Synchronicities; don’t you just love ’em

BlackburnSynchronicities never fail to amaze me and I’m going to share with you one such synchronicity that occurred in the last week. I had been visiting a friend in Swindon for a couple of days, and just prior to setting off on the journey home, my friend and I had a brief conversation about my nephew, Steve. However, before I carry on it will be necessary for me to give you some background information.

Stephen was my older brother’s second child, but the first by his then wife; and also his first and only boy. Steve and I had a magical relationship when he was young. But for reasons that are not relevant to this story his childhood was neither stable nor happy. We continued to be close and then in 1976 I joined the army. We saw each other sporadically whilst I was in the army, and it was apparent to me during my visits, that his living conditions were less than ideal. The army, however, was not for me and having bought myself out just before Christmas in 1979, I went off to work in Germany in March 1980. By the time I came back to England in 1986 Steve was a teenager and into drugs. I was quite disturbed by what I saw; mainly the changes in him, but I had no idea back then as to what would eventually transpire. I had also gone through a drug period but I’d never taken anything serious and I was quite saddened by how my nephew had evolved from a beautiful baby smiling up at me from his pram, into someone I didn’t even recognise.

Now it is also worth mentioning here that I was always considered to be a bit of an oddball in the family. The Holmes’ have never been that close anyway, and as time has gone by, it’s now reached the stage where I have no contact at all with any remaining family members. It was difficult enough before, but once I found my spiritual pathway I was considered to be even more of an oddball. Steve was always my closest ally, but in the mid 1990’s things changed drastically. He had a promising career as a footballer and was on a Youth Training Scheme at Blackburn Rovers, who at the time were in the second tier of English football. He even played twice for the first team, but having been caught with drugs outside a night club in Blackburn, they let him go. He then returned to London where he drifted from club to club in non-league football, playing for some famous old clubs along the way. Then in an effort to get away from the London drug scene he moved down to Swindon, which is where I was living at the time; my mother was also living there. It turned out to be a bit of a disaster, because all he did then was swap the London drug scene for the Swindon drug scene. During this period he was playing for Marlow Town, another famous old non-league club; he even appeared on BBC Match Of The Day once, after Marlow had been drawn against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup. At one point things seemed to be going well. I thought he was off the drugs; he was getting paid by Marlow and also had a full-time job. He met a girl and they ended up having a wonderful Christmas baby. However, things took a dive just prior to the baby being born.

Steve broke his leg playing football and was never the same again. He did recover but he was not able to play to the same standard. I had no idea that he was still heavily into drugs until 1996 when things came to a head. He had a serious mental breakdown and ended up in a place called Seymour Clinic, a well-known Swindon mental institution. It was an awful depressing place, which I am happy to say no longer exists; in recent years it has been replaced by a more modern facility. Over the next few years he would periodically find himself in Seymour Clinic and another similar establishment, not always on a voluntary basis.

During this period he fell into the clutches of a Swindon based Christian Fundamentalist group that had a reputation for preying on vulnerable people; with a mental illness Steve was an ideal candidate. As a few more years passed by Steve relapsed into his illness a number of times. Also, because of all the medication he was on, his weight ballooned and he became very disheveled; a shadow of the athletic young man he’d been just a few years prior. Unfortunately, when I found my spiritual pathway he decided that I was “in league with Satan” and we ceased to have regular contact. In 2003 I moved to Wales, but when my mother became ill in 2005 I moved back to Swindon. I saw Steve sporadically during this period but since my mother’s funeral in May 2009 I had bumped into him just once, one evening in a shop in Swindon, whilst on a visit to the same friend I mentioned at the beginning of this story.

Steve lives a very short walking distance from my friend, and she was telling me that she had seen him a couple of times recently from a distance, and had indeed seen him that morning whilst on a trip into town. We both agreed that for all his troubles and faults, he had done a fantastic job with his son. The relationship with the child’s mother had broken up back in the 1990’s but Steve was a doting father and he made every effort to support his son over the years. My friend and I agreed that he had learned wisely from his own childhood experiences and had done his son proud.

Soon after we finished our conversation I said my goodbyes and set off on my journey home. I had only driven a very short distance when I saw an unmistakable figure, yes it was Steve. My first reaction was just to carry on with my journey, as I had no way of knowing how he would react to me. But something told me to drive up to the end of the road, go around the roundabout and come back. This I did, and as I drove past him again I tooted the car horn and noted that he recognised me straight away. I took the first right and pulled over by a bus stop. Steve was really glad to see me, he jumped in the car and I drove around to where he lived. We only had a short chat in the car but during the course of our discussion he told me that he was now working full-time with???? Yes, you’ve guessed it, people with mental health problems. I was so pleased for him; it’s the first proper full-time job he has had in some years.

I could see the face of a man racked with guilt, pain and sadness because of the past. He is obviously still in a great deal of pain because of what he experienced when he was growing up, and I’m sure that was behind him going off the rails. It is also apparent that he feels a lot of guilt for the way he has conducted himself over the years and let his life go the way that it did. But it was great to chat with him and I felt the connection there once again, albeit briefly, and I was happy to be able to give him encouragement. He was also pleased for me with what I am doing and he took my telephone number. I am still waiting for a call, but it has only been just over a week. Synchronicities eh! Don’t you just love ’em?

