Sometime in 2008
9 months have passed since the day we met in the bar. I feel her fist hit my cheekbone. She’s standing there, right in front of me, shouting, shaking in anger. I can see the vitriol in her eyes. This isn’t quite the end, but it’s coming. I tell her not to hit me again.
Between the beginning and end, the captivating introduction, the exciting storylines, the passion, the moments of connection, and then one day a conversation that breaks the spell, reveals the ending’s irresistible approach, and despite all our best efforts, or maybe because of them, we part.
And then a few months later I meet Sue and 4 years later we too part. Stories that may be told another day but for now I want to focus more on the past.
* * *
The notes I’d done for this chapter had been written in 2010, 4 years ago. Some of them don’t feel relevant any longer. For instance the woman who I’d met in the night club had sometimes teased me about how she fancied Ross Kemp, a TV personality, and how I shouldn’t worry because she was not ever likely to meet him. I refrained from telling her that I did occasionally see him at the Arts Club in London.
Most of what was important then, isn’t now, and likewise what’s happening now probably won’t be of much interest later, but little things and sometimes big things continue to haunt us through life.
I was fishing on a sea jetty in Gibraltar with some people I’d met there in 1984 and I decided that cutting the head off a fish I’d just caught was the right thing to do. A few minutes later one of my friends’ mother told me not to that again. I look back and wonder what possessed me to think that was a good idea., to put looking tough ahead of the suffering of the animal. He was me but I am no longer him. Sadly my life often feels like a dot to dot extravaganza of cringible moments.
* * *
On the 29th September 1615, King James the first signed a Royal Charter which brought Edward Wilson’s school in Camberwell into existence. A few years before I started attending Wilson’s, the whole school had been relocated from Camberwell to near where I lived, in a newly built complex of buildings, including squash courts and a swimming pool. Within the process of changing its location it changed its identity. It had been quite a good school back there but here it quickly became one of the top schools in the country.
Its new location was on the edge of Roundshaw, a couple of times kids from our junior school had gone to the” new school on the block” in order to taunt the pupils as they came out. That wasn’t really a good idea because, as they soon found out, a lot of the kids were from Camberwell so were up for a bit of fighting, and that coupled with them being twice our size brought that preoccupation to a succinct end.
So in September 1976, I, amongst another 120 children wearing brand new uniforms (black trousers, blazer, white shirt, black and yellow striped tie, and black shoes) stood in front of the yellow brick building, new kids, new bricks. We were told that in future though that we were not to enter the school through this entrance, but instead to come in via the side entrance. We marched in to the main setting of our life for the next seven years.
* * *
18 October 2014
I am approaching 50, I have been writing this for close to 10 years now. Time becomes more noticeable with age, even though it seems to slip by faster than ever.
Long days, short weeks, long months, short years.
What seems like distant history, for example Henry 8th’s reign, is only as far back as a few spans of the time I’ve experienced. Well actually that’s about 9 spans of my life so far so it’s quite a few, however, 50 years in terms of history covers a fair bit of change.
There is a recognition of transience as I get older, everything comes to pass, good or bad, but even now it’s hard to come to terms with losing the people, things and situations we love.
Love, time and life are beginning to show their end dates to me.
* * *
Local swimming pool
I am underwater, I can hear muffled sounds down there. I come up for air, a whistle blows loudly. I look towards the sound. “Yellow bands out!!!” the lifeguard shouts whilst pointing at me.
* * *
7th September 2014
I’m at a garden party to celebrate my mother’s friends, Colin and Val’s 50 year wedding anniversary. Whilst we’re waiting for them to turn up a white-haired man approaches me.
I look at him and say “I recognise you from somewhere”
“You should do, you sat next to me in class for 5 years”
It’s Robbie, he was one of the good kids from school. I was kind of one of the bad ones.
* * *
March 12 2014
Mum and I went to see her friends, Colin and Val, who we had not seen for at least 10 years. We’d regained contact with them via Facebook and organised meeting up before I went to work in the afternoon. Colin had been a father figure to me as a child and both he and his wife had served as an example of a couple in a good marriage. You don’t get to see too many of those in life, someone told me the modern version of the wedding vows should replace the vow “For better or worse” with “For better or forget it”.
When Colin and Val bought this house close to 40 years ago, the garden was over grown, Colin cut down the foliage and flattened the ground with a large roller, built an extension, knocked rooms into each other, and together he and Val held parties here, brought up their children, homed Val’s mum, lived most of their lives. The central stage upon which their lives were acted out was a stage for me too. There’s something about visiting places which at one point had been so familiar, and now, still familiar yet different.
* * *
Jeff Shaw had been my form master at Wilson’s, that meant he was the teacher in charge of our class for around 5 years before we went in to 6th form. At the time, even though he looked young, he was still very much an adult and a mature teacher to us students . But now, in 2012, as he showed me around the school, I realised he was only just over a decade older than I. As he pointed out what’s changed, what’s new, who was still there, who’d left, who’d died, I got the feeling that he had not outwardly changed hardly at all. I have met some people who have become unrecognisable over the years but Jeff Shaw seemed as if he’d just stepped out of 1976. I haven’t seen him since this last meeting but we have linked up on Facebook and Flickr.
