Originally posted on Y360 8th March 2007
Reposted on Multiply 31st January 2008
Life is a never-ending series of moments, some so insignificant that we don't even notice them but nevertheless have a big impact on our path through life. But sometimes there are times, a particular year, that seems to stand out in memory as having a more significant effect on us. For me the year that stands out in memory is 1976. In that year two major events, connected via a notable climatic event, helped define the direction my life would take.
The first of the two events, the one where I could have died, or at least lost a limb, I wrote about in a blog called A FORK IN THE ROAD. Following the events detailed in that blog, began the famous 'long hot summer of '76'. Until recently it had been the longest, hottest summer ever recorded in the UK. For week after week, the sun shone in blazing temperatures, clear blue skies with not a cloud to be seen. After the motorcycle accident, I had fallen back into my old ways of doing very little. Of course my excuse was that having my right leg in a plaster-cast from ankle to thigh meant I couldn't do much, but if I had really wanted to, and put my mind to it, I could have. So, the majority of the summer was spent with a group of friends. Most days we would walk (or hobble on crutches in my case) to a favourite haunt called 'The Sheep Dip'. A small river, little more than a stream, at a spot where, years earlier, farmers would dip their sheep to prevent infection. Now it was a place where we would mess about, swinging on a rope across the stream (except me), laughing at anyone who fell in, throwing things at each other......just stupid goofing around, like any bunch of bored teenagers. The point is that this was one of the few times in my life I had a large group of friends (at least until the internet came along), I've always tended to have a small number of close friends. Being the victim or survivor of a motorcycle crash was considered 'cool' by the other kids, so I kind of acted as a magnet. It was the gathering together of this group of friends which ultimately led to the other major incident of the year, which in it's way had just an big effect on my life as the accident.
Later that year, after the 'long hot summer' had given way finally to a cooler autumn (Fall), my parents decided to go on holiday to America. Still suffering the after-effects of the accident, I decided I didn't want to go. So, my folks left me in charge of the house, and off they went. Big mistake!!!! Unable to resist the temptation, I phoned all my friends and said "ALL NIGHT PARTY!!!!!", telling them to bring along any other friends. The intention was to only have a party through that first night. It was a roaring success, I'm still not sure to this day how many were squeezed into the place. What you have to realise is that at the time, me and my folks lived in a small, two-bedroomed 500 year-old Tudor cottage!! Well, one thing led to another, and it ended up being a continuous, non-stop two-week-long party. Even during the daytime there were about fifteen friends there, at night I estimate there were probably about fifty or more packed in there. It was totally crazy. A couple of friends who were apprentice electricians wired up a great sound system so that there were speakers in every room, including the bathroom!! There were several guitar amps wired into that system. How we didn't blow all the electrics in the house, I'm not sure!! As you can imagine, with that many teenagers loose in the house, there was a lot of damage done. The more notable things being: my parent's four-poster bed collapsed under the weight of bodies sleeping on it (don't ask!!!). Even worse was the dog. At the time my mom had an Afghan hound called Amber. Some idiot stumbling around in the back yard kicked over a can of liquid-plastic left over from re-flooring the kitchen (you're ahead of me here, aren't you??)....yes, the dog didn't just walk through it, she ROLLED in it. So now I had a bright-blue Afghan hound. Apart from that there were lots of smaller breakages. I had resigned myself to the prospect of being hung, drawn and quartered by my parents on their return, but then I had a bit of inspiration. I charged admission on the last two nights, and collected enough to pay for the materials to repair the damages, while some of my friends, being apprentices, did the work. Perfect!!. The only thing that I couldn't fix was the blue dog, but felt sure I could talk my way out of that one. Ooops!! Being a teenager, I didn't think of all the possible consequences. Such as: just after my parents arrived home, a posse of neighbours arrived at the door demanding a lynching. That, coupled with the dog, was too much for my step-father, and this is where my life changed direction once again. In no uncertain terms, I was ordered to leave, and not come back. I'm not particularly proud of this episode in my life, I'm just telling it like it was, because the outcome affected the direction of my life.
I spent that first night sleeping on a bench in the local park (not so much sleeping as freezing), but then my uncle agreed to let me stay at his house until I found something for myself. I eventually found a flat (apartment) in a converted house. It was more of a bedroom, with all other facilities shared with the other tenants. From being a somewhat spoilt teenager, I suddenly had to grow up fast and learn to fend for myself. At first it was 'a bit of a laugh', but it didn't take me long to figure out that I needed to have money if I were to survive. At the same time all this was going on, unknown to me, my parents had nearly split up in rows over me, but I didn't find this out until much later. As my step-dad worked really long hours, mom would invite me over when she could and cook me dinner and do some washing for me. But deep down, I knew I had to make a big choice at this point in my life. Happily, I didn't succumb to the easy option. I decided that I was going to get my life in order, get a job, do something with my life. I moved back to Birmingham. I found a job within two weeks, which I stayed with for over twelve years. Within a year, I had met Vicky (whom I eventually married) and we set up home together.
It hasn't been an extraordinary life, but I think it's been a pretty good one, considering what could have happened had I chosen the other path. In the end I put it down to the values my mom always tried to instil in me, it just took a while for them to kick in. It did take several years, but I did eventually make my peace with my step-father.
POSTSCRIPT: Nearly forgot to say, and I'm sure you'll ask. What happened to the dog? After trying several things to get the liquid-plastic out of her coat, eventually it was a solution of good old washing powder that got it out!! Go figure!!