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

 

Who Am I? Part Nine


“Picturesque” Swindon

So, here I am with part nine. I wanted to write it sooner but my chronic fatigue has been a bit naughty since I returned from my trip, so it’s been difficult to get going. Just to recap on what I’m trying to achieve with this series of posts. I’m trying to write with the mentality of who I was at the time of each phase, so hopefully, the reader will evolve alongside the writer as the story progresses and we blossom together; something like that anyway. To kick off part nine I just need to rewind slightly..

When me and Sonja split up I was young, free and single again. I’d been spending time in London, but at this stage I’d not moved back there yet. I started going to the various singles clubs in Swindon, which was quite an experience. They were all a bit hit-and-miss, with the exception of one that was held on a Tuesday night in a lovely venue just off the town centre. Ironically, it was this venue that closed within a few months of me “getting into the scene”, which was very disappointing. However, during one of my first visits I met Carol. A bloke called George that I’d been chatting to told me her name and said that the girl with her was her daughter. What happened next was pure cheese in motion. I tapped her on the shoulder, and when she turned around I said, “Hi Carol, would you like to dance”? (it gets cheesier, believe me!). She looked startled but was happy to oblige. As we started to exchange pleasantries I immediately upped the ante, and the cheesometer went into meltdown as I confessed to getting her name from George and with all the cunning of a wily old fox that defied my tender years, said, “Oh, she’s your daughter????? I thought you were sisters”! I know, I know, but hey, I’m not ashamed.

That was it, me and Carol started seeing each other; but if I’d known then what I was letting myself in for I’d have run a mile. Having said that, it was ironically only because of Carol that I got my foot on the first rung of the spiritual ladder. She had grown up in a violent household with two sisters and a brother. Carol’s father was the sort of man who did not need an excuse to dole out beatings and it was quite common for him to take off his belt and use the buckle end to beat them. She had then entered into a violent marriage; her husband, on one occasion hitting her so hard, that he broke her jaw. She told me once that she could take the beatings but she could not tolerate cheating. He only did it once, she found out, and that was that. However, the marriage had already spawned twin girls and a son. She’d then met someone else, remarried and had another son, but it didn’t last. There was a big gap between the twins, the first son and the second son. When I met Carol the girls were 17, her son from her first marriage was 15 and her other son was two. The house was absolute chaos.

Carol’s experiences had made her very hard faced. The Carol I got to know was a far cry from the beautiful woman I’d met at the singles club. The age gap (she was five years older than me) hadn’t made any difference and we got on exceptionally well, but gradually the cracks appeared. The toddler, who was difficult at the best of times, was constantly tormented by his older brother and there was constant screaming and shouting between Carol and one of the girls. Our relationship was off and on to the extent that it was hard to keep up with proceedings. I was backwards and forwards to London but kept the room at Vic’s. Eventually, I gave it up and moved to be with my mum. At this stage I was still with Sun Alliance Services, and after making some enquiries, I was able to transfer to the Whetstone branch in North London just a few miles from Wood Green. It was around the Christmas period and I remember them welcoming me to the branch and presenting me with a bottle of bubbly. I felt like a thief; knowing that I would never bring any business into the office. Eventually, I came clean to the branch manager. He was great about things, and even though he tried his hardest to persuade me to stay, I didn’t go back.

My brother didn’t live that far away, but he rarely phoned or visited. The nice squatters who’d lived in the flat above when my parents first moved in had gone, and some others with a large dog had taken their place. I lived there for six months, but during this time I still made frequent visits to Swindon and also took another insurance job with The Royal Liver Friendly Society. (Liver is pronounced Ly-ver by the way). To say that The Royal Liver was stuck somewhere between the dark ages and Victorian times would be being kind to them. I’m sure things have changed now, but suffice it to say I didn’t last long. However, it was during this period that I had my first prolonged spiritual-type experiences. It was a period that was very difficult for me, but one that I suppose laid the foundations for what was to come.

To be continued…

Who Am I? Part Eight


As promised I’m going to start sharing some of my incredible experiences with you too. So as well as tying up the loose ends to this particular chapter of my life, I’m going to start and finish this post with a couple of things that happened to me many years ago.

