Who Am I? Part Eight


As promised I’m going to start sharing some of my incredible experiences with you too. So as well as tying up the loose ends to this particular chapter of my life, I’m going to start and finish this post with a couple of things that happened to me many years ago.

It was during my cannabis and pill period, I suppose I would have been around 17, I remember having my first experiences of being “the witness”. I remember on a number of occasions, even when no substances had been taken, that I could be sitting around in a room with a group of people and all of a sudden I would have the experience of simply being an observer and not someone who was actually there. I just assumed it was my eyes playing tricks on me because the colour of things would alter as this experience occurred. So, all the yellows, reds, blues and greens etc. would still be yellows, reds, blues and greens, but the hue would be different. They would look like colours that were not of this world. It was almost as though I was outside my body, but it was nothing like an out-of-body experience. It was very strange indeed and it would be many years before I understood what it was all about.

I went back to Swindon for a few days and at some stage knocked on the door at 80 Gladstone Street. Sonja answered and I told her what had happened. I said that we’d like her to come to the funeral, she said she’d rather not, so I said my goodbyes and left, and that was the last face to face contact I ever had with her. When I’d moved out I took my Hi-Fi equipment and record/CD collection and left Sonja everything else. It sounds very saintly of me but it wasn’t. I simply didn’t want the hassle of having to move stuff.

As I stated in a previous post the landlord had been quite dodgy and I’d sought legal advice over a matter concerning the property. I then moved in with Vic, and shortly after, Sonja decided to move in with Bobby and Doug in Kent, so we both washed our hands of 80 Gladstone Street. It was ironic that we had been living in Gladstone Street and my parent’s new flat was in Gladstone Avenue. They had only been in there for a month when my dad died.

He’d been a bus driver, working out of Holloway Garage and later Archway Garage in North London. He’d retired in the January of 1986 and now in October of that year he was no longer of this world. He had been quite a social sort of bloke so he’d also been quite popular. The funeral was at Highgate Crematorium and the procession was to drive past the bus garage so that my dad’s ex-workmates could pay their respects. What ensued was a crazy and in some ways quite awful episode. The funeral procession had been driving slowly anyway, and on top of that, it was at a very busy time of day so we got stuck in traffic. As we crawled along, bumper to bumper in the traffic, it was as though we were on display to the world. It was that time of day when all the schools were kicking out. At one point we were stuck in the traffic unable to move and some school kids started to laugh and make fun of us. They were coming right up close to the car windows and pretending to cry; the journey just seemed to go on for ever. Eventually it was all over and it was back to the flat in Wood Green for booze and nibbles. The flat was packed. Prior to and just after the funeral the phone didn’t stop ringing. Then gradually, once the dust settled, it stopped and barely rang again. It became apparent that virtually all the people who attended were my dad’s friends and not my mum’s. My dad had been very social, my mum was the opposite. My brother only lived down the road in Enfield, but he hardly ever visited. My mum was stuck in the flat on her own and with squatters in the flat above. It was not an ideal situation so I moved back to London.

When I think back to my time in Germany with NAAFI and my crazy marriage, it’s hard to believe it actually happened. It is so far removed from my life now. However, on reflection I must have been an absolute nightmare. With regard to Bobby, she may have had her issues but in hindsight I can see that she was actually very tolerant of me. I look at it this way, if I had a daughter would I want them getting involved with me as I was then? Not on your life! So yes, she showed remarkable tolerance in allowing us to live together. She also knew that we called her BA behind her back, then there was the time I spiked her curry oooohhh I could go on… As for Sonja, it was no life for her being married to me. Every night I had my headphones on listening to my music and every night I would drink. I never did anything nice for her; it was just a case of me wanting my comfortable space outside of the staff hostel, my endless supply of booze and food indulgences, but I didn’t want the wife to go with it. It was no wonder she had her own stuff going on. About five years after I last saw Sonja I bumped into her sister in Swindon Town Centre. Nicki said that Sonja had married again and divorced and was with a new partner living in Cornwall. Wherever she is now and whatever she is doing, I only wish her well.

Since I started this series of posts Tony “Big Tone” Black has reached out across time and space, which has made me very happy, and the legend that was Slippery has now retired to that great NAAFI shop in the sky. Slippery… I salute you!

Probably the first miraculous experience that I can actually remember as being extremely strange, exceptionally beautiful and beyond doubt, very, very real, happened some years ago. I can’t remember exactly when and I can’t remember where I was living at the time. It may even have been before I went in the army. I heard my name being called. It was just once and it was the softest and sweetest voice you could imagine. It was an androgynous voice. It was neither male nor female, yet at the same it was both. “Richard”… I opened my eyes and realised I was in bed and that the voice had very gently woken me up. I looked at the clock and it said exactly 07:00 am. I had to get up for work and had set my alarm for 07:00 am, but it had not gone off. There are no words in the English language that can do the sweetness of that voice justice.

Well, that’s going to be it for a few weeks. I’m off to Belgium, Germany and Holland. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Who Am I? Part Seven


My last visit to Germany. Detmold 1991 at John Bastock’s house.

