My father was a good man.
He didn’t lay down the law when I was growing up, instead he led by example. He was gentle and considerate, I never heard him swear and he only shouted at me once – I deserved it.
There is one piece of advice he gave me in my teens that I have never forgotten and that stood me in good stead more than once in my life.
I was 15 at the time and had just had my “difference of opinion” with the headmaster at Rhyl Grammar School. He wanted me to stay down and do my fourth year again – I didn’t.
The point is if I didn’t go back to the school on the headmaster’s terms then I wouldn’t be able to go back at all and that would make achieving the future I had planned since I first started there – to be a pathologist.
I would be able to get decent exam grades in some subjects by studying via a correspondence school, but the practicalities of studying the sciences with distance learning would be somewhat remote.
My parents took it well but they wanted to know what I was going to do.
That was when my father said to me: “If you want to travel the world that is fine, but you’ll need something to fall back on when you settle down.”
He wasn’t expecting me to down everything and go and jump aboard a ship with no experience of life beyond Rhyl. What he did want was for me to decide on something I could train for while working, but he wanted it to be my choice, not something he and my mother had come up with.
As I have said before, I had a good think about what my alternative to pathology might be and it was obvious – my other great love in life was words, the written word and the spoken word. After all I had spent years working on the basis that if I needed to know something then all I had to do was find a book about it.
Nowadays people just Google. The problem there is you may not know the source of the information.
That was when my life took a turn for the good. I studied and then became a trainee journalist and knew that at any time I could walk away if I wanted to; I could take a completely different path and, if that failed, I would have a career in journalism I could go back to.
It was nine years before that moment came, however.
By late summer 1974 I may have been doing well as a journalist but my private life was falling apart.
I had met the love of my life and I knew she cared about me, but …
Yes there was a “but”.
You have probably heard someone say: “Can’t live with her. Can’t live without her.” That was the position I found myself in. She was a good person and she had a strong sense of moral duty. Yet as long as we were in the same town – not even the same town, but the same county, neither of us could move on.
At the same time I was somewhat confused about my life as a journalist and where it was going.
I enjoyed writing, I enjoyed creating pictures in words and seeing it go out to people who would hopefully enjoy reading it.
I also enjoyed writing on a more personal level and, like every other writer, saw myself as a poet, but the poetry I had written so far had been for two people only and it has remained like that ever since.
I was down at the Arts Centre having a drink with Lawrence one Sunday evening and I happened to tell him that I was looking for a change of direction and needed to get away from Basildon and away from journalism for a while.
Then came that life-changing moment.
He told me he was leaving the Arts Centre and was going to work for a small touring show as stage manager. His new employer had also asked him if he could find an assistant stage manager: someone capable of shifting scenery and operating a sound system for the show as well as other general jobs.
The point is the person would need to start in four weeks’ time as there was work needed doing before the tour started.
It was Sunday night, I had to give four weeks’ notice.
The timing was perfect.
I told Lawrence I would like to take the job and he was already aware of my experience of working backstage, front of house and on stage.
We shook hands and the following morning I gave in my notice to Tony Blandford, my editor.
Which is how I came to run away and join – not the circus, but something I thought far better and far more fun.
I ran away and joined The Sooty Show.