“There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain
It’s just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today.” – Joni Mitchell ‘Hejira’.
If old friends knew how much affection I hold for them, they would run a mile. There are some friends I made in college that I have not seen for twenty years or more. Others, from Brookfield School, I have not seen for more than thirty years. But there they are, in my heart, secure in their own little corner. I don’t care what they have grown up to be – whether they became successful or unsuccessful. Whether they became cruel or kind, good or bad. Because I knew them when they were 9 and they were part of my world. There they are now, with their grown up lives and grown up jobs. Some even have grown up kids and live grown up days, where they are sensible, responsible and serious. But I remember how we were, during those long summer days, as we sat on the grass and talked about our lives, wondering about our futures. I remember.
My first book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’ was a comedy memoir of my life between the ages of 5 and 19, taking in the years 1976 to 1990. Volume 2 ‘My Life With Joni Mitchell’ is currently being written. A substantial portion of the book, probably about half of the 80,000+ words, will be taken up by recalling, with warmth and humour, my time at Pontypool college between 1991 and 1992. I was there for about 9 months, leaving unceremoniously in May of 1992. I say unceremoniously only because I woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to go anymore. I had dropped out of most lessons and academically had achieved very little. Socially though, my world had exploded and those 9 months were among the best 9 months I have ever lived. If ever I get anyone pregnant, then I expect those 9 months to be better, or at least more memorable, but for now, when it comes to enjoying the number 9 in conjunction with the same number of months, it is the 9 months at Pontypool college that were the best.
The subjects I took were English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre Studies. I have no idea why I took the latter two. I had never acted before, apart from the nativity play in Brookfield School during the christmas of 1979. I played one of the shepherds and Mr Baldwin had given me a little toy lamb to carry when I walked out on stage. Even at 8 years old I had this instinct that it wouldn’t be cool to be seen carrying a little toy lamb. In 1979 I was mesmerised by a new film out in the cinemas called Grease, which was full of teenagers wearing leather, smoking and singing about summer nights. None of them carried little toy lambs so why should I? In fact, why couldn’t I be a leather wearing, smoking shepherd with slicked back hair and a penchant for saying “Hey!”? So as I stepped out from behind the curtain, following the other three shepherds (yes, three. It’s a long story.) I deliberately dropped the lamb. After the nativity, Mr Baldwin took me aside and said, with a sad look in his eyes “Why did you drop the lamb?”
I shrugged and stared at the floor.
That was my only experience with acting.
But within three months I was rehearsing for the second play I would perform in during my life. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. And in those three months I had become friends with a whole host of people – Scott Bailey, Martin Rowan, Lisa Osmond, Rhian Hutchings, Nigel Williams, Katherine Berriman, Catherine Slater, Catherine Stone, Kath Ayling (there were a hell of a lot of Cath’s back then. Sometimes I yearned to meet a Priscilla or Florentine, but it was never to be), Sarah Letton, Stephanie Virgin, Becci Senior, Trudi Jackson and several others, all of whom I took an instant liking to.
My persona then was different to the way I am now. I was quite flamboyant, dressing in tie-dyed trousers, hand painted boots, waistcoats and having hair that went half way down my back. I loved it. I loved being that way and entering into a world where you weren’t judged for being that way, as all around me were punks, mods, goths, grungers and other teenagers, all looking to find their own identity too and expressing it in such wonderful ways. These days I just wear jeans and a t-shirt to work. Sometimes I wear a cravat and a monocle, but that’s only after midnight, when I am alone and drunk.
In the mid 90s I became the sole full time carer for my grandmother and lost touch with most of my friends. Some twenty years later, mainly through Facebook, I managed to track most of them down. Most recently, it was Katherine Berriman that I was finally able to track down and message. Katherine was a wonderful actress and had such a sense of fun. I remember once she came back to my house in Cwmbran on my 21st birthday and we spent an hour on my bed, keeping an inflatable birthday cake in the air with our feet, before going to the Fairwater House pub where a surprise gathering of college friends was waiting for me. On another occasion, Katherine was involved in some production that took place in the evening at college. It was a monologue, if I recall, and she was so excited about it and looked forward to it a great deal. I didn’t turn up to watch her.
The next day she berated me, with a smile, saying “Why didn’t you turn up?”
I laughed it off, as I did with a lot of things back then. In truth, I was worried about transport, my Nan being alone in the evening, and money. I was such a worrier and it got in the way of things. I even worried about worrying. Of course, now I look back and berate myself even more for being so stupidly caught up in the cares of life when I should have been more carefree.
But I wish I had supported my friend.
A very good friendship evolved with Scott Bailey, another excellent actor. Scott had a very likeable, warm and friendly personality and an excellent inoffensive sense of humour. He was affable, personable and palatable. Back then, my sense of humour had an abrasive streak which sometimes bordered on the cruel. I mistook sarcasm for wit on many occasions. Scott was a good antidote for that, as I used to point out people on the street and highlight their inadequacies and Scott would ground me by saying “You’re wrong.” Now, with the luxury of hindsight, I know he was right and I wish I hadn’t been so John Lennon-esque with my attempts at making people laugh.
Lisa Osmond was another close friend and I have yet to track her down. She still eludes me and, like that line from Alanis Morrisette’s unsent, “I will always have your back and be curious about you – about your career, your whereabouts.” Lisa was a beautiful, short (although at 6’4, most people are short compared to me) girl with a kindness and generosity that stole my heart for a while. We became good friends and for a while after college ended, we would meet up on Tuesdays for a coffee and a chat. We even ended up going on an employment training scheme for a few months in 1993 – CTF Training, where we learned…actually, I can’t remember what we learned. I remember writing cartoons on bits of paper and sliding them across the table to Lisa. I also remember the tutor shouting at me at one point for sliding someone else a cartoon on a bit of paper. I even carried this through to the point I built a slide out of paper and turned it into a cartoon. But I digress. I love a good digression.
But Lisa…yes, I would love to contact her again and let her know how much I valued her friendship. She, along with others mentioned here, are never far from my thoughts. My life carries on, but I carry them all inside me where they are alive, vibrant and laughing. And I will always be with them, sitting on the grass outside the drama department, in the summer of 1992.
All these memories, and many, many others, will soon be available to read in –