When I was little, we lived in a cottage surrounded by cooking apple trees. We had a huge garden and a swing. I had a next door neighbour and my sister to play with. The fact that it was on an American airbase didn’t encroach at all.
We’d go on outings to see Mum’s family in Aldeburgh and I would have ice cream and fish and chips with my Nanny. I would play with my friends there and go to the beach, paddle in the cold north sea and make stone castles (the beach at Aldeburgh is shingle) with seaweed banners.
Sweets were fun – I could have a bag full of bananas, shrimps, flying saucers, cola bottles and jelly beans for 10p that would last me all day. The comics were simple. Dennis the Menace and the Bash St Kids in the Beano and Dangerous Dan with his cow pies in the Dandy.
That all changed when I was eight.
The neighbours moved away. My parents started arguing. I would lie awake listening to the roar and rumble through the floorboards. I could never hear words, but I could feel the tone; the anger and bitterness came through clearly. My Nanny had died while I was still little and although we still went to Aldeburgh, my dad never came with us any more. My sister and I were left alone with Granddad a lot of the time while mum went to her friends and cousins.
Granddad went crazy after Nanny died. In a way it was a little like the Granddad I’d known died. I started calling him Sid like mum and he scared me. He’d come into the bathroom when I was taking a bath and touch me where I didn’t want him to. A bit later, when mum went out with her friends he’d take me and my sister to the park and while my sister was playing, he’d do things to me.
I refused to go to Aldeburgh, I didn’t want those things to happen. My parents got angry with me. I didn’t realise that it meant Dad would have to stay home with me and they couldn’t afford for him not to work the weekend. All I wanted was to stay where it was safe and with my dad. They forced me to go and it got worse.
It’s alright, I won’t go into details – your imagination is probably good enough to tell you what approximately happened.
When I was nine, Sid was caught exposing himself to my friends. It all came out and I had to go to a police station to tell them what was happening to me. I told the police almost everything; some things were just too scary for me to try and put into words. He was put on trial, They put him into a Mental Hospital as the verdict was that he was mentally unstable.
I thought things would get better and we’d be happy again as a family. For a while it seemed to happen. I went to middle school when I was ten. I found it difficult to mix with the other children and was bullied, by children I had gone to primary school with. I sought refuge in the library. Books were safe. The bullies didn’t go in there and I could read as much as I wanted to. I took to shadowing teachers to avoid being picked on in the corridors.
It didn’t work. They got me on the school bus instead and I was glad to get home. Just walking in through the gate of the airbase, seeing the guards with their guns made me feel safe again.
Not long after that we had to move – the airbase was demolishing the cottage and my apple trees, to make way for an office building.
We moved to a brand new council estate in Melton.
The house was huge compared with the cottage, but the garden was tiny and there was nowhere to play, except the front gardens and roads around the estate. I had to go back to Primary School, where I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was tall and thin, I had a basic knowledge of French, History and Geography; I read books that were more difficult than the ones that the kids in my new class read.
I eventually got some friends and by the time I had to go back up to middle school, I had relaxed. At Middle school I made best friends with a girl who was considered as weird as myself! Not that she was – she just had the same imagination and we were both considered different.
I’m not going to lay everything out in full detail, but the time I spent in Middle School and High School was some of the happiest in my life. And it was shattered when my Dad started sleeping on the couch.
Oh, he was up before I was and his bedding tidied away, but I wasn’t stupid, I could tell when someone had slept in a room and the front room always had that musty, sweaty smell that bedrooms have from being occupied overnight. To confirm my suspicions, one night, when everyone else was asleep, I went downstairs to get some water. I poked my head into the front room and there he was, snoring away on the couch. I went back upstairs and cried myself to sleep.
By this time, I was reading adult books – James Michener and Robert Heinlein from the school library; Steven King and James Herbert from the Town Library; Mills & Boon, Jilly Cooper and a number of bodice rippers at home… if it was left alone for longer than half an hour, I read it.
The contrast between my parent’s relationship and that of the characters I read about couldn’t be further apart. I had a couple of boyfriends while I was at school. My first I loved with all my heart, came on too strong and scared away. The second I liked more as a friend, but he was my first “real” boyfriend in all senses of the word.
