Who Am I? Part Twenty Seven


If all goes to plan this post will bring us up to April 2005. I’m going to start by relating something that happened either before I moved to Wales, or just after. that concerns my friend Sue. Before I knew her, Sue had experienced breast cancer, and soon after we met, she acquired lung cancer. She had major surgery that meant having a lung removed and she was told that she would be laid up for at least six months. However, only two weeks after having the operation, Sue was up and about and leading virtually a normal life again. Things went along normally for a few years and then she got a cough that just would not go away. She was at the spiritualist church in Swindon one night, when an extremely stupid and unprofessional medium told her, in front of the entire congregation, that her cancer had come back and that she would need another operation. This sent Sue into a panic and when we were discussing it some little time after the medium had so irresponsibly gave her that news, she said to me, “I just can’t face another major operation Richard”. But Holmsey had a brain wave!

I reminded her that just because there may be a need for an operation, it doesn’t mean it has to be a conventional operation. I suggested making an appointment to go and see Stephen Turoff in Chelmsford. Sue was in agreement and I phoned to make an appointment. In the meantime Sue had indeed been given a diagnosis of throat cancer. She was even given a detailed description of the type of strain she had. Then unbelievably, she received information from the hospital saying that for some reason they’d had her samples analysed by a third-party who decided she didn’t have cancer after all. This panicked her even more because she still had the cough and she knew her body, which was telling her there was definitely something wrong. I drove us to Chelmsford on the required day and went in with her when she had her operation. As I said in my previous post about Stephen Turoff, his operations are normally very quick, but this one seemed to go on for around four minutes. At some stage, he grabbed his scalpel and cut her throat. He did not use anaesthetic and there was no blood; just a tiny red mark that was gone the next day. When he left the room to carry out his next operation, I said to Sue, “did that hurt”? She said, “he cut my throat didn’t he”? I said, “yes”. She said, “it didn’t hurt, but it was very uncomfortable”? Just prior to leaving the room, Stephen said to Sue, “now go and enjoy the rest of your life”. She has been free of cancer ever since.

So, there I was living in Wales. I plodded along acquiring the odd client here and there, and just about keeping my head above water. Certain people were a godsend to me at this time. Mainly a man named John Rigby. He ran The Sacred Hands Spiritual Centre in Llandysul. He was a great bloke and seemed to understand what I was trying to achieve. I served the centre as a medium, but John also let me use the premises to run workshops, at no cost to me whatsoever. John also introduced me to my friend, Sarah Thomas, who I am still in touch with today. I got to know Sarah and her husband Kev very well, and some years later after I was back in England but visiting Wales to serve the churches, they would let me stay at their house in Pennant. Speaking of Pennant, that was where Carol and Bruce lived who were going to let me live in a caravan on their land. John Rigby had been a very unwell man for all the time I knew him, and he finally left this life a couple of years back. I will never forget him or his kindness.

Now, the next part of this sort of “round robin” post, I dedicated a whole chapter to in my book, The Amazing Journey, but there was no way that I could write an account of my time in Wales and not mention this. Remember, at the end of the previous post I mentioned a roller-coaster? Well, hold on, this is it!

Hold on…. My lovely people…. A confession…. This part of the story is so incredible that I need to write a lot of detail to give you the full picture. I have therefore decided that it will save me a lot of work if I simply copy and paste a large slice of Chapter 6 from The Amazing Journey. It does mean however that this post will end in February 2004 instead of April 2005, but when you’ve finished reading I think I can safely say that you will forgive me. Fasten your seat belts….

Because of the hilly nature of the land, during times of inclement weather you could be driving along the road and all could be fine, but a few hundred metres further down you could be driving in a blizzard, and then a little further on it would be fine again, and so on. On the Wednesday the weather seemed to be OK and at some stage I went down into Lampeter. As I was driving back to the house however the snow started coming down. The distance from the bottom of the hill up to the house is approximately two miles and under normal circumstances it’s only a few minutes’ drive. But when Keith came in at around 7:00 p.m. he said that it had taken him the best part of an hour to get up the hill because his car had been slipping and sliding. I was a bit worried now but nonetheless I packed some of my things into the car, and decided to leave the remainder until the morning.

