Pomp and Circumstance! By Luke Martin-Jones

Excitement had been building for days; sat in front of the television set, watching the early morning news; I was mesmerized, watching in awe at the people camped out along the wedding procession route. Under tarpaulin, make shift tents, sat in deck chairs, decorated in red, white and blue, they were all waving their union flags, sporting patriotic clothes, draped in flags; a sea of colour, up and down The Mall. Through the streets of London, in front of Buckingham Palace, every available spot was taken as dawn broke over the capital. The cameras were there, Interviewing the dedicated, early arrivals and anyone with a connection to the days proceedings! This was the day The Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer and I like most of the country was waiting with anticipation, happy that our future King had found his bride; this wouldn’t be an experience I would ever forget; a Royalist then as I most certainly am now!

Today was a Bank Holiday, the whole country was able to take part in the Royal Wedding; I was thrilled at the prospect of watching the biggest national event since the Silver Jubilee in 1977. Not everyone was as happy as I, there were those who had no interest in the day and would rather be elsewhere, my Father was one such person.

Dad came down the stairs, he was in a grumpy mood, annoyed at the impending Marriage. As a ten year old boy, I had little concept of the reasons for his irritation, believing it was just a ‘Dad thing.’ I remember my Father talking about wasting tax payers money and the rumblings of republicanism under his breath, as he retorted his customary socialist rant. Dad was left wing in every sense of the word, a point of view that has never changed over the years. As Mother and I sat down in front of the box, Dad paced the room, still moaning about the costs involved in such a frivolous occasion. I however was more than happy, glued to the set.

‘I’m going out!’ said Dad, ‘I’m taking Kevin out for a game of football in the park, where I don’t have to watch this rubbish,’ he continued. I remember thinking to myself, how the park would be full of fathers, kicking footballs around with their sons, equally miffed about the events running across every TV network. Football was never my thing anyway and I was just happy they were going out, leaving Mother and I at home, enjoying the day. Shortly afterwards, they were gone, with a slam of the front door, cursing the day ahead.

The carriage arrived at the entrance to Westminster Abbey, Princess Diana, gracefully stepped out, helped by her Father, the Earl Spencer. As she walked forwards, alighting the carriage, the train on her dress recoiled behind her. Like a meandering river, it stretched for what seemed like miles, light dancing off the shimmering white silk in the bright glow of the day; she looked radiant, her all too familiar smile beamed under her veil; sparkling tiara on top of her head, twinkling as she advanced up the aisle. I sat there open mouthed, taken aback by the majesty of Monarchy, the pomp and circumstance, the emotion stirring music and a vision of history in the making. This was the day I truly felt a bond with our Royal Family and realised just how important they were in all our daily lives. I felt proud to be British, content at my place in the World.

When Dad got in from the park, I continued to watch the reruns, highlights and repeats on my little black and white portable TV, lying on my bed upstairs. Again and again, I relived the wonderment of the day, cementing my growing adoration of an institution a thousand years old. Princess Diana was a powerful figure throughout my life, someone I was lucky enough to meet much later. Her Wedding was an important milestone for me, because I discovered who I really was, what made me tick and most importantly my connection to the Country I was born in, my home, wherever I am living, here or abroad. The Royal Wedding of 1981 gave all of us a brief escape from the austerity measures at the time. With unemployment high and discontent growing, this was a day to escape and enjoy an occasion that encompassed us all; this was a day that defined an era, this was a celebration that would galvanise a nation.

Roaming Brit

Diabetes! By Luke Martin-Jones.

I was about five or six years old when I realised Mum wasn’t like everyone else. She was a type I Diabetic and had been so since her early childhood. The story was, she was sat toasting crumpets on the fire in my Grandmothers parlour, when flames jumped out of the grate in front of her face, sending my Mother into a state of shock; from that moment on Mum became diabetic. Like most family stories, I really couldn’t tell you if it was true or not; rather like urban myths, they take hold and become the accepted story of how something happened. The reality of my Mum’s situation was really about her good fortune, being born when she was. She was one of the first people to be given insulin, without which she wouldn’t be here today. As Mum copes with the effects of long term diabetes, I am reminded of a childhood, spent with a lady who fought hard to keep herself strong in the face of illness and the challenges around monitoring her condition.

