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.


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!!!!


Who Am I? Part Thirteen

The flat at 15 Dixon Street was, in a sense, a God-send for me, but as stated in the previous post, it was also the place where I experienced some extremely dark times.

The flat at 15 Dixon Street was about 30 seconds walk from this church, on the right-hand side. To save you asking… No.. I didn’t attend!

I was approached one day by one of the supervisors at work who told me that his mother was looking for a tenant for a flat that formed part of her house. The rent was unbelievably cheap; only £30 per week, and it would give me my own space again. I went to have a look and decided to take it. Mrs Davis was an elderly lady who wanted the flat to be used. She was not interested in making money out of it. She was an extremely honest lady and declared the rent as income to the Inland Revenue. If she kept the rent low, she would not have to pay tax on it, and she simply wanted to provide a home for somebody who needed it. She had asked her son if he knew of anybody at work who was trustworthy and reliable. It was quite an honour to be the first person who came to mind. The flat needed a lick of paint, which I was more than happy to do. I got on extremely well with Mrs Davis, and the fact that I’d painted her flat firmly cemented my place in her good books. It was only on rare occasions that she would come down to see me, so it was really good for me that I had this space and that I was left alone. I was as regular as clockwork with my rent, so all-in-all it was a great situation for all concerned.

Normally when we spoke it was because I had gone to seek her out. During one of our conversations we somehow got on to the subject of spiritual matters and it turned out that Mrs Davis read Tarot cards, which she did for me on several occasions. Living in Dixon Street gave me a bit of stability; it was less than 10 minutes walk from work and right on top of all the amenities that Swindon offered. However, being a basement flat it was rather dingy and not very well lit. I also felt very isolated within myself for a lot of the time that I lived there. In hindsight, my view now is that I’d had so much going on in my life with my marriage and my relationship with Carol, also my business venture and a few other things, that my deep emotional pain had been by and large suppressed since my teenage, and later, my army years. Now I had my own private living space again, my mates were all married or in serious relationships, so I had more time in isolation than I wanted, and it was during these times that I sunk down into incredible depths of pain. It seemed that I’d been feeling like this for years and that there was simply no end to it.

There was a shop on the corner of Stafford Street, which was one street up from Dixon Street and about two minutes walk from the flat. I would quite often go there and buy their tins of extra strength lager. It was vile stuff; in a plain can with the letters “HSL” on the side. HSL stood for “High Strength Lager”; it was like drinking treacle. A can or two was all it took to knock me into a stupor. I suppose, in my own mind I thought I was numbing the pain, but oft-times I would just sit there crying and wondering if or when the pain would ever stop.

At the end of 1991 one of the girls at work who lived less than two minutes walk from me invited me to a New Year’s Eve party at her house. She was from Sheffield and said that her sister was coming down for New Year. Enter Gillian into my life. She had been in an abusive marriage; married to a man who quite often punched and kicked her. We got on very well and romance blossomed. I had no car when I lived in Dixon Street, so most weekends I would get the coach or train up to Sheffield. I usually worked late shifts, so I could stay until Monday morning and still get back to Swindon in time for work. Gillian had a little boy who was two at the time and there was constant problems with her ex. Before I met Gillian his behaviour had been so appalling that he’d caused Gillian’s dad, Roy, to have a nervous breakdown. Court orders were taken out preventing him from having anything to do with the family, but he ignored them and the police seemed not to care. On one occasion he’d put a brick through the rear window of Roy’s car. Gillian had brothers who could have sorted the problem out, but her parents did not like conflict and were typical of their era in wanting to do things in the “correct” manner. So all-in-all Gillian’s ex caused a great deal of stress for the whole family.

I suggested to Gillian that she should just up and leave Sheffield and come to Swindon. By now her parents were living in Swindon; they had the flat that Gillian’s sister had previously lived in. They had come down because the strain of living in Sheffield had become too much with all the aggro. So Gillian and her little boy moved into the flat with her parents. She was however, very independent and tenacious and she wanted her own place. Eventually she was rehoused by the local council in a tiny matchbox of a flat in the Nythe area. Somehow Gillian managed to fall pregnant; I say somehow, because she was on the pill and we certainly didn’t plan it. I, on the other hand, still lived in a world where alcohol was king, and I kept saying to myself, “I’ll start saving in a couple of months”. Although we didn’t live together, when I stayed over at Gillian’s I found the flat to be really cramped. Also, her little one was a real handful. Gillian must have sensed that my heart wasn’t in it, and out of fear of being left alone with not one, but two small children, she announced to me that she was going to have an abortion. She was four months gone and right on the point of no return as far as having an abortion was concerned.

