I Hope You Enjoy Reading My Life Story
I was born in the early hours of June 16, 1969 at Lambeth Hospital in London. My mother, an unmarried 19-year-old young girl decided that it would be best if I was adopted by a couple who could give me a stable relationship from the word go. So in August 1969 I was given to my adoptive parents, in November 1969 I was officially adopted. The first four years of my life were spent travelling around Europe due to my father's work. We spent some time living in Norfolk before travelling to Hamburg in Germany where we lived until I was about four years old. Then we moved down to Paignton in Devon and stayed with my dad's parents whilst he took up training to run and manage some petrol stations. In 1974 we moved to Luton in Bedfordshire and my father started managing two ESSO garages. In the same year my parents then adopted my sister who they called Gabrielle.
We lived in St Joseph's Close Luton, a quiet friendly road that also housed a lot of other families with young children. My parents then enlisted me into a private school called Broadmead. I was only five so my memories of this old school are quite vague, probably a little bit like me at the time, however I do remember taking one of those little whistles that you find in crackers to school just after Christmas and one of the children managed to swallow it, don't ask me how, but he did. I know that they whisked him off the hospital, whether or not they dosed up with a load of laxatives, I will never know, but he never gave the whistle back. After a term I believe that it was decided that my parents were wasting used to money sending me to a private school so I started attending Norton Road which was less than a mile from my house, much more appropriate and I absolutely loved it, apart from when some little git pinched my brand-new Corgi Batman car that I got for my birthday that morning.
St Josephs Close was a great place to grow up in the 70s very early 80s, because it was a cul-de-sac you didn't have a constant stream of traffic driving past the houses all day, so us kids could safely play outside in the street without getting run over, apart from when Fred used to come roaring up and down the close. We didn't have computers or game consoles in those days, children's television was limited to just a couple of hours in the evening so my memories of those days was always being outside. I can remember that we would get called in for lunch and an evening meal, and then when it was bedtime, when the weather was nice we would never indoors.
The late 70s was a time when various crazes became popular for a very short time and then faded out as quickly as they appeared. I don't know how it came about, but everyone started making these crossbow type weapons out of two pieces of wood, a couple of wooden clothes pegs and an elastic band. In hindsight, these crude crossbow type weapons could have easily taken somebody's eye out if you weren't careful, nowadays I suspect they would be banned.
I remember the birth of the skateboard in the UK, one of the kids who lived just up the road was the first person to have a skateboard, well when I say skateboard, it was rather a case of a piece of wood with the wheels off some old strap on rollerskates screwed underneath. Mind you, I remember that he painted it with some really cool drawings and I do remember being rather jealous. I finally got a skateboard for Christmas, it was called "The Land Surfer of California". I couldn't actually use it properly for a few days that Christmas because we had a lot of snow and unfortunately the white stuff and skateboards don't really mix. Nearly all the kids in the close had a skateboard so it was a lot of fun, especially doing the catamaran the full length of the close on the pathway, it was made for the job.
I also remember when rollerskates became very popular in the UK, unfortunately I wasn't so lucky this time around, I did have some rollerskates, but they were those crappy old metal ones that strapped to your shoes, not the nice ones that everyone else had that incorporated the boot, I really wanted some of those but never got them. I think by the time Christmas came around the novelty of rollerskates had started to phase out. Anyway, after rollerskates I believe that BMX was starting to get popular, I don't remember anyone having a BMX whilst I was living in St Joseph's close, however I do remember the same lad who first had a skateboard getting all the youngsters to lie on the ground while he jumped over us, I never wanted to be the last one in the line of people lying down whilst he attempted to do his impression of Evil Knievel.
I must admit I was pretty gullible when I was a young kid. I can remember two occasions when a couple of the kids got me hook line and sinker. I think they call them slinky worms, you can still buy them now, basically they are fluffy imitation worms that come in all sorts of colours, yellow, orange, bright green, they have a very thin piece of fishing line attached which means if done properly, you can pull the worm through your fingers and make it look like it is moving by itself. I remember a lad called Mark who lived a few doors away, he had one of these worms and made me believe that he had found it down a drain in the street, I can even remember searching for one of these worms that I wanted so badly, suffice to say I never found one. On another occasion a couple of the children knocked on my door, they were holding a tobacco tin, when they took the lid off there was a finger covered in blood resting on some cotton wool, pretty bloody gruesome to say the least. It turned out that they had simply cut a hole in the bottom of the tin and stuck their own finger through with a little tomato sauce for affect, quite realistic, maybe that was still work on somebody today? The funny thing was is that my dad's mechanic at the time had only recently lost three fingers in the radiator fan whilst fixing a car.
We would offer holiday down in Paignton Devon where my Grandparents had lived for many years after moving away from Birmingham which is where my dad's side of the family come from . They owned a hotel, then a guesthouse and then retired to various properties around the town. My dad's sister lived here in Brixham which is only 5 miles from Paignton. She also had two children, Matt and Nick. Nick is the same age as me, and Matt a couple of years younger. This photograph taken in 72/73 is of me (in white) and my cousin Nick. Here we are on Goodrington Beach having a really good laugh by the look of it. Can't remember what I found so amusing. By the look of those holes, maybe I had just force-fed my cousin a big lugworm.
I can't remember exactly how it came about, but somehow, some way I decided that I wanted to take up angling. It may have been due to the fact that when we spent our summer holidays down at Paignton, my grandfather used to take both me and my cousins fishing when we were very young, probably five or six years old, I don't recall catching anything but that is the only recollection I have of fishing at a very early age.
