Early Life Experiences

Five short tales from my younger life.



When I first left home for higher education at the age of 18 years I was pretty clueless about life. Here are some experiences that helped me to learn.

In my first year away I was very surprised when a girl (Helen) agreed to go out with me. I had always remembered my Mum laughingly telling me that I had better have a personality in life because I had my Dad’s looks. So, yes, I lacked confidence with girls. Just building up the courage to ask, whilst overwhelmed with the fear of rejection, was a huge effort for me.

I couldn’t afford anything fancy being a student but I decided to go all out and I booked a Chinese restaurant. When we entered a little old lady had just sat down at a table nearby. After a few nervous minutes of me trying to make conversation this little old lady got out of her chair and walked across to our table. She looked at us with a sweet but rather sad smile and said, “Oh my dears! You look to be so much in love. I can’t help but notice. I know about things like this you know.” We both laughed and smiled to cover our embarrassment. She went on, “I’m going to ask you a little favour. I hope you don’t mind.”

Go ahead” we both said.

“Well my son and daughter both live on the other side of the world nowadays and I never see them. I miss them so much and you two just remind me so much of them. I won’t bother you again except, once in a while during the meal do you think you could look across, wave and say ‘Hello Mum’? I know it’s silly but it would make me feel so much better and not alone”.

We both happily agreed. In fact secretly I was relieved, as this was a great topic of conversation with a little humour thrown in. It seemed heaven sent to make us both (particularly me) relax.

The meal progressed slowly and we took our new duty very seriously. We decided that every 10 minutes would be a good time to look across, give a small wave, and say things like, “Hi Mum” and “How’s the food Mum?” We always got a very happy and kind looking smile back. Even the waiters seemed pleased with this sense of good will between us.

I must be honest and admit that I had another worry on my mind. As we ordered I would make sure Helen went first, which of course is only polite, but in fact there was a more important reason. In that way I could judge how much Helen’s food would cost and therefore how much I would have left for my own food and still be able to pay the bill. The truth was that I didn’t care what I ate; I just wanted Helen to enjoy my company. My biggest worry was not being able to pay at the end of the night, which my Dad had told me I must do. I’m not sure if things are different these days.

Eventually, as she was eating on her own, the little old lady finished first. With a big smile she got up. We smiled back and I said, “Was it good Mum?”

“Oh yes it was. Thank you so much, I have had the most wonderful evening.”

As she left we both agreed that we had put a little more joy into the world and that we felt good about it.

About half an hour later we finally finished up and I asked for the bill. Helen very kindly offered to pay for half but I insisted that I was very happy to pay. I was met with a big smile that made it all worthwhile. After all, I wanted to make an impression!

When the bill came of course I didn’t mention that I knew exactly how much it would be because I had been totting things up all night as we went along. However, when I looked at the amount I was stunned. It was far too much. I couldn’t possibly afford that! Trying to look, calm whilst being in utter panic and not being able to think straight on the inside, I asked Helen about it. I was horrified at this turn of events, especially after I had casually insisted that I could easily pay.

It was Helen’s clear thinking that pointed out we were being asked to pay for things we had not eaten. Eventually I plucked up courage, whilst still trying to look in control and asked the waiter to take a look. I explained about the extra costs and food. His answer was short and simple, “Your Mum said you would pay for everything.”

If I had not been so young and inexperienced in the ways of the world I would have taken a different course of action, whilst highlighting the humour of a situation where I had been completely duped. Sadly, I was not equipped to argue and shamefully had to ask Helen if she could in fact pay towards the bill, which thankfully she did.

Over the next few weeks I continued to feel a sense of embarrassment about handling the situation so poorly in front of Helen. My feeling was worsened by having been sucked in to the whole “act” so easily. I am totally ashamed to say that, despite Helen always looking happy to see me and even approaching me on the odd occasion, I never felt confident enough to ask her out again.

For your interest, you might like to know that the next morning I had to borrow some money to buy two loaves of bread and a tub of butter. This had to do me for all three meals for the rest of the week.


In the 1990s I attended a big Saturday fete at the local abbey, which is in the middle of the school’s catchment area. It was great fun and I seemed to know everybody there.

During the following week I met a parent at school who told me that at the same gathering her purse had gone missing. She did not think it had been stolen because, thinking back, there was one possible moment when she felt it could have dropped out of her bag. Nevertheless, it had contained her week’s money as well as various personal details and her door key. She was naturally upset. On the Monday she was just about to pick up the phone and report the loss when it rang. Imagine her relief when a Sergeant Dickens informed her that the purse had indeed turned up at Weston Favell Police Station (the other side of town). He said that if she could describe it the purse was hers to collect. This she duly did but she also asked if it could be taken to the local police station, as she did not drive. “I’m ever so sorry, replied the sergeant but we need to close the book on this here,” was the reply.

