Who Am I? Part Twenty

A photo of the old Swindon College; my saving grace during a difficult time. Alas, she is no more…

In this post I will endeavour to tie up the loose ends from this stage of my journey, and I’d also like to give you a gentle reminder that I am trying to write these articles from the standpoint of my understanding at the time of the events. So, I was now on the right track but I wasn’t quite out of the woods yet. I was still off work ill; and it would be roughly another three months before I went back. At the request of the HR department I went to see the company doctor. I had already, off my own back, attended counselling (which was a waste time) and a stress management course. I wanted to be seen to be pro-active; after all, I didn’t want to be off work, I just wanted to be in a job where I was treated fairly.

Due to a past experience whilst at Royal Mail in the early 1990s I went in to see the company doctor all guns blazing! I felt quite stupid when he assured me that he wanted the best outcome for both sides. We had a constructive chat; the outcome of which was that I believed that he genuinely wanted to help me get back into work, and he believed that I wanted the same. He wrote a letter to HR recommending that I be redeployed back to Swindon. Once again, I will add that the finer details are not relevant so long after the event, and it will waste blog space by explaining why redeployment would be the best fix for me.

Unfortunately, the HR department were completely and utterly insensitive to what I was going through and their treatment of me while I was off work almost amounted to torture. My mind was in a terrible state. In hindsight, I don’t believe they did this on purpose, it was just that they were oblivious to what I was actually experiencing. They were meant to be sending me weekly lists of vacancies in Swindon through the post. But most of the information they sent was for jobs in London and Reading. At the time my tortured mind believed they were doing it deliberately in an attempt to drive me crazy. It never occurred to me that someone in an office somewhere in Reading was simply sending me a general list of current vacancies. There was also the farce of me having to go in to the Customer Service Centre in Swindon, believing I was going to have an informal chat with an HR representative on how they were going to help me back into work. It turned out I was going in for a job interview that I knew nothing about. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. So, they were making me go through the recruitment process to get me back into work! I eventually went back in March 2001, working on a temporary project. While I was doing that I continued applying for jobs and eventually bluffed my way back into full-time employment. Meanwhile….

My lovely flat above the hairdressers, that had served me so well, would soon be confined to the past. Lorraine, who had bought the whole premises soon after I moved in, decided to sell the hairdressing business, whilst maintaining ownership of the shop and flat. After buying the property and business, Lorraine had stopped working in the hairdressers. But, during my time as her tenant we maintained a fantastic relationship. Unfortunately, when I was ill and my paranoia was at its peak, my relationship with the salon in general did sour somewhat; again, the details are not relevant. So when Lorraine sold the business and the new hairdresser took over, naturally her priority was to build up her own business. This meant that she was there much more often than I was used to the other hairdressers being there. It didn’t matter when I was out at work, but when I was off sick and going round the bend it was a nightmare. I could hear everything downstairs. She would stay late on Saturday evenings, she would be in there on Sundays and she also opened on Mondays, which had always been a day when the shop was closed. I was going crazy and decided to look for somewhere else to live.

During this period I had started a couple of courses at Swindon College (but not at the same time). Unfortunately, due to my state of mind I left both courses before the end. However, for a period I was still technically a student at Swindon College, so as long as my student ID was valid I continued to use the facilities. This was a Godsend while I was off work as it gave me a reason to go out in the air every day. I would walk into town to the college and use the computer facilities. It was during one of my visits that I saw a sign on one of the notice boards, “room to let”. It would be a step backwards for me as it was obviously a bedsit, however, I was desperate to get out of the flat in Gorse Hill. Enter Steve…

I made a note of the telephone number and rang it that evening. Steve answered and said that he was no longer wanting to rent out the room and that I had obviously seen an old card. But, in the next breath he said I could come and have a look. He was such a pedantic person that I nicknamed him, “Sad Steve”, but he was harmless really and the rent was so unbelievably cheap that it was almost as though HE was paying me to live there. I had only been there a matter of days when he took in another tenant; a Slovakian girl named Dana. In Steve’s head, because he had taken in another tenant, he felt obliged to reduce my rent even further! In his world he wanted a certain amount of money for the two rooms each month, and simply split the cost between us. I seem to remember Dana’s room being slightly smaller than mine, so she was paying even less than me. In the space of what seemed like no time at all, Steve went from, “I’m no longer looking to rent out a room”, to having two tenants.