Times have changed dramatically, we have the option to be a part of a wider, dispersed community because of the Internet and technological advances, but back then the world was smaller, and definitely, at least for me, a bit lonelier.
* * *
March 12 2014
Colin and Val’s House
Mum is sitting next to Val, we’re all chatting. I show Val a few tricks on her iPad, she says she knows them already, grrrr!!! Then I take some photos with my phone, mum leans over towards Val, they look old and young at the same time.
* * *
In my first few days at school, I made a bit of an impression. Firstly I told our class prefect to put his hand on the desk in front of me then slammed my stump down on a nerve point in the middle of the back of his hand. I didn’t notice at the time, but Jeff Shaw assured me years later that I had him close to tears. Yet another cringible dot to add to the galaxy I have created in my life.
* * *
BBC Radio 4 Presenter asks me questions down the phone about John Galliano the famous fashion designer who’d just been sacked for making racist and anti-semitic remarks.
Presenter: “So what was John Galliano like at school?”
Me: “He was five years above me in school”
Presenter: “Was there anything different about him, did he stand out?”
Me: “His hair was pretty much all over the place
He doesn’t look much different now to how he looked at school, hHe made sure his unform wasn’t worn properly. I don’t think he was happy being wrapped up in a unform, he was definitely a fish out of water, [a Gibraltarian fish out of water, who sometimes didn’t keep his head] he was outwardly very camp. Everyone knew he was gay”
* * *
September 1976 Wilson’s School
I’m standing near John Galliano
“You’re gay” I say, stating the obvious, with a sneer on my face
“What did you just say you little spastic?”
“Gay” I confirmed
“Fuck off” he said and kicked me quite hard so that a tear came to my eye, and then the other one too and then the first one again.
* * *
BBC Radio 4 Presenter asks me more questions down the phone
Radio Presenter “So how did he deal with the torments of others?”
Me “I think he played up to it. He was gay and proud of it. I once called him gay and he kicked me. It’s typical of oppressed groups to attack each other, you see it all the time. This latest incident of Galliano getting drunk and being filmed being anti-Semitic, is a kind of similar to what happened between him and myself all those years ago”
Radio Presenter: “That’s very interesting but I don’t think we can use that story”
And they didn’t
* * *
As usual, I didn’t learn my lesson from this incident and decided to call one of the senior prefects by his nick name, which was “Dougal” because his hair curtained his face like a dog character in a children’s program called “The Magic Roundabout”.
His response was to give me “2 sides”. This meant I had to fill 2 pages of A4 (or foolscap) lined paper with meaningful writing. Not only that it had to be written on a subject. The subject he set me was “The IMF” (The International Monetary Fund). Trust me, this brought more tears to my eyes than Galliano’s kick. I sat for hours copying text from the newspaper in the school library, of course because of this I have gone through life with a small but occasionally useful knowledge of the IMF, so on occasions I’ve had to be grateful for this punishment.
To make matters a little less better, a few days later I was sitting in Sutton Library listening to some music with some large headphones on (at that time the library offered a music listening service). My mum came up to me, I nodded towards “Dougal” who by coincidence had just walked in to the large room and was approaching the counter.
“Look mum, there’s Dougal!” I said at the top of my voice (although I thought I was speaking normally) “they all call him Dougal because he looks like a fat version of Dougal. I hate him he gave me 2 sides”
My mum looked at me, pretended to take off some headphones, put her finger to her mouth and said “shhhh” and laughed. Dougal, red faced, smiled at me.
The next day at school I got another 2 sides. I think it was on sound waves
* * *
25 October 2014
At home in front of my computer
This morning I entered an appointment in my calendar for around this time next year. I added a little message to myself, something like “Hello from me a year ago, I wonder what will happen, if I’ll still be here”. What’s most likely is I’ll not actually notice the appointment this time next year.
Sometimes I go through months of playing a computer game intensely. I’m going through one now, it’s an online 8 Ball Pool game. It stops me from being as creative as I would normally be. I’m not sure what causes it, maybe it’s an escape, or some kind of meditative state or maybe I just need times of wastefulness to drive me back in to more meaningful pursuits. In many of these online games I find myself laughing because of the interaction between the other players and myself, so there’s a sense of connection too. But at some point though I’ll realise I can’t get much further than I’ve got, that others are far better than me, and once virtual reality shows me the real reality of my limitations, well then I’ll start to want to write, paint, do more photography or create more songs. Then I’ll enter an artistic stage again.
* * *
I am in a pub garden after a family meet up and a man s walking in front of me. He gets to the gate and stands there. He doesn’t know how to deal with a gate. He just stands there waiting. He is in the early to middle stages of dementia. Over the next 7 years we will watch him deteriorate in to another version of himself, but at the same time we too are forming in to someone else.
* * *
March 12 2014
Mum and I are sitting in a café. We share a similar liking of cheap cafes and English Breakfast. The smell of bacon has greeted me in the morning throughout my life. Mum’s selling her house and going to buy an apartment near where I live. We go through some of the paperwork. She is feeling overwhelmed by the idea of moving, but she’s relieved to have decided what to do next. It will be strange to have her living so nearby.
