Nick’s Autobiog Part 3 (30s and Square)

21 Mar

I was fairly positive about the new millennium. With Blair in power, people were generally more liberal. I was hopeful that into the new century things like racism, which I’ve always deplored, would simply become a thing of the past. I got that a bit wrong, as instead, we had the Iraq war, and a lot of people starting to be quite anti-immigration, and if anything, racism reared its ugly head again.

I had another hospital admission in 2000. I had done some bar work while in Bridgend, but I wasn’t having a very good time. I didn’t like the meds I was on, so came off them again. This time, I was finally put on Depakote and Quitiapine, which seemed to suit me quite well – I felt pretty normal and there were only minimal side effects. That’s what I’ve stayed on now mostly for the last twenty years.

I was starting to get quite into the poetry scene. In 1999 I had put out my first self-published book called Futurist, which I priced at £5.01. It was a very stylised book. I was trying to write in some kind of post-post-modern way. I tried to also get some humour into it. It featured a “Free Pull Out Poster of The Holy Ghost” (a blank piece of paper). I don’t think the poems were really very good. Peter Finch was to say of it “not really very futurist”.

I wrote a few more poems while in hospital, and along with a couple of other poems I’d written within the last year or so, I compiled these into a little book called “Pure Diamonds”. I would go to Chapter, where I met and watched other poets like Topher Mills, Ifor Thomas, Chris Brooke, Lloyd Robson and Kerry-Lee Powell. I went to Seren nights. Seren was actually run by my former English teacher, Mr Archer at that time, and the events were hosted by Amy Wack.

I went to a writers’ group that Topher ran. I met some other poets like Sasha and some other people whose names I don’t recall. The group was good for helping out with inspiration for poems. I remember the group meeting on the day of 9/11, which I had seen on TV earlier that day with my mum, and wondered what on Earth it could all mean.

 “Pure Diamonds” was followed by “Rushin on Diamonds” which was followed by “Diamonds and Dragons” before finally, in 2004, a compilation called “Daimunz R 4E4”. I had a launch event which I titled “An Evening of Contemporary Comedic Poetry”. I actually got permission from the singer of Spacemen 3, Sonic Boom, whose email address I’d got hold of somehow, to use the music from their flexidisc “An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music” as background music. I think it was held on 04/04/04 and I probably charged £4 entry. John Brookes, a fantastic Cardiff poet who I’d recently discovered also read at it, along with a few other people and it was quite a good fun event.

This last book featured a picture of an old style mobile phone on the cover, with the words and my name on the screen of the phone, as if in a text message. I started my own poetry website, (some of it is now on and put some of my poems on this.

The turn of the new century did of course see both mobile phones and the internet really taking off. Everyone was starting to get phones, and everyone started to have email addresses. In the early days of the internet, I think people felt the need to be a bit secretive while online, and people tended to use whacky pseudonyms etc. I was looking around deciding which email provider I should go with. I initially thought I should have some kind of whacky email address, and I think I had searched along the lines of “Out of this world” or “Interplanetary” or something. I was somehow directed to a provider called that allowed for an enormous array of @addresses. One of them was simply, This seemed to be the most obvious, and I thought, well, if I’m going to let people know it’s me, I might as well register . For some reason, if you put into a search engine, you don’t get directed to so you can’t register an address that way. So people always wonder how the hell I’ve got an address. Anyway, increasingly, people seemed to veer away from using pseudonyms, and were getting email addresses using their own names, but with the more common or etc. tags.

The first popular social media website was friendsreunited. At last, it seemed, the thing people had been waiting for, a means to contact that long lost girlfriend who you didn’t have any other way of contacting! I contacted Kirsty, who just said something grumpy like “we’ve all moved on Nick” (erm, as if I hadn’t?!) and that didn’t go very well. Inevitably, I tried to contact Claire, and drew a blank there. I did make one or two successful contacts I think. I managed to find Mani of the Stone Roses which was exciting for a brief time. One Valentine’s Day, I got an incredibly heart-rending message on friendsreunited from an anonymous sender. It went along the lines of “Oh Nicholas, I am married now, but you will always have a special place in my heart, love, etc” I mean, there was bit more to it than that, but I can’t quite recall it. I think there might have been one or two pointers as to who it might be.