It was Monday morning, a school day, approaching 7 am. Mum was calling from the bottom of the stairs, trying to get me up for another day. I was never good at waking early at the best of times, let alone at the beginning of the week. Having to go to a school that I hated; suffering yet more bullying, that by now had become commonplace, was a part of my youth, I would rather forget. Laying in bed, I sighed, stretched my arms into life and reluctantly fell out of bed, slowly walking towards the bathroom!

I had had a bath the night before; Sunday was always bath day! After a quick strip wash at the sink I cleaned my teeth and brushed my mass of 70s hair, a huge birds nest on top of my head that made me look fatter than I already was; yes I was a fat kid; yet another reason to get bullied. At nine years old, I had already become impervious to the actions of others, staying very much away from the fray, keeping myself to myself, ignoring the haters. I stamped down the stairs, turned right at the bottom and headed into the kitchen.

The kitchen was a hive of activity. Mother was busy cooking breakfast for my brother and I, as well as Dad, who was due home from his night shift. She had already been up since 6 am and was due to work at the local Co-op after everyone was fed and watered ‘Sit down at the table you two, breakfast wont be long!’ she exclaimed, a little more distracted than usual. Mum hadn’t had her morning injection yet, something she had to do three times a day, before eating and was feeling a little queasy. At the time, we didn’t really know what was going on with her health, just that she had to inject herself each day, a process I never witnessed fully, turning my head away, not wanting to see the needle pierce the skin.

With breakfast on the table and Dad’s food left simmering on the stove, Mum finally sat down. She looked tired as she lent back on the kitchen chair. From her bag she took out her hypodermic needle and reached over towards the fridge, where her insulin was stored, producing a small vile of the clear liquid, that kept her alive. She pierced the rubber top of the bottle with the needle, pulling back the head of the syringe, allowing the liquid to pour inside, finally flicking the glass tube with her fingers, removing the air bubbles inside. ‘Turn away if you want to, I know how much you hate it,’ Mum said gently, smiling, eye brow raised; we both looked towards the wall.

Peeping behind my hand, I managed to see Mum lift the bottom of her blouse, exposing a her stomach. She had been injecting for so many years that this was the only place she could now use to insert the needle. ‘All done, you can look now,’ Mum announced, as she placed the syringe into her bag away from our tiny inquisitive hands.

This was a typical morning, a procedure I witnessed throughout my childhood. Mum never had it easy, but always coped remarkably well; she never complained and just accepted her lot. Spending a lifetime on insulin has taken its toll, Mum isn’t as well as she used to be, wheelchair bound and suffering from a double leg amputation. She remains stoical in the face of adversity, not wanting to accept help from others. The time is coming however, when the children at the breakfast table, will have to take on the responsibility that Mother afforded to us.

Swimming! By Luke Martin-Jones

It was Wednesday afternoon, not my most favourite day of the week, Wednesdays were swimming days and in truth it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had tried playing hooky before and been caught out; hauled up in front of the class I was given a good dressing down and told to ‘buck my ideas up’ if I wanted to complete the compulsory course of lessons, designed to make us water aware, submerging undignified in a pool of filthy water, used by everyone else and all the germs that bred in it. I wasn’t fond of Wednesdays at all, in all respects, not just the swimming but the whole darn process.

As a teenager I was an early developer and objected strongly to spending time in changing rooms and showers with those I went to school with. I mean, who actually thought it was a great idea, to throw a group of adolescent boys together, during puberty, showering together in front of a PE Teacher; it really wasn’t for me! At thirteen years old, I was well aware of my sexuality, the signs were always there. If I was sure of who I was, then others were aware too. Once over the embarrassment of changing in front of ones peers, it was time to begin the lessons.

It was cold, as I tiptoed out of the locker rooms and into the swimming arena. The pool was alive with the screams of children. In the distance I heard the sound of a whistle being blown, by a lifeguard perched at the far end of the pool. It was time for the first group of kids to leave and us to begin our lessons.