It was during my cannabis and pill period, I suppose I would have been around 17, I remember having my first experiences of being “the witness”. I remember on a number of occasions, even when no substances had been taken, that I could be sitting around in a room with a group of people and all of a sudden I would have the experience of simply being an observer and not someone who was actually there. I just assumed it was my eyes playing tricks on me because the colour of things would alter as this experience occurred. So, all the yellows, reds, blues and greens etc. would still be yellows, reds, blues and greens, but the hue would be different. They would look like colours that were not of this world. It was almost as though I was outside my body, but it was nothing like an out-of-body experience. It was very strange indeed and it would be many years before I understood what it was all about.

I went back to Swindon for a few days and at some stage knocked on the door at 80 Gladstone Street. Sonja answered and I told her what had happened. I said that we’d like her to come to the funeral, she said she’d rather not, so I said my goodbyes and left, and that was the last face to face contact I ever had with her. When I’d moved out I took my Hi-Fi equipment and record/CD collection and left Sonja everything else. It sounds very saintly of me but it wasn’t. I simply didn’t want the hassle of having to move stuff.

As I stated in a previous post the landlord had been quite dodgy and I’d sought legal advice over a matter concerning the property. I then moved in with Vic, and shortly after, Sonja decided to move in with Bobby and Doug in Kent, so we both washed our hands of 80 Gladstone Street. It was ironic that we had been living in Gladstone Street and my parent’s new flat was in Gladstone Avenue. They had only been in there for a month when my dad died.

He’d been a bus driver, working out of Holloway Garage and later Archway Garage in North London. He’d retired in the January of 1986 and now in October of that year he was no longer of this world. He had been quite a social sort of bloke so he’d also been quite popular. The funeral was at Highgate Crematorium and the procession was to drive past the bus garage so that my dad’s ex-workmates could pay their respects. What ensued was a crazy and in some ways quite awful episode. The funeral procession had been driving slowly anyway, and on top of that, it was at a very busy time of day so we got stuck in traffic. As we crawled along, bumper to bumper in the traffic, it was as though we were on display to the world. It was that time of day when all the schools were kicking out. At one point we were stuck in the traffic unable to move and some school kids started to laugh and make fun of us. They were coming right up close to the car windows and pretending to cry; the journey just seemed to go on for ever. Eventually it was all over and it was back to the flat in Wood Green for booze and nibbles. The flat was packed. Prior to and just after the funeral the phone didn’t stop ringing. Then gradually, once the dust settled, it stopped and barely rang again. It became apparent that virtually all the people who attended were my dad’s friends and not my mum’s. My dad had been very social, my mum was the opposite. My brother only lived down the road in Enfield, but he hardly ever visited. My mum was stuck in the flat on her own and with squatters in the flat above. It was not an ideal situation so I moved back to London.

When I think back to my time in Germany with NAAFI and my crazy marriage, it’s hard to believe it actually happened. It is so far removed from my life now. However, on reflection I must have been an absolute nightmare. With regard to Bobby, she may have had her issues but in hindsight I can see that she was actually very tolerant of me. I look at it this way, if I had a daughter would I want her getting involved with me as I was then? Not on your life! So yes, she showed remarkable tolerance in allowing us to live together. She also knew that we called her BA behind her back, then there was the time I spiked her curry oooohhh I could go on… As for Sonja, it was no life for her being married to me. Every night I had my headphones on listening to my music and every night I would drink. I never did anything nice for her; it was just a case of me wanting my comfortable space outside of the staff hostel, my endless supply of booze and food indulgences, but I didn’t want the wife to go with it. It was no wonder she had her own stuff going on. About five years after I last saw Sonja I bumped into her sister in Swindon Town Centre. Nicki said that Sonja had married again and divorced and was with a new partner living in Cornwall. Wherever she is now and whatever she is doing, I only wish her well.

Since I started this series of posts Tony “Big Tone” Black has reached out across time and space, which has made me very happy, and the legend that was Slippery has now retired to that great NAAFI shop in the sky. Slippery… I salute you!