My feelings were that she was the one who had to go through the pain of giving birth, so if she decided she didn’t want that, then who was I to argue. Ironically Gillian had to go to London for the abortion, to St Anne’s Hospital, which was just a stone’s throw from where I was born in North London. In fact, the hospital was directly opposite Downhills Park, which was one of the parks I used to play in when I was a kid. Our relationship was on and off, and I suppose it’s true to say that we were such good friends that we really shouldn’t have been in a relationship. Like a lot of couples, we got on great, but when you cross that relationship line, things start to become stale and you take each other for granted. I should also mention here that when we were talking about doing the happy families thing, I gave up the flat in Dixon Street and moved back in with my mum. The thinking behind it was that I would be able to save some money. Bad idea, bad move!

What also happened was that Gillian’s parents bought a static caravan in a place called Binbrook, which was near Grimsby. It was a lovely area, and several times whilst we were together, me, Gillian and the little one would go and visit. I loved the bones off Roy, he was a very witty man and he always made me laugh. It was sometimes hard to believe that he was struggling with mental illness. I always held the whole family in such high esteem. They were what I call a real family. They were very close; always phoning each other up, and when they were together they would play board games and stuff. All the things that I wasn’t used to. They accepted me as one of their own and I’ve never forgotten it.

In November 1992 the main sorting office moved from the town centre in Swindon to an industrial area called Dorcan. It was apparently a state of the art all-singing-all-dancing sorting office with machines that did the work once carried out by humans. It didn’t really make any difference; there were no redundancies and the new office was about 10 minutes walk from my mum’s place. However, living with my mum was driving me round the bend. The job was driving me round the bend and so was my life in general. Something had to give; but what? It wasn’t long now before my life would change beyond recognition, but before I reached that stage I had to go through darker times than I could ever imagine.

To be continued…

Who Am I? Part Twelve

The Roaring Donkey in Little London, Old Town, Swindon. One of my haunts during this period.


The car crash that was my relationship with Carol was on and off so many times. My mind was all over the place; it was like being one of the main characters in a horror soap opera. As stated in the previous post, I had already realised that the business venture wasn’t working but I was still doing some of the markets. However, Carol did not like me being a market trader and I ended up packing in completely before I actually intended to, simply to try to keep the peace. At that time it was the only source of income I had, so there was the small matter of finding a job. I couldn’t win, no matter what I did; I knew I could get a job with Royal Mail, but Carol didn’t want me working there either. It seemed that every idea I had job-wise, she didn’t like, but it just caused problems because I had no work. I remember moving out again and moving back to my mum’s place yet again. During this period I went ahead and got the job with Royal Mail; starting in October 1989.

But the soap opera continued. I moved back in with Carol and the problems started again virtually straight away. She didn’t like me working for Royal Mail because she thought, somehow, that it would give me the opportunity to cheat on her. Nothing could have been further from the truth. She became physically abusive on a couple of occasions as well. This seemed to run in the family. Her eldest son acquired his first serious girlfriend, a really nice girl, and it transpired that he was hitting her. Also, the twin who had always seemed to be the only level-headed member of the family had moved in with her boyfriend, also a really nice lad, but she started hitting him too. I remember him telling me once that she had thrown a very heavy object at him, that missed his head by a whisker. Violence seemed to be the order of the day and I spent most of the time just trying to keep the peace. This was a very difficult and unhappy time for me but eventually, before 1990 was half-way through I managed to make what would be the final break from the relationship. I ended up once more living at my mum’s place. I felt deflated, completely useless and a failure.