Inevitably, I wondered who this could be from. I wondered if it could possibly be Claire, though it seemed unlikely. There weren’t many other people I could think of! I think I probably ruled out Helen. It could possibly be a girl called Kathryn who had lived in Porthcawl who I went out with very briefly. Maybe it was Rachel Jenkins? Well, anyway, I think I was able to reply to the message, but I had no access to the sender. Foolishly, I think I might have jumped to the unlikely conclusion that it was Claire, and asked if it was her in my initial message. Sadly, this might have put the sender off, and they never did write back to confirm who they were. I did consider it was possibly someone playing a mean trick, but I think I again ruled out this possibility for some reason. I tried to contact friendsreunited to ask if they could let me know who it was, but they told me they had to respect the sender’s privacy. I mean, this was really important to me, and I was very angry with them for not letting me know.

Somehow, whether it was through friendsreunited or whatever, I did discover that Claire had got married. Pretty tragic I know that I was still thinking about Claire, but I’d been mostly single for quite a long time, and really, she had meant a hell of a lot to me when I was young. Anyway, I discovered her new married name, and I also managed to get an address for her. I might have even paid money to find her address, which is going into stalking territory, I realise that of course. I decided I should go to this address, but it seemed that if I did have what might have once been the correct address, Claire had moved again. Well I somehow found her correct current address.

It would be coming up to Claire’s 30th birthday, and I decided I wanted to drop a present off for her. I travelled down to an address, somewhere near Bournemouth I think it was, with a copy of the 12” of the record I’d got made, featuring the words, borrowed from the Stone Roses song, “I’m standing here and I’m in heaven when you smile”. It was stamped with the word Truth which was the name I would have used if I’d got the label going (it sounded a bit like Claire’s old surname, and I’d always thought we could run the label together). I also took a card and a rose – the rose I hadn’t been able to give her all those years ago as a teenager.

There had been quite a heavy snowfall, and it was quite a cold day. I got off the train, and boarded a bus that took me to the address. I knocked on the door, and did not get the reaction I’d hoped for. Claire answered, although she looked quite a lot different to how I remembered. She straight away remembered me though, and she looked in complete shock, she almost looked scared. Before I could get two words out though, she slammed the door in my face and that was that.

 I really did not realise just how badly affected she must have been by things that had happened in the past. I’m not sure exactly what specific things I’d said or done that must have made her feel this way. I don’t remember my behaviour being that bad the time I’d hitched down to see her. Maybe the fact that I hadn’t simply let things lie and let her be, instead continuing to pursue her (although I did stop writing to her back when I was about nineteen as my dad had said – I think I’d written just one or two more letters). Anyway, I left the things on the doorstep, and just got a bus back to the station.

I had a phone call from the police, and I explained that I meant no harm, I just wanted to wish her a happy birthday and that I was now going home. The policeman I spoke to seemed okay with this. I also at some point got an angry call from Claire’s husband. He wondered if I just wanted “closure”. I suppose basically he was right, that was what I wanted, although ideally, I think I’d actually hoped, as adults, we could be friends. I asked if she would just speak to me but she wouldn’t. If I could just know what she thought of “The Second Coming” that would be something!

I think if you don’t manage to get a new partner, you can tend to put too much focus on people you’ve been involved with where things don’t work out. People say there are plenty more fish in the sea, but it seems difficult to find the right type of fish. Fortunately, I would eventually find the love of my life (more of her later), and I can say to anyone struggling to find love, hang on in there. Genuinely, you never know when it might just come along!

I was now living back in Cardiff with my mum and dad and had a job as a shop assistant in the local Spar. I stuck this out for about 8 months before getting a job through an agency with the AA. I was to be a debt collector. I’m not sure if the role necessarily sat comfortably with me, but after a couple of months of training, I was able to do the job to a reasonable standard, so I stuck it out. The team were mostly quite friendly. The assistant manager, Ceri and I hit it off from day one as we were both City fans. Ceri asked me if I was part of the Soul Crew, and I joked that I was in the sad crew which made her laugh.