He was a man of record keeping, lists and filing cabinets. He only worked a short drive away, but he was up every morning at around 05.30 or even earlier, and would always be at work at least one hour before he was due to start. It was a very strange hotchpotch of people in the house, but we managed to bumble along. Dana and I both knew that we couldn’t stay there too long. Steve got us to sign a contract in which it stated that we were not allowed visitors after 9:00 pm. We both thought that he was an incredibly strange man, but we both felt sorry for him and the rent was ridiculously cheap, so we put up with his peculiar ways. However, it didn’t stop me feeling ashamed and embarrassed that at the age of 45 I was living in a bedsit in a strange man’s house and I wasn’t allowed visitors after 9:00 pm. I was the first to go, but that’s a story for the next post.

In March 2001 I started back at work and also moved out of the flat, and by now my spiritual development was making good progress; in November of that year I would stand up as a medium for the first time. But now it’s confession time! In Part Nineteen I said was going to elaborate on my strange experiences in the night “in the next post”. Well I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to dedicate a whole separate post to it, having decided that it would have made this post far too long. I’m estimating that there will be another seven parts to my journey. One on my “strange experiences in the night”, one on my experiences with Sai Baba, another four to bring us up to present day, and finally, a summary post. Hope this hasn’t been too long-winded for those of you who have stuck with it from the start! See you soon!

Who Am I? Part Eighteen

This post is going to be like one of those films where they keep switching from one scene to the other because there are several stories going on at the same time, which all come together in the end. Firstly, as far as work was going, I fell for the yarn that was spun to me prior to accepting the new position, and was swept away on the crest of a wave of delusion. I was constantly making enquiries as to whether any new positions were coming up, and I had my heart set on joining the marketing team. I was bored with key accounts, and my efforts to get myself noticed didn’t go down very well with key accounts management. So much so, that my line manager eventually took me to one side and reminded me that I was a customer agent in the key accounts team; implying that I should know my place and get on with the job I was paid to do.

Eventually, I was offered a position within the marketing team; I was elated! If only I knew then what was just around the corner! It was cloud cuckoo land for several months. The job was only a side-step, but the marketing manager promised me it would lead to a promotion. During a conversation I had with the key accounts manager some weeks after taking up the new position in marketing, I mentioned what I had been told about getting promoted; he just laughed and walked off! This was a sign of what was to come. But in the meantime I was still riding the crest of a wave. There was long lunches, paid for on the managers’ expense accounts, and even though I was quite a low grade I was issued with a company mobile phone and I could also claim any expenses that I incurred on my travels. I should mention that my new job entailed managing the products that we were trying to sell to our commercial customers. This meant going out on the road from time to time, hence I was allowed to claim any expenses incurred. As well as ordering any stocks that I thought we needed I was also responsible for managing the installation of the aforementioned products. By this time I was no longer using the rail warrant to get to work. I had been advised to take out a company loan and buy a car, as I would need one to do my new job. This I did, and because I was not the only one commuting from Swindon, we would car share so that the burden of fuel expense could be shared.

