The Wilderness Years (1991 to 2004) – A Mini Autobiography

Hey, I recently came across an email I wrote a friend four years ago. It was a long catch-up email, between two friends who had not seen each other in eighteen years. And it got me thinking. Perhaps it’s time to share a little of my story with my readers.  What follows is by no means up to the standard, and as in depth, as my usual writing, but it will give you all a few insights into the world I come from. I daresay there are some of you that can relate to it.

There is, of course, plenty of more story, but I pick up in 1991, in my final year as a teenager…

 

Rare shot of me, from 1992…

Leaving White City was a slow process, even though I moved down to this hotel in Shepherd’s Bush Road, since I still had a lot of friends in the old estate, and so often found myself back there. But once out of the hotel my mother moved to Fulham and I got myself my first flat in Edward Woods Estate. Still have nightmares about that place. Hated it. It was little more than a bedsit, and 16 floors up; the heating never worked, and I always seemed to be skint… I guess I was in a bad place in myself.

Disillusioned by people, and not for the last time, I ended up spending most of my time in Fulham. Staying at my mother’s quite a lot, although many a night I would trek from Fulham to Shepherd’s Bush, just me and my dog (and no lead for her – best behaved dog ever!). Eventually I kind of hit my bottom, doing much of nothing, just hanging out with mates, signing on, drinking. Never turned to drugs, though, although I had a toke of a spliff once, but much like cigarettes it wasn’t for me. Made me feel ill (even to this day I feel ill when surrounded by too much cigarette smoke, which I think is a good thing really since it keeps me from getting addicted to them – and I can have a bit of an addictive personality!). So, there I was, at the bottom of my own personal pit, and one day I was hanging out at the fair that had pitched up in Fulham Rec on Fulham Palace Road, having what I thought was a good time. And it was, chilling out with mates is always a good time if they’re the right kind of mates, but I was feeling empty, avoid of something, some direction. And along came the Christians.

Yep, almost 2000 years on they were still the harbinger of bad tidings, despite their protestations to the contrary. But they have an instinct for targeting those that look like they need something bigger, and that was a category I certainly filled then. July 1993, a red letter month for my life. So much changed in the coming months, things that seemed to be good for me but in the short term was the worst kind of shit.

Rebekah, Mary and I…

Alienation of my family and friends, isolating myself from the real world. I got to know these American missionaries, and was introduced to various people at Twynholm Baptist Church @ the Fulham Cross junction of Munster and Lillie Roads. On the surface they seemed a welcoming bunch of people, and so over the course of a week I was introduced to the Christian concept of God and the path to salvation. 4th July came and so did my commitment to Jesus. And thus it remained for the best part of seven years. I become quite devote; every aspect of my life was imbued with my faith. My CDs went, replaced by Christian music (both worship and contemporary, since even as devout as I was I needed modern tunes that I could dance to); my books (of which there were many) were chucked out, except my Doctor Who collection which went into storage (couldn’t bring myself to get rid of those!). Conversations with my family lasted about ten minutes before God was brought into them, and my previous friends no longer fitted into my world view. They became objects for witnessing, in an effort to let God speak through me and bring them into the fold. The irony is I didn’t see this at the time, I was so caught up in my faith that I couldn’t see the effect it was having on me, how it was taking me out of the world I so wanted to be a part of. I lost touch with reality, you might say.

After a false start, I finally settled into a job, and learned all about work ethic. It was a tough lesson, since I had an innate distrust of any authority and couldn’t quite get my head into the notion of reporting to someone who was not me. But I soon equated it to my submission to God and it became easy enough. I became an active part of various church related events; teaching in Junior Club, leading Bible Studies, and became something of a Bible Scholar. One trait I still have; when I become interested in something I seek to learn all I can. But despite all this, and the church elders realising my inborn leadership abilities (which makes sense of my lack of respect for authority figures – a follower I am not!), in my personal life things were still taking a nose dive.

It took many years to work out what was happening, but I was turning into some kind emotional cripple; dependent on the love and attention of my peers. I put so much stock in some friendships that I’d be debilitated when things went sour.

Just to offer balance, not all was doom and gloom. 4th August 1996 a bunch of us were at the Rec, the lads playing football, me flirting and chatting with the girls (as was the norm for me, then), when the ball got stuck up a tree. Now I’m a good tree-climber, and so off I went. One of my mates gave me a leg up, but as soon as he let go and my entire weight was on the branch, the bark crumbled and my grip went with it. I landed unceremoniously on the grass, thinking I’ll try that again, but when I tried to stand I found putting any kind of weight on my right foot wasn’t going to happen. I removed my shoe, and was greeted by the sight of my foot almost facing the wrong way. Yup, very broken! So, what did I do? I laughed. My mates thought I was joking, then they noticed the new angle of my foot and started panicking. The end result, I had crumbled the talus in my ankle joint to nothing, and would thus, according to the experts, be using a walking stick within ten years (sixteen years on and no such thing has been needed!). First though I was disabled for three months, no work and way too much time on my hands.