Situated at the shallow end, were floats, arm bands and other strange looking contraptions, designed to keep us afloat, as we all strived for the same thing, learning to swim. Most of us were well versed in the procedures employed by Mrs Hanson, a formidable looking lady, dark permed hair and what I can only describe as craggy features, heavily wrinkled face, sporting an almost burnt orange tan. Dressed in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white T shirt, she was tall, thin and a force to be reckoned with; she scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach to teaching can only be described as ‘sink or swim,’ her lack of empathy was typical of the time. There were no allowances for failure; you did as you were told, or else.

There was just me at the shallow end, everyone else had already migrated to the deep side of the pool. For the life of me, I just couldn’t swim, it really wasn’t in me and with a coach like Mrs Hanson, it was highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. I stood in the middle, still holding onto the side with my right hand, when Mrs H, told me to let go of the edge and slowly swim towards her hands, stretched out before me. I hesitated, panicked and shook my head in protest. She asked again, firmly, with a scowl on her face. After thinking for what seemed like an age, I threw myself forwards and swam towards her hands.

I was nearly there and could almost feel the end of her nails. Everything was a blur, my eyes were soaked in water, my mouth and nose also, I could barely breath; flapping my hands with terror, I really thought I would make it. Then she took her hands away, quickly without warning; I sunk like a brick. Shouting for help I gasped for air, trying to get to the surface, finally lifted out by the lifeguard, who placed me at the side of the pool. Coughing, spluttering with my heart pounding, I finally came back to life; battered, bruised with loss of dignity and pride, I gingerly left the pool, never to return again.

In the end I was awarded a certificate like everyone else, not for the metres I had swam but for endeavour, for trying hard; a piece of paper, that I still have to this very day, a momento of a time I would rather forget. That final lesson was so traumatic for me, that I never learnt to swim again. I am content enough to realise I tried my best, leaving a mark on my life that I can write about today!

Money! by Luke Martin-Jones

Ah money.  What a strange relationship I have with money.  From my earliest memories, I remember, I never had much money and to be honest never had a need to deal with it, in the same way other kids did.  I was given no pocket money as a child and as a consequence, never had to save.  I never had a bank account as a child, because there was no need. I truly believe that if lessons were given in school, on how to deal with finances, this would go a long way to helping children deal with the day to day need, to have a good level of understanding and achieve successful financial Management.

Bipolar brings another difficulty into sound financial understanding and planning.  It has been the biggest factor in my success and failures in life.  I have always been a person who likes to spend, spend, spend.  Not having a lot of resources as a child has always taught a binge and purge ethos where spending is concerned.  When I have it, I will spend it, in fact even when I don’t I will.  I do not understand the concept of ‘Saving for a rainy day’ or ‘putting a little aside each month’.

I only really noticed there was a problem, when I went to University.  Within the first year I had run up two huge overdrafts and maxed my credit cards.  I was spending money like it was the last day on earth.  I had a cheque book and unlike today, each cheque could be guaranteed up to £50.00.  I was often cashing cheques in The Student Union Shop or the local co-op!

I remember a representative from the bank turning up at my house early one morning.  My spending had got so out of control they wanted my cheque book back.  I just went to my room, ripped out half the cheques and handed the rest to a rather stern looking gentleman, gave him a wry smile and he left.  I know now during very manic periods I would spend out of control.  There was a lot of mania, a lot of spending, a lot of debt at university.

The next time I really noticed there was a problem was when I ran my own business.  It actually wasn’t the next time there was a problem, but rather when I started to notice there was a real problem.  I took on a business without thinking through the consequences of my actions.  I opened up a Business Bank Account and for a short while things went well. I owned a garage, shop and restaurant.  It relied heavily on passing trade.  So when road works began on the dual carriage way passing my business, we were doomed!  As Jason has said, I am probably the most unlucky person he has ever known!

I was taking ever larger amounts of drawings, which the bank mistook for the business doing well.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell them any different. I was given more and more lines of credit, totalling well over £150,000.00 at one stage.  I was borrowing money to keep the business going.  Credit and money was easily obtainable at the time, 2001, so I was really just doing what everyone else was doing.  I bought a brand new car, took three holidays a year and even went further.  During one manic phase, after watching a programme on Morning TV and discovering you could buy a house in a pub, as easy as a pint,  I went up to a place called Nelson and bought a house, because I could.  We then bought a holiday home just down the road from there and bought a house in France called Le Choix.