When my parents divorced and my dad left the country, the memories of what had happened to me as an eight year old started to come back and I lost track of what I was doing. I still don’t remember a lot of those years and I’m not sure I want to…
Sex, Drink and Drugs – the things that shaped my teenage years… were balanced out by the influence of the teachers at school (notably my Form Tutor, my English Teacher, my DT Teachers and the Librarian) and I started at ATC, flirting with the idea of going into the RAF. That brought me completely out of being a teenager (despite the other Cadets still being teenagers) and I grew up. University beckoned.
University was wonderful. I made so many friends, drank minimally and found my soul-mate. He’s still here thankfully. The degree wasn’t what I thought it was, but I soldiered on. I passed the degree and for a little while life was fun again. The arrival of my son both added to the fun and made life more difficult. I was content, all I needed was to get married and live happily ever after.
I loved my soul-mate’s mother. She taught me much more about being a mother and a grown up than I ever had learned at home. Just as I felt grounded again, the floor dropped out from under me again.
My MIL (I referred to her as my mother in law, even though I was only engaged to her son.) had had Bowel Cancer for a while, but had been fighting it strongly and had even gone into remission a couple of times. After the birth of my son, she started to go downhill, still fighting it. Not long after his third birthday, she died.
That was when I began writing properly. I wrote out my pain, hiding it in words on paper, so I could be strong for my soul-mate and my son. When we got a decent computer, I found my calling, my Bliss (as Dharma calls it), the one thing that made me truly happy – writing. My daughter arrived and despite suffering post natal depression, I started a Post Graduate Course to train as a teacher.
Finishing the course set me adrift again. I had come to realise that life was a series of island events and where some people had bridges to cross, I only had a tiny life raft to get me from one island to another. I eventually found a school to take me on for my NQT year. The drawback? We would have to move to Cheltenham.
This wasn’t a massive thing. Moving is easier than commuting and my soul-mate would still be able to work while he was looking for a job closer to where we would be living. The heavens opened and the rain came down, flooding Gloucestershire and in one swipe, wiping out the rent affordable family houses we had been looking for, either through being flooded or through people having to leave their homes.
I was reduced to looking for a one bedroom flat or a shared house to live in while my family stayed in Wales.
The first six months were hard on me, but harder on my soul-mate. He almost had a nervous breakdown and told me that he didn’t want to move to Cheltenham, he wanted me to give up the job there and find something in Wales. We argued about it, but in the end I agreed to it and rejected the permanent job I was offered by the school – family was, is and always will be more important to me than work; I wanted my kids to have a happy home.
Life was difficult and the only job I could find closer to home was in Bristol. We made plans to move again, this time a little easier because his family lived there. Then he was made redundant….hah!
Sorry – allow me to qualify this…
He was offered redundancy over being fired for non-productivity. Why? Well, my soul-mate is Dyslexic. Words are difficult for him to handle and he took, on average, a half day longer than anyone else to write a report. This made him more expensive to the engineering consultancy he worked for and they wanted to get rid of him instead of helping him find ways to get around his Dyslexia.
Even though he was excellent at his job, understood what he was doing, could explain the complexities to clients, was a brilliant client manager and could do the practical aspect without any trouble; he would make silly mistakes in the reports and on the calculations. His Team Manager couldn’t understand why he was having the problems and gradually reduced his workload, stopped sending him for training and refused to give him any responsibility.
So between me being away and the hostility at work, he became depressed and ill. I do not hold myself responsible for this – it was his work environment that made his home life so difficult. This was why I gave up on the prospect of a full time permanent job.
He’d work three times as hard to do things that others found easy, he’d stay late to finish reports on time. He worked himself to the bone, often picking up the children from our childminders (a wonderful mother / daughter team who gave my children the stability they needed in a difficult time – I cannot rate them highly enough, I consider them part of our family and always will do.) so late that all he needed to do was tuck them into bed with a bedtime story.
