I had my first girlfriend when I was aged about five. Five! I was going to Coryton school in Cardiff at that time. We had not long moved back to the UK from Zimbabwe, where I was born. I don’t remember too much about my time in Zimbabwe from that time. Obviously, I remember it was hot! I remember my grandad buying us ice creams one time, and the ice cream starting to melt even before we’d started eating it!
I don’t remember my first girlfriend’s name, but I do remember us standing on steps by the school while most of the other boys went to play war, or other games, in the fields nearby. I did play with the boys sometimes. I had really good friends in Coryton. Everyone was friendly, and it was a happy time for me. My teacher, Mrs Cox, was great. My best friend was Matthew Patterson. He had three brothers, so was similar to me, as I had two.
I think my girlfriend invited me to her birthday party. And I invited her to mine. Obviously, when I say girlfriend, she was just a girl, who I was friendly with. But I suppose I was a bit different to a lot of boys under the age of ten, who generally seem to hate girls. This girl, whoever she was, lived in quite an unusual location. There were just a couple of houses actually on the roundabout by the M4, next to where the fire station was, and she lived there. It might have been partly the fact that she lived there that I found intriguing.
We had a house in the Whitchurch area, opposite a cinema, which was great. We used to go to the Saturday matinees, which were especially for kids. The cinema’s been knocked down now, with a block of flats built in its place.
As my mum and dad both worked full-time, our neighbour would quite often look after me and my brothers. She was kind of like a granny to us, so we called her Nan Jones.
Life was generally pretty good, despite the fact that I was involved in two car accidents. I can’t quite remember the order they happened in. But in one of them, I was in the car with my mum. I looked at the traffic lights and saw that the green man was flashing. Obviously, as a person who more commonly went around on foot, and was used to going when seeing that the green man was flashing, I shouted to my mum, “It’s green mummy!” She took my word for it, went on the red light, and smashed into a car. Fortunately, there were no injuries on this occasion.
But another time, my mum was taking us to the library. My older brother had got out, and gone across the road to the library. My younger brother was still just a baby, and my mum was taking her time to get him out of his seat. I decided to go against my mum’s demands for me to wait for her, and got out of the car to run across to join my brother. Unfortunately, a car was coming, which I had not even seen, and went straight into me. I was lying under the car, screaming and screaming. I must have been in a lot of pain, and I think there was a lot of blood. All I could think to say over and over was, “I’m sorry, mummy, I’m sorry!” Eventually, an ambulance came. I was put into the back, still crying. The driver said, “If I put the siren on, will you stop crying?” I wasn’t sure what to say to that, but he did put it on, and I stopped crying instantly.
I was in hospital for about a week. I was treated by JPR Williams, the famous rugby player – this was a time when rugby was an amateur sport, of course, so most of the top players all had other jobs. Even my gran from Africa came to visit. She gave me a toy laser gun as a present, which I had fun shooting the nurses with. Well, I was soon up and about again, even if I was on crutches to begin with.
My older brother and I had both written stories for a competition. I don’t think either of us won first prize, but we must have done quite well, as we were invited to London by the publishers. I was hoping to meet the author, Nicholas Fisk, but that didn’t happen. But anyway, soon after I think, my dad got a job in Bridgend and we were going to move, but before we left Coryton, my brother and I were called up to the stage at the assembly, I think to congratulate us for doing well in the competition, and to say goodbye to us.
We moved into a large house in Bridgend on a street called Merthyr Mawr Road, and my brother and I would now be starting in a school called Oldcastle. I can remember my very first day, being on own in the playground, and just crying, not knowing what to do. A very kind boy called Huw, from the year above me, looked after me that day, but henceforth, I was not to have a happy childhood.
There was a boy who lived on my street called Richard Patterson, but he was not like Matthew, of the same surname, from Coryton. I made some other friends, but I don’t really know why, I had trouble fitting in. Maybe it was because I was the new boy. There were two girls in the class called Felicity (known as Bucket, for some reason, a nickname given to her dad I believe) and Georgia. I quite liked them both, but perhaps there was some sort of competition for them, even though that wouldn’t have been the expression used by five or six year olds.
My brother too was not having a particularly good time. There was one teacher called Mrs Bevan who he had a very hard time with. My brother, Jerry, did very well in school, but I think Mrs Bevan was always comparing all the other children with my brother, and this made things difficult for him. It got so bad that my mum decided to remove him from the school, and I think he had a better time in another school in Bridgend.