Now being financially illiterate, I was using all the takings from the three businesses, to fund an extremely lavish lifestyle, travelling to New York, Italy and Malaysia in one year alone, on top of the three houses we had bought.  I was such a spend thrift, I got addicted to Shopping Channels, in fact I would buy anything I saw, just because I had the resources to do it.  Of course one can’t keep on spending £5,000.00 a week, without the business doing well and making money to pay for my mania.

There were ever increasing lines of credit, an overdraft totaling thousands and another illogical decision to invest thousands in the Stock Market, without knowledge of the Businesses I was investing in.  It was just like picking names out of a hat.  Still I was on a high and it all made perfect sense to me.  Unlucky me strikes again. I invested £2,000.00 in Marconi shares, a few weeks later, they collapsed.  Being the unlucky person I was I invested around £20,000.00 in total exactly one week before 9/11.  The markets crashed and I lost the lot.

My accountant was useless.  Charging me £1,500 a month – well this was Salisbury and dodgy, useless accountants don’t come cheap.  Either I was good at hiding the mounting debt or he was really that bad that he couldn’t see it.  Anyway things just went along as usual, more spending, holidays to France once a month and expensive jewellery from TV shopping channels.

I suppose I knew the end had come, when Jason had to remove £10,000.00 from his credit card to pay the staff wages.  I just kidded myself it was a temporary blip.  More money removed each month to pay the wages.  I was paying Jason £30,000 a year, I had a full time chef and ten other employees, because I was too busy spending to work myself.

I had become extremely ill.  I weighed 7 stone in weight and was getting worse by the day.  I had debts totalling a quarter of a million pounds and my stress had reached dangerous levels.  I remember working in the kitchen of the restaurant one hot afternoon.  I felt so weak and collapsed.  I had had a mild stroke.  My Doctor told me if I did not give up the business I would be dead within the year.  Now mania makes you do things in the most destructive way possible. I did a runner, left the business and just walked away.  I could not deal with the legalities behind bankruptcy.  I buried my head and became extremly depressed.  I was a shadow of my former self.

Unable to work through illness, Jason became the bread winner and we had to survive on a less than a tenth of what we did before.  It was a dark time for us. I admit it now, but I even tried to stab Jason with a knife. It was time to be admitted to hospital. From 2003, really up until 2010, the process of diagnosing Bipolar began.  It was such a long time, with many medications and highs and lows, it was truly painful!

I am still a nightmare with money.  The last two years we wasted £10,000.00 on a lifestyle where those we trusted just took as much as they could.  I am glad that happened.  We had to learn for ourselves just how bad these people were.  I may have lost money, but I regained my life and the battles I fight now are real, not petty lies and dramas used to cause harm to others.

Still learning the value of money! Still making mistakes, still battling! That’s life.  At least I’m doing it with the man I love!

(First published on the 27th April, 2015 in Luke’s Blog called ‘Bipolarcoaster‘. This blog has now been published as a series of books.)

‘Relapse’ by Luke Martin-Jones

These times were sent to test us! Should I fail my conscience, I will forever know that I did what I could, to stop the enduring pain that now engulfs my memories, all my thoughts and reside permanently in a place, I never want to revisit, until my final few hours on this Earth.

These words are words that will never be spoken of again. They are difficult sentences to write and even more difficult to recall. Recall them I will. Every night, I close my eyes, the darkness that spreads through my whole existence, will descend upon my dreams, a recurring nightmare, that has haunted me every day, that try and rest my broken mind.

To reconcile the terrible, unbearable, incomprehensible series of events, that now dominate my life, with the aspirations of the child I once was – with hopes and ambitions – will always cause a wound that will never be healed. Changed forever, emotionally destroyed and wrestling with pain, that will never go away. Rejected by friends and family, never understood by most, accepted by a few. But the pure truth, the words on my heart, chizzled on the grave stone, that will sit as a reminder, of just what happened to myself and others, who did no more than help others who needed to be empowered to do all the things I thought I would. The biggest, uneasy realization of my life now and forever!

I was always so full of ambition. There was so much I wanted to do. As a young boy, I was focused and knew where I wanted to go. Not one of us believes we will ever end up, in a situation, so obscure and heinous that a drama, could never pay justice to it.