I moved into a shared house down the road from my mum and dad’s in the Bay, along with a friend of my friend Nigel’s called Mark, although he was known as Jack because he was a Swansea fan. In time, Jack started going out with Nigel’s sister, Rachel, who I had also had a very brief thing with about a year before. I really had no problem with it at all though. In fact, they eventually got married, and I was quite happy for them. It was quite funny that a Swansea fan was marrying the sister of a diehard Bluebird!

I went to a few weddings around this time. Previously, I’d gone to Nigel’s wedding. He’d got me to write a poem for the wedding. It was not really my greatest work, but I was put under immense pressure as Nigel’s best man did not have any kind of speech. He just said something like, “Um, I’m not really a man of words, so instead, here’s Nick with his poem”! So instead of there being a best man’s speech, a highlight of most weddings of course, here was I having to read my poem in place of it! Well, it went ok I suppose, but I would have preferred not to have been placed in this spot.

My older brother had got married, my younger brother was getting married. I went to Ceri from work’s wedding (which was a grand affair in Caerphilly castle, for which I bought a posh suit and a nice Welsh tartan tie). I had cousins who got married, one of whom had two ceremonies for the one marriage, one in the UK, which I didn’t go to, and one in Majorca, which I did. My friends, Paul Veck, Stu and Paul Bartlett all got married. It seemed like everyone was getting married, except me who didn’t even have a girlfriend! It was quite ironic in a way. I remember being in the Clubbs’ garden one day with a couple of people, probably Paul Veck and Stu and a couple of others, maybe around the time that we were leaving school. I think one of them said something like “What do you want to do when you’re older?” and I just said, “I’d like to get married.” They all laughed saying they didn’t even want to have girlfriends, just one night stands and stuff. Most of them are married with kids now!

After I’d been working at the AA for about a year and a half, a young girl called Claire started working on our team. I know, yet another Claire. The funny thing was, I don’t think I can recall knowing a single Claire who went to my school. Not even a Clare. Obviously, a Clare was not the same as a Claire.

This Claire was probably far too young for me, and not necessarily my type, not being into my type of music, etc. but God, was she sexy. She had a great figure, was very pretty, and blonde. I did seem to have developed a bit of a thing for blondes over the years. Anyway, we did get on quite well, and once or twice, we went to lunch together.

There were other women I liked in work. There was a girl called Carly, who again was probably too young, but who was also a bit of a stunner with beautiful long black hair. I probably always thought something would happen with me and a girl called Kelly, who’d started at about the same time as me, but she just wasn’t interested. I wondered if she might have fancied our boss. Maybe I should not have imagined getting it on with someone from work at all. Some people say it’s not a good idea, although, of course, it happens all the time. Quite sadly, Louise who was on my department broke up with her husband who also worked at the AA after he started having an affair with someone else at the AA who was much younger than Louise. I think Louise is now remarried, so good for her.

After I’d been at the AA for a couple of years, can’t quite remember why, but I decided I’d like to try and learn Welsh. I started doing an evening course in Cardiff Uni. It was three nights a week, starting at 7pm. The only snag with this though was that I was usually working 12-8pm (which suited me better as, especially with my meds, I struggled to get up early in the morning). So anyway, to get around this problem, I had to change my hours from 9-5pm. I thought the only way I was going to be able to start getting up at 8am was if I stopped taking my meds, so I did that.

Well, surprise, surprise, problems started happening. I started going off the wall again. Things got a bit weird with Claire in work. I suspected one of my Welsh teachers was sleeping with one of the students. There were just funny things happening, and things were not going well for me.

Over the previous year or two, I’d moved out of the flat with Jack, and instead had moved into a couple of shared houses with a guy from work called George. George was a bit older than me. He was a bit of a loudmouth. He did have a sense of humour, but he also had mild OCD I think. He was also a BNP supporter, which I was completely appalled at. I knew one or two BNP supporters at this time, and I wondered what the hell was going on with these people. I once logged on to a PC in my lunch break to find the last person on it had accessed the BNP website. I reported this to my boss, but I don’t think they took this very seriously.