It soon became apparent after a series of “goings on”, that it simply wasn’t working with me and Sonja living under the same roof. The branch manager at Sun Alliance put me on to an old acquaintance of his, who he said might be in a position to rent me a room. Enter Vic Davies; a lovely elderly man in his late 60s. I knocked on the door of 10 Dowling Street, just off Swindon Town Centre and no more than 200 metres from the branch office. Vic answered and I explained that Dave Hollister had suggested I come and have a word with him. Vic and Dave went back years and he offered me an upstairs room in his house. Vic was a lovely man, but he had the worst speech impediment I’d ever encountered. It was so bad that I would finish his sentences off for him. We got on very well and for a while a modicum of normality entered my life.

Of course, I was no longer living in cloud cuckoo land, which meant that the money had stopped flowing in. Because I had paid into the NAAFI pension scheme for under five years I was entitled to claim all my contributions back. This I did and my timing was perfect. I received just over £500. I mention the timing of it because it wasn’t long after I received the cheque that NAAFI sent me a bill for removal charges. It was over £180. I felt they were taking liberties as I’d had to leave stuff behind due to the lack of available space on the removals van. I didn’t pay it and they never caught up with me.

I should mention before going any further that during my time in cloud cuckoo land I had not been so aware of my deep-rooted psychological issues; I presume because of the constant flow of alcohol. I will also mention here that what I have tried to do with this series of posts is use language that is in line with my level of consciousness at the time the events took place. The idea is that the reader takes the journey with me and has the experience of evolving with me from the completely unconscious fool I used to be to the not so unconscious fool I am today; or something like that. I will also be adding details of my amazing experiences along the way, so that the whole story comes together with perfect precision.

The job was a bit of a wake up call too. The products we were selling were fantastic. The trouble was, and it’s probably still true today, that people have an aversion to life insurance. The truth is that most people don’t understand it. They don’t know how it works, they don’t understand the great value it has and will either avoid it like the plague or buy a policy that isn’t suitable for their needs. At that time in the 1980s there was a hell of a lot of money to be made in the financial services industry. The sky was the limit. This was just before the Financial Services Act of 1987 and commissions were very high. I soon realised that what you needed to do to be successful was to try to sell at all costs the products that paid the highest commissions. There were people in the insurance business back then, just ordinary salesmen, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. Some of them would only make one sale a month, but it would have a massive commission. Invariably, I came into contact with people who didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted to help them. I wasn’t going to tell them lies. But the writing was on the wall from the start and I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t going to work. I did learn something very valuable though.

At one point I decided to go to a hypnotist (I can hear you laughing) in order to be hypnotised into being an amazing salesman! He may or may not have been genuine, but one thing I will always remember is that he could, if he’d wanted, had me coming to see him indefinitely. But he didn’t do that. After I’d been to see him three or four times he said something to me I’ve never forgotten. He said, “I can hold your hand and lead you to the M4, but I can’t drive you to London”. For those who don’t know, the M4 is a motorway that stretches from near Carmarthen in Wales up to London; en route it passes through Swindon. It made me realise that the only person who could make me into an amazing salesman was me, and as my heart wasn’t in it, something had to give. I didn’t foresee what happened next though.

I was enjoying my new-found freedom and went out one night, not returning to Vic’s place until 09:00 the following morning. I saw the look on Vic’s face and he said to me, “have you been into the office”? I said “no”. I looked at his face and for some strange reason I thought he was going to tell me that my brother was dead. But instead he said, “your brother rang, your dad’s dead”. I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t have the understanding that I have now. We’d buried the hatchet nearly seven years ago but for most of that time I’d been living in Germany so we’d not seen a great deal of each other. I’d recently been to London and helped him with some work in their new flat and he’d taken me for a beer in one of the local pubs in Wood Green. For the first time ever I’d felt really close to my dad but now he was gone. I can’t remember what I did immediately after Vic gave me the news, but I know that at some point I made a phone call to London and said I’d be on my way soonest. I also remember going into the office, it was there that I shed my first tears. There was no way I could have driven so I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Victoria. It was a surreal journey, with all kinds of thoughts going through my head. When I arrived at Victoria Station I went straight into the pub and ordered a double brandy. I knocked it straight back and then walked the half mile or so to the railway station. I got the tube to Wood Green and I remember as I walked to the flat that it was such a beautiful day for October. As I walked up the road I could see my dad’s light blue Ford Cortina parked outside. It was such a weird feeling.

I’m off on my travels in a couple of days, so I’m hoping to write part eight later…

 

Who Am I? Part Five


This is what was the secure cage where all my hi-fi equipment was stored. It's located downstairs in the warehouse of Herford store. This is a more recent photo provided by the intrepid John Bastock. Alas, NAAFI Herford is no more.

This is what was the secure cage where all my hi-fi equipment was stored. It’s located downstairs in the warehouse of Herford store. This is a more recent photo provided by the intrepid John Bastock. Alas, NAAFI Herford is no more.

Something pretty spectacular was just around the corner, but there are just a couple of loose ends to tidy up first. I’d got involved with the NAAFI football team, which was actually the SC Herford 4th team. SC Herford played in the second tier of The Bundeslige and it was a motley crew of mainly NAAFI lads that comprised the 4th team, who played in a local German amateur league. I Googled them a couple of years ago to find that they had sadly gone into free fall and were now defunct.