I woke up at 07:00 a.m. and looked out of the window. There was a very restricted view from my room but it didn’t prevent me from seeing that the snow was still coming down and that what little I could see outside was a complete white-out. Now I was really worried! I asked the angels for a sign that all would be OK and got back into bed. I got the sign I asked for; it was indicated to me that all would be well, but being human I had more than my share of reservations. I couldn’t get back to sleep either; my mind was working overtime. I knew that things must be bad outside because, even though you don’t get much traffic up there during the course of any day, you do get the odd early morning delivery van and the post van at around 08:00 a.m.

I had a look outside and there were no tyre tracks at all; absolutely nothing, not that I’d heard any vehicles anyway. I looked at my car and all I could see was a kind of vague car shape completely covered in thick snow. I decided to carry on as best I could and proceeded to clear all the snow from the car before packing the rest of my things into it. My understanding was that I should wait for a sign and then just go. At 10:30 a.m. I got the sign but hesitated as I was not sure in my worried state that it was not my imagination. Within minutes I got the sign again as if in confirmation. I then had further confirmation when I heard the sound of a car engine. I looked out and saw a 4×4 Range Rover-type vehicle go past. “What a result”, I thought. I could simply aim my wheels into the tyre tracks of the 4×4 and all would be OK. It was now time to leave.

I had no choice but to drive in the direction I was facing because the narrowness of the road coupled with the thick snow made it impossible to turn around anyway. It was 0.6 of a mile up to the T-junction that would connect me with The Roman Road. The wise Keith informed me that I would be OK once I got up to The Roman Road because it would have been gritted. I said “bye for now” to Keith and aimed my wheels into the tracks left by the 4×4. I had only driven a few metres when I realised I could be making the biggest mistake of my life. Once I set off I couldn’t turn around so I had no choice but to keep going. The car was sliding, the engine was revving and the wheels were turning quite rapidly, but the car was moving, seemingly at minus miles per hour; progress really was that slow.

Looking back, there was one particularly amusing moment at this stage, albeit that I wasn’t laughing at the time as I was already building up to a state of panic. Although it was fairly remote up in those hills there were a few other houses dotted around at various intervals, and I remember passing neighbours both on the left and right hand sides of the road. Both the woman from the house on the left and the man from the house on the right stared in complete and utter amazement at this car that was moving so slowly it may as well have been in reverse, being driven by some lunatic. They both had looks of sheer bewilderment on their faces, obviously trying to fathom out what I thought I was doing.

0.6 of a mile is no distance at all, and normally it would take a couple of minutes at the most to reach the T-junction. But these were not normal circumstances. The narrow road is very windy in places and separated from the fields on either side by walls made from something similar to Cotswold Stone. The car edged its way round a slight bend and the houses were out of sight. I was now driving in a blizzard, still extremely slowly and all I could see was white. Everywhere I looked nothing but white. I started to get scared; I also started to think that I would get stuck, and thoughts such as “I might miss my flight” raced through my mind. Working at the centre near Banbury and the trip to Copenhagen were so important to me it was unthinkable that I might get stranded. Every now and then the car would skid towards a wall and I had thoughts of horror that my lights would get smashed. I called out for Baba to help me, and miraculously, every time the car skidded towards a wall, it stopped centimetres before impact. Little did I know that the fun was only just beginning.

At approximately the half-way point there is a real hair pin bend in the road. As the car went around this bend, it skidded and stalled and ended up sitting diagonally across the road. By now I was really panicking. I got out of the car to assess the situation, I was a nervous wreck and kept calling out to Baba to help me. I got back in the car and started it up. I put it into gear, gave it a few revs and to my amazement I was on the move again. I skidded a few more times along the way but eventually, after what seemed like an entire age, I made it up to the T-junction. This is where things started to get interesting.