Probably the first miraculous experience that I can actually remember as being extremely strange, exceptionally beautiful and beyond doubt, very, very real, happened some years ago. I can’t remember exactly when and I can’t remember where I was living at the time. It may even have been before I went in the army. I heard my name being called. It was just once and it was the softest and sweetest voice you could imagine. It was an androgynous voice. It was neither male nor female, yet at the same it was both. “Richard”… I opened my eyes and realised I was in bed and that the voice had very gently woken me up. I looked at the clock and it said exactly 07:00 am. I had to get up for work and had set my alarm for 07:00 am, but it had not gone off. There are no words in the English language that can do the sweetness of that voice justice.

Well, that’s going to be it for a few weeks. I’m off to Belgium, Germany and Holland. Thanks for supporting my blog!

Who Am I? Part Seven


My last visit to Germany. Detmold 1991 at John Bastock’s house.

It soon became apparent after a series of “goings on”, that it simply wasn’t working with me and Sonja living under the same roof. The branch manager at Sun Alliance put me on to an old acquaintance of his, who he said might be in a position to rent me a room. Enter Vic Davies; a lovely elderly man in his late 60s. I knocked on the door of 10 Dowling Street, just off Swindon Town Centre and no more than 200 metres from the branch office. Vic answered and I explained that Dave Hollister had suggested I come and have a word with him. Vic and Dave went back years and he offered me an upstairs room in his house. Vic was a lovely man, but he had the worst speech impediment I’d ever encountered. It was so bad that I would finish his sentences off for him. We got on very well and for a while a modicum of normality entered my life.

Of course, I was no longer living in cloud cuckoo land, which meant that the money had stopped flowing in. Because I had paid into the NAAFI pension scheme for under five years I was entitled to claim all my contributions back. This I did and my timing was perfect. I received just over £500. I mention the timing of it because it wasn’t long after I received the cheque that NAAFI sent me a bill for removal charges. It was over £180. I felt they were taking liberties as I’d had to leave stuff behind due to the lack of available space on the removals van. I didn’t pay it and they never caught up with me.

I should mention before going any further that during my time in cloud cuckoo land I had not been so aware of my deep-rooted psychological issues; I presume because of the constant flow of alcohol. I will also mention here that what I have tried to do with this series of posts is use language that is in line with my level of consciousness at the time the events took place. The idea is that the reader takes the journey with me and has the experience of evolving with me from the completely unconscious fool I used to be to the not so unconscious fool I am today; or something like that. I will also be adding details of my amazing experiences along the way, so that the whole story comes together with perfect precision.

The job was a bit of a wake up call too. The products we were selling were fantastic. The trouble was, and it’s probably still true today, that people have an aversion to life insurance. The truth is that most people don’t understand it. They don’t know how it works, they don’t understand the great value it has and will either avoid it like the plague or buy a policy that isn’t suitable for their needs. At that time in the 1980s there was a hell of a lot of money to be made in the financial services industry. The sky was the limit. This was just before the Financial Services Act of 1987 and commissions were very high. I soon realised that what you needed to do to be successful was to try to sell at all costs the products that paid the highest commissions. There were people in the insurance business back then, just ordinary salesmen, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. Some of them would only make one sale a month, but it would have a massive commission. Invariably, I came into contact with people who didn’t have a lot of money and I wanted to help them. I wasn’t going to tell them lies. But the writing was on the wall from the start and I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t going to work. I did learn something very valuable though.

At one point I decided to go to a hypnotist (I can hear you laughing) in order to be hypnotised into being an amazing salesman! He may or may not have been genuine, but one thing I will always remember is that he could, if he’d wanted, had me coming to see him indefinitely. But he didn’t do that. After I’d been to see him three or four times he said something to me I’ve never forgotten. He said, “I can hold your hand and lead you to the M4, but I can’t drive you to London”. For those who don’t know, the M4 is a motorway that stretches from near Carmarthen in Wales up to London; en route it passes through Swindon. It made me realise that the only person who could make me into an amazing salesman was me, and as my heart wasn’t in it, something had to give. I didn’t foresee what happened next though.

