually quite a bit of disruption in the classes, which I found quite frustrating. Worse than that, the tutors also proved to be very unreliable and would from time-to-time simply not turn up. I had made quite a sacrifice giving up full-time employment. Whereas the kids would go home to their parents and not have to fend for themselves, I was having to do various mundane jobs in the evenings and at weekends in order to pay the bills and keep the car on the road. This put quite a strain on me, but before I elaborate more on this I will share with you some of the more positive aspects of the experience.
I had joined the course as a guitarist. However, it very quickly became obvious that I was actually quite a rubbish musician. There was 16 year-old kids playing like Jimi Hendrix, and I was still at the stage where I was siting on the edge of my bed trying to strum a tune. But my disappointment was short-lived because I found I had a flair for acting, which was a completely new experience for me. I loved the theatre modules that formed part of the course and I got involved in our production of Little Shop of Horrors. A part-time tutor, John Williams, had a very sympathetic view of my situation. He could see that I had a great deal of enthusiasm for acting so he got me some paid work with the murder mystery theatre company he was involved with.
The college had links with a utility company that had offices in Swindon. The utility company had an amateur theatre group that raised money for charities through their productions. Initially, this was very annoying for us students as the utility company used the college’s facilities, which would sometimes mean that our course would get pushed to one side so that these people could use the space. As you would imagine we resented this very much, but college politics always dictated the state of play. In the long-term however, it proved fruitful for me. I’d been working behind the bar at the council-run golf club in Broome Manor, Swindon, I’d worked at the big Honda factory serving food and washing up, I worked as the barman at the Nationwide Building Society social club and I’d also had bar work at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon. They were all mundane, boring jobs that paid very low wages; especially the bar job at the Wyvern. Eventually, one of the tutors had a word with someone at the utility company and I got a job there in the evenings as a temp. In time this led to a full-time position, which I’m still very grateful for to this day.
During this period I even ventured back to the Spiritualist church from time to time; nothing seemed to have changed and I still felt like I didn’t belong.
Meanwhile back at New College… The course was descending into a shambles. The kids were still disruptive and less than enthusiastic about doing the course work, the tutors were becoming more and more unreliable and college politics meant that the course was hanging in the balance anyway. The principle and her deputy were constantly at loggerheads with our tutors. It seemed that performing arts students did not fit the image that the college was trying to promote. But they still wanted the kudos of being able to offer theatre productions to the public. I was forever sinking down into the depths and trying to pull myself up again. I found it very hard trying to undertake a college course that seemed doomed to collapse, whilst at the same time scratching a living and keeping the demons in my head at bay. Then it happened…
Something occurred that made me feel that I’d let the team down. In hindsight, I didn’t let anyone down, but at the time , that’s what my head was telling me. The pressure built up and I broke down; I just couldn’t stop the tears and this quite shocked my young friends who witnessed it happen. I think it was the next day, we were in the theatre hall discussing stuff when I received a revelation. Martin “Whitey” White was 18 years old, he was very outspoken and opinionated and he was one of the kids that I got on extremely well with. Martin was a bit of a nightmare at times, but that day he did me a huge favour. Suddenly during the discussions, he pointed at me, and in no uncertain terms exclaimed, “YOU’RE SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION”. He went on to say that if I wasn’t 100%, then I couldn’t give 100% to the group, so basically, I was a liability. I thought that was a bit rich coming from Martin and I became extremely indignant. After all, wasn’t depression something that girls and pansies suffered from? I, on the other hand, was a big, tough bloke; how on earth could I possibly have depression????
When my ego returned to earth I realised that there was a lot of truth in what Martin had said. He planted a seed that day, and for the next couple of weeks I pondered his words. It made so much sense; it explained my strange behaviour going way back to my army days and even before that. It also explained why I would sink down into such terrible depths of despair and feel so much emotional pain. Even in the 1990s people didn’t really talk about depression and it was still widely considered to be a weakness. I decided that I was going to do something about it and several things happened in quick succession that meant it was going to be “all change” again in my life.
The course became more and more chaotic by the day. With all the pressure I felt under, exacerbated by my depression, I decided that I had to move on. The kids didn’t seem interested in doing the work, the tutors seemed to have their own agenda and college politics meant that performing arts was living on borrowed time. I left the course in June 1996 and it coincided with me being given the opportunity to work full-time at the utility company, albeit still as a temp. At this time I also decided to go to the doctor. I made an appointment and told him that I had been suffering from depression for many years but had only just found out. I then asked him to give me some “happy pills”, and he duly obliged. The only thing with the pills was that you are not supposed to drink alcohol while you are taking them. Oops! Hang in there for the next fun installment!!!!