Well eventually, I stopped living with George, and found a place myself on Harold Street, off Broadway. There was a young lad there who was a builder who was a big Chelsea fan. Sometimes we’d watch the football together. But I could not believe it when he told me he supported the BNP as well. It was like going from the frying pan into the fire. It turned out this bloke was also a violent criminal. He would come back from nights out telling me he had just beaten somebody half to death. It began to get quite frightening living in the house, and eventually, having not found anywhere else to live, I moved back in with my mum and dad, intending this to be a temporary solution (within a few months, the guy at the last house was locked up for aggravated burglary).

I did not find it especially easy living with my parents again. But worse than this, as mentioned, things were not going very well at work. I think I thought one of the assistant managers was having an affair with Claire on my department. I had probably got this completely wrong, and it was just a delusion, triggered from having come off my meds. Who knows, maybe I was right? But anyway, one day, as it happens when both my boss and the other assistant manager, Ceri, were not working, I turned to this guy and quite loudly called him a cunt, so many of the people in the call centre around us could hear.

The word cunt these days is in pretty common usage, but back in the early 2000s, I’m sure it was a much more taboo word. These days, the word cunt is probably used as much as the word twat, if anything, it might be used more, both as an expression of someone or something very bad, but also it’s now sometimes used in a jovial way. But like I say, back then, it was more shocking to call someone a cunt, I’m sure.

As soon as I said it, I knew I’d be in trouble. I tried to carry on working, as if nothing much had happened. But within about half an hour, I was spoken to, I think by the floor manager, and I think I was asked to leave the building.

As it happens, the AA had offered us the opportunity of taking redundancy. I’d been there for no more than about three years, so I wouldn’t get much of a pay out, but really, I was glad for the chance to get away from call centre work, so I’d accepted the redundancy. I was only due to work for about another six weeks or so before I would be made redundant. If I was sacked before this, I stood to lose about £3500, so it really was a pretty stupid thing for me to do, to put the chance of me getting the redundancy payment in jeopardy.

Fortunately, at a disciplinary hearing, where I was able to explain that my mental health had deteriorated recently, and where they did say I had been a good worker for the last few years, it was decided that I would not be allowed back to work, but instead I would be put on “gardening leave” for the last month of my employment, and they were still going to let me receive the redundancy payment. Well, that was a relief. I still went to the staff leaving do, but unsurprisingly, it was all a bit awkward, with people not knowing what to say to me. It had become a bit of a pattern to my life, me getting “ill”, resulting in some pretty extraordinary occurrences and then some general bad feeling with people I had previously regarded as great friends. At least Ceri was nice, saying she thought that if she’d worked the day I called the bloke a cunt, it wouldn’t have happened, but to be honest, whether or not that was the case, it was probably inevitable that the shit was going to hit the fan in some sense.

The wise thing for me to do having left the AA I suppose would be to go straight back on the meds. Whenever I’ve stopped taking medication though, I always find myself reluctant to go back on it though, irrespective of the weird things that seem to start happening, the weird thoughts I start to have or the general feeling of unease. It’s almost like I want to keep riding the ship until it smashes against the rocks.

I think I even started imagining my dad was having an affair with my younger brother Ade’s wife. My poor dad, I don’t know how he puts up with me. Anyway, I think I had decided I was going to drive to Bridgend to confront Ade’s wife about this. Instead, on the way, I parked up somewhere, and just got out and started walking. I was near a wooded area, somewhere near Ely in Cardiff. I just kept walking and walking. It started to get dark and I was a bit lost. At one point, I think I lay down somewhere, and started having these sort of visions again. I think I imagined the cricketer, Freddie Flintoff, as the king of England. Eventually, I carried on walking again. At one point, I somehow fell into a heap of cow shit!

I had got back onto a road, where there were a few houses, and I decided I’d better knock on someone’s door to ask if I could use their phone to call for help or something. They must have looked at me, covered in cow shit, and wondered what the fuck?! I don’t think they were very polite towards me, and I continued walking. I think they had however called the police as within about half an hour, a police car pulled up and one of them began to question me. He asked me who I was and I said, “I’m..I’m..I’m Freddie Flintoff!” I think the policeman doubted if that was the case, and he asked to see my ID. I showed him my driving license. Well, I think it was then decided that I should be taken to a place not unfamiliar to me, Whitchurch Hospital.