I was enjoying my new-found freedom and went out one night, not returning to Vic’s place until 09:00 the following morning. I saw the look on Vic’s face and he said to me, “have you been into the office”? I said “no”. I looked at his face and for some strange reason I thought he was going to tell me that my brother was dead. But instead he said, “your brother rang, your dad’s dead”. I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t have the understanding that I have now. We’d buried the hatchet nearly seven years ago but for most of that time I’d been living in Germany so we’d not seen a great deal of each other. I’d recently been to London and helped him with some work in their new flat and he’d taken me for a beer in one of the local pubs in Wood Green. For the first time ever I’d felt really close to my dad but now he was gone. I can’t remember what I did immediately after Vic gave me the news, but I know that at some point I made a phone call to London and said I’d be on my way soonest. I also remember going into the office, it was there that I shed my first tears. There was no way I could have driven so I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Victoria. It was a surreal journey, with all kinds of thoughts going through my head. When I arrived at Victoria Station I went straight into the pub and ordered a double brandy. I knocked it straight back and then walked the half mile or so to the railway station. I got the tube to Wood Green and I remember as I walked to the flat that it was such a beautiful day for October. As I walked up the road I could see my dad’s light blue Ford Cortina parked outside. It was such a weird feeling.

I’m off on my travels in a couple of days, so I’m hoping to write part eight later…

 

Who Am I? Part Six


The truth was about to come out…

When I arrived at Kathy and Joe’s place it was obvious that something had been going down. I’d no sooner got through the door when Kathy said, “I’ll leave you two to talk”. Sonja then proceeded to tell me that the whole thing was true; she really was the most stupid international criminal mastermind in the entire history of the human race. However, it doesn’t end there. My wife, being a compulsive liar, had ulterior motives for telling me the truth. It turned out that within about 24 hours of me leaving her ex-boss’s office that day, roughly two weeks before I left Germany, he set off for the UK and turned up on Kathy and Joe’s doorstep at 08:00 in the morning with a “heavy”, just as Joe was leaving for work. The heavy apparently wasn’t much of a heavy, but that’s not the point. I couldn’t believe that Sonja would bring that kind of nonsense into the house of friends who had been kind to us. But she did leave a forwarding address after all…

Somehow, Joe let them in and left for work,leaving Kathy and Sonja with the two “geezers”. Sonja was confronted with her dastardly deeds and had a piece of paper thrust in front of her, which she promptly signed! The piece of paper was her admission to the theft of her ex-boss’s money. He now had her over a barrel. She told me that she signed the piece of paper because, “I was so frightened I literally wet myself”. I was more annoyed about being lied to than anything else; had I known that my wife was a criminal mastermind I could have prepared myself. But it did explain a few things. It explained why she was always taking money from the cash box when I went to pick her up in the evening. It also explained why she’d been removed from the other job; she had obviously been stealing from her other employer too. Two things I never understood though, why we never had anything to show for her actions; for the life of me I just don’t know what she did with all the money she stole. The other thing was that I could never work out what all that working on Christmas day stuff was about. It was obviously a lie; I can only assume that she arranged to spend part of Christmas day with someone else because she did not get any attention from me.

Sonja’s ex-boss had her signed admission of guilt and was going to involve solicitors. She was terrified and looked to me for support, but I was still angry at what she’d done and told her I would stick by her but as it was her mess she needed to resolve it. She needed to engage her own solicitor and wanted me to come with her, but I said no and told her she had to do it herself. In fairness to her she did. The money owed was whittled down to £1000, which to be honest, I thought was a bit light. But her ex-boss, via the negotiating of the solicitors, said that if she agreed to pay him £1000 he wouldn’t take it any further. It broke my heart to write that cheque! I told her that if she ever lied to me again and I found out, we were over.