I think it was my ninth birthday when we went up to "Anglers Den" the local angling shop about three quarters of a mile from the house and I was bought my very first fishing rod, a 10 foot Shakespeare course fishing rod, plus a reel and some tackle. My dad would take me to a place called Wrest Park which is located in Silsoe, I think that he knew someone who had given me permission to go and fish in the large lake there. So on a Sunday morning off I would trundle to the tackle shop to buy a box of maggots. I did once make the mistake of leaving my bait box on the step outside the back door, my mother wasn't too happy when she walked out and knocked the box on the floor releasing the wriggling contents all over the place, I can still remember the screams today. I don't remember catching anything big, I was quite happy catching small roach and perch for two or three hours. When I was a little older, around 10, I was allowed to go fishing with a friend. I was very good friends with a young lad the same age as me called Philip Boyle, he lived just around the corner, in fact his back garden backed onto ours. One fishing trip that Philip and I went on will remain in my memory for ever. It wasn't for the fact that we caught lots of fish, it was because on one of the coldest days in winter, Philip fell in the canal. To this day, I don't know how you managed to do it, I just remember him casting out, the next thing there was a scream and there was Phillip going headfirst into into the canal. I'm afraid he ain't no Tom Daley and I could only give him one for entry. He started panicking so obviously we had to get him out. Unfortunately I found it really difficult to pull him out of the canal, it wasn't because he was soaking wet, nothing like that, it was the fact that I was laughing so hard I couldn't summon up the strength to pull him out. Anyway, we finally managed to get him out and he disappeared for the rest of the day, to this day I don't know where he went. All I do know is he swore me to secrecy and made me promise not to tell anyone, of course I did, it was just too funny not to share with everyone else. I have spoken to Phil fairly recently on Facebook and he actually brought the subject up. He agreed, it was ******* funny.
Some of the best and most memorable holidays I spent as a child were up in the Highlands of Scotland. We used to stay in a tiny weenie little village called Corran. Having said this, you can't really call it a village as there are probably less than a dozen houses in the whole village, in fact Corran itself could probably fit into the size of two or three football fields. Corran is located on the shore of Loch Hourn, which is a sea Loch rather than a landlocked freshwater loch. You can actually see the Isle of Skye from Corran, probably 10 or 15 miles away. Most holidays were spent at Corran during the summer holidays, however we did spend one extremely cold New Year there in either 1979 or 1980, can't quite remember. We certainly didn't visit Corran for luxury accommodation, which was probably a good thing as we would stay in a rather ramshackled old caravan which probably dated from the fifties or sixties. Four of us would stay in the caravan for our two week stay. However we did cheat by having our daily wash at Mrs McKenzie's house a few yards away. She was the owner of the caravan and was quite happy to let us use her amenities.
There was a small river a couple of hundred yards from the caravan that I would fish in nearly every day. The last part of the river, or burn as they are called in Scotland was tidal so it was rather like fishing in the sea, although it was fishable to a certain extent when the tide was low. This is where I caught for the very first time the sea trout. Although sea trout can grow in excess of 10lb, the ones I was catching were typically around half a pound. But for a 10 year old kid that was a great thrill, and they were just big enough to keep and put on the smoker as well. I would collect a tub full of earthworms each day as the trout and get enough of them.
In 1984 my two cousins, Nick and Matt joined us for our holiday at Corran. Obviously, by this time I was 15 years old and was very much more into my sea fishing. I have very fond memories of us fishing in the loch itself catching mackerel and hordes of dogfish, the seabed must have been paved with these little critters. However, it was great fun. What ever we were catching. 1984 would be the last time I ever visited Corran, although I had started making plans in my head to go back once I passed my driving test, sadly, a little incident in an outdoor swimming pool put a stop to that dream. Having said this, now Google Street view enables us to go just about anywhere in the world we want without leaving the comfort of our armchair, I have been able to revisit Corran once again. Even though the landscape itself remains exactly the same, quite a few buildings have appeared, in particular where are caravan used to reside. If you visit this page then you can see some photos that I have taken from Google Street view.
Whilst on holiday at Corran in Scotland in 1979 I got my first dog, a beautiful little border collie puppy which I named Skye. Four years later she presented me with four little puppies. She had managed to get out of the house on Valentine's Day 1983, a few months later the patter of tiny paws came along, the dirty bitch :-) We decided to keep one of the puppies who we named Sam, he really was the sweetest loveliest dog you could ever own. Don't get me wrong, Skye was beautiful and I loved her to bits, but she did have a bit of a nasty snappy side to her so you had to be careful around strangers. Sam on the other hand didn't have a bad bone in his body. Having said that, I remember taking the dogs out one night to the park just next to our house. Whilst I was walking around the field with the dogs a dark shadow appeared at the entrance to the field, it was my dad. I told Sam to go and get him, so off Sam ran, he got to my dad and promptly bit him on the arse , it turned out it wasn't my dad after all. Sadly Skye passed away in 1991, Sam died at the age of 13 at the end of 1996, he now resides in my garden.
We left Luton in the summer of 1981 and moved to Paignton in Devon. I must say that living by the seaside for the first time sure beat living in a great big town, the beach was only a 20 min walk from the house. My parents bought a small grocery shop in the St Michaels area of Paignton. We had the Devonport Arms pub directly opposite our house which was probably one of the most appealing things about the area for my father. Again, there was a large family community in the area and there were certainly not a shortage of kids to hang around with. I had my own dog, she was called Skye and it was so nice that the beach was only a 15 min walk away. I would often take her fishing with me, although I do remember the time when she swallowed my bait, unfortunately it still had a hook in it.
