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.)

‘Making Waves’ by Luke Martin-Jones

There was a distinct chill in the air, lots of glum faces; a rumbling of discontent throughout the school, as pupils digested the latest attempt to reshape our place of learning, conforming to more traditional ideals. It was a few days earlier that each of us were given a letter to hand to our parents announcing the introduction of a new school uniform in keeping with the schools new name and status within the community in which it served. In was 1983, I was in my second year of senior school, at a time when Britain was suffering the spectre of recession. Money was in short supply, unemployment was high and the cost of living out of control. The last thing families needed was another bill to contend with; the price of our new identity would not come cheap. Understandably disaffection was bubbling to the surface, as pupils decided to take matters into their own hands.

It was late afternoon, double Science, probably one of my least liked subjects. Looking around the room, there seemed to be a lot of absences, the class was rather sparse and lackluster; the few of us who were there had thoughts elsewhere. As I glanced out of the window onto the playground below, I could see a group of students milling about, talking, shaking their heads, arms raised in consternation. Even I felt anxious and I didn’t know why. There was an atmosphere of revolution and insurrection; rebellion was in the air.

I could hear whispers behind my back, two classmates talking about joining the growing throng outside. One tapped me on the shoulder, ‘are you coming?’ they said. Confused I asked what they meant; I was oblivious to events unraveling around me. ‘We are going on strike; there’s a protest on the all weather pitch, everyone will be there!’ they exclaimed, encouraging me to join them and make our voices heard. I understood that there could have been a demonstration about the new rules being introduced at the school, but really brushed them aside as ‘just talk.’ I was surprised that my friends were taking matters into their own hands and a little apprehensive about what would happen to those of us who took part!

Briefly I thought about what I should do; looking out the window, I could see more and more classmates joining ‘pupil power’ in action. I turned back to face my peers, nodding my head in agreement. As our Science Teacher continued his lesson on photosynthesis, I duly packed my brown adidas bag and abruptly left the room, all three of us heading downstairs. ‘What do you think you are doing? Come back here now!’ I heard Mr Roche shout as we left the room; running quickly down the stairs and outside into the busy thoroughfare below, we joined everyone else in our campaign for justice!

I don’t remember the exact number who took part that day, though it was quite a few. Chanting and cursing we made our way through the school and onto the playground beyond, refusing to move until the powers that be, retracted the requirement for compulsory school uniforms. A sit down protest on the edge of school created waves, as teachers tried to encourage us to return to class. Of course as time went on and stomachs began to groan, pupils started to leave anyway. In truth when I look back to this time, I was carried along with the sea of emotion surrounding this stance. I really didn’t care if I had to wear a shirt and tie or not, in fact it was the best thing for the school, but when you become part of a crowd you tend to follow the course, losing all sense of reality, forgetting just what the initial action was about in the first place. As children, fickle to the core, a few hours off last thing in the afternoon, became our overriding ambition.

The school uniform remained, those of us who took part were given detention and we had our day in the local rag but the reasons for our discontent didn’t go away. Changing the identity of anything, whether school, person or brand, can only be done with the support and influence of all of those impacted. In future pupils and parents were consulted every step of the way. New rules were implemented without the frustration and anger that surfaced that day.

(First Published in Roaming Brit on 16th May, 2018)

Luke Martin-Jones

I first ‘met’ Luke when he published a post in our school group on Facebook. He was asking for short-stories or photos about Fareham Park School for a book that he was writing. At first, I was thinking whether I or my mum had any old school photos from junior school. Soon after, I wondered if I could share some events that I could remember at school.

The next day, I reached out to Luke to see what kind of stories he wanted and what kind of style he was looking for. He was very magnanimous with his time and said I could get a feel for what he was looking for on his blog where he had written a few articles on his childhood.

 

 

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Later in the day, I went on his blog and read a couple of his related articles. My mind kicked into action and I started thinking. (Which is really dangerous!). My penchant for perfectionism swung in and I had to read Luke’s blog from the beginning. It took me a couple of weeks. Luke’s bravery and courage, his honesty and love for writing hit me square in the face. Luke, through his writing, gifted me with the daring to write again.

Luke has encouraged me the past few months to write for his blog, Roaming Brit. As I started to write, I started to think. It has been a very long time since I have really thought. I usually keep myself really busy so I don’t have time to think. Now my thoughts are racing and writing has become therapeutic and a passion. I am so grateful to Luke for this gift.

Since Luke has been so generous in asking me to be a regular guest blogger on his site, I now look forward to featuring his articles here. Please find his first article for Once Upon A Wren before this one.

Welcome Luke! It’s great to have you onboard!

24 – by Luke Martin-Jones

I had just fallen asleep; no more than half an hour ago. I remember looking at the clock before I drifted away, it was 10.24pm. I could see the bright hall light at the foot of my bedroom door. Even then I had to have the room dark, no luminescence at all, covering anything up that interrupted my line of sight; I just couldn’t sleep otherwise! Despite my need for darkness, I was always scared of the night, often diving under the covers at the slightest hint of something suspicious in the room. Like the story of my life, I was contradictory in every sense of the word; most definitely the product of a bipolar mind.

I woke up panicking twenty four minutes later; another bad dream. I often experienced those strange reoccurring visions that never went away; I still do. I was standing in a newly ploughed field, not a soul in sight for miles around. Behind me was a small white house, rather dishevelled, leaning slightly to one side; broken windows, broken door; holes in the roof, illuminating the abandonment inside. The number on the letterbox, held on by a single screw, was 24. In front of me was a tall white picket fence, with no gate, a barrier yet to cross. This was the first time I remembered this dream and wouldn’t be the last. The details changed a little over the years, but essentially the theme was always the same.

I could feel the warm light of day on my face, eyes still tightly shut, avoiding the early morning sun; Mother banged on my bedroom door. ‘It’s time to get up, you’ll be late for school!’ she shouted firmly walking back downstairs. I laid there for just a moment remembering the night; once again the number twenty four popped into my head. This number meant something to me and I didn’t know what. I was always a young lad who thought too much, reading significance into the most ‘matter of fact,’ ordinary events.

Last thing in the afternoon, before home time, it was double mathematics. I hated it despite getting an O level in the subject. I would often day dream, thinking about what I could write in my journal, my passion, even at eleven years old. In front of me, sat my orange coloured exercise book, pristine and clear, not a mark or blemish anywhere to be seen. I picked up a black biro and began doodling on the surface. The number twenty four, enclosed with a ring of ink; again and again I wrote the number down, heavier and heavier each time, marking the pages inside. What was that number all about, what did it mean to me and why was it still in my head. I sat there glazed eyes, shook my head, trying to shake the number from my mind. I got a smack across my knuckles that day for defacing my work book, but was worth it; a reminder of things to come.

As a young boy growing up, I always remembered the dream, the time on the clock, the number in my head; it remains with me to this very day. At twenty four years old I met my partner, in 1995; the most significant moment in my life. I’m expecting great things on our twenty fourth anniversary next year. The first house we bought together was, yup you guessed it, number twenty four; a beautiful stone cottage on the Lancashire Yorkshire boarder and the house we moved to in Spain, when we left the UK was once again the number twenty four.

I am a firm advocate of fate and believe this number runs through my life line, playing a major role in my destiny. Mumbo jumbo, I hear you say, well maybe you are right, but maybe you’re not. For me it is special; a reminder of my childhood and a suggestion of my future as yet unknown. It isn’t until it pops up again that I recall its importance, just like today, at the checkout in Mercadona, 24,24€!

(First published in Roaming Brit on 2nd May, 2018)