|how i got here how i got here|
several points in everyone's lives, there come certain defining moments
where a split second decision can shape the rest of your life forever. Most
of these moments are not obvious, as there is often no way of knowing what
would have happened differently, if anything at all, if you had not had
cornflakes for breakfast etc.
I call these moments "snowball" moments (how pretentious of me!) - if a snowball starts rolling down a hill, becoming bigger all the time, all it takes is a slight nudge to send it way off course - by the time it reaches the end of it's journey (the bottom of the hill), it will some way off it's original target.
I'm in the unusual position of being able to point directly at my own biggest (to date, anyway) "snowbal moment". If I'm ever in any position to pen an autobiography, I guess this will feature in there somewhere. Anyway, here goes...
When I was at Barton Peveril Sixth Form College (1992-1994), I studied 3 A Levels - Politics, Media Studies and Religious Studies. I had briefly gone out with a girl from RS, and had a more serious relationship (3 months, anyway) with a fiesty redhead, who I had met in my very first Media Studies class, but it was a girl called B, from Politcs, who was to have an instrumental role in shaping my life.
I had got to know B in Politics classes by winding her up - she played the fence-sitting liberal, whilst I was the raging anarcho-socialist (we also had dyed in the wool Tories, a handful of hippies and a full-blown anarchist mentalist, who hatched a plan to occupy the college roof at the proposed visit of a Tory election candidate). I wasn't particularly attracted to her at first (sorry if you're reading this, B!) - she was blonde, and I was a confirmed redhead/brunette man! - but got on very well with her as a mate. The real turning point came when I ran for President of the Student Committee in March 1993, aged 17 - the girl I was going out with at the time didn't want to get too heavily involved with the campaigning, and B was eager to help. I don't remember the exact specifics, but somehow I split up with one and started seeing the other. I do remember the night this occured, I had come back from Swanmore (where B lived) and gone straight out with the Wee Man... the night ended around 1am after a lock-in at the Roll Call, the Wee Man's uncle watering the pub's flowers, the Wee Man headbutting a fence post in my back garden as he vomited, me walking him home, and then me waking up the next day to a very irate father and an unfortunate scene involving several towels and the bath tub (thankfully I was still drunk, and therefore able to deal with it - it was only later the true horror would hit me!).
Anyhow, B lived out in the sticks - and by that, I mean one bus every two hours between Winchester and Fareham, with the peniultimate one at 7.30pm and the last one at 11.30pm. This would take me to Fareham, where a 10 minute walk would take me to the train station - if I had got the late bus, I would have to jog to the station, find the guard on the last train and beg him for a request stop at an unlit Netley station. The relationship continued through the Spring term, and as the exams were almost upon us, so were the summer parties. One half-term party was arranged for Swanmore itself - I was invited via B, although another pal from Netley, Rich "Opie" Openshaw, was also going. The last party Opie and I had been to "out this way" had been a scout hut do the previous Autumn, when police were called to break up the party (although I had made my escape with my 3 lite bottle of Strongbow!), so I was understandably a wee bit apprehensive.
Nonetheless, a lift with Opie back to Netley was arranged, and B and I turned up that fateful summer evening. Thanks to a "sensible" drinks policy adhered to by my parents, I was pretty used to drinking in moderation, and this had stood me in good stead for college - I had no problems holding my drink. Perhaps B had not had the same training, perhaps someone had spiked her drink, but whatever way you look at it, she was hammered within 30 minutes of arriving at the house. This led to no shortage of emotional outbursts, and an understanding host (whose name I have long forgotten) led B to the spare room, where she could lie on the bed and compose herself, whilst I perched dutifully by her side. Sensibly, the host had blocked access to the main bathroom - the spare room was en suite (complete with spare beer stashed in the shower), so a queue of people was permanently stationed in the spare room (which was handy, as it gave me people to talk to whilst my date sobbed uncontrollably on the bed behind me). The party took on a bit of a surreal turn after this - I spoke to a variety of people passing through, as various friends of B expressed sympathetic sentiments (after the initial barrage of "you eveil bastard, how could you do this to her?"). After a while, she regained the ability to walk, and I walked her home, returning to the party for my lift back to Netley.
Amongst all this carnage at the party, one shining light had struck me - a very quiet and shy girl, with very dark hair and alabaster skin, who I had chatted to for the briefest of moments as she sat waiting in the spare room. At the time I had no idea what her name was, or where she was from, but I was captivated by her presence. Having said that, I thought little more about it for a while.