I started school at Paignton Community College in the summer of 81. In comparison it was minute compared to my previous school but all in all a much more relaxing atmosphere and not so intimidating because of the size. I'm not exactly sure how old the school is, but I have friends who are in their 60s who attended as children, so we're definitely going back to the early 50s. The teachers were pretty cool, my first form teacher was lovely but unfortunately had absolutely no control over any of the children, she would often end up in tears after being tormented by a few individuals.
Unfortunately, not all of the teachers were particularly nice. In fact, one individual sports teacher put the fear of God into some of us. With the benefit of hindsight I can now see that this particular chap was nothing more than a bully that either took delight in punishing some young boys, or had no control over his temper. He wouldn't think twice about dishing out his own style of punishment, quite often either humiliating somebody, or physically abusing them. I witnessed this first-hand on more than one occasion. In one incident he physically picked a young lad up and threw him against a door and let him fall to the floor because he farted. On another occasion I was made to change into my sports shorts and then back into my school costume for the entirety of the sports lesson just because I was spinning around on my backside while we were waiting for him to come to the lesson. The worst thing I ever witnessed was when he made a young lad stand completely naked in front of the whole class for a small misdemeanour. I'm afraid that if you didn't quite fall into what his impression of somebody who was into "sports" then you were probably more likely to fall foul of his temper.
Now in light of everything that has been happening in the news lately with young children being abused, I don't think anyone would disagree when I say this type of behaviour by this individual sports teacher was completely unacceptable and could certainly be described as a "abuse" towards young children.
Just before travelling to Scotland for our annual holiday in 1983, I visited the hairdressers and got myself a crewcut hair cut, basically I had most of my hair removed leaving me with about a quarter of an inch of hair. I wasn't particularly fond of my ginger hair so in my weird way of thinking, having less of it was an advantage. Then I happened to be watching Top of the Pops around Christmas time and "The Flying Pickets" came on singing the Yazoo classic "Only You". For some strange reason I was rather taken by the weird looking skinhead character who was a member of the band. I then decided that a change of image was required and at the beginning of 1984 I transformed myself into a skinhead. I had the works, 14 hole Dr Marten boots, bleached jeans that were cut off at the very top of the boots, of course I had to have a black Crombie with a red lining. With the benefit of hindsight I must have looked extremely menacing to some people, however I thought I was the bees knees and took great pride in polishing my boots until I could see my face in them. Even though my hair was still quite short, it wasn't quite short enough for my liking so off I went to the hairdressers and came back with an eighth of an inch crewcut, because of my colouring I looked virtually bald. Well, my mother hit the roof when she saw me, she actually vowed to keep me inside until it grew back.
One even a whilst I was out I bumped into a couple of lads from school, one of which I knew really well, the other one I knew but didn't really have anything to do. His name was Gary and it just so happened that he was also a skinhead. Well, from that night we hit it off and became the best of friends. We were basically inseparable and would go out traipsing the streets looking tough, or trying to anyway. It wasn't just myself and Gary, there was also Darren and Ryan as well, a right bunch of teeny skinheads, but believe me we had some really good times and I wouldn't change a thing.
Strangely my skinhead stage only lasted a few months, probably five months in all. Both myself and Gary were really into bands such as Madness, The Specials, Bad Manners, the Selector, basically most of the Two Tone and Ska groups that were so popular in the late 70s and early 80s. My favourite band at the time and still one of my favourites is Madness. The lead singer of madness is called Graham MacPherson, however most people know him as "Suggs". Being an impressionable young 14-year-olds, I really wanted to model myself on Suggs. So I grew my hair a little bit and got myself a flattop haircut, just like Suggs. The clothing we wore was probably a little bit more tame than when we were skinheads. Gone were the bleached cuts of jeans and in where the smart sta press trousers, or full-length jeans, flying jacket and brogues. We never went back to the very short hair and the flattop haircut stayed with us until we left school.
Gary had never been fishing before so considering how much I spent fishing myself, I thought it was something I would introduce to him to. The first time we ever went fishing he unfortunately lost a float, well, you would have thought it was the crown jewels, he was so upset and apologetic, the float only cost 50p. Anyway, he soon became as hooked as I was on fishing and for the remainder of our schooldays we would spend hours fishing together. We all used to have some great times going fishing together. Sometimes just myself and Gary would go off fishing, other times another good schoolfriend Ryan would be with us, and quite often it would be myself, Gary and my two cousins, Nick and Matt. I do remember one occasion when it was just myself and Nick fishing at Berry Head. The call of nature interrupted the fishing for Nick and he had to run off to take a dump. I remember looking up and seeing a group of old grannies on the path pointing and observing something just below them. It turned out that they were actually watching Nick empty his bowels, well, I found this quite funny and couldn't resist informing him that he had an audience of old age pensioners watching him. You've never seen somebody run so quickly with their trousers and pants around their ankles.
I recall a few other stories that are quite funny. Both myself and Ryan visited Hopes Nose in Torquay one very early winters morning to do a bit of fishing. For some reason, don't ask me why, I decided to scare the shit out of him by looking over his shoulder into the darkness behind him and putting on an absolutely terrified face, just as if something was creeping up behind him, well it worked, he nearly wet his pants, it was so funny. Another time Gary, Ryan and myself were fishing the whole night at Brixham Breakwater. Ryan somehow managed to snap a starlight and get all the chemicals in his eyes. Gary myself had to lead him in the complete darkness the whole length of the Breakwater so he could watch the chemicals out of his eyes at the toilets, I suppose he's lucky he wasn't blinded.
