Last week I published my 17th book. It’s called 6 of One and it’s a memoir, written by me and 27 other people who went to Kenilworth School back in the 1970s and 80s. This book wasn’t easy to put together (I tried on my own in 2013 but gave up due to the bad memories it brought up) but by making it a compendium of other ex-pupils’ stories we got a good book out of it and all the profits will go to Northleigh House in Warwick, a school for vulnerable children.
This book was something that, deep down, I always knew would help me to finally move on from the bad memories and bitterness that had plagued me since my teenage years, the majority of which were associated with this school.
Looking back on my social media posts, and also this blog plus its predecessor Lance Wandering, I’ve realised just how vitriolic and angry most of my stuff was. There were romantic and tender stories but also a desire for revenge and justice where I perceived that myself or others had been wronged. Being an angry young man is one thing. Being an angry man in his late 40s is another.
In my life I’ve had counselling, done seminars (most notably the Landmark Forum and its associated work), had hypnotherapy and written lots of books and blogs. While these things helped (mainly the writing) my issues have always been lurking just far enough away to be visible but not obtainable. I have made many efforts to move on with my life and forget my past but nothing had long term success.
I’ve found out in the last 15 years that I have both acute anxiety (although it has dissipated as I’ve got older) and enhanced emotional memory. EEM is the ability to recall things with vivid clarity when at the highs and lows of emotional feeling. So, I can remember every shag I’ve ever had but conversely can remember incidents that happened to me when I was 4 that were upsetting.
The problem with EEM is that it distorts the ‘reality’ of the situation you are experiencing and means that while you remember it, you remember a version that fits your view of it. It’s like photographic memory with a film crew and special effects team. This coupled with a really shitty case of anxiety means that I have spent most of my life making monsters in my head and creating mountains out of mole hills.
I also had a lousy time at secondary school. I was bullied, lonely and for a time believed I was a freak. The experience was one of utter misery for four years and the lasting effects of this have stayed with me for most of my adult life thus far. Trying to move on wasn’t something I gave up on but it was a case of two steps forward and one back, every time. I couldn’t shift the feelings of frustration, bitterness and rage towards a past that I hated with vivid clarity.
In the 2008 TV show Ashes to Ashes, (itself a sequel to Life on Mars) badass Chief Inspector Gene Hunt turns out to be a ghost, a policeman who died on his first day of active duty in 1952 aged 19. Rather than moving on, his spirit entered purgatory and remained there as a shepherd for other cops who died with unresolved issues, to enable them to finally enter the afterlife. Gene Hunt is a man in his late 40s or early 50s but his attitude to life is still roughly that of the teenager he was when he died. As one character says to him “an immature relationship with both women and alcohol”. He became a hard-drinking, hardnosed, coarse, violent yet ultimately good man who represented what his younger self had imagined an ideal copper to be. He was stuck in this time frame, unable to move on due to having died before he could evolve emotionally and spiritually.
I was stuck at age 15 in many ways. I have always found it awkward to talk to people and created a persona of someone who was slightly obnoxious in order to avoid having to get too ‘real’. I drank a lot and for a brief time I also smoked cigarettes. I tried to be flippant and act like I didn’t care about much when in reality I was desperate to be with someone. I have made majorly awful misjudgements of other people’s characters that have resulted in me being hurt both physically and emotionally by those I had misread because I wanted to be able to trust them.
Very few people are islands. I envy those men and women you see on shows like New Lives In The Wild who live in shacks twenty miles from civilisation, in a forest accessible only by boat plane. To be that much at peace with yourself that you simply don’t want to continue within society. I would love to be like that.
But I’m not….at least not now at any rate.
Like most, I need to be loved and to feel valued and as Charles Bukowski once said “being alone never felt right. Sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right”.
When I started to write 6 of One again, during the really fucking awful initial lockdown in May because of Covid-19 (I live in Italy so our home isolation was almost total) I decided to open it up to anyone else who wanted to contribute. This was both a way of making my contributions less, but also to get different perspectives of a school that I hated but some people had alternate perspectives of and even enjoyed.
As the book was cobbled together slowly, with submissions coming in every week I began to feel both excited and also very, very scared. I do some meditation and I pondered on this mixture of emotions and I worked out that the 15-year-old me was terrified. Frightened of being left behind when the book was published and worried about the potential trouble that I would bring on that part of me through daring to publish a book that, very clearly, shows what an unprofessional bunch of cunts a lot of the teachers were back then. I reassured that side of myself that when the book was published, he would not be left behind or abandoned but would merge with me and we would both then become stronger as a result. Me because of being able to use that adolescent hunger for life to stay happy as I enter my 50s, and him for being able to see that the world wasn’t so scary after all.
About a week before the book was due to be published my anxiety was fluctuating wildly and I was dealing with it as best I could. Then the sink in the bathroom and the one in the kitchen got blocked. The landlord was on holiday and his recommended plumber was out of town. So, I went down the local Ferramenta and bought a plumber’s snake (very long wire with a handle on one end), stuffed it down the plug hole in the bathroom and wound it until a big, rancid glob of matted hair from years ago was dredged up, stinking to high heaven. The blockage was relatively small but as soon as it was gone the water began flowing freely again, in both sinks (they shared the same outlet). Also, the horrid, whiffy pong that sometimes greeted me (imagine old sewage) in the morning was gone.
The memories I had of school and my youth were the matted lump of hair. The book was the plumber’s snake.
I originally intended to publish on August 1st, holding out for last-minute story submissions from other people who had said they wanted to be involved but then I realised that we were over 30,000 words and I had enough to publish so, on July 21st, I submitted the memoir for publication via Amazon’s platform. Before I did, I created an image in my head of my 15-year-old self, next to me on the sofa and we watched the Netflix movie The Old Guard with Charlize Theron (which fucking ROCKS by the way!!!) I then went to the computer, got into Amazon.co.uk and as I hit the button labelled “submit manuscript for publication” I imagined that teenage part of me was moving on.
In the next few days, I felt changes in my emotions and my outlook. I also slept a lot; in a way I haven’t slept in many years. The energy required to carry that part of me for so long was now no longer needed and I was able to relax and have the luxury of unguarded sleep.
I feel more positive and more grateful for the things I have in my life. The scared and lonely child has finally had his voice heard. The book 6 of One does not pull any punches and both me and the other contributors have painted a very real and both funny and sad portrait, of life in a comprehensive school nearly 40 years ago. Back then I was told not to answer back and that frustrated and miserable part of me could finally move on after finally saying what he needed to.
This has been the most difficult book I’ve ever written (none were easy, book writing is boring, despite what you might think. It’s only the end result that makes it worthwhile) solely because of the emotions it has brought up. An unexpected side-effect of doing this is that I have realised that the perspectives I held with my Enhanced Emotional Memory, were not those of the other people involved. Most don’t remember that those that do are changed now, having evolved.
Suppression of emotion is always dangerous. In a child it can be catastrophic. Now, I’m free to move on.