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

 

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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 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 Four


The old staff hostel in Bielefeld, kindly provided by John Bastock. The right hand centre balcony is my old room. The lower balcony that Doug reversed my car into is out of sight round the back.

The old staff hostel in Bielefeld, kindly provided by John Bastock. The right hand centre balcony is my old room. The lower balcony that Doug reversed my car into is out of sight round the back.

I should mention here before I continue with the concluding part of my time with NAAFI, that in March 1980, just before setting off to work in Germany, me and my dad buried the hatchet; we settled our differences. We realised that we loved each other dearly and I further realised that it was a clash of egos that was at the heart of our conflict. Some years later I would fully understand why things had been the way that they were. Now where was I? Oh yes.. In Bielefeld drinking myself stupid.

My best mate in Bielefeld was Tony Black; a Scottish lad from Paisley. We went all over the place together and had an absolute hoot. My single biggest regret from my NAAFI days was that we fell out, and it was all my fault; I let him down badly. But I digress… The new sensible me (who was still drinking extremely heavily), started to go out with a girl called Sonja, a dependent who worked in Bielefeld NAAFI. Tony had been out with her for a while but he, very wisely, stopped seeing her. There was a ten year age difference between me and Sonja. However, she was incredibly mature for her age and I was the opposite. Her step father, Doug, was in the Royal Medical Corps and was only a couple of years older than me. He was also incredibly hen-pecked by Sonja’s mum Roberta, or Bobby as she liked to be called. Then there was Nicki, the sister from hell and Matthew the youngest of the siblings, who was the only sane member of the family. Bobby was about 13 years older than Doug, or DOUGLAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS as I called him. Because of the importance I placed on boozing I’d never learned to drive, but the new, sensible me decided now was the time.

To make sure I learned to drive I went out and bought a car. It was a VW Passat, which was being sold by “Smoothy Boothy”, (Steve Booth) the foodhall manager. He sold it to me via NAAFI car sales. Later someone told me that he’d ripped me off with the price, but it was a very reliable car and I got a lot of mileage out of it. I knew Smoothy from Gremmendorf; he’d been G&D manager before Tony Turner. Doug duly offered to teach me to drive, but the first thing he did to my lovely VW Passat was to reverse it into the rear lower balcony of the staff hostel. He promised me he’d get it repaired but he never did. Bobby gave me and Sonja permission to move in together so we got a flat in a nice location out in the country. In the meantime I’d passed my driving test via other sources. Bobby and Doug were not happy, I think they felt I was a bad influence, but they tolerated the situation. We were expected to go round every Sunday for dinner, where we would have to play out this charade of pretending to like Bobby’s cooking, which was absolutely atrocious. Because of her constant hen-pecking of Doug and her interfering we nicknamed her “BA”, which was short for battle-axe! Good old Nicki grassed us up, which just made the situation worse. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

The new sensible me wanted another posting. Herford shop was a short drive down the autobahn and they had a Hi-Fi centre. The G&D manager from Herford had visited Bielefeld shop and I’d had a good chat with him about the chances of getting a move. He said that it seemed to him that I was the only one in Bielefeld G&D who knew what he was doing, so he would not have a problem with me working for him. Of course, that wasn’t true, it was just his perception, I worked with some really good people at that time. The assistant manager, John Bastock, for example, who I’m still in contact with today. It was John who somehow acquired the old photos that I’ve posted here in Part Four. And so it happened, I was to start work in Herford NAAFI, still with the job title of “storeman”, but working specifically in the Hi-Fi centre with a view to eventually taking over from the current Hi-Fi salesman (another Steve), who had ambitions to become a G&D manager.

I continued living in Bielefeld and made the short commute down the autobahn every day to Herford. Tony thought I was mad hooking up with Sonja. He’d had a glimpse of what things were like with her family and had made the sensible choice to get out. Bobby had a history of mental illness and I found out the hard way that Sonja was a chip off the old block. Mine and Tony’s relationship was not what it had been anyway by now. Some of my behaviour towards him was not the sort of behaviour you would expect from a friend. But having said that, at this point, we were still mates but no longer close.

