Who Am I? Part Sixteen


The metropolis that is Gorse Hill in Swindon

I inadvertently gave you false information in Part Fifteen; I remembered after posting that I did not go to the doctors straight away. I don’t know why, but my recollection of other events indicates that I actually left it until around October/November time before going to the doctor. I was kind of enjoying working full-time again, in an environment that wasn’t only very clean, but also completely alien to what I was used to. I’d never worked in an office environment before and I’d never worked with computers before. More good news followed in November 1996 when my job was made permanent. Being a fully fledged employee meant that I was earning more money, so things were looking up. However, I had regularly pondered what Whitey had said to me that day in college, and I came to the conclusion that I had to do something. I was prescribed some tablets at my own request, and of course, you were not meant to be drinking alcohol whilst taking them. I tried to be good, but my version of being good was only having a couple of pints of beer in the evening; sometimes I would exceed that. Then something happened that caused me to take drastic action.

I was well settled into the job and I got on great with most people in the organisation. It was approaching Christmas time; I would guess a coupe of weeks before. The company hired out one of the nightclubs in the centre of Swindon on an evening when they were not normally open, so it would have been a Monday or Tuesday. This was to be our Christmas do! Because of the alcohol thing with the tablets, I decided in my wisdom that I would stop taking them a couple of days before the party, get hammered with my work mates and then start taking them again afterwards. Anyway, I don’t think I really had all that much to drink, compared with what I was used to, but I woke up the next morning with the mother of all hangovers. I’d experienced hangovers in my time but this was ridiculous. Luckily, I didn’t have to start work until mid-day. I somehow managed to drive in but it was still a horrendous experience trying to do my job. What I haven’t mentioned is that I worked on a call centre trying to placate angry customers. That wasn’t what it was supposed to be, but because of the utter contempt that the company seemed to have for its customers, that’s what we were doing a lot of the time. It was a such a relief when I finished my shift that evening.

A few days later somebody told me some of the things I’d been doing on the night of the party. I was horrified; more so because I had no recollection whatsoever. I happened to mention that I’d been taking happy pills but had stopped taking them a couple of days before so that I could have a drink. The same person explained to me that those tablets take several weeks to leave your system once you stop taking them. I decided enough is enough. I got the tablets and flushed them down the toilet and then simply got myself by the scruff of the neck and sorted my head out. It worked! In a short time I was no longer suffering with depression. Now, I realise that this sounds a little bit too simple, but it isn’t the last word on the subject and I will return to it as my series of posts draws to a conclusion.

1997 brought with it more changes. I’d realised that my relationship with my landlady was becoming somewhat strained. The first 18 months had been very harmonious, but I was now approaching the four-year mark and I thought it best to jump before being pushed. One lunch time I took a stroll into the Gorse Hill area of Swindon, and as I walked past a hairdressers, I saw a sign on the door that said, “flat to let”. I went in to make some enquiries and before I knew where I was, I was moving into the flat above “LA Hairport”, in Cricklade Road, Swindon. This was great for me, it was a big change from my tiny room in the house in Penhill. I was also without a car again, having run my previous car into the ground, and the flat was around 10 minutes walk from work. Since leaving college I’d kept in touch with John Williams and he continued to get me work with the murder mystery company he was involved with and also another company that he’d set up himself with another lady. John also put on theatre nights in the town of Highworth where he lived (just outside Swindon), which he got me involved with. This wasn’t paid work but I just loved performing. He also got me into The One-Act Play Festival, at Swindon Arts Centre. On top of all this I joined a theatre company.

Head To Toe Theatre Company was based in Swindon. Although an amateur group it wasn’t the kind of namby-pamby amateur dramatics that you find in most villages and towns up and down the country. Head To Toe specialised in some of the darker works of Shakespeare and the productions tended to be extremely intense and powerful. The only thing was that it was quite a close-knit group; some of them had known each other from school days, so I was always a bit of an outsider. A couple of them were unreliable too when it came to turning up for rehearsals and there was of course the bickering that you always get when creative people are gathered together. I played George, Duke of Clarence in a production of Henry VI Part Three, which is the play that charts the rise of Richard, Duke of Gloucester as he murders his way to the throne to become Richard III. It was a fantastic experience but it turned out to be the only play I did with them as I left the following year having become fed up with the childish behaviour.

I ventured back to the Spiritualist church from time to time, mainly to avail myself of the spiritual healing. I’d managed to give myself knee ligament damage in both knees due to excessive use of the treadmill in the gym. At the time I didn’t know it was knee ligament damage because I hadn’t been to the doctors. But amusingly, I would go to the church on a Saturday or Sunday night, have healing and then go to the pub. I would then walk home from the Old Town area of Swindon and then wake up the next morning wondering why my knees were hurting!

1998 brought more changes; in fact life was leading me to places I never knew existed.

 

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Who Am I? Part Fifteen


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!!!!