Introduction And Chapter Guide

This is my sixth attempt at writing about my life from being a teenager until I left the town I grew up in. The life I led back then was always peculiarly slippery. The opportunities for self improvement were there, but by the time I accessed them, late, they became backward steps, rather than progress. I would be told that I  was 'Too old to be improved' by the managers of what I pursued. The help they offered were more meant to help younger, better resourced, people (from better resourced families). They told me about what I should have chased instead, without telling me that it was cheap, never worked, and was  discontinued long ago. What I remember most from those times was how the more friendly and sunny many people presented themselves as, the more opaque they actually were. The grumpy folk were the ones I should have listened to closer and trusted more.

My family disliked all change and slowed down every natural change that my growing up should have included by mis-describing my natural life and making a half life out of it. My intent as a teenager was to find out who I actually was, as opposed to accepting who other people said I was. Nearly every time I guessed rightly who I was then other people, particularly my family, would say that I was wrong because their self interest lay in preserving the younger, cheaper, and more passive versions of me that they had made up. My parents thought that they were parenting me well by stopping me from growing up. They wanted me, whilst under their roof, to think of myself in the most detached human terms possible.

With each previous attempt at writing before this one, who I actually was would appear on the page and then disappear as the opacity of my parents took over the narrative, just like my family did when I was young. When trying to find out who I actually was through the writing I would often get waylaid by the memory of the distractions my parents had once used. Bringing my mind and the page back to me was a test I often failed temporarily. Only the reader can decide whether I won against the distractions. It was not his fault that my teenage self has been so difficult to track down through writing. He was always being eclipsed by the narrative his parents preferred over the person he actually was.

As Billy Bragg neatly puts it 'They tuck you up/your mum and dad.'. Please accept this final attempt at waking up my teenage self to try to find the alive adult self that there was in him for who he is. He was so well tucked up that he made every call to wake up and grow to be a grown man as a means of further retreat. He had mentors who taught him to retreat, when courage and directness were what was called for. Happy discovering what of him survived.

Thank you for getting this far.

Chapter One - from invisible boy to alien in the attic with neither forethought nor preparation.

Chapter Two - Probing ideas of competition vs informed consensus via television, what to read and why, the earliest of the many battles against domestic cover ups and misinformation.

Chapter Three - Accepting living on less, looking back on the boarding school/care home, Mother's 'never again' stories, a wider choice of reading.

Chapter Four - Misadventures in work, unpaid labour on Mother's allotment, the annual family day trip to Skegness, rejoining S.J.A.B., how to live through science fiction.

Chapter Five - Education, starting at a disadvantage, witnessing mis-selling, neighbours try to help me directly, dad 'explains what work is about', retreating into music and humour, first discovery of Radio 4, shopping and television routines, that first flat Christmas.

Chapter Six - Discovering more than music via local/regional radio, a future openly cancelled, Mother's fantasy job for me, dad loses his job, out to the theatre for the first time.

Chapter Seven - Leaving education young, beginners syndrome, household improvements, life on the black economy, a lack of experience, expanding choice through dole money, hitching lifts for the first time, the vagaries of sex, dad's choice of shared viewing, bad official advice, bad training, bad sex.

Chapter Eight - Another flat Christmas, Mother's mental health, neighbours move, dad totally drunk, the NME as good reading, amateur theatre, misreading '1984', theatre masculinity and 'being gay', rebellion is difficult to make work.

Chapter Nine - Mother's choice of television vs dad's, speculations around alcohol, the lack of interview technique, more non-training.

Chapter Ten - Seduced in the back of the carpet shop, the sex addicted boss, hierarchies in work reflect hierarchies at home, unsuitable clothing, randomness as a choice, suicidal thoughts, weird watching habits and ideas reinforced. 

Chapter 11 - Exploring the roots of the loss of choice, meeting other boys who had left the boarding school/care home, discovering local politics, discovering CND via the BBC, selective amnesia, political activism/sexual invisibility, my first rally, the away-from-the-counter culture, .against majoritarianism.

Chapter 12 - A real job, actual trust in work, what parents say and what they mean, is this personal growth?, the well divided life, introduced to Christianity, strange local exceptionalism, a run down of life in the local toilets, a social meeting at the blood donors.

Chapter 13 - Life feels good, voting for the first time, leaving work, thinking of learning, old vices recur, illness in the family, the least expected encounter, taking sides in the family, plans to study take off.