This is the first day I am able to sit quietly, put words on a page and really accept, that what I am seeing is true. Until today, my thoughts were so jumbled and misunderstood, even I doubted them. To place doubt in oneself, is an awful thing. For others, perpetuating that doubt, even worse.

This Sunday, after five days of understanding, I can now piece together the scraps of evidence that only I could have collected. Not on paper, but in my mind, that, although tired, will always be lucid enough to recall these events. After all, they have been with me, for what seems a life time, yet in reality, they have only been confirmed within my soul for ten months. I have spent this time, searching for the truth, explanations and closure. Today, at least, I can close this last open door, behind which the reality of my situation lies.

In 1998, after suffering, from what I thought was depression, something clicked inside of me. I wanted to be happy again. I wanted to experience a level of self respect the years had crumbled away. I applied for a job within a charity, as a Book Shop Manager. I loved books. The touch and feel, the smell, the words of people, many people, now gone, but the books a reminder of who they once were, a living memory of lives, no longer there. Books telling stories, of bravery, love, anger and pain, books with a past and permanent future that we can always dip in and out from, at will. Taking a little bit of someone we never knew, with us, on our journey through life.

I had no expectations. If anything, I believed it would be the first of many applications, before I could achieve my goal of working again. I had a chequered history, where work was concerned, always achieving and failing at the same rates. No middle ground, just muddle and confusion over another failure in life, when I so wanted to succeed. I just wanted to do something in my life that I was finally a success at. I wanted to prove to myself and others, that I could be an achiever and not that constant failure, I was always reminded I was by others!

It was Saturday morning, the alarm clock wasn’t working and I was running late for work.  I had timed things right to the last minute.  It took eight minutes to walk to work and twenty minutes to do everything else.  Breakfast, bath and sandwiches.  I couldn’t stand working on weekends at the best of times and had a feeling, Saturday would be one of those days.  Little did I know, just how bad that Saturday at the end of March would be.

I rushed along The Avenue, across the dual carriage way, past The Courts and onto Brighton Road, where the second hand book shop, I had managed for seven years was situated.  It was a small, well kept and a lovingly run establishment, staffed by an army of volunteers, all dedicated and working for a good cause.  It was a part of the local community in every respect.  Every second person knew your name, everyone said hello or waved and I was happy to be a part of the life of a community book store, with character and purpose.

As I rushed past Starbucks at the end of the road, I noticed a familiar face sat outside Bahini’s Cafe.  It was Richard, another Manager, old friend and colleague, who was running the local Music Shop, further into town, in the centre of Manchester.  As I placed the key in the door, Richard brushed past me, nearly knocking me over.  He didn’t look right and had rage in his eyes.

‘You are under pricing CD’s.  I will not have you taking away my business!’

Perplexed, I walked into the back of the shop, hung my coat up and took five minutes, just to gather my thoughts.  My hands on the desk, body bent forward, I shook my head, this really was not going to end well!

I turned to face the office door, sighed and headed out into the shop again.  I do not like confrontation, especially when I know the person well and have no idea why they are acting in the manner they are.  As I walked down the small set of stairs towards the shop floor, I noticed Richard removing all my stock from the shelves.  He was aggressive, noisy and confrontational.

‘What do you think you are doing?  This isn’t your shop, why are you removing stuff from my shelves?’ I said bluntly.

‘You are trying to undercut my shop and I’m not having it.’ Richard replied forcefully.

‘I have no idea what you are talking about Richard.  This is my shop and you are not my Manager, what gives you the right?’ I asked.

We argued for about ten minutes.  I was exhausted, felt bullied and intimidated and just wanted to walk out.  No one had ever spoken to me like it, not even my partner or line Manager, come to that.  When I tried to speak, Richard just smirked, pointing his finger towards his head, to signify my Bipolar.  Richard had known of my condition for many years, had always been empathetic, was a socialist and campaigner and this was out of character and unacceptable.  I was not a battering ram, sounding post or kids toy to be abused.