At least now I was able to go into work without having to worry about what I would have to face when I got home after my shift had finished. It wasn’t easy living with my mum, but at last there was some semblance of normality returning to my life. I was able to put in extra hours at the Royal Mail and boost my income. In May 1990 I even treated myself to a week away in the Isle of Wight. Once I felt that I was on my feet again I rented a house in Birch Street, which was in the Westcott Place area of Swindon. This meant that I could walk to work in around 10 minutes. Another thing that Carol hadn’t liked me doing was drinking, so when we were together my alcohol consumption was virtually nil. However, now that I was free, that was something else that would change. Also, for the first time in a while I started hanging out with people. There was a few lads I worked with who were really decent blokes and we would hang out together. But the darkness was descending and I started to sink lower. The trouble was,my new-found mates were all either married or in relationships, so they couldn’t hang out with me all the time. I noticed how isolated and lonely I was feeling, and I would also get times when I felt so unbelievably sad. As usual, I had the feeling of not belonging with regard to working at the Royal Mail; it was a male-dominated environment and some of the goings-on there did not resonate with me at all.

I remember that as winter descended I was doing quite a lot of extra hours and some night shifts. If I was on nights, I could go in early at 6:00 pm and do overtime before my shift started. It was such a bleak time; I would go to work in the dark and come home while it was still dusky, so I didn’t see much daylight. I spent most of my free time between shifts watching videos; I’d never watched so many films in my life!

The Prince of Wales in Union Street. Probably less than 30 seconds walk from where I was living.

By the middle of 1991 I’d moved to a bed sit in Union Street, in the Old Town area of Swindon, which was also within walking distance of work. Another lad I was friendly with lived in the house and he had a word with the landlord and got me in there. It wasn’t ideal living in a bed sit but the rent was unbelievably cheap; much cheaper than the house in Birch Street. I should mention here that at various stages between the late 1970s and when I moved in at Union Street, I had from time-to-time had access to cannabis/hashish again; and this was one of those times. I’d given up cigarettes so taking the smoke from this stuff down into my throat nigh-on killed me (slight exaggeration!). So, there I was, living within touching distance of all the pubs and eateries in Old Town, and at the same time I had an abundance of opportunities to get stoned in the comfort of my room. By now I was 36 and still no further forward in life than when I was a teenager.

I didn’t stay in Union Street very long. Out of the blue I got offered the chance to move into a basement flat in Dixon Street, which was just down the road from Union Street and on the edge of the town centre. I was in heaven…sort of. I still had access to all the pubs etc. in Old Town, but I was also around 2 minutes walk from all the pubs and curry houses in the town. Plus, I was even closer to work. It was while I was living in Dixon Street that I experienced some of my worst emotional pain. I will go into greater detail in part 13, but suffice it to say, it would be another five years before I understood why I’d been having these feelings for so many years…


Ignorance Is Bliss

Back in the 90s I was living in Swindon and the locals were in uproar because the local Sikh community were given permission to build a temple. One of my work colleagues at the time even ran as a Conservative counsellor for the sole purpose of wanting to prevent the temple being built. I now hear on the local news that the same Sikhs, on hearing that a homeless man had died on the streets of Swindon, have started a Seva (service) project to feed the homeless and down-and-outs. They even vary the menu and lay on stuff like pizza and pasta. It’s really strange in this life that quite often the people who we hate for no apparent reason are the people who bring us the greatest lessons in human values…


Who Am I? Part Eleven

You may or may not be surprised to hear that I’m off on my travels again in a couple of days time. Back up to the Scottish Highlands for about a week, so I wanted to write another post before setting off.

One good thing that came from my time living back in London with my mum and then moving back in with her after she moved to Swindon, was that in spite of the difficulties I had with her negativity, it gave us a chance to have some proper chats. It was during these chats that I learned the sordid truth of all the goings on within the family when I was a kid. However, I also gained an understanding of why my dad had been the way he was. Apparently, his mother had been a very beautiful woman who had died when he was only about five years old. He’d idolised his mother, but it wasn’t only her death that had affected him. His father, my Grandad Albert, had married again; ironically to a woman named Elsie, which was my mum’s name. She was a matron in one of the London hospitals and was a very ferocious woman. My dad and her clashed and he also had a very volatile relationship with Albert. I remember that they would fall out and not speak to each other for ages. In fact, when Albert died no one bothered to tell my dad; he found out around three months later during a phone call. It was always an awful experience for me as a kid when we went over there for visits. But finding all this stuff out gave me clarity as to why my dad had been so emotionally barren. It wasn’t that he didn’t love; he simply didn’t know how to express it. I could also see that he had simply lived his life in accordance with the understanding he had at that time, as do all of us. Big respect old boy!