I wasn’t particularly good; I was normally the sub who came on for the last 20 minutes, but sometimes when the team were short of players I got a start. The games were inevitably quite rough, with the rough stuff always, without exception, being instigated by the Brits. To this day I have not seen a more graceful sight than an opposition player being launched into the air by the boot of NAAFI butcher “Mick The Meat”; it was pure ballet that Dame Margot herself would have been proud of. It’s crazy the things that stick in your mind, but I’ve never forgotten Mick. He was a Northern lad; an absolute monster on the football field, but quite the gentleman off it. He even had a tea mug with the words “I’d rather be at the disco” on the side!

Relations between me and some of the other lads became quite strained, to the extent that they no longer passed the ball to me, even if I was in a good position. However, I was that thick during that period of my life that it took me a while to realise. Sonja had been out running and some kids had pushed her over. She badly injured her ankle and had to be hospitalized for a few days. She had to have her leg in plaster for a while and became very bitter; so much so that she took it out on people who had been there for her. One of the girls who she took her bitterness out on was the wife of one of the lads in the football team. They had been great friends of ours, but not anymore. Tony also played for the team and by now his body language indicated that I was no longer top of his Christmas card list. When you lose really good friends it makes you think, and even though I was very unconscious at that time, I had enough awareness to know that there was a lesson in there somewhere.

There was also the business of my job no longer going the way I wanted it to. I had no interest at all in the run-of-the-mill audio equipment that I was now responsible for. It seemed so mundane next to the Hi-Fi equipment and I just became fed up with the whole NAAFI set up and decided it was time to return to the UK. We had visited various members of Sonja’s other families during periodic trips back to England (I say “families” and not family because Doug was Bobby’s third husband so Sonja seemed to have relations all over Southern England). We’d visited her natural father, who lived near Andover, and also her half-sister who lived in Swindon. So, in our wisdom we decided that Swindon would be a great place to move back to. We also had some friends, Kathy and Joe, that we’d know from Germany. I’d worked with Kathy in Bielefeld G&D and got to know Joe through her. Joe was a Captain in the army, he was an ordinary bloke who had worked hard and come up through the ranks. They left Germany a few months before us and were living in officer’s quarters in Lyneham, Wiltshire. Lyneham is not that far from Swindon so they said we could come and stay with them until we found our own place.

During one of our trips back to the UK I’d attended various interviews and been accepted as a salesman with Sun Alliance Services, who were the direct sales wing of the well-known insurance provider Sun Alliance. It was commission only and the harsh realities of what that meant had not occurred to me. Sonja was to go back three weeks before me, she would stay with Kathy and Joe and use the three weeks to look for a job and hopefully find us some accommodation. NAAFI would provide an allowance for removals, but it became apparent that we would not be able to take everything with us because we were only allowed so many cubic meters of space. This meant we would have to do a runner from the flat and lose our deposit. At the time we seemed to have so much money it just didn’t matter. So, Sonja set off for England and for a short while I would be in bloke heaven. I could have as much booze as I could drink. I could listen to loud music through my headphones without a wife I didn’t love nagging me to pay her some attention and I could go out when I wanted without being whinged at. However, all this lulled me into a false sense of security because bloke heaven was about to come crashing down. To explain this properly I need to rewind slightly.

Sonja had worked for an extremely dodgy travel company during our time in Bielefeld that specialised in ferrying service personnel and their families to and from the UK. They had offices in various locations in Germany, including Herford, so when we moved Sonja transferred to the Herford branch. She was working there when she had the accident and even though her leg was still in plaster she was soon able to continue working in the office. One evening I was going somewhere with friends of ours. Sonja didn’t come because someone from the travel company was coming round to see her about “work”. We waited for the bloke to arrive; it was someone I’d met before anyway, and then we left them to their own devices. When we got back a short time later Sonja said she had been asked for her shop keys and once she’d handed them over had been told that she no longer worked for the company. Because I knew they were dodgy, I just assumed that they had some financial problems and they were shafting their employees. There was never any contract after all. Then…

Sonja got another job, just along from Herford shop, with another employer who also provided travel services to service personnel and their families. Whenever I went to pick her up from work in the evening she would always have a story that her dodgy boss had paid her wages with a cheque that bounced and he’d told her to just keep taking money from the cash box until she had the required amount. Then as we were approaching our last Christmas in Germany Sonja said she’d been fired and that she was owed money. In addition to that, just prior to Christmas she said she was going into work on Christmas Day to help out! Even though she no longer worked there, even though she was owed money in unpaid wages! I was flummoxed, I just couldn’t get my head around things. I said, “you must be mad”, but she just said that she felt sorry for him and that his mother had recently died. I decided that it was her decision and that I wasn’t going to interfere. Then it happened… Fast forward to me being in bloke heaven in Germany with my wife back in the UK.

Bloke heaven had been in motion for no more than a week. I went into work as normal and at some stage during the day I was in the vicinity of the foyer when I noticed a man, that I recognised as Sonja’s ex-boss going into the manager’s office with Mr Simpson, who was the store manager. Mike Simpson was as dodgy as they come; so dodgy that his nickname was “Slippery”. Of course, we didn’t call him Slippery to his face, but I actually mean this as a compliment. Unless you worked for NAAFI yourself during this period you will not understand what I mean. Anyhow… the next thing I know a message comes via the grapevine that I’m wanted in the manager’s office. Slippery said he would leave us to it, and what followed was nothing short of comical. We sat at opposite sides of the desk to each other and he proceeded to tell me how my wife had fleeced him. I honestly thought it was some kind of joke; especially when he showed me documentary evidence, which implied that Sonja had signed deposit slips that showed she had banked money. But instead of actually putting the money in the bank she’d kept it. I remember saying to him, “no one is that stupid”, because this was not a one-off; it happened literally loads of times. Show me a fraudster that repeatedly signs their name to a crime and I’ll show you an idiot!