I even had Mrs Bevan as a teacher myself a few years later. I remember even within the first couple of weeks, we had been given a test, and Mrs Bevan accused me and the boy sat next to me, Neil Timbrell of cheating because we’d both got all, or most of the answers right! Well, I know I hadn’t cheated, and to be honest, I also doubted if TImbrell had cheated as he was pretty bright himself. But we both got sent to see the headmaster. I think there might have been more tears. She was just an evil teacher, really, but I had to stick her out for a whole year.
I don’t know whether that was a thing in all schools, in fact, I don’t remember it being a thing in Coryton, but in Oldcastle, and also in the comp I would later go to, Brynteg, the boys always called each by their surnames. Maybe it was a way to show that you were “hard”.
There certainly was no shortage of violence in my school years. I was to get bullied a lot and it was not enjoyable. For one year, I was in Mr Murray’s class. He was an appalling teacher who had absolutely no clue about how to handle a rowdy classroom. But I do remember, one time, I hit Felicity, or Bucket. It was a completely inexcusable thing to do, and I felt very guilty. I didn’t want to hit her at all. She was somebody I liked! But I think I was so badly affected by the treatment I’d been getting by certain boys that I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to hit out, and unfortunately, she was the target. Fortunately, she seemed to be ok about it.
A year or two later, by the time I was nine or ten, I decided that what I was going to have to do was start having fights with boys. I initially picked on easy targets, like Darryl Gibbs, again, a person I had nothing against, but somebody I knew I could beat easily. So I had a fight with Gibbs, and beat him. My next target was Morris. He was part of the crowd I was having problems with, but I did think I could beat him, and I did.
It seemed as if I’d worked my way up, and I was due to have a fight with Renwick. Everybody loved Renwick, he was the main setter of fashions, the cool one, but he was also a horrible bully. Well, I remember having a fight with him, with a lot of people standing around watching, and I was soundly beaten. Fortunately, we didn’t get into too much trouble. The school was probably more worried about the likes of Blake, and so long as it wasn’t Blake causing problems, they probably didn’t worry too much.
I suppose school wasn’t all bad. I used to enjoy playing marbles. There were no playing fields at Oldcastle, no grass at all, but there was an area where we used to play marbles. Our sports days were held at the blind school, a short way from Oldcastle. I won the sprint once – I’ve got a photo of me beating Renwick somewhere – and I was generally one of the fastest. It always seemed to be though that the top two or three boys were always injured when it came to sports day though, so my achievements were never really recognised.
But I do remember when the sports teacher came to ask us who had won the sprint the previous year, some of the boys reluctantly pointed to me, so it was decided I should play on the wing for the rugby team.
I did enjoy playing rugby, but unfortunately I tended to succumb to handling errors, ie. I dropped the ball a lot. I could be in prime position to score a try, someone would pass it to me, and I’d just drop the effin thing. I mean, obviously I scored a few tries, but try as I might, I never mastered the game.
I can’t really fault my parents the whole time I was growing up. They were never that generous when it came to birthday and Christmas presents, but they always ensured we had good summer holidays, taking us to France, Holland, Malaysia, America, all over. We went back to visit Zimbabwe a couple of times of course, once the situation in the country had calmed down a bit. I met a nice girl called Basak on one trip to Turkey. I had just been doing a sketch of a nice looking house, and asked for a seat. Basak, who was a bit of a stunner answered, and a couple of nights later we went for a stroll together. My dad was quite strict, and my mum used to threaten us with the rolling pin, but I suppose that was just their way of ensuring discipline.
My dad did used to quite like playing tricks on April Fool’s Day. Sometimes it would just be simple things like swapping the cereal around in cereal boxes. But one year, he played a trick which really freaked me out. My older brother and I were in our parents’ bedroom, as we often were when we got up. My dad had set up his dictaphone in a cupboard which just kept saying “I can see you…With my secret EYE!” This actually quite scared me, and I’ve never quite got over it.
One day, my dad decided he was going to buy a computer. He was considering buying a ZX80, but he got a letter saying that Sinclair were about to release the ZX81, which was much better, so he ended up buying the ZX81. Thus began our love affair with computers, particularly Sinclair computers, and more especially, our love for computer games.
Obviously, the games on the ZX81 were pretty basic, but we did have a lot of fun with games like Mazogs and Monster Maze. I think there was a game called simply, Gold. My dad had joined the ZX Computers Owners’ Club that was based in Cardiff, and the guy who ran the club told a story about the time he’d completed the game. Supposedly, he’d stayed up all night playing it, and when he got to the end, he shouted out “I’ve found the gold!” and surprised the postman. I was never sure whether to believe the bit about surprising the postman.