Chapter 14 - The emotional seesaw, an education for the first time in ten years, relearning how to write, old computers, first forays into writing, Youth Fellowship, first live gig proves affirmative.

Chapter 15 - An attempted history of the local CND, the social passivity of local life, going to Glastonbury for the first time.

Chapter 16 - After Glastonbury an attempted restart with life in the parental house, Mother's plans for me, the onion factory, indifferent exam results, reflections on the times my parents grew up through, female friendship through CND, secret plans, retakes of exams, the 'hotel' phrase changes everything.

Chapter 17 - Reflections on sexual experience, directive counselling, more on the television wrestling/the Saturday afternoon family ritual, neutered gay men, my first diary, discovering True Freedom Trust, popular machismo and gossip, old prescriptions never work, Mother finally reveals 'why I was sent to the boarding school/care home' and I am appalled. Greenbelt to the rescue.

Chapter 18 - One too many people in the parental house, The Glastonbury itch, the open life away from 'home' vs the shut down life in the parental house, more on the seesaw of my parents' marriage, scarily bad planning, fearless unemployment, Graham's music room, the expensive hi-fi, testing the boundaries, making my exit, The Grateful Dead live, loud, and unforgettable.

Chapter 19 - My first dodgy landlord, not-quite-cheap living, doing the double, a tatty looking freedom vs a better decorated oppression, Mr Aftershave, anger at the media, back to hitching lifts as viable travel.

Chapter 20 -  The big CND push, showing 'The War Game', wanting to resign, being at Glastonbury second time, The carpet shop man returns, a horrible twenty first birthday party, finally resigning from CND, last 'O' level retaken/passed, brittle encounters in the job centre. 

Chapter 21 - Reflections on mental health, on reading 'Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', friends who followed Guru Maharaj Ji, back to Social Services, Quaker Keith, teaching myself what to read, reduced isolation.

Chapter 22 - Drifting between churches, I joined the wrong church, my lack background in faith matters, church and history, Pastor Paul, middle class imitations of Christianity, escaping the Pentecostal Church hurt, TFT returns, honourable models of masculinity. parties, the end of the experiment in youthful communal living, learning about depression the hard way, the hardest way back to better living.

Chapter 23 - A survey of different addresses I lived at, my first year on a work programme, the fear of false nostalgia, my first exposure to the song 'Relax' by FGTH and my bad relationship with the song, Mother hatches new plans for me to live near the parental house I accept them.

Chapter 24 - A survey of the typical life of my parents found when they came into adulthood including their expectations, the job/wife/drink/owning your own house package, first experience of drugs, non-patriarchal ways of handling wealth, goodbye Mr Aftershave and Wilson Carpets, being older than my newer friends, my sister moves away from the parental house.

Chapter 25 - Moving out/in, I discover Radio 4 for life whilst decorating, a recent and not-quite-new best friend to share that flat with, my sisters life parallels mine, my membership of The Pentecostal Church hits the wrong note, my new popularity, the ongoing student life.

Chapter 26 -I enjoy going to the newly opened Arts Centre a lot, some very odd 'community politics', horrible histories-a local drama, more skirmishes around homosexuality via involvement with the theatre, seeing somebody with A.I.D.S. for the first time. 

Chapter 27 - Friendship change and popularity, different groups of people I intersect well with, the calmest people, Supersonic Steve, Mother's errant instincts, cannabis vs alcohol, the first party, leaving the Pentecostal Church, the second party, my sister's life changes and complicates my life, friendship evolves, my first serious therapy book, one last party, the row after the party.

Chapter 28 - The aftermath of the party and the argument, alone and subdued, how to explain to Mother?, victim/persecutor/rescuer, Dorothy Rowe helps me find victory in the face of defeat, Greenbelt again, my favourite few hours of the decade re-described, a new friend for life, the closet door definitively opened, 'the golden girls problem', another change of address, leaving the past behind me.  

Chapter 29 -The last local change of address, the quieter better balanced life, a new and calmer church life, same old same old with work and education, changes of plans, a chance meeting proves useful, the occasional sexual partners, first forays into life in Nottingham, a memorable last night in the town.

Afterword - Conclusion and summary of a long and slow attempt at leaving my past behind me, a lucky escape, the next memoir?.


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