“Oh well. It’ll take me two bus journeys to get there but it will be worth it,” she said.

Twenty minutes later she set off. It took her nearly two hours to get there, as she had to spend a lot of time asking about busses to ensure she was on the right one.

Eventually she walked into the police station and explained who she was to the desk sergeant. He looked at her in a totally confused manner, saying he had no idea who she was and that he had never heard of a Sergeant Dickens. He then asked her to tell him the story. As soon as she finished he asked for her address and with that information sent a police car round to her house. It was too late. The front door was open and house had been emptied of anything of value.



My first interview for a job was in Liverpool. I had decided to look at Voluntary Service Overseas and applied for a teaching position in Nigeria. My interview was at Nigeria House in Liverpool in January. It was snowing. I duly turned up and was offered a job in the north of the country and they showed me the location on a big map. I was given one week to make a final decision.

I spent the rest of my day looking around the city and went to a pub for an evening meal. I got on very well with the landlord and at about 10.30 I set off to catch the last bus to my boarding house. When I stepped out it had been snowing heavily and, as I walked along, I became more and more worried that the bus might be cancelled. I certainly didn’t have enough money to find somewhere else to stay.

Finally I arrived at the bus station and to my relief there was the single decker bus and it was ready to go. 10 minutes later we set off into the night.

The journey was very slow due to the awful conditions. Gradually it stopped snowing and all the passengers had a wonderful, crisp, winter land view of the city passing by.

At one point we were passing a large park when one of the passengers got off. Just as the driver was closing the doors another passenger sitting at the front said, “I think that’s somebody running for the bus” and he pointed out of the window across the park. We all looked and there was a hazy and distant figure running and waving towards the bus. The driver said, “It’s late but I suppose I should wait, there are no more buses.” The other passengers readily agreed. We all sat as this very cold looking chap floundered his way across the park through rather deep snow. It hadn’t been trodden down like the snow on the path. He got closer and closer and we could all see him frantically waving his left arm in the air in order to keep the bus driver’s attention. He certainly was desperate not to let us go without him. As he got close I remember one of the passengers said, “He’ll be glad to get in the warm.”

Finally, he reached the bus and with a big smile the driver opened the doors. The waving man then put one foot onto the step, took his right arm out from behind his back and threw a snowball that hit the driver straight in the face. He then laughed hysterically and ran off into the night. For the rest of the journey I was left to ponder the amazing sense of humour of Liverpudlians.


Post Script

You might like to know that, at that point in my life I had already agreed to attend for an interview for a job at a primary school in Christchurch on the English south coast the very next day. At that interview I was honest about my intention to do a bit of good in the world by carrying out a year’s voluntary work in Nigeria. It was then explained to me by an inspector that I would not be fully qualified to teach in England until I had finished my first “probationary year” of full time teaching. He advised that I do a couple of years in this country first before volunteering. He then offered me the job.
After what he had said I could see no other option. I took the job.
A few months later, whilst fully immersed in my new life, I was surprised and then shocked to hear that the leader of Nigeria (General Gowon) had been overthrown and in the same area where I would have been there was much fighting and many massacres. I considered that fate had taken a hand and, even nowadays, count myself lucky to be alive. I also often wonder, had I been killed, what factors and people would have come together to unknowingly fill the gap of what has been, my life. It’s difficult to be big headed when thinking that “Fate” once spun a coin on my behalf.



When I was young I was a fairly good swimmer and in one particular event each year I managed to get to the county final. On each occasion my closest opponent was a boy called Rick. It was always very close but I had managed to beat him so far. I only knew his name because once I heard his mother use it. The rest of the time he was very quiet and didn’t chat like the rest of the swimmers.

When I was 14 I turned up at the swimming baths hoping to win my fourth consecutive title in this event. I was very early because both my parents were busy so I had to take three buses and (in Cornwall) there weren’t that many around.

I went into the changing room which was large and L-shaped. I decided to sit round the corner out of the way and took my Maths HW out of my bag. If truth be told I was a little bothered what other kids would think if they saw me doing that but I knew I would be there a while on my own, so I had come prepared. I suppose I hadn’t quite worked out the meaning of “focus” at that age.