Since the age of 12 I had been doing a little part-time job as a paperboy. I first started off delivering the Herald Express in the evenings after school. I think I probably delivered about 30 papers for a measly two quid a week, we didn't get paid much as paperboys in the early 80s. One of the old ladies who I used to deliver to was virtually housebound and used to sit in a chair all day, we would knock and then walk straight into the house since she was not very good on her feet. I'll never forget the day I knocked, walked into the living room only to find a family of four all watching the television, you guessed it, I walked into the neighbour's house by accident, rather embarrassing as they didn't say anything at all, they just looked at me as I was standing there. When I was little older, probably 13 I got myself a morning paper round at the same shop in Fisher Street Paignton. A couple called Barry and Ann who were originally from Coventry owned and ran the paper shop. Ironically, Anne's brother was the drummer in The Specials, one of my favourite bands in the early 80s. Doing a morning paper round meant getting up at about 6 AM in the morning, okay in the summertime but absolutely horrible during winter, is it just me or were the winters much colder in the early 80s?
In 1984 I landed a summer job on "Boy Richard", a mackerel fishing boat which operated out of Paignton harbour. Although doing up to 4, five and even six two-hour trips a day was extremely tiring, it was a very rewarding and enjoyable job. I was earning a flat rate of £80 a week plus extra money which I made from selling drinks on-board, so I was probably making about £100 a week, not bad for a 15-year-old boy. Anyway, the job didn't last quite as long as I had hoped, I got the sack after mouthing off to the skipper, that is one mistake that I learned from and never did it again. I wasn't really bothered, the season was coming to an end and I had earned quite a tidy sum, more than enough to go out and buy some top of the range angling equipment. I've got very good memories of working on "Boy Richard", it's not many people who get the chance to hold a mackerel well in excess of 3lb in weight.
In 1985 I finally left Paignton Community College. Four years at one school seems so long when you are young. I had decided that I wanted to get into the fishing industry so had enrolled at Falmouth fisheries College. Falmouth is located on the south coast of Cornwall, approximately 100 miles from Brixham. It is a delightful little town about the same size as Brixham. Although it has got a fishing industry, it's nowhere near as big or as busy as Brixham. The main Falmouth College was located just off from the main Falmouth town, however the fisheries College was located at an old primary school. From what I can remember it was an old Victorian school that really hadn't been updated in a long time. I know that they no longer teach fisheries at this particular promises, I have no idea what ever came of this building or what they are using it for nowadays. The photograph above was taken on the stone pier in the centre of town and shows myself on the far right with a few of the other young lads who were attending the college at the same time as me.
The time I spent down at Falmouth will remain as some of the fondest memories I've ever had in my life. I remember travelling down with my parents on a very hot June 1985 day. We spent the day at one of the beaches before I was dropped off at my digs. I would be staying with another young lad called Mark who was also going to be attending the fisheries College. I stayed with a middle aged couple who provided accommodation and food for pupils attending the college. They were extremely nice, we would have a lovely breakfast, she would make up a packed lunch for us and then a nice hearty meal when we came home from college. We were even allowed to smoke in the house, that was a novelty. I bet things have changed nowadays. It was fantastic not to have your parents around, I felt free, no more nagging or arguing, it really was a wonderful time in my life.
Falmouth College is located not far from the main town centre, however the fisheries parts of the college was located at an old Victorian primary school about 1 mile from the main college. Lessons consisted of seamanship, these included learning how to make and men nets, how to splice, all about the safety of working on a fishing boat. Our main teacher was Mr Pender, an old Cornish sea dog with tombstone teeth and lots of white hair that he would continually smooth back with his hand.
Like Brixham, Falmouth is a coastal town so I took my fishing tackle down with me halfway through the course. People had often talked about the huge conger that lived amongst the jetties at the Falmouth docks. Now Falmouth docks is strictly out of bounds to anyone who doesn't work there, you cannot simply walk onto the docks and start fishing. However, I was determined that I was going to try for these big conger so I planned to go fishing the one evening when it was dark. I went out and bought myself about four or five fresh herring which the bloody cat decided to eat, I suppose it was my fault leaving them by the back door, so I only had a couple of herring for that evening, that was a good start. So equipped with all my tackle I set off in the evening heading for a small road that overlooked the docks, I was able to simply hop over a wall into the docks grounds. To be perfectly honest I didn't have a clue where I was but somehow someway I managed to find my way in the dark down to the docks. It was very nerve wracking, I had to try and fish without being seen, after all I could have got myself into an awful lot of trouble if I had been caught, God knows what would have happened if I had actually hooked into one of these massive conger, in hindsight I hadn't even thought about how I would have coped in that situation.
In the end nerves got the better of me and I decided that I better making a hasty retreat before somebody did see me. I found myself walking back a different way than how I had got down to the docks, I ended up walking through what seemed to be a dumping ground for rubbish, there were little huts dotted all over the place, it was very eerie indeed. I'll be perfectly honest with you I was absolutely s***ing myself, it was dark and very spooky indeed. At one stage I shone my torch into a hut which had its door open, I nearly died of fright, sitting there in a rocking chair staring straight back at me was an old man, well I freaked, I was lucky I just didn't dump all my fishing tackle the and then, I ran as fast as I could, I would have given Linford Christie a run for his money, my heart was pounding and almost jumping out of my chest, it goes without saying that I never went back there again. Oh, that old man turned out to be a large sack somebody had put in the rocking chair, I realise that after I had calmed down.