The thing with living outside of the hostel was that because I was not married to Sonja, I was not afforded the same financial perks as married personnel. So, with me still earning my single man’s wage, we were reliant on Sonja’s wages too in order to make ends meet. Now they say that if you stand on the edge of a cliff long enough, eventually someone will push you off. I actually just made that up. However, that’s exactly what happened.

Bobby and Doug announced that Doug was being posted back to the UK. At the time they were scheduled to leave Germany it would still be three months before Sonja’s 18th birthday, so Bobby took great delight in telling me that unless I made an “honest woman” of her daughter, she would force Sonja to go back to the UK with them. Bobby may have been unhinged but she wasn’t stupid. She knew that my single man’s wages would not be enough to sustain the flat, and also that I was under contract with the landlord. If she carried out her threat it would have put me in a very difficult situation.  My bloke mentality weighed things up, and one evening while Sonja was sitting on the loo I said, “I suppose we’d better get married then”. That was that; the roller coaster ride commenced. Things happened very quickly, we somehow managed to make some arrangements and got married in the UK at Wood Green Civic Centre; my wages immediately doubled. Result!

I also got officially promoted to Trainee Hi-Fi Salesman; it carried assistant manager status so as well as getting all the extra perks for being married I got a pay rise too. All of a sudden this boy from North London was in financial heaven.

Steve became a kind of trainee manager in G&D and then I got two more quick promotions. First to fully fledged Hi-Fi Salesman and then to Hi-Fi Salesman In Charge. Two more promotions meant two more pay rises! The only fly in the ointment was that we also decided to move to Herford, and it was only then that we found out that our landlord in Bielefeld was a bit of a crook. It turned out that certain things in our contract were no longer legal. To cut a long story short we had to get legal advice. There is a kind of tenants association in Germany that provides free legal aid for those who come up against unscrupulous landlords. We saw a solicitor who was absolutely fantastic. We didn’t get all of our Dm1,000 deposit back, but thanks to him we got about Dm720 back. For a time we were in cloud cuckoo land; we had money coming out of our ears. We ate out most nights of the week and the cupboards and freezer were always full. Sonja didn’t really drink, but I was able to carry on my favourite pastime to my heart’s content.  Sonja also found work in Herford so the money just kept flowing in.

Steve did so well in his manager training that he got his own department in another shop, and my partner in crime from Bielefeld, John Bastock, was promoted to G&D manager and moved to Herford. All was going swimmingly well, but as expected, eventually a few cracks started to appear. NAAFI was cutting back, so at the time I became a Hi-Fi Salesman the seminars in plush hotels were a thing of the past. There was still seminars to attend, but they were all held in-house, so wherever I had to travel to, the accommodation provided was always in the local staff hostel. We would still get taken out for meals and drinks by the reps, which I appreciated, but I was too late to catch the gravy train. If we were lucky, we would get a free t-shirt and the odd blank metal or chrome cassette, but that was about it. NAAFI no longer considered Hi-Fi to be exclusive either and the “powers that be” decided that it was no longer to be displayed in enclosed Hi-Fi centres. My little empire was closed and all the equipment was displayed in the G&D department amongst all the run-of-the-mill audio equipment. Sacrilege! The writing was on the wall. The job lost its glamour, my marriage was a sham and a disaster so it was only a matter of time before something had to give. Part Five to follow shortly…

Me looking like an axe killer! Taken in Bielefeld hostel during my Who blasting days.

Me looking like an axe killer! Taken in Bielefeld hostel during my Who blasting days.

Mr Sensible the Hi-Fi salesman. Taken in 1985 just before my time with NAAFI came to an end. It was taken in a photo booth (I think at Herford rail station but I can't be sure)

Mr Sensible the Hi-Fi salesman. Taken in 1985 just before my time with NAAFI came to an end. It was taken in a photo booth (I think at Herford rail station but I can’t be sure).