As I tried to justify my pricing strategy, in an area, that was essentially catering for a different market to his, he got up like a petulant child and stormed out of the shop, saying he wasn’t going to listen to me any further.  I didn’t know what I was talking about.  I was an idiot, stupid and a fool.  He swore, sniggered and made offensive gestures.  To be honest, I was shocked and left speechless!  This was the day I had predicted and it was about to get far worse.

I shut the shop for half an hour, just to recover and to take some time out.  I had just had an altercation with someone who used to be close, and this was not the person I knew.  He had changed, almost over night and I had no idea why.  The rest of the day at work was horrendous, as I kept on recalling and reliving what had just happened to me.  I was bullied at school and this just smacked of the same thing.  I had been verbally attacked, by someone younger than me, like no one had done since I was in secondary school.  Those feelings, I had experienced back then, just came flooding back, and that weekend, I broke down.  This was the beginning of the biggest relapse in my life.

I arrived early at work on Monday morning and immediately began writing out a statement, detailing my experiences on Saturday.  I still couldn’t believe what had happened and wanted to put the situation right.  I wanted to express how I felt and just wanted to to get this whole nasty incident off my chest.  I had emailed my boss, explaining the situation and was waiting for her to attend the shop, so we could discuss events, after all she would understand exactly what had happened and would put it right, wouldn’t she?

My line Manager, Louise, arrived at mid day.  She was her usual happy smiling self as if nothing seemed to phase her.  Like water off a duck’s back, that would be the term I would use, to describe Louise.  Even when all around was crashing down, she was always cool, calm and collected.  She had always seemed warm enough towards me, even excessively so sometimes.  She had always been approachable but in recent times, these traits were becoming less and less obvious, so I had no idea what to expect.

‘Do you want to go to a cafe, to discuss this Darren!’  Louise said.

Now usually I would agree, but this time I refused.  This was an important issue and should not take place in a public place.  I felt safer at work, with the support of volunteers and for once I wanted control of a situation that was unusual and deeply disturbing for me.

The office is small, no bigger than a cupboard, so it was a bit of a squeeze, but we both managed to accommodate ourselves and she began her investigation.  Her first comment was strange, laughable and ridiculous under the circumstances.

‘We don’t have to do this, do we?’ Louise inquired.  I remained silent for a brief second, then replied.

‘Yes we do!, I have been bullied and insulted, that hasn’t happened since school.’ I continued!

I thought the discussion would be about my grievance, instead she immediately discussed my Bipolar.

‘Tell me about Bipolar, how does it affect you? How does it affect your work?’ she asked

I answered the best I could, then stopped!

‘What has this got to do with this grievance.’ I said firmly.

She talked about my health, my reactions and my working relationships and although we discussed the incident with Richard briefly, she continued to interrogate me about my Bipolar.  In fact, as I later found out, she even asked one of my team what Bipolar was.

I had disclosed my Bipolar status, two years before, during a meeting which had discussed my lifestyle, sex, drugs and rock and roll, as Louise put it at the time.  A volunteer at the time had informed Louise of a recent suicide attempt, and made disgraceful allegations and assumptions, about both myself and my Deputy Manager.  I answered for those allegations and a disclosure about my illness had been made.  At the time, I assumed that was the end of that, but as I later discovered, that should never had been the end of it.  Risk Assessments and safeguards should have been put in place to ensure, I did not relapse and would have the full support of my organisation.  None of these measures had been instigated and I was at the point of relapse and suicide again.

Louise asked my new Deputy Manager, Margaret, what Bipolar was, just after our meeting, that Monday morning. She didn’t understand it.  She had known of my condition for two years, yet here she was, today, just today asking a member of my staff, what my condition was.  That was beyond belief and not normal or indeed ethical.  At work, I had been classed as disabled, immediately after disclosure, and as such was covered, at work, under The Equality Act 2015, yet nothing had been done to protect me, my volunteers or indeed my shop.  My work load increased dramatically over the time. She had known. My stability had faltered and I had even asked for help, frequently, yet nothing had been forthcoming!  As I know now, this was probably illegal and was responsible for my deterioration in health over a long period of time!