In the meantime I had started going back to the spiritualist church on a more regular basis. Nothing had particularly changed; I still felt that there was a staleness to Spiritualism and the atmosphere in the church was pretty much exactly as it was. This time however, I did get to meet several people who I could relate to, and eventually I decided to go along to what they called the “open circle”, which was held on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. An open circle is not something that I would particularly advise participating in these days; they can actually be quite dangerous, but at that time it suited me. The open circle is for people who are wanting to find out more about Spiritualism and to start to develop their psychic and mediumistic abilities. It’s called an open circle because anybody can come and sit. Me and my particular group of friends formed the nucleus of the open circle; there was about six of us. When it was just us it was great, but sometimes there would be loads of people turning up, and everyone brings their own horrors with them so to speak, so an open circle is not always the ideal experience. Meanwhile back in Reading…

My best mates at work were Gary and Huw. Gary was one grade below middle-management within the marketing team and he lived in London. Huw was also in the marketing team and lived in Swindon; he was one of the car sharers. From time to time Gary would come to Swindon and stay at Huw’s house and we would get together over a few bears and have a real laugh. Eventually, I realised that my sexy new job was nothing of the sort. My line manager had previously been responsible for what I was now doing. When it became apparent that it entailed a lot of hassle and that it was pretty much a losing battle, they needed someone to dump on, and that person was me. In theory the products were great, but in practice they simply didn’t work; mainly because of the many unforeseen problems with installation. Cracks started to appear and eventually someone very high up within the organisation realised that our new all-singing-all-dancing marketing department was haemorrhaging money. Thousands of pounds had been spent with very little return so heads had to roll. Incredibly, there was only one actual redundancy that I remember, but there was a huge restructuring. The one bloke who got made redundant was Dave. He was one of the three salespeople and a really good bloke. As ever in these situations it was the people who had been responsible for the biggest mess who came up smelling of roses once the dust had settled, poor Dave was just a scapegoat. Meanwhile back at the oasis…

Prior to things turning sour, I started a relationship with a woman called Sue. She worked in the same building as me in Reading; she was upstairs in graphic design. We were together for six months, during which time I was incredibly insensitive towards her. I really didn’t appreciate her and eventually we parted company. For me, it was a case of, “you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone”, but we still had some good times together. I’m mentioning Sue because I think she is quite significant to my story at this time, which will become clearer a little later. We had two things in common, an interest in Spiritualism and alcohol.

Eventually, I got more involved with trying to develop myself spiritually, and there is a milestone moment I will share with you. I’ll also have to backtrack because it was the first time I ever went to the open circle.  It was as though something inside me was saying, “now is the time to go forward”, so I decided that I was going to go to this open circle thing. The person in charge said we were going to try something called psychometry, which is to pick up information from an object by holding it. For example, by holding a piece of jewellery in your hand you may be able to pick up information about who has worn it. Most of the others present seemed quite apprehensive but I quickly offered myself forward to have a go, and to my amazement I was able to give some fairly accurate information to complete strangers simply by holding the items they had brought with them. This was the springboard for me and now there was no holding me back.

Because this period is quite involved I’m going to split it into two parts as I want to keep the reader’s interest. So I’m going to get straight on with part nineteen.

Who Am I? Part Seventeen

This is the building on the Kembrey Park Industrial Estate (known as “Cherry Orchard”) where I worked for the utility company in the Corporate Accounts Dept.

1998 was a pretty good year. As the months went by I decided that I wanted to move on from the call centre and I watched the staff notice board closely to see what other vacancies came up. I saw a job advertised in Corporate Accounts and went for it. I was successful in my application, so after two years on the call centre I was on the move. It meant I would be working in a different building but on the same site. My feelings were that I wasn’t getting any younger, and having wasted my education and early working years, I decided that this was my last chance of building a career. I was now dealing with my own designated list of commercial customers. On the surface it seemed ideal, but some of the accounts were an absolute mess and of course, there were accounts that were in dispute. So, it wasn’t all plain sailing but it was better than having customers screaming in my ear.

I was settled in the flat and had a very close female friend, Maggie, who I spent a lot of time with. We’d been friends virtually since I started working full-time, and became very close during 1997. We went on holiday a few times together and in the summer of 1998 we became an item! There was 15 years between us, but Maggie was very mature for her age and we had some great times together.