When I came home for the summer holidays before starting my new job, he had been made redundant and we had to find him somewhere new to work. I started in Bristol, catching a lift with a colleague every morning. My soul-mate eventually found a job with the Environment Agency in Bridgwater, Somerset. So we shared the commute while trying to find somewhere to move to. The small amount of money from his redundancy had been taken up on bills while he searched for a job.
For an entire year, I looked for another job (this one was only temporary) and commuted to Bristol. At the same time I wrote my soul out. I got a few short stories published and began to think about a novel. The Easter after I started the job I got pregnant, argued with my soul-mate about a termination and eventually miscarried. Depression set in again.
This time it was easier to deal with. I had friends on-line who helped me come to terms with the loss. I couldn’t keep focussed so I didn’t manage to find a job and by the time my depression was under control (Christmas the next year) and I was ready to work again, I had such a poor sickness record that I couldn’t get one. I managed three interviews before the recession set in. Each rejection dropped me back down the depression well and I had to struggle to get out of it.
My writing was the one constant. I’m not saying that I haven’t had good times with my family. Every moment I spend with my family as a whole is cherished. I’m just saying that they have been few and far between so far!
The recession dropped my soul-mate into the unemployment market with me. We decided that he ought to try and find a career in something he would be happy doing. He chose Art and Multimedia courses, with the intention of becoming an Illustrator / Graphic Designer / Game Designer. I kept looking for teaching jobs.
The August he started his course, he was busy and happy. I finally felt happy that we were together as a family. Sure, the money was tight, but we were together and happy.
Life decided to make me hit that life raft again.
My soul-mate’s Grandfather, my children’s Great Grandfather (they didn’t call him that, they called him Granddad because they didn’t get to see their real granddad’s) got Alzheimers. It was the nastier, faster version of the disease and he went downhill rapidly. His wife nursed him, his Granddaughter dealt with the paperwork for them. And no one told us exactly how bad it was.
Until he died in the October after my Soul-Mate started at college.
Then it was dumped onto my soul-mate by his Grandmother. So my soul-mate took time off college to live with his grandmother and look after her. Then at Christmastime, just as we thought things were sorting themselves out again, we dropped in on his sister and were acquainted with the full reality of the situation. My SIL had dropped over the edge of standard depression into manic depression / madness and was topping up her thyroid and depression tablets with alcohol.
And so here we are in the present.
The only way I can cope with the situation we currently find ourselves in is to write. I strive to keep my own depression at bay by looking after my children, volunteering as a Brownie Guider, being a strong shoulder for my soul-mate as he deals with his Grandmother and Sister and looking for work.
Writing is my me time. I can put my emotions on the page as stories and it helps me to find a balance, an even keel on the journey between the islands. It turns my Life Raft into an elegant Sailing Yacht, clipping through the rough waters with the brilliant purple, pink, yellow and green striped spinnaker of my family before me, the comforting varnished oak of my on-line friends around me and soft, gentle cushions of my books for company.
When I am troubled, the stories appear on the page and are Horror stories, peopled with Vampires, Werewolves, Cannibals and Zombies.
When I am happy, my stories become lighter and rhyming, aimed at my children and at other people’s children. To entertain and enthral.
In the middle, I blend the two into Fantasy. Sometimes they are squarely adult and full of action and adventure; Sometimes they are Young Adult and are full of the troubles of being a teenager, complicated by the adventures I send the characters on.
No matter where I am, I have a pen and pad with me, just in case I need to balance myself.
I had an interview with a Teaching Agency in Cardiff on Monday and although it went well, I felt unsettled. So on the way home I started a short story about Torchwood (one of my favourite TV Programs) on the lined pad in my Interview Folio. Maybe I’ll continue the story the next time I have cause to use the folio again or maybe I’ll write something different and new. I don’t know.
I started writing this post as a way of getting rid of the emotions I was feeling this morning. My Soul-Mate is in Bristol with his Nan again and I am alone with the children. I slept, but dreamed and needed to release the tension I was feeling when I woke up. I felt it was time to start getting rid of some of the pent up emotions from my childhood as well, so while I wrote the first part of this piece, I cried.
Now I feel calm and more peaceful that when I woke up. It may turn out to be a good day for writing…