My dad took me and my brothers to a computer games exhibition in London where the ZX82, or ZX Spectrum, was being unveiled, and this was incredibly exciting. The clamour for this item was immense.
So of course, we got a Spectrum and for the next four or five years, my brothers and I obsessed over the Spectrum. There was a shop in Bridgend called Dukes of Hazard (“Dukes”) where you could rent games instead of paying the full price to buy them, so of course, we rented loads of games, and copied them on cassette at home. We loved all the games by the best company, Ultimate Play the Game. When Jet Set Willy came out, I think we actually bought that. Wheelie was another favourite. Formula One did not get great reviews, but we loved it as it was a multiplayer game, and we would have friends round and play it together.
Jer and I even set up our own computer games fanzine called Games Monitor. We would review games, in much the same way as popular magazines like Crash would, and give our favourite games a “GM Explosion” instead of a “Crash Smash”. Maybe didn’t have quite the same ring to it. But we’d sell a few in school. Jer’s friends, O’Baid, Webber and Rawlings also contributed.
Later on, I got to do a few reviews for a much more successful fanzine based in London called The Bug. I got to meet the people who ran it, who lived in Muswell Hill. One of these was a guy called Jeff, who was a bit of an eccentric character. His bedroom was decorated by Communist posters. He went on to a career as a photo-journalist and is now quite a successful DJ and promoter.
My other passion as a young teenager was music. It was kind of like an obsession. I remember my gran introducing me to the charts. She and my grandad, who we referred to by his first name, Ken, had recently moved back from Zimbabwe to the UK. We were on holiday in Cornwall, and my gran put the charts on the radio. Or actually, it might have been my mum. But I loved the charts. I think it’s a real shame that the charts no longer really mean anything.
The first record I ever bought was “Maid of Orleans” by OMD. I’m not quite sure why I picked this one. Obviously, I’d seen it being performed on Top of the Pops. It was one of those songs that had lingered around for ages. I think I liked most of the Top 10 at the time, it would have been around the time John Lennon was shot, but this was the one I picked out. And from then on, a lot of my pocket money would go on buying records.
The first LP I had, as a birthday present, was Shaky by Shakin Stevens. I loved Shakin Stevens. I came third in a Shakin Stevens dancing competition in Oldcastle (I think Timbrell was first or second). I remember seeing him on the kids’ TV programme Swapshop and being a bit confused by his accent. I knew he was Welsh, but it didn’t sound like a Welsh accent. I guess this was because he was from Ely in Cardiff, and the Cardiff accent is a bit different to the stereotypical Welsh accent.
I got quite into Madonna, and would buy Smash Hits. The thing I liked more than anything else about Smash Hits was that it was a funny magazine. They had a habit of putting “everything” in inverted commas, and used made-up words like ackchewloi.
But at some point, I also discovered indie music, and the NME. The NME became far more important to me than anything else, along with a sort of esoteric feeling of being “in the know”. The NME told you about bands that you could actually go and see and also, it had the indie charts. Maybe it was because I’d started listening to John Peel on Radio 1 that got me into the scene.
So there were bands like the Wedding Present, The House of Love and The Wonderstuff. I had the Wonderstuff’s debut album, Eight Legged Groove Machine, which was kind of on the more commercial side of indie, and I’m pretty sure it was The Wonderstuff that would be the first band I’d go to see live.
I think I went with my friend, Chris White, his girlfriend, Caitlin, and a girl I invited who lived down the road from me. She lived next to a park that we used to play at sometimes and I think I thought she looked kind of indie and might be into it. I kissed her at the gig, but it was a bit strange. Actually, maybe it was the La’s I took her too. Or maybe the Darling Buds. Once I’d got a taste for going to gigs, there were so many, I forget all the details.
She wasn’t the first girl I’d kissed of course. I’m not sure if I ever kissed the girl I was friendly with as a five year old. The first girl I got off with was called Cathy. When I was fourteen or fifteen, I used to regularly go to discos that kids from school would have for their birthdays. Most of them were held at a hall in the YMCA in Bridgend, but there were some at other places, like a hall in Brackla. At one of the discos in Brackla, I’d got talking to Cathy and I quite liked her. Well, a couple of days later, I was dragged along by a few people in school to meet Cathy and it was all a bit embarrassing. But then it was arranged that I would get off with Cathy at the next disco at the YMCA. Most boys I knew had already got off with someone, so now it was going to be me. We went outside, and kissed, open mouthed of course, and that was about it really. I think we danced to a smoochy song at the end of the disco.