So, back to the late 1980s. I started going to the Spiritualist church on a regular basis and I also had an idea to start my own business. I found the church to be not very welcoming, it was rather cliquey and run mainly by elderly people who appeared to view me with suspicion. I remember one particular incident. It was announced at the weekend that during the coming week there was to be a games night in the church. The idea was that people could have some “fun” in a less formal atmosphere and get to know each other. It sounded good to me so I went along. It turned out to be a bit of a farce; Only around seven people turned up, including me, and with the exception of one woman who was aged somewhere in between me and the older ones, nobody spoke to me. Even if I was interacting with them during the “fun and games”, they just looked at me in ways that suggested they didn’t think I should be there. I didn’t let this put me off and I made enquiries about doing their spiritual healing course. One thing I decided was that I wanted to follow-up on what Mr Dowding had told me about developing my healing gift.

Trainee healers were not allowed to put their hands on patients until deemed ready by the lead healer. So, apart from the written element of the course, I was allowed to sit in during healing sessions but I was only permitted to observe or send out healing thoughts. I was doing well with the written work; I was about one-third of the way through and had gained good marks up to that point. Then an incident occurred that caused me to walk away; and I stayed away for around five years. As I’ve already mentioned there is a lead healer; this is something that is synonymous with Spiritualist churches. I had a private nickname for our particular lead healer, which was “The King of The Healers”.

I mentioned to the president of the church that I’d been doing really well with the written work and had gained good marks. In view of this, I asked if it would be permissible for me to now just hold the patient’s hands as they received healing from one of the trained healers. The president said this would be fine so, feeling rather pleased with myself, I was looking forward to the next healing night. The time came and I thought I’d better mention the holding hands thing to the lead healer instead of just steaming in. When I did so, The King of The Healers had a mini-meltdown because he had not been consulted. In hindsight I was not aware of the protocol and had acted in complete innocence, but nonetheless, the lead healer appeared to have a massive ego; hence my nickname for him, and added to the general bad atmosphere in the church, I decided that I no longer wanted any part of it and voted with my feet. I was still quite a young man at the time and my impression was that as long as I sat in the congregation and kept my mouth shut all was fine. But because I wanted to get involved I was perceived as a threat.

As for my business venture, it was great experience, but sadly, it was doomed from the start. Back in those days there was a thing called “The Enterprise Allowance Scheme”. It was a government-run scheme that encouraged people to start up their own businesses by paying them £40 per week for the first 12 months. However, it was a bit of a Catch 22 situation; well it was for someone like me who was skint! In order to be eligible you needed to have some cash to put into the business. So, the natural thing is to ask the bank for some money… but the bank won’t give you any money unless you have some of your own to put in. Holmsey cunning was needed, so I asked my mum to lend me £2000, which I put into my bank account. I then said to the bank, “look, I’ve got some money”! The bank then gave me a business account with a £2000 overdraft facility. I was then able to approach the Enterprise Allowance Scheme and qualify for the £40 a week. Soon as everything was in place I paid my mum her £2000 back. I had the idea of selling second-hand vinyl from a market stall. I soon learned that you couldn’t earn a living by only offering the public stuff that you yourself liked.

The murky world of market trading was another real learning curve for me. It was soul-destroying at times. Long hours and quite often not even taking enough money to cover my daily outgoings. When I realised I couldn’t make a living by selling second-hand rock albums, I started selling cassettes and pop merchandise; I also started selling the type of music that people actually wanted! I have to chuckle when I look back on this period. Some of the markets where I traded attracted elderly people who wanted to spend 50p on anything other than what I was selling, and young single mums looking to buy cheap disposable nappies. I would be there selling Guns n Roses and Sex Pistols T-shirts and albums by popular “easy listening” bands such as Black Sabbath and The Who! Eventually I did come around to the idea of changing my sales and marketing strategy!