What I found quite disturbing was that his tone of voice and his body language indicated that he thought I was in on the scam. I was having none of it, but he wasn’t having it from me either. I refused to tell him Sonja’s whereabouts and contact phone number, but not only had she apparently been the worst fraudster in the history of the human race, but she also left a forwarding address! Now I knew for sure that it was all simply a huge misunderstanding; it had to be, didn’t it? To alleviate the situation I promised him that I would phone Sonja that night, get her version of the story and then come to see him in his office during my lunch break the next day. That evening some neighbours very kindly let me phone Sonja at Kathy and Joe’s. I told her this incredible story and she said she knew nothing about it. Her ex-boss had said that Interpol were on the case. Sonja was a lot of things, but an international criminal mastermind she wasn’t, so I just didn’t take that statement seriously.

True to my word I went to see him in his office the next day. There was a woman working there too who also said that Sonja had stolen the money. I should add that when I put it to him that he had constantly paid Sonja’s wages with cheques that bounced and that he still owed her money, he looked at me in a way that suggested he thought I was either a complete buffoon or I was trying to have a laugh at his expense. I simply didn’t believe that my wife, or indeed anyone, could be that stupid so it was a stalemate. There was a real atmosphere in that office when I turned and left. The next two weeks or so were spent with me constantly looking over my shoulder. I also decided that if the door buzzer went while I was in the flat I wouldn’t answer the door. Ten days before I was due to leave the removals people turned up. I wasn’t too pleased because it turned out they were killing two birds with one stone. They already had a load on, which limited my space even more. I prioritised our belongings and just left what didn’t go on the van in the flat. I spent the next ten days before leaving still looking over my shoulder and not answering the door. I’d phoned Sonja and told her the outcome of my chat with her ex-boss and she still said she knew nothing about it.

The big day came, 28 February 1986, I had more than a tear in my eye as I left the shop, which surprised me. That evening the VW Passat was packed up to the hilt. I closed the door to the flat for the last time and put the key in the caretaker’s outside letter box. John Bastock came to wave me off and I drove off into the night.

To finish this part of my story I’m going to share something very strange with you that happened during my journey. I had driven a fair distance down the autobahn but was nonetheless still in Germany. All of a sudden there was a problem with the car. I knew nothing about cars back then and still don’t. To my relief the problem reared its head just as I was approaching a service station, so I took the slip road and pulled up. I can’t remember exactly what happened but when I stopped the car a German man just happened to be there. He spoke in English, I assumed because he saw my British plate, and asked if I had a problem. I seem to remember him asking me to lift the bonnet but I can’t remember him doing anything. The next thing I knew the car was running fine and I was on my way to the port in Belgium. The whole episode seemed to take no time at all. I’ve never forgotten that.

Part Six follows soon…

Who Am I? Part Four


The old staff hostel in Bielefeld, kindly provided by John Bastock. The right hand centre balcony is my old room. The lower balcony that Doug reversed my car into is out of sight round the back.

The old staff hostel in Bielefeld, kindly provided by John Bastock. The right hand centre balcony is my old room. The lower balcony that Doug reversed my car into is out of sight round the back.

I should mention here before I continue with the concluding part of my time with NAAFI, that in March 1980, just before setting off to work in Germany, me and my dad buried the hatchet; we settled our differences. We realised that we loved each other dearly and I further realised that it was a clash of egos that was at the heart of our conflict. Some years later I would fully understand why things had been the way that they were. Now where was I? Oh yes.. In Bielefeld drinking myself stupid.

My best mate in Bielefeld was Tony Black; a Scottish lad from Paisley. We went all over the place together and had an absolute hoot. My single biggest regret from my NAAFI days was that we fell out, and it was all my fault; I let him down badly. But I digress… The new sensible me (who was still drinking extremely heavily), started to go out with a girl called Sonja, a dependent who worked in Bielefeld NAAFI. Tony had been out with her for a while but he, very wisely, stopped seeing her. There was a ten year age difference between me and Sonja. However, she was incredibly mature for her age and I was the opposite. Her step father, Doug, was in the Royal Medical Corps and was only a couple of years older than me. He was also incredibly hen-pecked by Sonja’s mum Roberta, or Bobby as she liked to be called. Then there was Nicki, the sister from hell and Matthew the youngest of the siblings, who was the only sane member of the family. Bobby was about 13 years older than Doug, or DOUGLAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS as I called him. Because of the importance I placed on boozing I’d never learned to drive, but the new, sensible me decided now was the time.