But Cathy would be the first girl to break my heart, as soon afterwards, she was into someone else. I got her a card for Valentine’s Day, which I think was passed on to her by a friend, but it was returned to me, not wanted.
For my A Levels, I chose English, History, and Philosphy. I was always more into the arts, unlike Jer, who was more maths/science. Philosophy was a new subject at Brytneg, which was taught by Mr Archer, who was also my English teacher. He was a great teacher, who got children really enthusiastic about things. I struggled a bit with History though, taught by Mr Tapper. I found writing the essays tricky. But this wasn’t the only problem I was having. I was still having a problem with being bullied.
The Christmas after I’d started my A Levels, something happened that I thought would alleviate all my problems. I fell in love, properly, for the first time. Or at least, I thought I did.
My mum and dad had booked a holiday for us all at Center Parcs in Nottingham. On the way up, my older brother, who had only recently passed his driving test, and was driving me and my younger brother, Ade in my mum’s car (with my mum and dad following behind in my dad’s car), managed to turn the car over. Fortunately, we were all fine, but a bottle of ketchup had leaked from the car, and when my mum and dad reached us, they thought it was blood! Somehow, with all the stuff we had between the two cars, we did still manage to get to Center Parcs.
Obviously, Center Parcs is known for all the facilities it has to cater for families: swimming pool, bowling alleys, nice places to walk etc. It also had a disco, and I went along one evening, possibly with my brother the first time. Here, I saw the girl I fell in love with for the first time. She was stunningly beautiful, with long black hair. And of course, looked indie! She appeared to be dancing with her dad.
The next night, I decided to go back to the disco, and she was there again. I must have somehow plucked up the courage to talk to her. And to my amazement, she agreed to meet me, perhaps the following night.
I think I would say this was the equivalent of what would now be called a date. I think we did buy alcoholic drinks, although we were both underage (I would have been seventeen, my date was just fifteen at the time, soon to turn sixteen). This girl was Claire, from Tunbridge Wells, and without doubt was the most beautiful girl I’d ever met.
I was very nervous, but I think Claire was too, but nerves aside, things went really well. We chatted and chatted and chatted, and found that we had a lot in common. We both liked The Wonderstuff. We also both liked The Stone Roses, who were the new big thing at the time. Claire had an older sister, who had stayed at home. Claire’s birthday was 11th of Janurary (11/01), while mine was 11th of October (11/10). We must have danced, I suppose although I don’t remember that so much, even though it was her dancing that I think captivated me the most the first time I saw Claire.
Eventually, it came the time to leave and wander home. We carried on talking as we were walking. It was quite cold, being December of course. I remember there being a low mist. We were just walking fairly aimlessly. Eventually, Claire said something like “Where are we going?!” and I said I didn’t know, but for some reason, at this point, I decided I would try and take the chance of kissing her.
Fortunately, Claire was ok with this, and we had a nice kiss. Claire was fairly short, so when we stopped at one point, she said something about standing on the sleeping policeman. I had absolutely no idea what she meant by this, never having heard the term, but then I figured out she meant she should stand on the speed bump nearby! So she did that, and we carried on kissing for a bit longer. Finally, we stopped, Claire said, “Well, that warmed me up!” and now I walked her back to her chalet.
We said our goodbyes and arranged to meet up the next day. I walked back to my chalet on Cloud 9, wondering if it was all real.
Claire and I were quite inseperable for the rest of the holiday. I introduced her to my family of course. We went swimming of course, which was quite good fun, even though I was a bit worried I might get a stiffy at the sight of Claire in her swimming costume! One day, we even ventured out of Center Parcs to visit Nottingham town centre. We went to a record shop together. I bought 90 by 808 State and Claire bought Bizarro by The Wedding Present, on my recommendation.
We got off the bus near to Center Parcs and had to walk up the long driveway into the complex. Claire said something about bunny rabbits doing it in the woods, and I wondered if she might have been hinting that that’s what we should be doing. For the last couple of days at Center Parcs, I wondered about getting condoms and whether it would happen, but it didn’t, although I did get to kiss Claire’s boobs the second time we went out (which were amazing).
The last thing I did before we left Center Parcs was leave a love letter for Claire, an NME compliation video I had, and a carnation (I couldn’t find a rose). I wrote the letter in spindly handwriting and quoted the Stone Roses, changing the wording slightly to “Have you seen her, have you heard? The way she sways there are no words. To describe the way I feel.”
A few days later, I got a letter in the post from Claire – we must have swapped addresses at some point. It was similarly filled with love and was quite gushy. I think it made reference to Romeo and Juliet. I was pretty sure this was the real thing. We exchanged another couple of letters.