When Louise left the shop, I broke down, dramatically.  I couldn’t continue working at a time, when I was suffering, my voice was unheard and my please were ignored.  The absurdity of a situation, where my mental health diagnosis, had become the issue of concern, out of an incident of bullying towards me, was too much to bear.  Not only had I been bullied by Richard, but now Louise was also doing the same, even if it was being done in a more subtle way.  I felt alone, isolated, and without the help or care I had needed to insure that my safety was paramount!

When I got home from work that night, I broke down again and again.  Why was I being ignored?  I just didn’t understand what the hell was going on.  I was in a confused state and in all but name I was relapsing, but didn’t yet know it.  I phoned my Deputy straight away and said I would not be attending work and didn’t know how long I would be off.  I was ill, borderline Manic and on the verge of collapse.

The next week was hard.  I had become unstable, was rapid cycling and not sleeping, eating or drinking.  I was getting angrier and angrier, the more I thought about what had ensued, the lack of empathy, the failure of understanding and the complete total and utter neglect.  My partner, Darrell, who worked for the same charity as I, was still at his shop, suffering like me and was becoming alarmed at my decline, as were my friends!  For me however, I didn’t really understand what was going on, I never do, during these circumstances.  It is those around you most that suffer and remember. I can block the memories out, others don’t have that option!

The final nail in the coffin came suddenly.  It was a week day.  Darrell had work in the morning, a meeting if I remember rightly.  I had reached the end of my tether.

First published in Roaming Brit.

Rejecting Modernity! by Luke Martin-Jones

It was about a year before, when I was at a friends house that I realised I wanted one. It was truly amazing, another world and one of the best presents a young boy like me could wish for. In the mid 1980s modernity jumped head long into my life; a technological revolution and the development of a personal computer was firmly planted into the psyche of a generation, just waiting to break away from the past, establishing their credentials as inheritors of the crown. The future was rubber keys, the future was Sinclair.

The shops were heaving, customers were pushing and shoving their way around the packed isles. Supermarket trollies were full to bursting with everything one needed for a gastronomical feast. As Mum and Dad paid for their weekly shopping at the checkout in Sainsbury, I briefly wondered outside. Looking past the cafe in the centre of the Mall, I spotted Curry’s electrical shop directly opposite; in the shop window the newest gadget to hit the shelves was displayed, the ZX Spectrum 48K. I ran over as fast as I could, nose pressed against the glass, watching ‘Daly Thompson’s Decathlon’ being enacted on the screen. In awe of the graphics, amazed by the colour, I imagined myself owning one. Looking down at the price tag, 125 pounds, I realised it was too expensive for me to buy, sighed and walked back to the supermarket, waiting outside.

Mum and Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I took the chance. I wanted ‘The Spectrum computer’ and hoped they would agree. At first they were a little unsure about what I was referring to, so I grabbed a copy of Mum’s Kay’s Catalogue under the coffee table in the lounge, flicking through the pages until I found what I was looking for. ‘Here it is, this is what I want. It will be the bestest Christmas present of all’ I retorted excitedly. After several minutes of hesitation, confused expression on their faces, they both agreed; I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.

Santa arrived early once again. It always seemed strange to me, that the old man arrived before I got up, never did I catch him, not once, even when I surfaced at 12am. This was a present, delivered directly to the bottom of my bed, placed in a pillow case, rather than being left in the sitting room, as was usual. I guess this was a gift, that was just too bulky to be left under the tree. At 3am I was up and awake, ripping wrapping paper and trying to get to grips with my new toy; a personal computer, the modern age sitting on my lap; shiny, untouched waiting to be unlocked.

Setting up the ZX Spectrum on my desk was the easy bit, connecting the wires to the TV, loading games was another matter. One had to place a cassette in a player then wait for it to load; a screeching, whining rendition that sent shivers down my spine; so much so, I left the room, made a turkey sandwich, popped the kettle on, used the toilet on the way back and still had time to spare, before the tape had even loaded. I managed half an hour or so at the helm before everything went ‘Pete Tong!’ Two hours later I was back playing another round until the inevitable ZX Spectrum problems kicked in once again.

