How can I make this sound interesting and not self-serving? I don’t think I can so I’ll just try my best…
In The Beginning
I was born in 1970 at Guy’s Hospital, London Bridge. My parents worked together on London Buses at Brixton Garage. My dad was a driver and my mother was a conductor or ‘clippie’ as they were known.
When I was born we lived in a council of flat on Brixton Hill but within a year we moved to a council house on Huntly Road, less than 200m from the Arthur Wait Stand at Selhurst Park.
The Early Years
My parents decided to become publicans and the first pub they were given was called The Carnival on the Winstanley Estate, Battersea. While we were there the pub was featured in a Sean Connery film called The Offence.
We were at The Carnival for a few years before we making the short trip up to Clapham Common to take over the Belle Vue which, by comparison, was a massive pub with a lot of history. Though I have a couple of memories from The Carnival, most of the earliest memories I have are from the Belle Vue.
After a few years, we were on the move again and ended up at the Princess Royal in South Wimbledon. Sadly, just four months after moving into the Princess Royal my mother died.
At the time, the law stipulated that to become a publican the person applying for the licence had to to be married. The brewery let my dad carry on running the pub because he didn’t need to apply for a new licence as he already had it.
We stayed in the Princess Royal for 3 more years before my dad decided it was time to leave the pub game. I never really asked why he decided to leave. I don’t know if it was the workload or if it was because we needed a clean slate.
The Teenage Years
After leaving the pub trade in the autumn of 1980 we ended up living in Collier’s Wood. My dad got a job working for Norwood Transport which was based on Station Rise, Tulse Hill. Norwood Transport was owned by a man who, had I been christened, would have been my godfather. So he and my dad went back a long way.
My dad worked as a delivery driver and was out of the house for long hours. He’d usually get up at about 5 in the morning to start work at 6. If he was lucky he was lucky he’d get home sometime between 6 to 8 in the evening. I think my dad was happier in his new job because loved driving and being out and about. He used to work as a milkman (with a horse & cart), a long-distance lorry driver and a bus driver. He loved driving and it’s probably why I love driving too.
I certainly didn’t have a conventional childhood. From the age of 11, I would get myself up, get myself to school, get myself home and make my own dinner. Quite often I would cook my dad’s dinner too. I learnt to take care of myself and be self-sufficient.
We didn’t have holidays, we didn’t go to the seaside, we didn’t go amusement parks and we didn’t go to the cinema. My dad worked 6 days a week and on Sunday’s he was usually so knackered that he’d usually go to bed in the afternoon and not get up until Monday morning.
Though my childhood wasn’t a hard one, I didn’t want for much. We weren’t well-off, we weren’t even comfortable. We lived hand to mouth but we had a roof over our head and food on the table. I wasn’t abused and I wasn’t beaten so I consider that I had a good childhood.
Could it have been better? Of course, it could! But it could have been a damn sight worse. I still look back on my childhood as the happiest days of my life. Not many kids my age were given a fiver for pocket money on a Saturday so they could go to watch football.
I count myself lucky to have had my dad but as he said years later, we were both lucky because he could trust me. Had he not been able to trust me then he couldn’t have gone to work and we’d have been in a right state.
Out Into The Big Wide World
After leaving school I had a couple of jobs, first at a company called Autex in Croydon, then at Presto in Morden followed by a 2-year stint at Kodak Photographic Laboratory in South Wimbledon. That was a fun job, developing rolls and rolls of film. I dunno about George Formby cleaning windows, he should have seen what I saw on the negatives!
After Kodak I went to work for almost 2-years at British Telecom in Wimbledon before finding my way to British Rail as a train driver at Wimbledon Park. I worked there for almost 11 years, driving mainline trains from London Waterloo. It’s a job I loved and still miss even though the hours were very unsociable.
We worked a shift based roster. Early then late with the occasional night shift. Early would start around 5 int he morning and lates would finish around 1 in the morning. They were two extremes. This meant that one week you couldn’t go out because you were working and the next week you were too tired to have the energy to go out.
On My Own
After working on the railway for a few years my dad and his girlfriend decided to buy a house and move in together. So in the summer of 1993, we moved to Morden. I say ‘we’ because I was part of the deal in the short term until I’d saved for a deposit to buy my own flat, which I did just under 2 years later.
So in the summer of 1995, I bought a flat in Morden in which I spent 5 mainly happy years and I kind of developed a life that mirrored that of my dad’s while I was growing up. I’d work almost 11 hours a day and be either at home or at work. I took on a role in the union which increased my workload when I wasn’t at work and unbeknown to me, I was burning myself out.
On the weeks which I worked early shift I would get between 3-4 hours sleep a night. I began to find it increasingly difficult to get to sleep so quite often I would be still trying to get to sleep at midnight when I was getting up at 04.00 the next day.
I’d always had problems getting to sleep but it was exasperated by the shift pattern that I was having to work. On the weeks when I worked late shift I would get home just before 02.00, unwind for an hour or so then sleep until 12 or later then start work again at about 16.00.
I’d work 13 days out of 14, the one day I had off was for legal reasons and I’d finish work at 01.00 on Sunday morning and start work again at 05.00 on Monday morning. That meant I’d have to go to sleep twice in 26 hours. It might sound easy but it wasn’t.
I’ve had people ask me why I didn’t have any days off. Of course, I did have 2 days off a week but when you have, for example, Tuesday and Wednesday off and everyone you know is at work. What do you do? Do you sit at home or go somewhere on your own, or do you work and earn money to live a little more comfortably? Feather your nest, so to speak? Sitting here today as a forty-something it would be a different choice to being a twenty-something.
Something had to give and, naturally, it was my health.
I first visited Sweden in January 1994. I went to visit a penfriend that I’d been communicating with for about a year. Over the course of the next 6 years, I visited Sweden 16 times to visit different people and I grew to love the country, architecture and way of life.
It was in 1992 that a cousin of mine suggested that I get penfriends because “it is nice to get letters that are not bills”. I always had a lot of time at work which needed filling and I thought writing letters would be a good hobby. So I got penfriends in some different countries such as Germany, France, America and, of course, Sweden.
A New Chapter
So, the inevitable happened and I ‘broke’. Some people saw it, some didn’t. I was always good at hiding behind a mask but it was only after I stopped working that people at work whom I considered to be friends told me that I seemed happier. I didn’t understand what they meant at the time. I thought I had always been a cheerful, funny person but they said I joked in an aggressive way.
So, for one reason or another, I left my job on the railway. Technically, I was medically retired and I wondered what I was going to do next. I’d got used to earning a certain level of money, which I would not be able to earn in the short-term. I had a mortgage, loans, etc…
Sometimes, you need to press the ‘reset’ button and make a clean slate of things because otherwise, you are just trying to replicate a life you already had. You sit in the same place, same environment and you are just reminded of the life you no longer live.
I decided to move to Sweden. I chose Sweden because I thought I’d be able to adapt easier here. Pretty much everyone speaks English, there are far fewer people and I like snow!
The rest, as they say, is history. History I may write about one day.