To make sure I learned to drive I went out and bought a car. It was a VW Passat, which was being sold by “Smoothy Boothy”, (Steve Booth) the foodhall manager. He sold it to me via NAAFI car sales. Later someone told me that he’d ripped me off with the price, but it was a very reliable car and I got a lot of mileage out of it. I knew Smoothy from Gremmendorf; he’d been G&D manager before Tony Turner. Doug duly offered to teach me to drive, but the first thing he did to my lovely VW Passat was to reverse it into the rear lower balcony of the staff hostel. He promised me he’d get it repaired but he never did. Bobby gave me and Sonja permission to move in together so we got a flat in a nice location out in the country. In the meantime I’d passed my driving test via other sources. Bobby and Doug were not happy, I think they felt I was a bad influence, but they tolerated the situation. We were expected to go round every Sunday for dinner, where we would have to play out this charade of pretending to like Bobby’s cooking, which was absolutely atrocious. Because of her constant hen-pecking of Doug and her interfering we nicknamed her “BA”, which was short for battle-axe! Good old Nicki grassed us up, which just made the situation worse. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

The new sensible me wanted another posting. Herford shop was a short drive down the autobahn and they had a Hi-Fi centre. The G&D manager from Herford had visited Bielefeld shop and I’d had a good chat with him about the chances of getting a move. He said that it seemed to him that I was the only one in Bielefeld G&D who knew what he was doing, so he would not have a problem with me working for him. Of course, that wasn’t true, it was just his perception, I worked with some really good people at that time. The assistant manager, John Bastock, for example, who I’m still in contact with today. It was John who somehow acquired the old photos that I’ve posted here in Part Four. And so it happened, I was to start work in Herford NAAFI, still with the job title of “storeman”, but working specifically in the Hi-Fi centre with a view to eventually taking over from the current Hi-Fi salesman (another Steve), who had ambitions to become a G&D manager.

I continued living in Bielefeld and made the short commute down the autobahn every day to Herford. Tony thought I was mad hooking up with Sonja. He’d had a glimpse of what things were like with her family and had made the sensible choice to get out. Bobby had a history of mental illness and I found out the hard way that Sonja was a chip off the old block. Mine and Tony’s relationship was not what it had been anyway by now. Some of my behaviour towards him was not the sort of behaviour you would expect from a friend. But having said that, at this point, we were still mates but no longer close.

The thing with living outside of the hostel was that because I was not married to Sonja, I was not afforded the same financial perks as married personnel. So, with me still earning my single man’s wage, we were reliant on Sonja’s wages too in order to make ends meet. Now they say that if you stand on the edge of a cliff long enough, eventually someone will push you off. I actually just made that up. However, that’s exactly what happened.

Bobby and Doug announced that Doug was being posted back to the UK. At the time they were scheduled to leave Germany it would still be three months before Sonja’s 18th birthday, so Bobby took great delight in telling me that unless I made an “honest woman” of her daughter, she would force Sonja to go back to the UK with them. Bobby may have been unhinged but she wasn’t stupid. She knew that my single man’s wages would not be enough to sustain the flat, and also that I was under contract with the landlord. If she carried out her threat it would have put me in a very difficult situation.  My bloke mentality weighed things up, and one evening while Sonja was sitting on the loo I said, “I suppose we’d better get married then”. That was that; the roller coaster ride commenced. Things happened very quickly, we somehow managed to make some arrangements and got married in the UK at Wood Green Civic Centre; my wages immediately doubled. Result!

I also got officially promoted to Trainee Hi-Fi Salesman; it carried assistant manager status so as well as getting all the extra perks for being married I got a pay rise too. All of a sudden this boy from North London was in financial heaven.

Steve became a kind of trainee manager in G&D and then I got two more quick promotions. First to fully fledged Hi-Fi Salesman and then to Hi-Fi Salesman In Charge. Two more promotions meant two more pay rises! The only fly in the ointment was that we also decided to move to Herford, and it was only then that we found out that our landlord in Bielefeld was a bit of a crook. It turned out that certain things in our contract were no longer legal. To cut a long story short we had to get legal advice. There is a kind of tenants association in Germany that provides free legal aid for those who come up against unscrupulous landlords. We saw a solicitor who was absolutely fantastic. We didn’t get all of our Dm1,000 deposit back, but thanks to him we got about Dm720 back. For a time we were in cloud cuckoo land; we had money coming out of our ears. We ate out most nights of the week and the cupboards and freezer were always full. Sonja didn’t really drink, but I was able to carry on my favourite pastime to my heart’s content.  Sonja also found work in Herford so the money just kept flowing in.

Steve did so well in his manager training that he got his own department in another shop, and my partner in crime from Bielefeld, John Bastock, was promoted to G&D manager and moved to Herford. All was going swimmingly well, but as expected, eventually a few cracks started to appear. NAAFI was cutting back, so at the time I became a Hi-Fi Salesman the seminars in plush hotels were a thing of the past. There was still seminars to attend, but they were all held in-house, so wherever I had to travel to, the accommodation provided was always in the local staff hostel. We would still get taken out for meals and drinks by the reps, which I appreciated, but I was too late to catch the gravy train. If we were lucky, we would get a free t-shirt and the odd blank metal or chrome cassette, but that was about it. NAAFI no longer considered Hi-Fi to be exclusive either and the “powers that be” decided that it was no longer to be displayed in enclosed Hi-Fi centres. My little empire was closed and all the equipment was displayed in the G&D department amongst all the run-of-the-mill audio equipment. Sacrilege! The writing was on the wall. The job lost its glamour, my marriage was a sham and a disaster so it was only a matter of time before something had to give. Part Five to follow shortly…

Me looking like an axe killer! Taken in Bielefeld hostel during my Who blasting days.