It was a real cut-throat world and I encountered a few dodgy characters along the way. Two things that I found though, and this seems to have been the case everywhere and with everything I’ve ever been involved in. Firstly, I didn’t fit in. I felt very uncomfortable around some of the people I had to associate with; and at this point in my life I still didn’t understand why I always felt different. Secondly, through all the darkness and murkiness of this period (I was well and truly on the downward slope by this time), there was someone who always looked out for me. In this instance it was Bill, who was the market Toby* for the council-run market in Marlborough where I plied my trade on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Bill had a family fruit and veg business and was one of two fruit and veg traders at Marlborough. He knew I was struggling, but I think he admired what I was trying to achieve as a one-man-band. I didn’t have a pitch, but he always made sure I got on. He had a word with the mobile butcher who let me pitch up at the side of his butcher’s wagon. Also, if any of the traders were sick or on holiday Bill would let me have their pitch. All I had to do in return was let him and the butcher have a free cassette from time to time. He never took any money off me because the pitch fees were already paid. I salute you Billy boy!

What little profit I made went towards keeping my old Citroen on the road by way of petrol and maintenance costs. I’d already started to think that maybe it wasn’t going to work and that I should look for a career change, when I did something incredibly stupid.

Carol’s sister and John were having a christening do in the church hall just up from Carol’s house. It was around ten months since we split and I’d bumped into John and her sisters on various occasions and had been invited. I was apprehensive but decided to go along. Carol was there and I did not go into the main hall where she was, choosing instead to hang out at the bar and chat to her sisters, her kids and John as they flitted in and out. Eventually, Carol came out to speak to me. We got on surprisingly well. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get too involved and before I knew it, we were not only seeing each other again, but I’d moved back in with her. What followed wasn’t very nice, but I’m going to finish this post by sharing what happened when I had my first experience of the sustained presence of spirit around me.

I think this was the first time or one of the first times I took Carol to London. We were just outside the back door one evening in Gladstone Avenue and I felt the presence of spirit around me. I don’t know if I’d felt it before but this was unmistakable. I told Carol what I could feel and she said she felt it too. She was used to this kind of thing and told me it was my dad. The presence seemed to stay for quite a long time and it got stronger and stronger. In the end it got so strong I panicked and it stopped immediately. Carol said he’d deliberately increased the presence gradually as he had not wanted to frighten me. As soon as I started to panic he drew back.

*For the uninitiated, the word “Toby”, is market trader speak for the person who is in charge of the market. The Toby collects the pitch fees and controls who’s on and who isn’t.


Who Am I? Part Ten

Me, circa 1990; my descent into darkness was gathering momentum.

It seemed that Carol had a “gift”. She would get feelings about things happening before they actually happened. She would also get guidance from invisible souls; many years later I understood better what had actually gone on. But for now, in the early stages of our relationship before it all went pear-shaped, this gave us the subject matter for many an interesting conversation. I told my mum about Carol and she was very excited about meeting her. I should mention here that I’m not sure of the order in which all the things that happened during my “Carol period” occurred. I’m also not going to go into too much detail about all the negative stuff because it serves no purpose. I went into detail about stuff that happened during my marriage because in hindsight, it was actually quite funny, and it aptly illustrated my mentality at that stage of my life.

At some point Carol had travelled with me to London and had got on extremely well with my mum. They had a common interest in what we can call Spiritualism. In hindsight, my mum had her own version of spirituality and lived in her own little world. She was very naive and quite gullible. Years ago, she’d been told by psychics that she would have a series of wins on the football pools. She did, but it was a couple of very small wins and one win of around £600. She lived her life in the desperate hope that “the big one” was coming, but it never did. My dad had been so domineering and had subdued her personality to the extent that she had zero confidence. Now that he was gone she was completely helpless in a world that had passed her by. Carol represented a breath of fresh air for her; the trouble was that when things turned sour it made my mum feel very bitter, which only added to her life of woes.

My mum took Carol to a school that was just down the road from where we had first moved to in Wood Green. I’m not sure of the frequency of these events, but on Saturdays there would be various psychics and mediums gathered in the school hall and you could go along for readings etc. I now understand these events to be psychic fairs, but it was all new to me at the time. They came back buzzing and said that I should also go along at some stage. A few weeks later when the next event was held I did go along. It was quite an incredible experience for me. My mum had told me that I should see Mr Tom Dowding. He was around 86 years old and, according to my mum, knew his onions! She said that I should just go and sit on one of the chairs near his table and wait for him to call me forward.