We were actually in class and observed out of the window the day when the lead singer of Duran Duran, Simon Le Bon's yacht "Drum" was towed into Falmouth upside down after capsising and nearly killing him. I wonder how many people remember that?
I spent three extremely enjoyable months at college at Falmouth until the course came to an end in September 1985 and it was time to head home.
In the meantime my parents had sold the shop in Paignton and moved to Brixham in the meantime. I was quite happy, Brixham was always the place I wanted to live ever since we moved down to Devon. My parents bought a very old three-storey house uptown in the old farming district of Brixham. The house itself was around 400 years old and had dry stone walls around 3 foot thick. I have no idea how long the previous owner had lived there but I found newspapers dating back to the late 60s underneath the carpet in my bedroom.
I started working on a 35 foot crab fishing boat called "Sally Lou". It was owned and skippered by Dave Langdon and along with Jim Piper, we would set off at 5:30 in the morning to pull several hundred pots. It was a monotonous job that was the same every single day. Even though we were back in by midday I really didn't take to it at all. During the colder months when you couldn't feel your fingers having to lift heavy pots and re-bait them was absolutely agonising.
Even though working on the crab fishing boat was okay and we only spent a few hours at sea every day, I really had set my heart on working on a proper trawler. In the November or December of 1985 I found myself a position on a 79 foot scallop trawler called "Onze Linquenda" (BM 202) which translates into "our house away from home". The boat was skippered by Clive Wills who was born and bred in Brixham. Funnily enough his ex-wife is now one of my carers, small world isn't it? Weather permitting we would spend a minimum of seven days at sea, sometimes more depending on the catch rate. Along with five other crew, we would do shifts of six hours on and six hours off, basically meaning that my working time would be between two o'clock in the afternoon until eight o'clock in the evening, I would then sleep from eight in the evening until two in the morning and then it would start all over again. The sleeping accommodation on the boat was fairly modest, there were six berths down below, mine was right at the back above the propeller, a made a real racket. However, after I have been working on the deck for six hours, I can probably slept through a force 12 hurricane. We would have a really big breakfast, get our own lunch which was often consists of some kind of sandwich, I remember being introduced to garlic sausage slices and mayonnaise, can't honestly say I have had it since. Then Nigel the ships mate and also the cook would do us a really big meal that we used to eat out of baking trays, why baking trays? The food doesn't stay on a plate very long if you are in a big swell where the boat is rocking from side to side. Being the youngest, I always got the job of peeling the mushrooms and potatoes. I never peel mushrooms these days, I've always wondered if that was a bit of a windup.
Life on deck could be very dangerous at times, especially during heavy seas in the darkness. You really did need to have your wits about you and definitely a good pair of sea legs when collecting the scallops and fish from the deck. After emptying out the dredges we would then have to pick up all the scallops and fish and then take them to the front of the vessel where they would be cleaned and prepared for icing. We would then often have to scoop back half the ocean bottom which we often trawled up as well, gravel, mud, huge rocks, you name it. I will never forget the guy who used to work with me for those six hours, he had the worst halitosis I've ever come across, in fact it was so bad that even in a gale, you could still smell his breath from a few feet away. He was a really lovely guy so nobody ever said anything.
I wouldn't say that life on board was particularly exciting in between towing the gear, Clive had a television up in the wheelhouse but unfortunately us mortal deckhands had to find other entertainment. For the first time in my life I actually started reading books whilst passing the time, must say it was actually quite good. At the end of seven days though, it was always very nice to get your feedback on terra firma, I loved the job, but I wouldn't like to spend weeks at sea like some fishermen do.
One of the biggest advantages of working on a trawler is at the end of every trip you get to take home lots of fresh fish. One of the downsides of catching fish by trawling nets is sometimes the fish get damaged. Damaged fish does not sell so at the end of every trip it would be divided up amongst the crew. I used to go home with bags of plaice, sole, turbot, all kinds of fish that would cost a fortune to buy, we used to eat well at our house you know.
I am sure that you have heard new workers being sent for a tin of tartan paint, a long wait, or even a glass mallet. Well, I didn't get away without having this joke played on me. One day when we were carrying out some work on the boat. Clive sent me to get a skyhook, an hour later somebody put me out of my misery and told me I had been completely stitched up, lots of smiling and laughing fishermen when I returned to the boat. Suffice to say it never happened again.
In the May of 1986 the boat went for a major refit in Holland which basically put us out of work. Everyone had bills to pay so needed to go and get jobs until the boat came back. I was going to go down on Monday and see what I could find.
On Sunday I decided to take the dogs for a walk. It was a very pleasant day, the warm weather had arrived and the sun was shining. At approximately 6 o'clock in the evening as I was walking back I bumped into a few friends and they accompanied me on my way back. We just so happened to take a little detour past Shoalwater outdoor swimming pool which is located not far from Brixham breakwater. Being such a nice day a couple of us decided to take a dip since there was some water in the swimming pool. John Boyce went in before me and I dived over his head. The next thing I remember is lying face down in the water not being able to move anything apart from my head. I really didn't know what the hell has happened, all I knew was thatI was in a pretty sticky situation that was only going to get worse unless I could get a breath of air.
I held my breath for as long as possible, I don't suppose it was more than about 30 or 40 seconds, however in that time I distinctly remember thinking to myself "how the hell did I get myself in this position?" It seems surreal now, but I came to terms with the situation very quickly and rather than being in a state of panic, I was actually feeling very peaceful. The last thing I remember was telling myself to prepare for death, and then nothing. Luckily for me a couple of trained Lifesavers were out for an early evening stroll and just happened to be walking past the swimming pool when all this was happening. I owe my life to Barry and Pearl Savage as they managed to bring me back to life again.