Another change happened as the year was drawing to a close. Within the same office as the Corporate Accounts team there was the Key Accounts team. It was a very small team of two customer agents who looked after the biggest customers. These were the big corporations whose bills would be for hundreds of thousands of pounds, or even in excess of a million pounds. As well as the two customer agents there was three key account managers who were not office based. So, the agents would have their designated customer accounts to administer and the account managers would be on face-to-face terms with the customers “out in the field”, as they say. One of the agents was taking a team manager’s job and I was asked if I would like to take her place in key accounts. I agreed to move, but I only had to move a couple of feet as the girl I was replacing sat opposite me! Things appeared to be going swimmingly well. I had more stability within myself; and sinking into the depths of darkness seemed to be a thing of the past. The job might not have been the best paid in the world, but I was now earning more money than I’d ever earned in my life. I’d also developed a taste for red wine and Gorse Hill was a bachelor boy’s paradise with several supermarkets for buying my booze and a plethora of restaurants and fast food joints.

Me and Maggie had a good thing together but we were not joined at the hip. We would go for long country walks and meals, and during the time we’d known each other we visited the Lake District, Cornwall, Devon, the Peak District, Wales, Northumberland and the Isle of Wight to name just a few of the beautiful places our travels took us to. We both also liked our own space and sometimes we would not see each other for a week to ten days. Life was good and as we entered December 1998 I was given another opportunity. The manager of Corporate and Key Accounts approached me; I had only been in my new position for a couple of weeks, and he said that the industry was gong to go through drastic and exciting changes in the coming years. In line with these developments the organisation was forming a new Customer Marketing Division, which would be based in Reading. He said that I was under no obligation to move, however, the key account positions would be moving to Reading to form part of this new all-singing-all-dancing marketing division. He painted a rosy picture of sexy new jobs, with salaries to match, and gave me the impression that all else would be swept aside by this incredible tsunami of positive change that was going to engulf the industry. I was tempted, very tempted; and also excited, but commuting to Reading presented an obstacle. An 80 mile round trip every day! It would cost me a fortune in fuel.

A few days later I went to the spiritualist church and the medium came to me with a message. He said, “you are hesitating about something. You have been offered a golden opportunity”. I will never forget those words, “golden opportunity”. Had I known then exactly what that meant I might have declined the offer of the new position in Reading. But I was only thinking in worldly terms and on Monday morning I told the manager I was up for it. It’s a funny thing in life, that the soul’s definition of things is completely different to the human definition. As it happened it was a golden opportunity that I don’t regret, but it took me to a place of great pain first in order that I could free myself from the self-imposed shackles that had been holding me back for years.

It was agreed that the company would provide me with a rail warrant for the first six months. After that I would have to fend for myself, but I intended to use that six month period to nab one of the sexy new jobs that were being created. It all happened really quickly, two weeks before Christmas in 1998 I started the new job in Reading. The writing should have been on the wall from the off. Our Customer Services Director at the time, a lady called Jane May, took us all out for a celebration lunch to launch the new division. At that time there wasn’t that many of us, but the bill still came to £950, which was mainly for wine! Jane was a very nice lady who was always warm and friendly towards the staff, but soon after the official launch, she went off sick and we never saw her again. We were now into the early part of 1999. But I will finish with another little anecdote from the tail end of 1998.

I was still involved with the theatre productions put on by John Williams. Towards the end of 1998 he’d organised another night of theatre in Highworth. He gathered a group of actors together and we were to put on an extremely truncated production of Macbeth, to take place about two weeks before Christmas. John became the butt of the group’s jokes and it was obvious that the dynamic was not as it should be. To cut a long story short, the performance was absolutely awful, and it remains to this day the last time I ever set foot on a stage. I had made up my own batch of fake blood to use in the production, and in the dim light of the stage during the crucial moment, I’d managed to spill most of it onto the boards. On top of that the evening had ended with a distinctly icy atmosphere between John and the actors. He phoned me up a few days later; he wasn’t happy! He said he’d been given grief by the people who ran the community centre because of the fake blood all over the stage. He also expressed his general displeasure. A few months later I bumped into him in a supermarket in Swindon. There was no animosity between us, but it was the last time I ever saw him and my theatre days were over.

Soon my life would change forever!

PS See you when I get back from Nepal…