I fathomed out who Mr Dowding was and duly sat down. He was busy drawing, and he kept looking up at me. Then he called me forward and the first thing he said was, “I’ve been waiting for you”. He then handed me the drawing; which was of a Native American Indian. He said that the Indian was my spirit guide and then proceeded to tell me all kinds of things that blew me away. On reflection there was very little evidence in what Mr Dowding told me. A lot of it was just names that he gave me, but he also made some predictions, which in the main all came true. Another thing he told me that was really completely new to me was that I could heal people just by putting my hands on them. He further stated that the power of thought was so great that I could even do this from a distance. I was so blown away by the experience that I went to see him again a few weeks later and he further blew me away. He told me of another spirit guide from Egypt and he also told me that I would be working from a platform.

At some stage I left my job with The Royal Liver and moved in with Carol at her house in Swindon. I got a job as a self-employed taxi driver thanks to Carol’s brother-in-law, John. John was a great bloke and he was still working as a taxi driver himself, having had his own taxi business, and he got me in the door.

Carol told me about a Spiritualist church that was in the Old Town area of Swindon. She went along one night and about a week later we went together. I honestly thought there would be ghosts flying around the room, but it was so far removed from ghosts and the ridiculous portrayal of Spiritualism and Spiritualist churches that we see in the media. It was just like any other church service; the only difference was that the medium taking the service would also give a demonstration of mediumship. I got a message; it was very positive, and it gave me the impetus to go again.

Now that I was back in Swindon I was worried about my mum being in the flat on her own with the squatters upstairs. She was only in her early sixties and at this stage she was still quite able-bodied, but she was very vulnerable. Carol suggested that we should try to get her an exchange move with someone in Swindon who wanted to move to London. This would be possible because the flat in Gladstone Avenue was a council property, and the exchange could be made with another council tenant in Swindon. I phoned my mum and put the suggestion to her and she agreed. So, me and Carol travelled to London having arranged an appointment for my mum with the housing department of Haringey Council. It seemed that in no time at all my mum was up and moved and living in Swindon.

She had already been for a visit and had been quite disturbed by all the arguments and bad language that were part of the norm in the household. Me and Carol were already having our problems so by the time my mum moved to Swindon things were well and truly on the downward spiral. Carol had an extremely strong personality that came from years of living in an abusive environment and she was very controlling. It was really difficult for me when my mum came to stay; I felt like piggy-in-the-middle. On one hand it wasn’t nice for me seeing my mum clearly uncomfortable in that atmosphere, but on the other hand I had to try and keep the peace with Carol; it was like walking on eggs. She told me once that what had ruined our relationship was my wandering eye.. She was so paranoid after her first husband cheated on her that my habit of looking at other women had really put a spanner in the works. I wouldn’t have cheated on her but I was aware that my eyes had a habit of wandering. I wouldn’t have liked it so it couldn’t have been very nice for her.

Carol subjected me to what I can only describe as psychological abuse. She had a way of making me feel useless and inadequate (it was a familiar feeling that harked back to my relationship with my dad before we buried the hatchet). Life was really miserable and was made worse by the fact that Carol simply didn’t trust me. She didn’t like me working on the taxis and our relationship reached rock bottom. I don’t know how I managed it but I somehow got out of the house and at the age of 33 I had the ignominy of moving back in with my mum. As I’ve already stated, the world had passed my mum by and she lived somewhere in the 1940s or 50s. She had the annoying habit of stating the obvious, which indirectly reminded me of my miserable predicament. Also, because she was such a negative person it was extremely difficult being in my mum’s company for any length of time. Things just dragged me down and it seemed as though it was always when I was at my lowest, that my mum would come out with the sort of statement that would just make me feel even more inadequate than I was already feeling. She didn’t mean it of course, it was just her understanding of things.

This period is not over yet! We are now up to 1988 but we need to journey to May1990 in order to put this piece of the saga to bed. Laterzzzzz