Me looking like an axe killer! Taken in Bielefeld hostel during my Who blasting days.

Mr Sensible the Hi-Fi salesman. Taken in 1985 just before my time with NAAFI came to an end. It was taken in a photo booth (I think at Herford rail station but I can't be sure)

Mr Sensible the Hi-Fi salesman. Taken in 1985 just before my time with NAAFI came to an end. It was taken in a photo booth (I think at Herford rail station but I can’t be sure).

 

 

 

Who Am I? Part Three


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This was taken when I was in the army in Germany. As you can see, I was out of it! I don’t know why I’m resting my head on a bed block. Bed blocks were unheard of once basic training was out of the way.

My time with NAAFI was mixed to say the least. On one hand I sunk to new lows, and on the other, I grew up; well.. a bit. My first posting was at the main shop in Münster-Gremmendorf. Me and the rest of the NAAFI lads lived in the staff hostel on Buller Barracks, which was home to The Glosters. Buller was attached to another barracks, the name of which escapes me, and this other barracks housed The Royal Hampshire Regiment. The Hampshires and The Glosters hated each other, and I hated both of them. I developed this deep resentment of the army and anything remotely military. The general public has a perception of the army that is so far removed from the truth. I resented the whole ethos of military life; the bullying, the hypocrisy and the sheer unfairness of it all made me despair. So, I now found myself working for a retail establishment that served the forces. I was also housed on an army barracks. The fact that I chose this myself did not enter my head; all I could feel was my cynicism and resentment.

NAAFI was an antiquated corporation staffed mainly by ex-service personnel, the dependents of current service personnel and German nationals. I started off with the job title of “Storeman”, in the foodhall section. I remember on my first day, putting packets of biscuits on the shelf whilst wearing a brown overall that was big enough to go camping in! Is this what my life had come to?

Alcohol was always on hand. Back in the UK I’d continued to drink but it wasn’t as intense. This was due to the restricted licensing hours and the fact that English beer is so gassy. Now I was back in Germany I could rekindle my love affair with the amber nectar. My drinking became very heavy once again. We used to have to work every Saturday until 12:45. Quite often, we wouldn’t bother going back to the hostel in the van; we would go straight over the road to The Gremmendorfer Hoff, which was the local pub. After copious amounts of beer in “The Grem” we would sometimes get a taxi into town before falling back into the hostel during the early hours.Or we would just stay in the Grem for the whole evening and stagger home later. It was during my time in Gremmendorf that I got to know some British lads that were working out in Germany for a company called Tylers. They did all the grass cutting on the army camps and they were paid very, very well. Far much more than I got paid, which was why it was not a good move on my part to hang out with them. My wages never lasted long, but I needed money to fund my drinking habits.

After the Saturday session I would then be out all day and night on Sunday. Most times I would not get to bed until after midnight. I would then take it a bit easy Monday and (maybe) Tuesday, but quite often I’d be out from Wednesday night onwards, either with one or two of the NAAFI lads or with one or more of the grass cutters. However, working in the foodhall was driving me round the bend so I made some enquiries about transferring over to the gifts and durables department; or “G&D”, as we called it. I went and asked the shop manager, or “Old Badger”, as we called him, if it would be possible to transfer over. He proceeded to give me a lecture, saying something like, “as far as I’m concerned mate if you don’t want to work in the foodhall then you don’t want to work for the corporation”, but he agreed that I could transfer. The G&D manager was a man called Tony Turner; he was a great bloke. I came in most mornings nursing a hangover but he cut me a lot of slack. I could hide away in the store, checking off deliveries and stacking up boxes of goods etc, and I also got out and about quite a lot delivering washing machines with Sid the van driver. I don’t know what his real name was, but everyone called him Sid.

I had a real laugh with the majority of the lads I worked with and made friends with some of the dependents as well. One of my best mates in Gremmendorf was George Topping. He was an Irish lad a couple of years younger than me. He lived in the hostel and we would drink in the Grem together. George was only young but he had some false teeth. When he got drunk he would take them out and put them in his beer. Then he would stand up on the table and start singing; he was asked to leave on several occasions. However, all the alcohol couldn’t hide the fact that something within me wasn’t right. My alcohol fueled behaviour also made some people not want to have anything to do with me. The emotional pain was still there eating away at me. So I did what I always did, I tried to run away from it. I went to see Badger again and asked for a posting to another shop. I think he was glad to see the back of me and I was on my way to Bielefeld.

At first Bielefeld seemed OK; new town, new beer! The staff hostel was a private dwelling in a residential area. It was a respectable street… apart from us. We had a block, which was separated into flats. The flats consisted of three rooms, each housing a member of staff, and a shared toilet/shower room. My room was small, but it had a balcony, so I was happy. It was pretty much the same story as Gremmendorf, although I will add that the long-suffering neighbours eventually had a gut full of me blasting out The Who at all hours, and eventually a phone call was made to the boss. We were all told that if there was any more episodes of loud music the police would be called in. How inconsiderate!