The nurses were all very kind to me, and got me cleaned up. I was quite badly ill initially. I think I imagined people were watching the Nick TV channel which was a channel that just documented my life which was of course entirely a fiction I had created in my mind.

I did meet some nice people on the ward this time. I’d been admitted just before Valentine’s Day I think. I think it was on Valentine’s Day itself that I got off with a girl called Lisa in the smoking room. We had a bit of a thing for a bit. I did get very frisky on the ward this time. I shagged three or four of the other patients! There was a girl called Sabrina who was quite dirty, but also quite mad. Another woman called Vicky. An older woman called Sue was admitted. She was quite badly psychotic initially, but she did calm down and we became friends.

When I got out of hospital, Sue and I continued or friendship. I think I hoped we might get into a relationship, but Sue only really wanted a friendship. We did eventually have sex, but I said something like “I don’t think I fancy you” after we’d had sex, which naturally Sue was not impressed by and things immediately turned sour.

One problem for me when I was to come out of hospital was that I really did not want to move back in with my mum and dad. I didn’t know where I was going to live. Eventually, my parents decided they would buy me a flat. They had always supported me, but this just seemed like too much. I sought advice from friends, including my friend Archie who I’d started going to the football with. Archie was a lot older, and perhaps wiser than me, and he said I should accept my parents’ very generous offer.

So eventually, I did accept their offer and I moved into a very nice, recently converted flat on Richmond Road, between Roath and Cathays. I was reluctant to start work again as it just seemed to me that my mental health issues were just always going to get in the way. I decided I would go on to sickness benefits. I went on to ESA, and also applied for DLA which I got on appeal. I got housing benefit which meant I could at least pay my mum rent. I still thought I would struggle to manage and pay bills, and my dad even kindly said he would help with this.

It always takes me a while to settle back into normal life after what is usually around three months of being in hospital. But once I’d done that this time, I did get part-time work. I think after my funny ideas about Freddie Flintoff, I thought I could work at Glamorgan Cricket club. They had recently built a new stadium, and I got a part-time job there as a catering assistant. The staff were all quite friendly. My mental health was still not 100% but I just about managed. I think I’d been taken off Quitiapine for some reason and put on something else which did not agree with me, but fortunately I was then put back on Quitiapine.

Because of the new stadium, Glamorgan hosted the first Ashes test that was coming up. I went to the first and last day of the Ashes held in Cardiff which England (and Wales) dramatically managed to draw. I also decided to go to The Oval for the last day of the final Test. I was not able to get a ticket, but I managed to sneak into a nearby house where they were holding a watching party on the rooftop. This was the Test in which Flintoff won man of the match and England (and Wales) won to win the series.

I started to go to a new writers’ group, The Square Writers’ Circle, which was run by Chris Brooke from his address on Adamsdown Square. Here I met people like David Foster-Morgan, Paul Yoward, John Davies (also known as John Mouse, who I’d met before in Rohan’s studio), Shelagh Middlehurst and Andrew Shakespeare (great name!). This was a good fun, quite creative group. Chris had his first book of poetry published at this time called “& The Concept Of Zero”.

At some point, I was invited to be part of a team representing Wales to take place in a tri-nations poetry slam in Bristol, featuring Chris Brooke, John Davies, me and one other. We did not have an especially strong team, and most of our poems were not really slam-style poems, but I think we did still manage to come second if I recall correctly, beating the English into third. I think I actually managed to be the highest scorer of the Wales team. The slam format was great though, and I attended the event, held once a year as part of the Bristol Poetry Festival, a few more times as a member of the audience in subsequent years and saw some really top quality slam poets.

At the third time of asking, I made it to the final of the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry, which was organised by Academi (now Literature Wales). I had three quite strong poems, and thought I had a reasonable chance of winning. I’ve never been very good at learning my poems, but I thought for this event, it would be best to try and learn them by heart. I rehearsed them quite a few times, and knew them pretty well, but really not well enough to be sure I could do them without making mistakes. But anyway, I made the fatal mistake of not even taking the poems on stage with me as back up. I began to read my first poem, and after the first verse, my mind went blank. There was nothing I could do but run to the table I was sat at, grab the poems, and return to the stage. You had just five minutes to read and I was now not going to be able to complete all three poems. I just about got through two of them. It was a total disaster really, and another embarrassment. I may not have won as there was an excellent performance by Leeum Johnson, and one or two others. But I’ll never know if I might have fared better.