But then, disaster struck. I got a jiffy bag in the post, with the NME video. That’s fine I thought, Claire’s returning the video, even though I don’t think I’d asked for it back. But it did seem a bit odd that she’d just sent the video, and no letter. I panicked. I must have said or done the wrong thing. I sent a letter back, filled with urgency, asking her what I’d done wrong, and saying that surely this could not be the end.
A couple of days later, there was a phone call. which my mum answered. “It’s Claire,” she told me. Hmm, what could this mean? I wondered. Claire simply said to me, “Nick….Open the video box!” I ran to the video box, and inside was a beautiful, perfume-scented letter. What had I done?! I quickly thanked Claire, read the letter – it was a beautiful letter – and of course, wrote back soon after, hoping that things would resume as before.
But sadly, from that point, things never carried on as they were. I had doubted Claire, and understandably, she was affronted. I bought tickets for the House of Love at The Angel Centre in Tunbridge Wells, which I told her about cryptically in a letter. We did go together, but Claire was not keen to even hold my hand. I was given her room to sleep in while she slept in her sister Jacqui’s. On the wall was a big “Boys Don’t Cry” poster by The Cure. I scribbled underneath, “Oh yes they do!” This didn’t go down very well.
I actually had a “Boys Don’t Cry” t-shirt which I sent her to make up for this (I’d gone off The Cure myself anyway), which she did like, but it was becoming clear that from now on, we were really just friends.
At around the same time that I’d met Claire, I’d applied to an ad in the lonely hearts’ section of the NME written by “two bookish indie girls” seeking friends. I got a letter back from one of them, by chance, also called Claire. I think I told her that actually, I’d just met someone after all, but we did continue as penpals. We got to meet up. Typically, I preferred this Claire’s friend, Carolyn, who I also met, but I never got to write to her.
Anyway, the Stone Roses’ big gig at Spike Island was coming up. I’d missed Blackpool, I’d missed Ally Pally, so no way was I going to miss this. I got two tickets, and hoped that Claire from Tunbridge Wells would come with me. Unfortunately, she wasn’t up for it, so the other Claire came with me instead.
This Claire, from Essex, was not really a big Stone Roses fan. She was more into indiepop, and obscure stuff like bands on the Sarah label. She stayed at mine the night before the gig and we weren’t getting on that well. We went to Spike Island by coach, but although we weren’t really getting on, as we walked into the arena, I decided I should hold Claire’s hand, and although we didn’t say much, we tried to enjoy ourselves.
It was a beautifully hot, sunny day. There was a general feeling of excitement in the air. One of the bands we all knew and loved had made it big. I heard the Charlatans “The Only One I Know” over the speakers for the first time – wow, what a tune, I remember thinking.
Claire and I camped out near the back. And we really didn’t have much to say to each other. So we just kissed instead. And kissed. And kissed. We literally did practically nothing else. God knows what people around us must have thought. We’d stop for a bit, have nothing to say, so just keep on kissing. We went to get food, had the food, then more of the same. I think I was thinking that maybe we should go somewhere to have sex, but I didn’t have the guts to suggest it. Would have been a cool place to lose my virginity though.
It was a slightly odd gig as there were no support bands, just DJs playing mostly fairly obscure stuff, so it was a long build up to the main event. Finally, The Stone Roses did come on. I don’t actually have that much of a recollection of their performance. Even though they were masters at making gigs real events, they were never that well known for producing a fantastic live sound, which I know sounds odd.
I remember the journey home, and more kissing. We touched each other over our clothes until I finally came. Eugh. I know,
I had done one issue of a music fanzine, which was mostly based around the Wedding Present, called Not Ukrainian. Essex Claire helped a bit with this, although it was more dedicated to Claire from Tunbridge Wells. I’d done an interview with David Gedge of Wedding Present, and also one with Birmingham band, Birdland. I had a competition to win tickets to see the Happy Mondays at G-Mex, but as no-one entered the competition, I ended up going with my brother (where I got mugged for a spare ticket I had). The next issue was to feature an interview with Tom Hingley of the Inspiral Carpets, and possibly a feature on Carter USM, but it never happened.
By the time it got to around March or April of 1990, I was starting to have a really hard time at school and I was really depressed. There was nothing for it, but for me to leave school. I spent a fair bit of time basically just locked up in my bedroom, not knowing what to do.
Finally, I made the decision that I would go back to school the following year, and I would still study English and Philosophy, but instead of History, I changed to Art. And also, I would be in the year below.