A Blast From The Past

About 20 years ago I was in a very dark place indeed.  My only real friend was alcohol and I was in a very deep depression.  At the time I was working for the Royal Mail in Swindon and there was a group of lads in their early 20’s working there that I had a lot of secret admiration for; well actually it wasn’t so much admiration, it was more like secret envy.  The stand-out character of this little crew was a young man by the name of Martin Follett (although I’ve probably spelt his surname wrong).  The banter between the lads was always raucous and funny, and Martin was always at the centre of it all.  On Mondays the mood in the sorting office was invariably vibrant as they recounted the details of their weekends of drunken debauchery.  One particular Saturday night in Swansea involving a bottle of salad cream springs to mind, but the details are far too “X” rated to repeat in this post!  So, here was this group of lads doing all the stuff that I felt I’d missed out on; and how I envied them.

I was in my late 30’s at the time and I wouldn’t say I was particularly friends with any of them, but we did speak and exchange a bit of “bloke stuff” on occasion.  Martin was the one that I was probably the least friendly with, although we were on nodding/grunting terms.

Now for reasons that are too sad to go into here, Sunday was my main drinking night and this particular Sunday I’d been to my regular haunts and ended up at the kebab van parked down in Fleet Street in Swindon town centre.  I was so drunk I could barely stand up, but in my inebriated state I noticed a familiar face; it was Follett, availing himself of some kebab van fayre!  He saw that I was in no fit state and invited me to his house so I could get a taxi.  Follett was the last person in the world that I would have expected to take pity on me in this situation, but I was in for a few more surprises before I got my taxi ride home.  Now because I had only ever seen the bullish, “lads-on-the-beer” banter-machine side of Follett I expected his house to be a tip with empty beer cans strewn all over the place.  Oh, and if you are wondering why I am not referring to him as Martin it’s because most of the lads called him by his surname.  There is a certain science involved in “bloke thinking” and when a man gets called by his surname it’s normally because he’s disliked immensely or because he’s a legend.  Follett was a legend.  Anyway, as I was saying…

When we got to Follett’s house I was amazed to find that it was spotless, there was not an empty beer can in sight AND there was the most happy and loving little dog to greet us.  It was crystal clear that both dog and master loved each other dearly; but that’s not all, there was a hamster too, who was also clearly loved by his human keeper.  Follett made me a coffee and as we chatted I expressed my amazement at not finding a den of iniquity.  But, it also became apparent that I had been guilty of severely misjudging this man.  He was young, yet his head was firmly fixed on his shoulders, he was warm and kind; and compassionate to the extent that he was willing to take someone into his home who needed help because of a self-inflicted problem; someone who could hardly have been classed as a friend.  After a while my taxi turned up and I expressed my gratitude profusely on leaving; and expressed it again the next time I saw Follett at work.

I have never ever forgotten the compassion shown to me by a man whom I had misjudged so greatly.  I left the job in 1995 and only on occasion did I ever bump into Follett again.  The last time I saw him was probably ten or more years ago, but from time to time the details of that unlikely encounter would pop into my head and I would find myself wondering what the legend was doing with himself these days.  Only very recently these same thoughts popped into my head again, and I cast my mind back to being legless by the kebab van.  Seeing Follett’s spotless house and the happiness of the little dog; his tail wagging so fast that the little treasure could have created eco electricity.  Now, a few days ago I had a package that needed posting, so in the afternoon I walked the mile or so into Tetbury town centre and went into the post office.  I duly despatched my package and when I came out, over the road by the zebra crossing was a 40 something year old man with grey spiky hair that was in the throes of thinning drastically; and there was something about this man that looked vaguely familiar.

I thought to myself “that’s Follett, but nah it can’t be”?  He crossed the road towards me but at an angle so he was actually walking away from me diagonally.  As we passed we gave each other a bemused glance; and I spoke “Martin”!.  Sure enough it was Follett; complete with wife and two little kids.  We stopped briefly and chatted, but it was mainly me telling his wife what a hero her husband had been on that night in the distant past.  I told her that I’d expected his house to be a tip and before I could finish my sentence she said “I bet it was spotless”.  Ahh, no one knows a man like his woman.  Follett just looked indifferent to it all, and of course for him, like all of us, much water has passed under the bridge since that night.  To him it was just a throw-away moment, but to me it was an event that I learned so much from.

It’s true what they say that there is no such thing as coincidence.  Just imagine the precision of the synchronicities involved in that encounter in Tetbury.  Me leaving my house at the time I did and going into the post office and finding just one other customer in there instead of the usual queue; and Follett and his family doing the tourist thing in Tetbury on that day and being in that precise spot at the time I came out of the post office.

Yes, the legend that is Martin Follett will never know the true magnitude of his simple act of kindness on that Sunday night in the early 1990’s.  But hey, don’t you just love a blast from the past?

Just a reminder that you still have a few hours left in which to download a free Kindle copy of my booklet Musings Of A Medium