Mum: “Is there a spiritualist church is Eastbourne?”
Me: “I think so”
Mum: “I’ve been going to one quite a bit lately.”
Me: “Why do you go?”
Mum: “It’s interesting and I feel there’s something there”
Mum: “Oh, whilst I remember, just in case I’m ever hospitalised, tell them I’m allergic to Aspirin. Just a small amount could have a very bad effect.”
I nod “Ok” and say “I think I’m allergic to penicillin”
Mum: “Really, how did you find out?”
Me: “The last time I had some I got a rash around my waste”
This café we’re in, it’s full of people, it’s almost like a circus. A couple of female traffic wardens are sitting at another table, one of them can’t stop looking at me. She’s interested in my arms, probably how I eat. She’s not that pretty so I don’t encourage her.
Me: “Your friend really annoyed me the other day when we looked at that flat you’re buying”
Mum: “Who, Sheryl? What did she do? ”
Me: “Yes, she shouted from the balcony to those other people who had been looking at the flat you’re interested in and clearly told them that they couldn’t have it because you were getting it. I mean how embarrassing. I could have killed her”
Mum: “Did she really say that?”
Mum: “Oh dear, maybe they didn’t hear her ”
Me: “Maybe they just couldn’t believe what they were hearing”
* * *
March 12 2014
Mum is with her friend Gill.
“Shuffle the cards Angela”
Mum shuffles a pack of Tarot cards.
The cards are placed in front of her.
Gill: “Ooh this one’s interesting Angela, I don’t think your move to Eastbourne is going to happen”
She shows mum the crumbling tower card
Mum: “I don’t see why not, I mean I have a buyer for my one, and even if that falls through the company selling me the flat will buy my house at the going price”
Gill: “Well maybe it means you need to get the building surveyed properly, anyway this card is more about finding power and security within yourself, instead of within material objects.”
* * *
March 13 2014 Morning
Mum, over the phone to me: “I couldn’t sleep last night, I’d gone over the figures, you know, how much I’d have coming in and how much it was going to cost to live in the flat in Eastbourne and I couldn’t make ends meet. It was only when I called Stephen in the middle of the night and went through it that I realised I was adding it wrongly. Sometimes I’m so silly [she laughs]. So I had a sleepless night for nothing.”
* * *
March 13th 2014
It was sunny today, mum and her friends cut the grass in the front garden, had a cup of tea, then went to the spiritualist church. It wasn’t so much of a church in the traditional sense, but a grey house on a main road with a sign on it that said “Spiritualist Church”.
As mum sat down with her friend, the woman who was speaking that evening approached her. “Hello Angela, I have a message for you”
Somebody nearby started coughing which seemed to trigger mum into coughing too. Embarrassed because she was trying to focus on what the speaker was saying, she covered her mouth, giggled for a moment, and fumbled in her handbag for a tissue. For a second she paused, put her hand to her neck and winced, “My neck’s hurting” she angled her head backwards and sideways and said “I think I’m going…”
She then collapsed onto her friend who was sitting next to her.
The other people quickly gathered around, put her on the floor and felt for a pulse but could not find one. For the next few minutes, a couple of women performed CPR on her, at one point she seemed to sigh, after about 7 minutes the paramedics turned up, spending the next 45 minutes performing CPR. Eventually, to everyone’s relief, they got her heart beating again and then took her off to the hospital.
* * *
March 13 10pm
I’m at my computer, trying to lay out a design. The phone rings.
Doctor: “Hello is that Simon Smith”
Doctor: “Hi, I’m a doctor at St George’s hospital in Tooting, is Angela Hill your mother? ”
Me: “Yes. Is she ok?”
Doctor: “Your mother collapsed earlier this evening, and she’s currently here under sedation. We won’t be sure if she’s been affected until she wakes up.”
Me: “Shall I come up?”
Doctor: “You can if you wish but we will probably keep her sedated for a day or so. Is your mother on any medication?”
Me: “ I think she takes quite a lot but I don’t know what exactly. She did tell me to say that’s she’s allergic to Aspirin”
Doctor: “That’s useful, I was just about to prescribe some for her.”
Me: “Funny, she only told me about that a couple of days ago. So do you think she’s going to be all right?”
Doctor: “It’s hard to tell, her heart did stop beating for a while. We’ll be running some checks on her and doing some scans, but we really can’t tell until she wakes up.”
Me: “When will that happen”
Doctor: “We’ll try to wake her tomorrow”
I get the ward details from her and call Stephen who is in Australia.
* * *
Stephen: “Shall I come over?”
Me: “I don’t think you should, there’s nothing we can do till we know what state she’s in. I talked to the nurse earlier and she said it would be best if someone was there when she starts to come round”
Stephen: I was only just talking to her today. I told her not to over-exert herself. Why did she cut the lawn, we can pay someone to do that for her?”.
Me: “I’ll let you know what they tell me as soon as they do”
* * *