Starting school in the year below was a complete revelation to me. These people were actually friendly! It’s almost as if I’d forgotten that such people could exist in school. The kids in this year were a pretty brainy bunch and worked hard, but they had a lot of time for having fun and just enjoying themselves. I was taken under their wings and quickly adopted as one of them. I was so relieved, but also, truly thankful.
I was still a bit worried about whether I’d be able to write essays. The first time I was set an essay by Mr Archer, I went down to the local playing fields, Newbridge Fields, and sat on a swing, listening to one of my favourite albums, The Comforts of Madness by The Pale Saints.
When I got home, I started to write the essay, and it came to me relatively easily. I was quite pleased with the final result. I got a good mark, and Mr Archer showed my essay and another of the class’s essays to everyone else (I think the other person’s essay might actually have been his daughter, Becky’s, who had just moved from Bryntirion school).
So generally, things went far better for the rest of the time I did my A Levels. I really enjoyed Art, so it was definitely the right thing for me to have changed subjects. My new best friend was Andrew, whose surname was Hider, so I mostly called him Spide, Spider obviously rhyming with Hider. Andrew lived on the Brackla housing estate and was best friends with a guy called Matthew, who lived near to him, but went to a different school. The two of them were both massively into hip hop and skateboarding, although Spide also liked indie music, Matthew to a lesser extent.
There were two people in this year who I’d known since Oldcastle, Julian and Becca. I’d always fancied Becca a bit. I knew where she lived, and one time, I knocked on her door and asked her out, and we went to Cardiff shopping together. But we were always only friends. In fact, I set her up with someone else I was friendly with, Matthew Clubb, who was in the year above me. Matthew was the head boy at one stage, was the deputy headmaster’s son, and something of an intellectual, but still, quite a good laugh. He introduced me to Stephen Fry’s “Saturday Night Fry” radio show.
Becca had a best friend called Helen who were rarely seen apart. Helen used to refer to me as “pratt”. I think that was the unsophisticated term. They’d walk past me, and she’d jokingly say, “Oh look, there’s pratt!”
Well somehow, Helen and I ended up going out together. She’d had a house party and had shagged Matthew Clubb’s younger brother, in a tent in her back garden I think. I was very jealous of this, and realised it must be because I had quite strong feelings for her.We had been hanging out together quite a bit. Not long after the party, I was round her house one time, and just tried kissing her on the stairs. She was a bit taken aback, but then I explained my feelings and we eventually became a couple.
I finally lost my virginity with Helen on a sofa at Becca’s house. Becca was upstairs with Andrew who she was now going out with. It was very brief, but at last it had happened. The only bad thing was, I think Helen cried. But she said it wasn’t because of me, it was because of things that had happened to her in her past. It was all a bit emotional.
Fortunately, things got better after that and Helen became my girlfriend. I started calling her H, and she would call me N. We’d meet up with friends in the King’s Head, or get drunk on…………………. We had slightly different tastes in music – Helen liked bands like the Ozric Tentacles and The Levellers, but we did both like dance acts like The Orb.
I didn’t do much for my 18th birthday, but I did have quite a big party for my 19th instead. My mum and dad went out, and I don’t think my brothers were around either. Instead, loads of people I knew came to our house, as well as a few people I didn’t know. Word must have got around somehow. A friend called Neil and I had gone mushroom picking a few days before, and we made a big mushroom tea. A load of druggies were in my mum’s conservatory, doing bongs and drinking the mushroom tea.
Just before I’d started back in school, there was one day in the summer holidays when two very attractive girls were doing some drawing outside our house. One of these was a girl called Rachel Jenkins who my art teacher had told me (to my amazement) wanted to hook up with me. So I’d had a brief thing with her kind of just before Helen. Anyway, she was there at the party.
I think Helen might have cheated with me at this party with this bloke she knew from near to her in the Valleys, so that wasn’t great.
A had a friend who was 6,7” called Max and he somehow managed to walk through the glass door that led into the kitchen. There was a crashing sound of course and this made all the druggies in the conservatory think the police had turned up, so they left. This was fortunate as I didn’t know how I was going to get them to leave otherwise. A girl called Ruth and her boyfriend Dan, who was usually known as Jesus due to his long flowing locks helped clear up the shattered glass. Things died down soon after this.
Inevitably, when my mum got back to the house the next day, she hit the roof when she saw the smashed door. She threw me and Neil, who’d stayed over, out of the house, and we went into town and stopped off in a cafe for a bit, waiting for my mum to calm down.