There were two pubs in the immediate vicinity of the hostel, and town was about a mile away on foot, so there was always opportunity for the thirst to be quenched. There was also a fantastic local student pizzeria place. The pizzas were absolute heaven. Unfortunately, after doing a runner from there one weekend I couldn’t go back! It was in Bielefeld that I tried to become a bit sensible. But first I had to start off again in the foodhall. That was brain numbing and it took me a little while to transfer over to the G&D section. Once I got into G&D I still went out delivering washing machines etc. and did the general store work, but I also started to wear a suit and took on a more customer facing role in the shop and on the tills. Now, I should just mention that…

In Gremmendorf there had been a Hi-Fi department. Only certain NAAFI shops had them because it was considered to be a specialist line. I developed a fascination for Hi-Fi, after all, if I wanted to blast out The Who I needed a really meaty sound system to compliment the dulcet tones. I’d also heard the yarns spun by “Hi-Fi John”, the salesman in charge. There were tales of seminars in plush hotels, free slap-up meals and booze all paid for by the reps and free merchandise. I decided that this was the world I wanted to be in, so now that I was in Bielefeld being sensible (a little bit) I set about trying to get on the Hi-Fi gravy train.

I’m going to end Part Three here, because I don’t want it to be too long. The section on my time in NAAFI is quite significant really so I will split it in two. I intend writing it tomorrow; hope I’ve not just lied to you!

Who Am I? Part Two


375811_4123703570261_303439096_nIt’s worth mentioning that I’ve called this series of posts “Who Am I ” for a reason, which will become clearer in due course…

My time in the army was very up and down. I’d wanted to join something that I thought would be worthwhile, that would give me a sense of purpose and where I could experience comradeship. I certainly had all that most of the time while I was training at Wood Green Karate Club. But to me, the army was a big disappointment. The adverts on the TV suggested that you would have real mates in the forces, but I found it to be just the opposite. Your friends would steal from you, and the animosity at times towards those who didn’t fit in was quite disturbing. I’d originally set my heart on signing for three years in The Royal Tank Regiment. But on the day that I went to sign on the dotted line I opted to join The Royal Artillery for nine years. You could sign for three, six or nine years and the longer you signed for, the higher your pay. That was the only reason I opted for the nine-year stint.

It soon became very apparent that the army in general was a very hypocritical organisation. I felt that I couldn’t trust anyone and I grew to hate it. The trouble was, I couldn’t just quit like it was an everyday job. I had to wait until I’d served over three years, then I was able to buy myself out. It cost me £300 in 1979, which was a lot of money back then. I don’t regret joining though, because I did have a hoot as well. I very quickly became a very heavy drinker (the beer in Germany, where I was stationed, is very smooth and easy to drink). I lived for alcohol and consumed vast amounts during my time in Dortmund with 26 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. I kept the lads entertained with my impressions and pranks, but I would also become very quiet and withdrawn. The emotional pain was very intense, and the more I hurt inside, the more I tried to drink it away.

Germany is a beautiful country and I would go out quite often on my own and try to meet Germans. The soldiers had a very bad reputation, which was deserved, for causing trouble, so I tried to steer clear of all that. When I did go out with the lads we normally had a lot of fun, but I really enjoyed mixing with Germans in my regular haunts; the kind of places that, in general, the squaddies did not frequent. My moods were becoming increasingly more up and down, to the extent that it started to affect my relationships within the battery. Looking back, it would be true to say that some of my behaviour could have been considered strange and it wasn’t until years later that I understood what I had been experiencing. It got to the point where I’d had enough, but didn’t see a way out. Then one morning on parade an opportunity came my way.

They wanted a lower rank to volunteer for duties in the officers mess. I knew there was a huge regimental parade coming up that would have meant a lot of tedious work. I thought to myself, if I volunteer to go in the mess it will keep me out-of-the-way and I’ll avoid having to take part in the parade. My hand shot up, and there were no other takers. It also gave me respite from the mundane, day-to-day life within the battery. My time in the officers mess was the best time of my army “career”. Me and the other lads in there got up to all sorts; I felt like a naughty schoolboy and had an absolute blast. I couldn’t possibly relate all the stuff we got up to here on my blog. I’m obviously not the same person I was all those years ago, so a lot of what we did would not be appropriate to be shared here. However…

One thing I will share, because at the time it was just so funny. We would get the unwitting officers to pay for our alcohol. The system was that if an officer wanted a drink from the bar they did not pay cash. They had to sign a chitty. The chitties would all be added up and the total cost was taken from their salary on a monthly basis. So the trick was that if an officer wanted a gin and tonic, we got them to sign the chitty and when their back was turned we would put extra drinks on it. None of them ever checked their final monthly bills, so as long as we didn’t do anything silly we got away with it. All good things, unfortunately, have to come to an end. My emotional pain was ever-present and my odd behaviour continued to be noticed. I was in a very withdrawn state one day whilst serving some afternoon tea. One of the officers I was serving was my own Battery Commander. He was actually a very nice and genuine man, and he became concerned at how I looked. He asked me what was wrong but I didn’t answer. Eventually, after some probing I burbled an answer that indicated I was unhappy and wanted to leave. It was decided that if I really felt the way I did, then I should watch the notice board for any postings that may come up.