And so I finally did what I’d been meaning to do for the longest time; I wrote a book. All told it took me a year to finish, after several rewrites, and I sent it to BBC Books (it being a Doctor Who novel), but it wasn’t for them but it was, as the editor pointed out, cathartic for me in any case. Looking back, the book was extremely preachy, dealing with Christian concepts in a way that was supposed to be clever, but was nothing more than blatantly obvious and crass. And so my old hobby resurfaced for a while, but time and events conspired against me and proper pursuit of my writing would have to wait another five years.

About 1998 things began to become clear in my mind. I had an epiphany one night while visiting my mother, who now lived in Shoeburyness. The lights were out and I was standing at the bedroom window, feeling out of sorts, and I looked up at the night sky and said, ‘God, are you there?’ It’s hard to explain what happened. I certainly wasn’t expecting an audible reply, but what I did get was answer enough. A moment of pure clarity. The God I’d learned to believe in did not exist, and my faith was misplaced. I tried to keep this realisation to myself when I returned to London, but over the following weeks my dissatisfaction in the church and the people within became more and more apparent. I turned argumentative, debating every point that was being preached. I looked around and saw the younger people, cotton woolled by the church, entering the real world and being destroyed. I suddenly realised that’s exactly what the church did to me, too. It made me detached, no longer part of the world, a man who only looked to befriend people with an ulterior motive, a chance to preach and convert. I was ashamed of myself. Treating people, friends, in such a disgusting way. And so, late ’98 I left the church and moved to Shoeburyness, finally getting the hell out of London.

Relaxing in Didcot… before the darkness came.

I came across two vastly important elements at that point, a book and a singer, both of which were expressing everything I was feeling inside but could never quite vocalise. Anne Rice’s ‘Memnoch the Devil’ dealt with issues close to my heart, as the Devil took Lestat on a tour of creation, signposting the inherent illogic of Christian doctrine. Nonsense that I had been pondering. And then there was Marilyn Manson. I first heard his ‘Last Tour on Earth’ CD, I had bought it because having heard ‘Rock is Dead’ on ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’ on ‘House on Haunted Hill’ this was the only CD that had both tunes together. But the first track, ‘The Reflecting God’, spoke to me in ways no other song has. ‘I went to God just to see, and saw I was looking at me, saw Heaven and Hell were lies.’ My anthem. A few years being angry did me wonders, exorcised my inner demons, and brought me back to the darker side of my id. Out went all the Christian music (bar a few choice groups who were musically valid) and I soon started collecting the Music of Andy. Metal, rock, soul, R&B, funk… a bit of everything really. Music for all moods and seasons. On some levels I began to identify with Marilyn Manson, bought all his music, read his book, and realised this guy spoke of lot of what I thought. Not everything, mind, but some things. His whole concept of ‘don’t follow me, just be you’ appealed greatly. Music and lyrics for the development of the individual. My anger wasn’t helped none by the fact that most of the friends I’d made through the church basically disowned me; none could truly understand where I was and why I was doing what I was doing, and so, being closed minded to anything that lived beyond the walls of their faith, they turned their backs on me. I didn’t much care at the time, I was building up a new friend-base through my life and work in Southend. And, more importantly, my self-awareness was the verge of completion. But then something unexpected happened.

Over the preceding few years I discovered the internet, along with the masses, and became a regular user of such things like chat rooms, online communities and the like. By the end of 2001 I was an old hand with the net, having found many like-minded people all over the world via a community of Doctor Who fans called Outpost Gallifrey. I even started up my own series of Doctor Who stories, playing around and creating a Doctor Who universe where the safe rules of the TV series of old went out of the window (in many ways, over the next four years, my stories, and that of those who wrote for me, foreshadowed a lot of what happened in the TV series that surfaced in 2005, and to this day I’m convinced that Russell T. Davies and Co nicked a few of our ideas). As well as providing me with a new outlet for my writing, a place where feedback was almost immediate, the net gave me a safe haven where I could begin to express aspects of myself I had hitherto been unable to do.