My next recollection was lying in hospital flat on my back. It was all a little bit confusing as I really hadn't got a clue what was going on. I do recall my cousin Nick coming to see me and I asked him if I was wearing any clothes. Cap one thing I do remember very clearly was being turned upside down in the striker bed, I remember absolutely panicking when they did this, a really horrible feeling.
I arrived at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre on May 21, 1986. I remember being wheeled in on the stretcher and looking up at a grey sky with a few raindrops hitting my face. A lovely little lass called Wendy was assigned as my primary nurse . However, I didn't see her for 2 weeks because she had just got married and went on honeymoon. When she came back she took charge and was absolutely wonderful. The first few days were a complete blur, I was drugged up to the eyeballs and didn't know what was going on, WW3 could have broken out around me and I probably wouldn't have noticed. I used to have the most vivid hallucinations where I was convinced my hands were working normally, I would even shout outs for the nurses to tell them only to be completely brought back down to earth when I realised it was only in my head. I remember the first time I had several nurses standing around my bed when I obviously had no clothes on, I still had my modesty intact then and it was absolutely awful. I was on Avon ward and a nurse called
Because I had suffered a compression fracture to my neck which basically meant I had squashed all the vertebrae together, they had to attach some heavyweights to my head. This was done by screwing a clamp into my skull , the weights hung off this. I spent six weeks lying on my back, I had a mirror above my head so I could watch the television behind me. It just so happened that when you were turned you could look straight down the top of the nurse who was holding your shoulders. I swear to God that some of them didn't wear bras, I suppose you've got to have some enjoyment, after all, lying flat on your back for weeks on end isn't much fun.
After six weeks the nurses started getting me up. The first time I got up was an absolutely horrible experience. The blood drained from my head and I felt as sick as a dog. I could hardly move so even a slight jolt felt like I was falling out of the chair. After a few weeks I was able to sit up all day although I had to wear a neck brace all day. This was the middle of the summer so you can imagine how much I sweated, it was awful, I had the most horrendous yellow spots on my chin, probably heaven for people who like squeezing zits.
I wasn't able to move my fingers at all day so every day it was down to physio and occupational therapy. Even simple tasks like eating and drinking were something I was going to have to learn all over again if I wanted to do it independently.
Being in hospital for that long means that you develop very close friendships with the people there. I was extremely friendly with a lot of the nurses but one particular nurse called Jane was my absolute favourite. The spinal unit in those days isn't like what it is today. Unfortunately bureaucracy has gone completely mad and you're not allowed to fraternise with any of the staff if you are a patient. Back in the mid-80s the staff would come in to the unit on their days off to take patients out, get takeaway meals and basically socialise. Even though you were disabled, in those days the staff made every effort to make your life as comfortable and as pleasant as possible. Boy, times have really changed.
I spent the first few months in the eight bed ward directly in front of the nurses station. Once I was stabilised and able to get up for the whole of the day I was then moved into one of the four bed wards. It was actually pretty cool really, myself and three other lads were put in the four bed ward right at the end of the corridor. It was great in those days, we were not told when we had to go to bed, we basically went to bed when we wanted to. When Jane, or maybe a few of the other nurses I got on with were on night duty, they would often wheel my bed down to the nurses station and feed me Marmite on toast at two o'clock in the morning. Mind you, we used to get pretty annoyed when the lights were turned on at eight o'clock in the morning, I can remember being quite abusive towards Ian who was one of the auxiliary nurses, naughty teenagers with their bad language.
This picture shows me next to the nurses station with three of the nurses that looked after me on a regular basis. I'm not sure why I was pulling such a stupid face, looks like I may have been auditioning for a gurning competition. (from the left: Sue, Theresa on my knee, and Jo behind)
I spent Christmas 1986 at home which was quite weird, I was so used to sleeping at the hospital, being in a completely different bed was quite surreal. New Year 1987 was spent at hospital, although I didn't get hammered like a year earlier. February 1987 was my time to leave the spinal unit and come back to Brixham to start my new life.
It just so happened that Brixham was one of numerous cities and towns around the world that had a Leonard Cheshire Home. The Cheshire home was set up at the end of the war by Group Capt Leonard Cheshire. It was intended to give a home to young disabled people. At the beginning of February 1987 I moved into Douglas House which is the Cheshire home based in Brixham. The Cheshire home had around 40 residents who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy, very slight brain injury, spinal injury and MS. When I first moved into the Cheshire home everybody was able to communicate fully, sometimes it was difficult to understand what they were saying, but everyone was fully able to communicate.
It didn't take me very long to settle in and I made it my home, I soon forgot all about being tied to the hospital. Jane came down to see me a few times which was really nice, she even came down for my 18th birthday. The Cheshire Home was fantastic in those days, the staff again interacted with the residents and it wasn't like being in an institution at all. There wasn't a set time before going to bed, if I wanted to go to bed at one o'clock in the morning, that was my prerogative. The Cheshire Home Foundation had and still has a policy of inviting volunteers to come and work at the home for a short period of time. They weren't paid a full wage, rather pocket money just to enable them to entertain themselves when not working. When I was there there was an never ending supply of young Danish people, many of them young girls between the ages of 17 and 20. I'm not going to pretend that I didn't have an eye for some of these young beauties, however I'm afraid that is all I will be saying about the subject, those fond memories will remain tightlipped secret.d and moved home once again.