We over-stayed our welcome at Kathy and Joe’s; it’s not really relevant to go into the details, but various things happened and I decided that we could not impose on them any longer. I went out one day and drove the 15 miles or so into Swindon and rented a house from a dodgy letting agency (you must be thinking that I use the word “dodgy” quite a lot, but it was just the way things were then). The rent, including rates, or whatever it was called back in 1986, was £300 per calendar month, which was a hell of a lot for that era. I didn’t realise until we’d moved in that I’d rented a house smack, bang in the middle of Swindon’s red light area…

Somehow, amid all the chaos, I’d finalised all the necessaries in regard to my job with Sun Alliance Services, and I’d been on a two-week training course in Wales. We were residing at 80 Gladstone Street, just off the town centre in Swindon and my marriage was just going further and further down the tubes. We still had some stuff stored in Kathy and Joe’s garage, but Joe’d had enough of us and during a visit to Lyneham, without Sonja, he told me he wanted it out as soon as possible. I should also mention that the “Adams Family” had moved to Kent when Doug got posted back to the UK, and Sonja had been communicating with her mother via Kathy and Joe’s phone. This was during the days before competition when BT had the monopoly and call charges were still high, especially during the day. I’d used their phone a few times, so just before we left I wrote Joe a cheque for £5, which would have more than covered my usage. However, nobody really anticipated just how much Sonja had abused the amenities, and when the bill eventually arrived Kathy and Joe nearly had “his and hers” heart attacks! Luckily, we were tucked up in Swindon by this time. I bumped into them in Swindon town centre one day. I was on my own and Kathy launched into me about their phone bill; that was when I first found out about it. When she calmed down I told them about our “lovely” house and invited them round. They said they had to go off and do something but if they had time on the way back they would pop in. They didn’t, and I never saw them again.

When Bobby had been with her husband before Doug they had lived in Wroughton, which is a tiny town just on the outskirts of Swindon. He had also been in the military, so Sonja was already familiar with Swindon before we’d gone there together for the first time. One day she was in town when she bumped into a long-lost friend from her time spent living in Wroughton. So, Sonja took to hanging out with this friend and all her mates. As a result, I’d come home and find the house half-full with kids of a similar age to Sonja. It was at this time I suppose, that I realised I’d grown up a bit; it was probably because of the responsibility that came with being a Hi-Fi salesman. We also , against my wishes, had the sister from hell move in with us.

At some stage I found that Sonja had told me another blatant lie. I knew that she’d been in my briefcase because, yes you’ve guessed it, she left evidence, but she denied it. Other things happened and it was apparent that we couldn’t go on. Now, this is where I had great respect for her. Me, being a bloke, I just let things go from bad to worse without really saying anything. But it was her who actually said that maybe we should think about a break.

I went to London, supposedly for two weeks for some breathing space, but after about a week my dad said that it was pointless me being in London if there were things that needed sorting. I knew he was right, so I came back unexpectedly. I’m sure by the look on Sonja’s face that she’d been into all sorts while I was away, but I didn’t care. We agreed to split and I said I would sleep in the spare room.

In a few months time my life would change forever.

 

 

Who Am I? Part Five


This is what was the secure cage where all my hi-fi equipment was stored. It's located downstairs in the warehouse of Herford store. This is a more recent photo provided by the intrepid John Bastock. Alas, NAAFI Herford is no more.

This is what was the secure cage where all my hi-fi equipment was stored. It’s located downstairs in the warehouse of Herford store. This is a more recent photo provided by the intrepid John Bastock. Alas, NAAFI Herford is no more.

Something pretty spectacular was just around the corner, but there are just a couple of loose ends to tidy up first. I’d got involved with the NAAFI football team, which was actually the SC Herford 4th team. SC Herford played in the second tier of The Bundeslige and it was a motley crew of mainly NAAFI lads that comprised the 4th team, who played in a local German amateur league. I Googled them a couple of years ago to find that they had sadly gone into free fall and were now defunct.

I wasn’t particularly good; I was normally the sub who came on for the last 20 minutes, but sometimes when the team were short of players I got a start. The games were inevitably quite rough, with the rough stuff always, without exception, being instigated by the Brits. To this day I have not seen a more graceful sight than an opposition player being launched into the air by the boot of NAAFI butcher “Mick The Meat”; it was pure ballet that Dame Margot herself would have been proud of. It’s crazy the things that stick in your mind, but I’ve never forgotten Mick. He was a Northern lad; an absolute monster on the football field, but quite the gentleman off it. He even had a tea mug with the words “I’d rather be at the disco” on the side!