Fast forward a week or so, and the mock exams at the end of my first year - still pretty crucial as these led to the predicted grades that my university offers would be based on. My relationship with B, whilst never spectacular, was steady and continuing. She had been very apologetic about the party, and put it down to emotions running high.We headed into our poltics mock for 3 hours of electoral system and ideological theory fun. It wasn't long before I was seriously struggling to concentrate - the brunette from the party (I'm pretty sure I knew her name by now through innocent conversation with friends who had been there - let's call her "U") was sat down the front, and I was captiavted by the way she would brush her thick dark hair out of her face. This was probably the moment I decided to "investigate" further, and over the next couple of weeks I undertook a "fact-finding" mission.
My enquiries met with a mixture of bemusement ("Why would you be interested in her"), to antagonism ("She probably wouldn't even notice you - she's a bit of a boff"), and the advice bordered on the ridiculous ("Give her some flowers - when she says thanks, reply 'I stole them. Upstairs now, bitch!'), but the message filtered back to U that I had been asking around (which, after all, is just as I had intended). In the midst of all this, perhaps understandably, B and I fell by the wayside, and for a brief while I almost got back together with an ex. Meanwhile, the Summer Ball at Southampton Guildhall approached.
The Summer Ball at BP was basically for the second years to bid farewell to each other - very few first years bothered to attend (i.e. only the hardened party-animals, and those with other agendas). As the newly-elected Student President, my presence was expected, and a few enquiries (pretty much a direct question by this point) revealed U was also going, although supposedly with someone - a second year called Alistair. Not that I was unduly worried - at the time I was not short on confidence (some would have said "arrogant", but I preferred "self-assured" and a little bit "rogue-ish"!), and not to put to fine a point on it, Alistair was a bit of a knob (he might be alright now, but he was a twat in the summer of 1993!). After all, it's not like they were going out.
Come the night of the ball it was settled that I would arrive with Giles and Zoe (boyfriend and girlfriend), and accompany Zoe's friend Mary (nicknamed "The Blessed Virgin Mary" for her stance against my campaign pledge to introduce condom machines in the college toliets - for several months I was known as the "Condom President", at least until the Mars Bar incident, which is another story...). After an unsavoury incident with a Glaswegian tramp outside Bedfords in Southampton (Mary, Zoe and Giles were a bit posh, and used to such "street colour") we made our way into the ball. A few brief skirmishes with U ensued, including her asking me to look after her purse as her dress had no pockets (of course, this was but a strategy to guarantee continued contact). I took the time-honoured solution to dealing with an imminent romantic situation by drinking my face off - at the time dry cider and/or whisky and lemonade was my favoured route to oblivion.
As the night wore on, I found myself sat alone with U, hammered (her considerably less so than me). As the Wonderstuff came on, she grabbed my hand and led me to the dance floor, and we carried on dancing to the Spin Doctors, and then some slow numbers (I was almost unconcious by this point!), before kissing. I vaguely remember seeing her to the North Baddesley bus (the College laid on free buses to all points), before relieving myself on the wheel arch of the Netley one.
The next day brough a traumatically early start in the kitchens of the Royal Southern Yacht Club, where Gary the chef was as sympathetic to my hangover as always. At this stage I was convinved I had screwed up badly, as I had no idea where U's purse was (I even asked Lindsey, the restaurant supervisor, the immortal question - "you ask someone you like to look after their purse on a first date, and he loses it. Is that a big problem?") - a quick phone call on my afternoon break put my mind at rest, as she had taken it off me before catching her bus.
A short "courtship" of sorts followed, with lengthy phone calls and an agreement to go to the Student barbecue (which I was helping to organise). Meanwhile, in the background, the situation with B and my ex (and one other girl called Kerry, with whom nothing had happened) was far from straightened out. Basically, everything came to a head at the barbecue at Chilworth one balmy summer's evening - the fallout was as I had wanted - I was going out with U.
Our relationship continued throughout our second year, despite some strong temptations, and through a year out, during which time I worked over 50 hours a week (as a Halifax cashier and a barman at the Station pub), and U worked as a shop assistant, a council worker (secretarial and putting-green kiosk) and as a kibbutznik in Israel for two months. This was all key to my destiny - I was always going to go to Uni to study Politics, and I wanted to go somewhere with a "reputation", and not too far away from my beloved Southampton FC. After a college trip to Sussex University my mind was made up. My parents were keen that I went straight there, to avoid any potential temptation to stay in the working world. U on the other hand wanted a classical university (Exeter was favourite), with a year out for European and Kibbutz travel. In the end, the compromise was I would take a year out and work (I needed the money, and at the time had no interest in foreign travel), whilst U would take up her place at Sussex.
The relationship was not without its ups and downs
- I was very much into football and drinking with my mates, whilst U was
pretty quiet and hated sport. When we arrived at Uni, we agreed not to
see each other for a week, to give ourselves time to adjust and meet our
flatmates and coursemates. It was on that very first Saturday night, in
early October 1995, that I first met Helen.
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