Helen did cheat on me a few times, but I usually forgave her. I didn’t really want things to end with her after all, and at least she was honest and usually quite apologetic. There was one time she was quite brazen about her activities. We’d gone to see the Swansea band, The Sweetest Ache, in a small venue, somewhere in the Valleys. She had gone to ask the manager for a light, and they were just chatting and chatting and chatting, while I was sat fuming with Julian and Max. I think I eventually went to get her, but by this time, they’d swapped phone numbers. I was absolutely livid. I had by this time become a Cardiff City supporter, and it was almost like this spurred me all the more to hate all things Swansea!
The journey back home was not an easy one, with my still very angry and not wanting to talk. Helen insisted I drop off Julian and Max home first before taking her back. We had a regular spot near to her house in Llangeinor that we would go to for a kiss and a cuddle and to watch the stars. I didn’t really want to go this time, but she insisted. It was here, tonight, for some reason, that she decided that this was the right time to tell me about how her dad had molested her as a child, which was obviously quite shocking. Even though I had been angry with her about what had happened earlier in the evening, this brought us closer together again.
Helen had regularly gone on summer holidays to Scotland with her parents, so we decided we’d also go to Scotland on a camping trip. Helen, who was keen on cars, drove in her ancient old brown Austin Allegro, known as Rustin Aggro. It couldn’t go more than about 50mph, so it took quite some time to get to Scotland! We went to Scotland twice, and both times were quite good fun. I remember us driving around the Highlands, listening to The Orb in the car and thinking, this is the life.
So I managed to finish my A Levels, and came away with two Bs and a C, the C being in Philosophy which I was a bit disappointed at as I thought that was the subject I’d most likely get an A in. Still, not bad, all things considering. Unfortunately, it was around this time that I began to lose my marbles for the first time.
I had started to become a bit of a drug user. We all smoked a bit of weed, and it was nothing too serious. We did sometimes do bongs, sometimes at the nearby Prisoner of War camp, which was a bit heavier – well, a lot heavier, didn’t really do me much good at all. I also sometimes smoked weed in my friend Will’s garage, where he also had a pool table.
But at Glastonbury in 1992, I took acid for the first time. At Glastonbury in those days you could hardly walk five yards without someone offering you drugs. Not sure what it’s like now as I’ve not been since 1999. Anyway, I bought an acid tab for five pounds, and Helen and I did half each. It took a while for the effect to take a hold. I think I’d gone off on my own to see the end of a set, maybe by the Chemical Brothers. By the time I started walking back, the effects were starting to take a hold, my perception was distorted, and things were generally just a bit odd.
When I got back to the tent, Helen was sat around a fire. As I looked at the fire, I started seeing people dancing in it. There were some guys who told us what else we could expect on acid. I went to go into the tent, and thought there was someone in it, when there wasn’t. Eventually, the two of us just went to bed.
Helen seemed to be enjoying herself, but I felt very uneasy. If I closed my eyes, I could mostly just see cartoons. But then I started having some weird thoughts about God and stuff. And then for a moment, I thought I might die. As a matter of urgency, I thought Helen had to say she loved me, otherwise I was going to die. I asked her, “Helen, do you love me?” “Yes of course I do,” she said, thankfully.
When I got back to Bridgend, for the next couple of weeks, things generally started getting a bit weird. I started having thoughts about angels, and other unusual thoughts. I thought I was onto something, but I didn’t know what it was.
It was Will’s birthday on August 11th and the night before, we were at the house of his friend Rob (who has now sadly passed away). We had a couple of bongs. Will and I had to walk back across the Brynteg school playing fields to get home. I was finally home and got into bed, feeling pretty stoned.
But then a very weird thing happened. I suddenly thought I heard God talking to me. I heard a voice that simply said, “Name your God.” I wasn’t really scared by this, if anything I actually remember finding it quite funny, that God should be talking to me. Obviously, I’d studied about God in Philosophy, but always from the point of view of being an atheist. Now, it seemed, I was being spoken to by something I previously hadn’t believed in. And that was the thing, I had little doubt that this was actually God talking. I went through other possibilities, like it was a Government scheme, an MI5 thing or something, that it was just my stoned imagination, etc. etc. But I eliminated all other possibilities and was convinced this was the real deal.
So then I thought about what my answer to the question would be. I looked around my room, in the dark, and saw all the posters for my favourite pop stars, etc. I thought God wouldn’t really be very impressed if I named someone from a band. I thought possibly of Stephen Fry, who I did admire as a funny guy. But then I saw a photo I had of Woody Allen. I decided, after spending a good while considering other options, that I should give the name Woody Allen. After all, don’t they say laughter is the best medicine? Isn’t humour one of the best things to alleviate pain? And Woody Allen’s films were amongst my favourites. So that’s the answer I gave.