My master plan was to turn right onto The Roman Road, which would have been gritted (I know this because the wise Keith said it would be so), I would then follow the road down into the village of Cellan (pronounced Keck-Lan) where the roads would also have been gritted. I was then going to drive through Cellan, up to the main A Road and turn right into Lampeter where I would nip into the library and use the facilities before setting off for Swindon. Unfortunately, things very rarely go according to plan in this world. As I said, I was already a nervous wreck, but I found to my horror that The Roman Road had not been gritted (what happened Keith!?!!??). I had to turn right, it was pointless turning left, but I knew that at some stage the road down into Cellan became very steep and my brakes would be useless in the snow.

When I first turned onto The Roman Road it didn’t seem too bad, but it wasn’t long before I was skidding again. Along this stretch of road there were not only stone walls either side, but at some points there were also ditches. I continued to call out for Baba to help me, and as before, every time I thought I was going to hit a wall or go into a ditch, the car stopped in the nick of time. When I got to the steep part of the road I just gripped onto the wheel for dear life; it was at this point that I learned the meaning of white knuckle ride. I was screaming for Baba now, literally, and I continued to hold onto the wheel for all I was worth. The car skidded, and even though I’ve known for ages that you are supposed to steer into a skid, what did I do? I can’t believe that I steered against it, but that’s what I did. The inevitable happened. I screamed some more and the car stalled again with the back-end appearing to be in a ditch.

I can’t remember if I got out of the car at this stage but I do remember starting it up again and putting it into gear. As before, I gave it a few revs, eased off the clutch and the car just started moving. Unbelievable! My heart rose as I thought I recognised a land mark through the whiteness that told me I was near the bottom of the hill. But it sunk again just as quickly when it appeared to be not so. As it turned out it was only the whiteness playing tricks on my eyes, and my heart rose again when I realised I was virtually at the bottom of the hill. “Nearly there”, I thought as I tried to gather myself for the last stage of the journey. I turned left along the road through Cellan to find that it also had not been gritted. Luckily, this road was wider, it was on the flat and there were also passing places.

There was also the added bonus of the snow no longer falling on the lower ground. Unfortunately, regardless of the passing places the snow still made it very difficult for two cars to pass each other. However, this road was busier than the mountain roads, therefore the problem was more with slush rather than snow and there was still an element of skidding. But to my amazement, every time I encountered a vehicle coming the other way, I was perfectly placed to pull into a recess. About three-quarters of the way through the village my heart rejoiced as the road was suddenly clear. I got to the junction and found that the busy A road in and out of Lampeter was also clear. I turned right into Lampeter and by the time I parked the car I was just about starting to return to some kind of normality, but nonetheless, I was trying to get my head around what I’d just experienced and wondered if it had actually happened. I just couldn’t believe it. It defied all human logic that anyone would be able to drive a car down from those hills in those weather conditions. When I spoke to Keith some time later he said he’d been snowed in for a number of days.

I did what I had to do in the library and set off on my journey. The road was clear and all of a sudden everything was rosy again. I’d driven a couple of miles out of Lampeter when something else quite amusing happened. I was driving along minding my own business when all of a sudden a voice in my head, that was as clear as a bell, said “you should have seen your face, it was a picture”. At first I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I saw the funny side of things and had a chuckle to myself.

My route took me through the Brecon Beacons, and as I was approaching this most beautiful part of the world, the snow started coming down again. I suppose this was understandable as I was once again on high ground. The good thing was that there was a fair amount of traffic on the road and I just tried to keep my wheels in the tracks of the cars in front. There was a fair amount of slipping and sliding and the journey through the Brecons was very slow, but thankfully I reached the low ground without any problems. As I got further and further towards England the snow became less and less. Then just beyond Monmouth it was no more than a bit of sleet, until finally, as I neared Ross-On-Wye there was no evidence that even so much as a single snow flake had fallen from the sky. This just contributed to the strangeness of the day. I couldn’t stop reflecting on the morning’s events and still couldn’t quite believe what I had experienced.