Relations between me and some of the other lads became quite strained, to the extent that they no longer passed the ball to me, even if I was in a good position. However, I was that thick during that period of my life that it took me a while to realise. Sonja had been out running and some kids had pushed her over. She badly injured her ankle and had to be hospitalized for a few days. She had to have her leg in plaster for a while and became very bitter; so much so that she took it out on people who had been there for her. One of the girls who she took her bitterness out on was the wife of one of the lads in the football team. They had been great friends of ours, but not anymore. Tony also played for the team and by now his body language indicated that I was no longer top of his Christmas card list. When you lose really good friends it makes you think, and even though I was very unconscious at that time, I had enough awareness to know that there was a lesson in there somewhere.

There was also the business of my job no longer going the way I wanted it to. I had no interest at all in the run-of-the-mill audio equipment that I was now responsible for. It seemed so mundane next to the Hi-Fi equipment and I just became fed up with the whole NAAFI set up and decided it was time to return to the UK. We had visited various members of Sonja’s other families during periodic trips back to England (I say “families” and not family because Doug was Bobby’s third husband so Sonja seemed to have relations all over Southern England). We’d visited her natural father, who lived near Andover, and also her half-sister who lived in Swindon. So, in our wisdom we decided that Swindon would be a great place to move back to. We also had some friends, Kathy and Joe, that we’d know from Germany. I’d worked with Kathy in Bielefeld G&D and got to know Joe through her. Joe was a Captain in the army, he was an ordinary bloke who had worked hard and come up through the ranks. They left Germany a few months before us and were living in officer’s quarters in Lyneham, Wiltshire. Lyneham is not that far from Swindon so they said we could come and stay with them until we found our own place.

During one of our trips back to the UK I’d attended various interviews and been accepted as a salesman with Sun Alliance Services, who were the direct sales wing of the well-known insurance provider Sun Alliance. It was commission only and the harsh realities of what that meant had not occurred to me. Sonja was to go back three weeks before me, she would stay with Kathy and Joe and use the three weeks to look for a job and hopefully find us some accommodation. NAAFI would provide an allowance for removals, but it became apparent that we would not be able to take everything with us because we were only allowed so many cubic meters of space. This meant we would have to do a runner from the flat and lose our deposit. At the time we seemed to have so much money it just didn’t matter. So, Sonja set off for England and for a short while I would be in bloke heaven. I could have as much booze as I could drink. I could listen to loud music through my headphones without a wife I didn’t love nagging me to pay her some attention and I could go out when I wanted without being whinged at. However, all this lulled me into a false sense of security because bloke heaven was about to come crashing down. To explain this properly I need to rewind slightly.

Sonja had worked for an extremely dodgy travel company during our time in Bielefeld that specialised in ferrying service personnel and their families to and from the UK. They had offices in various locations in Germany, including Herford, so when we moved Sonja transferred to the Herford branch. She was working there when she had the accident and even though her leg was still in plaster she was soon able to continue working in the office. One evening I was going somewhere with friends of ours. Sonja didn’t come because someone from the travel company was coming round to see her about “work”. We waited for the bloke to arrive; it was someone I’d met before anyway, and then we left them to their own devices. When we got back a short time later Sonja said she had been asked for her shop keys and once she’d handed them over had been told that she no longer worked for the company. Because I knew they were dodgy, I just assumed that they had some financial problems and they were shafting their employees. There was never any contract after all. Then…

Sonja got another job, just along from Herford shop, with another employer who also provided travel services to service personnel and their families. Whenever I went to pick her up from work in the evening she would always have a story that her dodgy boss had paid her wages with a cheque that bounced and he’d told her to just keep taking money from the cash box until she had the required amount. Then as we were approaching our last Christmas in Germany Sonja said she’d been fired and that she was owed money. In addition to that, just prior to Christmas she said she was going into work on Christmas Day to help out! Even though she no longer worked there, even though she was owed money in unpaid wages! I was flummoxed, I just couldn’t get my head around things. I said, “you must be mad”, but she just said that she felt sorry for him and that his mother had recently died. I decided that it was her decision and that I wasn’t going to interfere. Then it happened… Fast forward to me being in bloke heaven in Germany with my wife back in the UK.

