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.

 

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Who Am I? Part Three


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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