Stay tuned folks, I’ll be back before you know it…

 

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Who Am I? Part Twenty Five


The harbour at Aberaeron, Ceredigion

In 2000 I’d started to make fairly regular trips to Ceredigion, West Wales. It is a beautiful part of the world that has the best of both worlds, in that it has a wonderful coastline and also a very hilly landscape. I’d got to know about one particular place through my ex-girlfriend Sue Crewe. It was a kind of retreat five miles up in the hills above Lampeter, in a place called Llanfair Clydogau (try saying that after 20 pints of Stella!). It was a place of immense beauty, pronounced “Clan-Vire Clid-Oh-Guy”, which consisted of one shop by the bridge over the river Teifi, a few houses and a community hall on the lower level, and various houses, some spread quite a distance apart, as you went up into the hills. The name of the retreat translated as “Court of Circles”; I fell in love with the place and visited at various times throughout the year, so I was familiar with all the seasons. When bank holidays arose, I would always book an extra day’s leave from work and have a long weekend at the retreat. I went on beautiful walks, I painted and I meditated, or I just did nothing; either way it was great.

Now fast forward to 2002, I’m living at Rob’s place and my spiritual pathway was looking rather good, thank you very much. I soon learned though, that Rob, was the type of person who was very loud and wanted the world to know that he was there. On a few occasions I went out with him and I found it very embarrassing. Having said that it wasn’t a bad set up, we did after all, have one or two things in common, and he trusted me to look after the place if ever he was away. I was getting bookings at more and more Spiritualist churches too, so I was out and about quite a lot with my work as a medium.

My new job with the utility company was like most jobs. It was a new challenge when I came back after my illness, so there was the obvious honeymoon period. But the cracks soon appeared. Corporate politics reared its head and things went steadily downhill. I needed a change; but what? After a while, and inevitably, Rob got back together with his girlfriend, and almost immediately she moved in. I did the decent thing and asked if they wanted me to move out, but both of them said they wanted me to stay. However, it was only a matter of time before all the things that had driven them apart, twice already, reared their heads again. I was caught in the middle of it. Eventually, they split again and his girlfriend moved out; but something had shifted. Instead of it being as it was before, it became me living in a very grumpy bloke’s house. Rob became very unreasonable, and quite unbelievably, he banned me from the living room. It was almost laughable. But by this time I had already made up my mind what I was going to do. It was now October 2003 and I’d already told Rob I’d be moving out at the end of the month. I have to admit to feeling a bit miffed when he implied that I might be wanting to run away with his door key! We’d known each other for a few years, and this was indicative of his current state of mind that he would even think that I’d do such a thing.

I’d told my friend Sue (no, not Sue Crewe, the other one!) what was going on and she said that any time I wanted I could move into her spare room. So, my master plan was this. There had been some changes at the retreat in Wales, and the opportunity arose for me to be able to rent a room on a permanent basis. I decided that I was going to throw caution to the wind and give up the security of full-time employment. I was going to move to West Wales and do my spiritual work on a self-employed basis; simple! Don’t you believe it. What followed was nothing short of a roller-coaster ride, which was at times painful, but from which I would emerge yet further on from the sad, lost soul that I had once been. I gave my notice in at the utility company, arranging to leave on the last Friday of the month. I also arranged with Sue that I would move into her place for 10 days or so before I left.

I moved my stuff out of Rob’s place over the course of a couple of days; there was no way I was going to live in that atmosphere for any longer. I told him I’d be going at the end of the week instead of the end of the month; it was at this point that he suggested I might want to steal his door key. I then felt that I wasn’t even going to wait that long. I loaded the last few things into my car, locked the door behind me for the last time, put his key in an envelope and posted it back through the door, and that was that. I saw him once or twice from a distance during visits back to Swindon, but apart from that our paths have never crossed again.

It was a Godsend that Sue let me stay at her place. The 10 days flew by and the big moment came. I said my farewells and set off for The Court of Circles. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I will have to write this post in two parts as it would be far too long, so hold on, the next phase is just around the corner…

 

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 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…