It was a little strange moving back home again but I had a fairly large lounge/bedroom/bathroom which gave me my own space. I would continue visiting the Cheshire Home on the weekdays as it was nice to mix with people, rather than just sit at home watching television.
Douglas House would often arrange trips out, and even holidays abroad. They had a customised coach equipped with a lift that enabled wheelchair users to travel in their wheelchairs. In 1988 after I had left the Cheshire home, I joined many of the residents for a short break to Paris in November, it was pretty darned cold but extremely sunny all the time, I really did enjoy that trip to France, it was the first and probably the last time I have ever been up the Eiffel Tower. The photograph to the left shows me at the age of 21 when I went on a trip with the Cheshire home to Slimbridge wildlife sanctuary. 21 years later, I now look in the mirror and ask myself "what the hell happened? you used to be quite good looking " Anyway, it's very sad to say that the Cheshire Home is not the place it used to be when I was there in the mid-80s, I daresay that group Capt Leonard Cheshire would probably turn in his grave if he saw what became of his idea to build homes for young disabled people.
In 1990 I decided to get myself a CB radio once again. In those days the bands were quite busy and it wasn't very long before I was starting to make friends on the airwaves. When you use a CB radio you normally have what is referred to as a "CB handle", rather than using your real name, most people have a CB handle to identify themselves on the airwaves, I decided to call myself "Steelwheels". A friend of mine Adrian who was the handyman at the Cheshire Home also got a CB at the same time and he called himself " Cat Catcher". He chose this name because a few months earlier he had been assigned to catch some wild cats that have been making themselves at home around the Cheshire Home. The CB was an excellent way of making friends because only other person could hear was your voice, I didn't have to mention the disability at all, and in many cases most people and he found out I was disabled after either listening into our conversations, or after we have been chatting for a while. By the time we met up we were already friends and the disability really wasn't an issue at all. We often congregated on Channel 39 UK, we would put out a whistle to see if anyone was at home.
The sunspot cycle was at its peak in 90/91 which meant there was a lot of Sporadic E knocking around. Now this is probably double Dutch to most people so I'll put it in layman's terms. I could be chatting away to mate a couple of miles away one minute, and then all of a sudden a voice with a Scottish accent would suddenly appear. Basically the signals were being bounced off an ionized layer around the earth and whereas normally you could communicate up to around 10 miles using a CB radio, it was possible to talk to people many hundreds, or even thousands of miles away when this unusual form of radio publication occurs. At first I wasn't aware of these conditions and I thought it was somebody local playing a joke by putting on a strange accent. Anyway, when I realized it was possible to talk to people in another country that opens up a whole new world for me and I would spend hours chasing different countries. I made a few friends overseas who I still talk to now, mainly over the Internet, not on CB radio anymore. A good friend of mine is called Remek and he is from Poland. I first spoke to him in 1990 and then over the next couple of years we would often hear each other until conditions dropped off to the extent where there were no foreign signals to be heard. However, due to the good old World Wide Web we are now back in contact and have a little chat every now and then.
1992 was a big year, things started happening and I was finally able to make a start at moving on in life. After nearly a six-year wait I was awarded damages for my accident. It was deemed that the outdoor swimming pool had been left in an unsafe condition. The first thing I did was to buy a car. I ordered a Chrysler Voyager which had to be shipped over from the USA. I then moved into the property market and bought a house. Ironically the bungalow I purchased is almost opposite the Cheshire Home. However, it would be another three years before I would move into the bungalow.
My new vehicle arrived several months after I ordered it and it went to Coventry to have driving controls fitted. To be perfectly honest I don't think anyone really knew what we were doing. The driving controls that were fitted to the vehicle were wholly inadequate and I just could not get to grips with driving the car. It would be another two years before I once again approached driving independently again. In 1994 I looked into having a completely different system fitted to the vehicle. There was no way I was going to be able to turn the steering wheel myself so I opted for joystick steering. I found a company in Hemel Hempstead who specialized in fixing these type of controls. Once the joystick had been fitted, driving the vehicle was an absolute cinch. On May 1, 1995 I passed my driving test first time, it was an absolutely fantastic feeling being able to go out independently.
I also gained an amateur radio license at the beginning of 1995 which meant I could open up a whole new world in my communication hobby. I was able to use many more frequencies than was allowed on the CB, plus lots more power, and bigger antennas.
After living in a flat on the back of my parents house since 1987 I moved into a bungalow in 1995 and started living totally independently which was fantastic. As long as you've got a good team of carers than any disabled person can live independently, I would highly recommend it. There's something about making your own cup of tea that is quite satisfying when someone's been doing for you before.
In 1999 I entered into a relationship with one of my carers and we started living together a year later in my bungalow. There really isn't much to say from here, so roll the clock forward to the end 2004....
For most of 2004 I felt pretty ill. I really wasn't sure what was wrong. On numerous occasions I would spend two or three days in bed unable to get up. The Thursday after Christmas 2004, a few days after the tsunami my carer discovered a rather large hole in my backside. I had absolutely no idea this had been going on. There was a really bad infection inside me which accounted for all the illness throughout the year. After some strong antibiotics I managed to get rid of the infection and started to feel normal again. Unfortunately I was now bedridden unable to get up at all. The days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and I was stuck in bed. Summertime came along as did the good weather which made staying in bed so much harder. I finally started getting up in a 2006 and thankfully didn't have a repeat of the same problem
Sadly in 2005 Gary, my dear friend of over 20 years passed away after a short illness, he was only 36 years old. Some of my fondest memories as a teenager were spent in the company of Gary. He will be missed but never forgotten.