Bloke heaven had been in motion for no more than a week. I went into work as normal and at some stage during the day I was in the vicinity of the foyer when I noticed a man, that I recognised as Sonja’s ex-boss going into the manager’s office with Mr Simpson, who was the store manager. Mike Simpson was as dodgy as they come; so dodgy that his nickname was “Slippery”. Of course, we didn’t call him Slippery to his face, but I actually mean this as a compliment. Unless you worked for NAAFI yourself during this period you will not understand what I mean. Anyhow… the next thing I know a message comes via the grapevine that I’m wanted in the manager’s office. Slippery said he would leave us to it, and what followed was nothing short of comical. We sat at opposite sides of the desk to each other and he proceeded to tell me how my wife had fleeced him. I honestly thought it was some kind of joke; especially when he showed me documentary evidence, which implied that Sonja had signed deposit slips that showed she had banked money. But instead of actually putting the money in the bank she’d kept it. I remember saying to him, “no one is that stupid”, because this was not a one-off; it happened literally loads of times. Show me a fraudster that repeatedly signs their name to a crime and I’ll show you an idiot!

What I found quite disturbing was that his tone of voice and his body language indicated that he thought I was in on the scam. I was having none of it, but he wasn’t having it from me either. I refused to tell him Sonja’s whereabouts and contact phone number, but not only had she apparently been the worst fraudster in the history of the human race, but she also left a forwarding address! Now I knew for sure that it was all simply a huge misunderstanding; it had to be, didn’t it? To alleviate the situation I promised him that I would phone Sonja that night, get her version of the story and then come to see him in his office during my lunch break the next day. That evening some neighbours very kindly let me phone Sonja at Kathy and Joe’s. I told her this incredible story and she said she knew nothing about it. Her ex-boss had said that Interpol were on the case. Sonja was a lot of things, but an international criminal mastermind she wasn’t, so I just didn’t take that statement seriously.

True to my word I went to see him in his office the next day. There was a woman working there too who also said that Sonja had stolen the money. I should add that when I put it to him that he had constantly paid Sonja’s wages with cheques that bounced and that he still owed her money, he looked at me in a way that suggested he thought I was either a complete buffoon or I was trying to have a laugh at his expense. I simply didn’t believe that my wife, or indeed anyone, could be that stupid so it was a stalemate. There was a real atmosphere in that office when I turned and left. The next two weeks or so were spent with me constantly looking over my shoulder. I also decided that if the door buzzer went while I was in the flat I wouldn’t answer the door. Ten days before I was due to leave the removals people turned up. I wasn’t too pleased because it turned out they were killing two birds with one stone. They already had a load on, which limited my space even more. I prioritised our belongings and just left what didn’t go on the van in the flat. I spent the next ten days before leaving still looking over my shoulder and not answering the door. I’d phoned Sonja and told her the outcome of my chat with her ex-boss and she still said she knew nothing about it.

The big day came, 28 February 1986, I had more than a tear in my eye as I left the shop, which surprised me. That evening the VW Passat was packed up to the hilt. I closed the door to the flat for the last time and put the key in the caretaker’s outside letter box. John Bastock came to wave me off and I drove off into the night.

To finish this part of my story I’m going to share something very strange with you that happened during my journey. I had driven a fair distance down the autobahn but was nonetheless still in Germany. All of a sudden there was a problem with the car. I knew nothing about cars back then and still don’t. To my relief the problem reared its head just as I was approaching a service station, so I took the slip road and pulled up. I can’t remember exactly what happened but when I stopped the car a German man just happened to be there. He spoke in English, I assumed because he saw my British plate, and asked if I had a problem. I seem to remember him asking me to lift the bonnet but I can’t remember him doing anything. The next thing I knew the car was running fine and I was on my way to the port in Belgium. The whole episode seemed to take no time at all. I’ve never forgotten that.

Part Six follows soon…