In the end, I probably used my new computer no more than ten times. Frustration, impatience and annoyance at the cumbersome piece of 80s kit got the better of me. After throwing it across the room, on several occasions, I decided it was best to retire the rubber wonder before it drove me insane. This slice of retro design, remained in my parents loft, until it was sold at a local car boot sale, ten years later. I never bought another PC again until the late 1990s. Sir Clive Sinclair had done what no one else could: turning my love of gadgets into a dislike of the modern world. I remained steadfast in my rejection of all things avant-garde and progressive for many years, although look back with fondness at the little black box that made my life hell, after all if it wasn’t for Clive, I wouldn’t be typing on this laptop today. I am truly amazed at just how far we have come in such a short space of time!

(First published in Roaming Brit on 3rd June, 2018)

School Dinners! By Luke Martin-Jones

Mrs Brooks class was a hive of activity; each table had their own projects to complete. Paints, Crayola crayons and multicoloured pencils were laying haphazardly across the desks; all of us chatting with each other. I was in a mischievous mood, flicking paint at the girl sat next to me. By the end of the lesson, we were both covered in an assortment of acrylic, not even the plastic aprons would save us. Mrs Brooks walked over, she looked angry, the frown on her face revealing. Taking us both to one side, she gave us a good telling off and a smack on the back of the legs. I’d been spanked before, standing outside the headmistresses office for the rest of the day; I was an old pro, so hardly reacted; the young lass shed a few tears and we were both ordered to the toilets to clean up before lunch. By the time I had finished, I was in a worse state than before, soaking wet, dripping all over the floor. Cautiously I walked back into class, hoping to avoid catching Mrs Brooks eye. Sheepishly, I sat down at my desk, looking away from her gaze. My friend sat next to me facing the other way, so I did the same; friends no more!

It was dinner time, the bell sounded in the hall. Everyone started to tidy their desks. ‘Quietly, do it quietly!’ shouted Mrs Brooks, trying to make herself heard over the commotion in class. ‘I said quietly!’ she repeated once again. Suitably calm and composed, sitting in our seats, we always said a little prayer before dinner. ‘Close your eyes, hands together,’ shouted Mrs B:

‘Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.’

Everyone queued in two neat lines, boys one side, girls the other, holding hands as we made our way to the hall. We were on the last sitting today, the canteen was running a little later than usual; the queue unusually ending outside the door. Children jostled for pole position, pushing in front of their peers, wanting to get their food first. I was leant up against the wall, patiently waiting my turn. Mum had always taught me how to behave and never to bulldoze my way to the front; it wasn’t the right thing to do.

My new Clark’s sandals were rubbing the heals of my feet; lifting each one up in turn, I tried to ease the pain. Someone kicked me in the back of the legs. The procession of school children was so long, I didn’t see who it was. Turning, I faced the front, standing up straight, arms folded in protest. Scuffing my shoes, backwards and forwards (The mark of a petulant child, Mrs Brooks always said.) Trying to pass the time, I eventually reached the front of the calvalcade; picking up my mint green coloured plate. Today, soggy roast potatoes, lots and lots of cabbage, boiled to within an inch of its life and minced meat in gravy. Funny enough, I still cook this today; comfort food if you like. For desert, chocolate pudding with thick, lumpy pink blancmange; another dish I look back on with fondness.

The noise in the hall was deafening as I hesitantly walked to the table at the back of the hall, where my friends were already sat. I took the chair at the end, leant back and waited for the Dinner Lady to appear. I can’t remember her name now, but she always came over and helped me cut up my food into bite sized pieces and filled the large metal water jugs on the table, that needed two hands to lift. I precariously charged my glass, most of it spilling over, quickly wiped away by another monitor; dressed in a pink and white tabard, wearing a small white hat and hairnet, that really did nothing to stop hair falling into the food. Part of the course when you ate school meals.

Dinner over it was time to return to class, each of us waiting in turn, to be escorted back for an afternoon of ‘Drama and Dance,’ my favourite lesson. ‘Time to work off all that extra energy after lunch,’ said Mrs B! ‘Time to get big and strong!’

I always have fond memories of school lunches; plain, basic filling food, typical of the time; in contrast the lunches of today. As a product of the 70s, we appreciated the simpler things in life; as children we had very little, none of us any more than anyone else. School Dinners are a reminder of the happy times, spent with friends, enjoying those first steps into childhood; a period when peoples values were different; a time of innocence in a changing World!

(First Published in Roaming Brit on 28th March, 2018)