Now, older and wiser, I can see the progression to my real sexual discovery was a long process indeed, but at the time my interest in men caught me by surprise. It shouldn’t have; many times in the past I’d dreamed about sexual encounters with men, and been drawn to the torso of many guys on first meeting. But that great Egyptian river is an easy place to get lost in, and I learned to swim it well. I think I must have got so used to being in da Nile that I had acclimatised to the waters and was no longer even aware of how soaked up in it I was. Many girlfriends had come and gone. Relations with other men was never an option, and I think that came down to a fear of ridicule, for many a time in the past I’d been accused of being gay by so many people, most often just because I wasn’t going out with a girl, and because I was generally a quiet and bookish type. Clearly all the prerequisites for sexual orientation are right there! The secret formula for working out sexuality – a guy, quiet, bookish, not sleeping around like some slag? Right, chalk that up to him being gay! More nonsense, of course, but the preconceptions of people delight in nonsense. So, there was the fear of ridicule, and then, I was heavily involved in the church and being gay was majorly frowned upon, so the kibosh was put on any gay exploration for another seven or so years. So finally I found an outlet where I could explore these hidden depths of my psyche in the safety of my own room.

The flirt in me came out (and has never gone away), first online, and slowly it emerged at work. And such flirting led to a meeting at a pub in London, where a bunch of Who fans met once a month, and my first romantic relationship with another man.

It was a tough time. My mother, being the nosy type, got into this online community and discovered stuff about me that she had no need to know. At least not until I chose to reveal it. We had a bit of a row, wherein she told me she always knew I was gay, blah blah. To this day I don’t believe her; how could she possibly know my deepest secret when I didn’t even know? There were no real signs before, other than the blatantly misinterpreted ones previously mentioned. I spent time away at Richard’s place; and the first night was little more than a fumble, experimenting in things I’d always secretly dreamed about. The next day I was full of doubts, and fears. Did I honestly want this? Was this me? It was a hard time accepting this part of me, knowing full well how the world would react. But slowly I began to settle into it, and person by person, my emergence was revealed.

Most people didn’t quite get it, but others were fine. Jokes abounded, which made things easier; a great British convention, to make light of serious situations and thus they become easy to live with. Alas, it being the first proper man-on-man relationship, things were rushed. And soon I had moved to Didcot to live with my partner (I’ll call him R). We got a nice little house, next door to countryside, and I had a job. Things should have been ideal, but they were far from it. Isolation had crept in again, but this time it was a kind of enforced isolation. All my friends were either in London or Southend, a long way from Didcot. There was just me and R, and as much as I loved him at the time, I needed other outlets. Often I would be on the train to or from work in Reading, pondering just leaving. Insecurities were eating me away. The strong man that had started to reassert himself following the Years in the Wilderness that was my church life was being eaten away, turning into a dependent again, a weak fool whose existence was always judged in relation to another. My own identity was diminished, and I’d become the other half of another man. We moved to Southend, which ought to have been a solution for me, but despite having a friend base again, I felt obligated to be with R most of the time. My partner was becoming more and more career focussed, and so despite the time spent in his company I might have well as not been there. And then, following a job promotion for him, we ended up living in Colchester. The darkest time of my life began, and for a year everything I had been was ripped away.

Things started off ok; I got a new job working in Waterstone’s, and I got introduced to the producer of the Doctor Who audio plays, Gary Russell, and at the time he was also editor of a series of Doctor Who anthologies. Along the way he got wind of the fact that I wanted to write, and so out of the blue he emailed me asking me to pitch a few ideas for the new anthology he was editing. Naturally I sent him about ten ideas, which he liked, but one he loved, and so I got my first commission. This was mid-2004, and by that time things had started to sour big time at home. R was becoming more distant, and I’d often go out riding on my bike alone, just to get away from the pervading sense of dread that hung in the air. He started to visit all kinds of porn sites, which does little for the self esteem of the other half in a relationship, and it all came out one day when he told me about this new guy who had started working with him. Nothing had really happened, just a kiss, but R was no longer sure he wanted to be with me. My world pretty much crashed down around me then.

Broken, but not defeated…

Gone was the fighter, who’d pick himself up and strike back harder, all that was left was this pathetic person who foolishly suggested R could have both of us. Crazy talk! Over the next couple of weeks things went from worse to insane. I ended up sleeping in the spare room, and R was spending more and more time away from home. Throughout this I was writing my story, which dealt with a guy who discovers he’s dead and has to watch his fiancé’s world crash down; a topic too close to home, and thus a very raw tale was written. Finally it came to a point where one of us simply had to go; and it was me. One night, September 2004, R told me that he wanted me gone the next day since he no longer wanted to ‘share the same breath’ as me. That was my darkest night… I never knew I could cry so much. Just the simple act of breathing became hard. I was a wreck.

The next morning I called my mother in Wales, and she arranged to come and pick me up. For the first and only time in my life my mother actually came through for me, and I was indebted to her for that. By the evening I was en route to Wales, sitting in the van, not talking, just living in a world of hurt. I didn’t realise at that moment, but I was settling in to the initial fugue of a nervous breakdown.

To be continued…

Advertisements