Chrissy and I parted in 2006, however our strong friendship remains to this day and not only is she one of my main carers now, but both Chrissy myself and her new partner Charles go out for meals on a regular basis and are the best of friends.
October 2008 is a month that I would rather forget about now. After feeling rather under the weather for a few days, I was due to go out for a meal with Chrissy on the Saturday evening, as we do every other week. For the whole of that Saturday I could not quench my thirst, I just couldn't get enough to drink, in the end I had literally drunk every available bit of liquid I could find. As you do, I got on the Internet and convinced myself that I had suddenly developed diabetes. I think Chrissy arrived at about 5 PM, I'm not entirely sure because I really wasn't with it by this time. In fact, I was feeling so unwell, so incredibly ill that all I wanted to do was get to hospital, believe me I've got to be dying before I admit myself to hospital.I arrived at accident and emergency at Torbay hospital and within a couple of hours I was fighting for my life. I was transferred to the intensive care unit where I was diagnosed with a very serious infection called "sepsis". Basically, the whole of my body including all my organs were slowly shutting down. My condition at the time was so serious and my life was really hanging in the balance that the doctors were really not hopeful that I would actually surviv. Nearly all of my immediate family were asked to come and see me at the hospital, nobody ever said it but I often wonder whether it was to say their goodbyes, things were really that bad. I have several cardiac arrests throughout the week, one unfortunately happened whilst my mother was with me which must have been awful for her. She had actually been in Italy with her friend whilst all this had happened and my father had to get her back quickly because I wasn't expected to survive. I started to have problems with my breathing so the doctors performed surgery and installed a tracheotomy. This is when a small hole is made in the windpipe at the front of the neck and a pipe is attached, then a machine helps you breathe. Unfortunately I was not able to talk whilst whilst I had the tracheotomy fitted. After I gained consciousness and was aware of my surroundings, I had to mouth my words because no words came out if I'd tried to talk. Apparently I thought I had had a stroke because people were getting me to point to numbers and letters on a chart so I could make myself understood, this chart was actually developed for people who have had strokes and there was some writing on the chart mentioning this fact which is why I put two and two together and got five.
During the time that I was in a coma I have some very strange dreams that were very realistic and even when I woke up I was convinced they had really happened. At one stage I was dreaming that I was in America driving my van on a cold dark evening, totally lost not knowing where the hell I was. Also, I thought I had met a girl and onto a nightclub where I was attacked, taken to a room and held against my will. I distinctly remember lying in bed with somebody lying on top of me holding me down with their hand over my face. I wonder now if this had got something to do with the doctors and nurses performing their duties. I remember asking Chrissy about this girl and if she was okay, obviously Chrissy didn't have a clue who are what I was talking about which is quite funny now because at the time it was so realistic.
I spent over a week in a coma with tubes sticking out of every orifice and by all accounts I looked like nothing on earth, all swollen and bloated with bloodshot eyes that made me look like the devil when I finally opened them. After two weeks I was able to leave hospital which was absolutely fantastic. The staff at the hospital were wonderful and I will always be grateful for what they did for me.
Unfortunately my troubles weren't over by a long shot. I started feeling very sick, especially whenever I ate something. The nights were the worst, I would wake up about every half an hour feeling extremely nauseous and then start vomiting like it was going out of fashion. At one stage, my mother whilst running down the stairs after I called her, tripped and head-butted the wall, luckily she didn't sustain a serious injury which was a relief. I went back into the spinal unit where they drained a lot of gunge and gunk from my right kidney, that made all the difference, it was basically like flicking a switch, I went from not being able to eat anything and keep it down, to having a voracious appetite and literally going back to my normal self, I've got a fantastic appetite and I love my food. I was then told that my right kidney was hardly functioning and I would actually be better off if I had it removed. This was a total shock at first, having your kidney removed is major surgery. That said, it was this poor functioning kidney that probably caused all my problems in the first place. So in June of 2009 I went into The Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre and had my right kidney removed. Thankfully we humans can function perfectly okay with just one kidney so as long as I look after myself, drink plenty of water I should be perfectly okay with just my one kidney.
I've had a few niggardly health problems since I almost died back in 2008 but all in all it's not been too bad and certainly nothing that can be compare to what I went through back then. Nowadays I spend an awful lot of time on my computer maintaining by websites. I have various websites of my own including Oscarfishlover.com which is directly related to my other passion for keeping the Oscar fish cichlid. I have a large eight-foot aquarium here in my room that contains all my fish. I spend quite a lot of time on the Oscar fish forum where we help other people who also keep Oscars and tropical fish. My other two passions are ham radio and fishing. I've been a licensed radio ham since 1995 and have enjoyed making friends all around the world ever since. I've recently revamped my amateur radio station which has made contacting people around the world that much easier. Probably my most passionate hobby is angling. After my accident I didn't think I would ever participate in angling again but with a little thought and innovation I now go fishing both in the sea and the local ponds and lakes on a regular basis in the summertime.
Being disabled isn't a barrel of laughs by any stretch of the imagination. Every day brings its own challenge in some way or another, however I've had 25 years to get used to living this way so I just get on with it now and make the best of what I've got. At no time in all these years have I ever contemplated ending it all. Yes, I've had some really bad times that have really tested my patience, having said this I genuinely value and enjoy my life and even though I would give anything to go back to being able-bodied, my life is what it is and I have got some really good things going on and I intend to keep doing them as long as I can.
Anyway, if you've managed to get this far then let me thank you very much for taking the time to read my story and hope you will come back sometime for any updates.