Then I thought, well, while you’re here, God, could I ask a couple of other things. Like, who would I marry – would I marry Claire? (even though I was going out with Helen, I was still pretty hung up on Claire from Tunbridge Wells). By this stage, God now seemed very distant, but I felt like I got the message back that marrying Claire would prove problematic.
I cannot confirm that I also said, well, I tell you what, if you’re God, how about forming a band featuring an Inspiral Carpets’ roadie? I seem to remember thinking in my stoned state that it was just such a silly thing, but that if it happened, that would prove His existence. But…I might not have done that. After all, if I hadn’t said that, I might just say I’d said it anyway, mightn’t I?
Anyway, at around about the same time that I heard God, I also heard a banging noise from next door, or maybe something like a ball being kicked around or something. Which was very odd, as our elderly neighbours were supposed to be away. I decided I wasn’t going to tell anyone immediately about the God thing, but I did think I’d better get my dad up in case there were burglars next door or something.
So I woke my dad up, and we went out into the street to see if we could see anything. There may have been a light on next door, I’m not sure, but my dad decided there was no cause for alarm, and we should go back to bed and get some sleep.
The next day was a strange one. I woke up, remembering what had happened and wondered what on Earth it could all mean. Due to the way I’d been behaving in recent weeks, it was possible I was on the verge of some sort of psychotic breakdown, and my dad (who was a psychologist himself) must have spoken to a psychiatrist friend of his who had a tablet for me to take. Not sure what it was.
That evening, my friends Andrew and Matthew came round. I just kept repeating “Woody Allen’s God! Woody Allen’s God!” to them. Obviously, they thought I was barking mad.
And then something even stranger, at least to me, happened the very next day. Woody Allen was suddenly all over the TV news. It was not for a good reason, however, but because the news was emerging that he was having an affair with his adopted daughter. The actual content of the story meant little to me though. The fact that Woody Allen was on the news, which was not a normal occurrence by any stretch, was a signifier of some kind to me that events from a couple of days previous were real. I didn’t know what it meant, but here, in some sense, was my “proof”.
The problem was, this still did not tell me how I was supposed to continue with my own life. Helen had gone away for a week with the Quakers. My thoughts turned to Claire, who I was still in touch with. I was quite a regular hitch-hiker when I was younger, and it was still the done thing to do. I decided I was going to hitch down to see Claire in Tunbridge Wells.
I was picked up not too far from the motorway by a guy in a bright yellow Mercedes. He was going to visit his girlfriend and he took me all the way as far as Kent. On the way, we’d stopped at one point, and I’d spilt coke (the drinking kind) on his gear stick, but fortunately, I don’t think it caused any real damage. Anyway, I travelled the last part of the journey on the train with what little money I had.
Claire had recently moved to a new flat with her new boyfriend. I hadn’t told her I was coming, so of course, she was surprised to see me. I think it was actually her sister who answered the door to me. It was a very awkward situation, with her boyfriend being there as well. Jacqui, Claire’s sister, was at least being polite to me. Claire did not say much to me at all.
A couple of years previously, Claire had done some work experience for Sony Records, and while she was there, had sent me two records by two Liverpool bands signed to Sony, The Real People and Rain. I never really liked Rain, but I did get quite into The Real People. On the wall of Claire’s room was a huge canvas with the cover of the Rain album. It looked as if it had been hand-painted, presumably by Claire herself.
Anyway, eventually, Claire’s boyfriend suggested the two of us should go for a walk. We talked a little about life. He was a bit of a philosopher himself. He said we could go one way, I said we could go the other. We were sort of talking philosophically about how differently our lives could go. But it was all bollocks, I know really. I should not have been there at all, it was a big mistake.
When I got back, it was suggested I have lie down in another room for a while. I was given a book of Claire’s boyfriend’s poetry, which was actually very good (I think I decided at that point that I should try writing poetry myself). Then at some point, my dad turned up. They must have rung him. Not quite sure where the hours had gone. Maybe I’d actually fallen asleep. So my dad took me home. When we got back, my dad told me very sternly that I should never contact Claire again.
I had to go into a mental hospital, which was pretty horrible. Got put on more pills. It was a horrible old place, closed down now. Some pretty ill people. I didn’t really know how things had come to this. Maybe it was the drugs, or my unsettled childhood. Maybe I actually had a condition, who knows? Whatever it was, something that initially seemed to be something I hoped would be transitory, being mentally troubled, would be the blight of my life henceforth.