The Square Writers’ Circle decided it might be a good idea that we formed some kind of magazine to feature our work. John Brookes had quite recently stopped producing his Yellow Crane poetry magazine, based in Cardiff, so there was kind of a gap in the market. And so Square was formed.

The original intention was that a few of us would work on the magazine together, but as I had the most time on my hands, I basically took up the mantle of putting the magazine together. The first issue mostly featured writers from the group, but also one or two others, including Mab Jones, who was just starting to make a name for herself (at this stage, mostly doing comic verse based around her time growing up in Ely, an estate in Cardiff), and I even got permission to use a poem by the quite well known comic poet, John Hegley. The cover featured a photo I took myself of Adamsdown Square, the magazine was square in format and I did all the design work myself.

After the first issue, I managed to secure some funding from the Welsh Books Council which helped. I had launch events for each issue, which contributors who were able to make it to would read at. I would sell the magazine mostly at poetry events. It would still feature writers from the group, but I began to get contributions from around Wales, and also from further afield. Rhys Owain Williams, now a published poet, was one of the first contributors. Aisling Tempany, Ifor Thomas and Peter Finch also submitted poems, or I requested poems from them. I tended to have themes to each issue. The second issue had an art theme. The fourth issue, which I renamed “Cool” had a Stone Roses theme as it was the twentieth anniversary of their debut album, and I just didn’t think a magazine with content about the Stone Roses should be called “Square”!

I had been introduced to a female poet called Gemma June Howell by Chris. Gemma was quite a feisty poet but we were quite friendly at least initially and she agreed to help out with Issue six which predominantly featured work by women writers.

I decided at one point that it would be nice to put out a book under the Square banner by my favourite Cardiff poet, J Brookes. John settled on the name, The Dresden Cantata for the title of the book, named after one of the poems in the collection. He decided he’d quite like a painting by the Liverpool realist artist, Naive John as the cover, and fortunately, the artist was quite agreeable to us using his painting. I again got funding to cover printing costs for the book. I got a thousand made, as due to the printing process I’d elected to go for, it was far more economical to get more done. However disaster struck as I somehow managed to send them an image for the cover which featured a very slightly blurred version of the cover image. There were one or two other minor flaws.

Due to the fact that Naive John was a hyper-realist artist, I really didn’t think he’d be very impressed that the cover featured a slightly lower resolution version of the painting. I decided there was nothing for it but to get the books printed again, which effectively meant I might as well have not got the Books Council grant at all. So I got the new editions of the book back. To be honest, you could not really see that much difference, but it was done now.

We did one mini-launch in Liverpool, where we met Naive John who was a lovely guy and very kindly showed us around a couple of art galleries in Liverpool. Then we had the main launch in Cardiff. I had been to a launch Peter Finch had done in the Welsh Assembly building and thought it might be an idea to hold the launch there as I’d learned it was free to hire, you just needed the backing of an Assembly member. Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru AM (before she was the Plaid Cymru leader) and her team kindly agreed they would support the event, so everything was in place. It was free to hire, but we also ordered some bottles of wine which was a little on the pricey side. The event went ahead reasonably well. We did at least one more smaller launch in Pontypridd.

I quite quickly realised that selling poetry books is not easy though, however good the quality of the poetry is, and I still have many unsold copies of the book. So my first ever attempt at entering the world of book publishing was not altogether successful and I decided this might be the first and only time.

Towards the end of Square, although I still enjoyed putting the magazine together, I was starting to find selling the magazine an increasing burden. I suppose the internet by this stage was starting to take a hold, and print magazines in general were selling less. But in addition, poets are not generally known for having a lot of money. They are generally so focused on their own work that they do not very often dip into their pockets to buy books or magazines featuring other poets. I got to Issue ten and decided, after three years, I would call it a day. The last issue was a “Revolution” issue, and came with a free CD of some poets reading poems revolving around the theme. There were hints that the magazine might start up again at some point, but thus far, it hasn’t happened.

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