Before long I saw a posting advertised for the Salisbury Plain Range Detachment (SPRD) back in the UK. I applied for it and was soon on my way. It was probably one of the most dead-end jobs in the army. I think I arrived some time in March 1979 and by the end of December I was out; a civilian again. SPRD drove me around the bend, but luckily we had a great commander; a captain who’d come up through the ranks. He understood how I felt and didn’t stand in my way. So, £300 lighter, I was back in the world. I made sure I got a job before leaving; a live-in job at a hotel near Ascot in Berkshire. My relationship with my dad had broken down completely by this time so I did not want to go home to London.

The hotel was situated in an area that was a completely different world to me. Even back in 1979/1980 the properties around there cost more money than most people will ever see in their whole lifetime. The area was full of very well-to-do people, some famous actors and also royalty moved in shortly after I left. I soon realised that the hotel was not for me and that I really missed Germany. I decided that I would apply for a job with NAAFI and try to get back to Germany. I seem to remember making a phone call; where I got the number from I don’t know, and being invited to Kennington in London for an interview. A few weeks later, in March 1980, I was on my way back to Germany. I was going to work at the main NAAFI shop in Münster-Gremmendorf. Oh what fun we had…..

To be continued..

Yet Another Amazing Journey


EyesA little over a few hours ago I had yet another amazing out-of-body experience, and I am going to share it with you here. Now before I go any further I want to reiterate that I stand by everything that I said in yesterday’s post My Amazing Life (click here to read http://ow.ly/mRkuH ). I say this because to paint an accurate picture of what led up to this morning’s astral journey I need to bare my soul; just a touch.

In recent times, like many people in these hard economic times, I have been wondering “where is it all going to end”. Things have been difficult to say the least, and in my humanness I have allowed circumstances to drag me down. To say that I have lacked motivation lately would be an understatement, and unless I have something specific to do, it is rare that I rise before 09:00 am in the morning. This morning was no different. I had been awake a long time, but continued to squeeze a lie-in out of what remained of the morning. At about 08:30 I must have drifted off to sleep because I started to dream. My thoughts must have been playing on my mind more than I realised because I first of all dreamt that I was laying in bed sobbing with a spirit friend looking down on me. Even though the form of spirit couldn’t be seen, there was a sign above that there was indeed a presence looking after me and I was grateful for this dear friend being there for me in my time of need.

The scene then shifted and I was turning up for work at a job I left back in 1986; it was NAAFI in Germany. The crazy thing was that the building I was trying to enter looked nothing like a NAAFI shop, but it was, if you know what I mean. Crazier still, I was fumbling with two plastic keys, that both felt as though they would break, in order to get through the largish wooden door, and… I was also naked (although I could not see myself I knew I was naked). Yes! It was one of those!

Also, I was turning up for work half-way through the day and within myself I knew I’d been doing this for a long time and I was wondering if I could still get away with it. I was trying to conceal my nakedness whilst at the same time get to my place of work without being noticed; how crazy is that? Then something else rather weird happened. As I approached a doorway my old friend Bob Childs was standing there. He looked young and kind of different, but it was definitely Bob. He had been the butchery manager at the last location I’d worked in for NAAFI; I was a Hi-Fi salesman in Herford in the old West Germany, and he had been a great pal. I haven’t seen Bob for over 27 years so why he’s popping up in my dreams I’ll never know; he appeared to be acting like a door keeper.

He looked at me kind of strangely, as if he knew me but he didn’t, and I passed through the doorway into the next room. It was at that point that I knew I was no longer dreaming. I was fully conscious and out of my body. It seemed as though I had arrived at a funeral (possibly the astral death of a soul about to take human birth). The characters there seemed bigger than normal, not fat, just bigger and if it had been an earthly scenario I would have said that they were aristocracy, or at least from very good stock. They were just looking at me with a sense of neutrality if that makes sense. What I mean is that it did not seem to matter that I had gatecrashed their event, but equally they were not over the moon to see me. I then started to move around, but instead of moving AROUND things literally, I just passed through them. I seemed to have what we would call a “funny five minutes” where I was just passing through objects and walls. All of a sudden there was more souls present, but these souls didn’t seem big like the others; they were just normal and they were observing me passing through solid objects. All this seemed to happen within the space of a nano-second and suddenly I was on the move; travelling at great speed through the darkness.

I was being carried and really enjoying the experience. At this stage I kept my eyes closed because I remembered the old days when I’d open my eyes and it would trigger an immediate return to my body. I sent out my thoughts of gratitude to my companion and reached down and held their hand. It felt soft and female. I did then open my eyes and I saw that I was travelling through what looked like an underground rail network. It reminded me of my time working on the London Underground back in the 1970’s, but these tunnels were so different. They were the same oval shape, but instead of being solid brickwork, they were constructed of cage wire and I had complete all-round vision. I could see the tracks and tunnels that were adjacent and I could also see out above me. All of a sudden we emerged from the tunnels and we were above ground. It was very bright and it reminded me of the outskirts of London. Almost immediately I was then back in my body.

I suspect that when we emerged from the tunnel network the location was most definitely of this world. It was very busy with lots of traffic and people; like a typical rush hour in the UK. I opened my eyes and looked at the clock and it was 08:50; the whole experience, including the dream, had been no more that 15-20 minutes.

Thank God for my incredible life!