About 40 minutes before the race the door opened and I listened as two people came in. I peered round the door and saw it was Rick and his Dad, who was a huge and very solid man. Neither of them saw me, as they were both sitting and facing the door. I quietly went back to my HW.

The Dad didn’t stay long. I just heard him say in a very forceful, angry and scary voice, “OK son this is it. You’ve failed this family and especially me every year at this stage but you’re not going to let us down any more. Do you understand me?

Rick replied, “Yes Dad.” He sounded scared and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

The Dad then continued, “You know what’ll happen if you lose. You’ll get this. Yes a damn good hiding and I’ll be using my belt. You got it in that thick head boy? You got it?

Again I peeked round the corner to see the Dad holding his fist up to his son’s face just as Rick answered, “Yes Dad” in a very timid manner.

Alright then, that settles it,” the Dad said, “I’ll go and take a seat. Just remember what it was like last time. You couldn’t go to school for a week. Just remember that!

I sat there stunned, trying to take it all in. Why was the Dad behaving like that? Didn’t he know his son was going to do his best anyway? I decided not to make a sound and after a few minutes other swimmers began to arrive so that eventually I was just part of the crowd. By then I had put my Maths HW away.

Later, as we stood beside the pool for the start of the race I noticed that Rick was three lanes away and, as usual, very quiet. The starting gun fired and off we went. It was two lengths of a large swimming pool. During the first length I just about managed to maintain a lead. We had obviously both practised and I could tell that it was a faster pace than the previous year. I turned after the first length and on the way back the two of us were out in front and I was in the lead – just. BUT, my heart wasn’t in it and my mind was racing. As we came to the last 20m I purposefully slowed up a little and he edged past me at the very end to win. I turned and looked at him and saw him smiling. It was the first and only time I ever saw him do that.

In the changing room I sat for a moment and felt really good about myself. It seemed to me that I helped Rick out in a big way and surely that was a good thing. Eventually, feeling as if I should be referred to as “Saint Bob”, I walked across to where Rick was changing. I held out my hand and said, “Congratulations, you deserved to win.”

To my complete shock, Rick looked at me and sneered. He spat out his words, “You’re rubbish you are. I don’t know why I ever let you win before. You’re just a waste of space. Keep away from me you’re not worth my time.” He then turned his back to me and I realised that, like an idiot, I was still standing there with my hand stretched out and my mouth wide open. I turned and walked back to my spot in the changing room. I felt as if I had been punched in the face. In retrospect, this was my very first experience of how very poor parents can pass on their habits to their children.

Now, following this I did a lot of thinking and came to all sorts of conclusions but I will leave them to you good reader to decide for yourself. I will however tell you that during the next 12 months I practised as never before and the next year, aged 15 years, I took the title back from Rick, although I said nothing. I suppose I finally learnt the meaning of the word “focus”. Also, as a bonus, “motivation” became a big part of my outlook.

From then on I resolved to always have the strength of character to congratulate anybody who beat me and to always do my best. Did I make the right decisions? Once again you must decide for yourself.


A Religious Experience

A short personal story which is followed by three formative instances (on the same theme) that will doubtless ramble on. I invite you to ignore them!

In Cornwall, my school friends all went to the Methodist Church and I followed along. We would go to the full Sunday Service for the first half an hour and our wonderful minister would devote that period of time to “younger” themes. I remember once he threw a handful of money from the pulpit and built his message around our reaction. Unfortunately this sort of thing did not seem to meet with the approval of the older and more traditional Methodists in the audience. However, to us it was great stuff and I really listened to his words. We would then file back to the church rooms for Sunday School. During the week this great guy even opened up a disused room underneath the church and we were allowed to develop it into our own youth club. Other young people started to join and it became crowded but happy and this spilled over into church.

One July Sunday, in bright sunshine, when I was about 14 years old, we found ourselves taking part in some sort of celebratory march through the streets of Penzance. To be honest, I cannot remember why. A circuitous route had been planned during which we crossed our own path a few times. At one point I glanced up at a church that was in an adjacent street. The sun was shining on it and I happened to glance up as the light reflected off a large stained glass window.  Underneath the usual pictures of angels, white clouds and rays of sunshine there was the message in big letters:


 I was spellbound. This was definitely new and I wanted to know more. To me, it made huge sense and was so relevant to modern living. It was also the nearest thing to our minister’s words back in St Ives and it made my young mind think, really think. We continued our march and twice more I was able to snatch a look at this distant message. “Why not?” I asked myself. “Why is idea this plus its massive implications not brought home to us more often? What about ‘God in The Alleyway Behind My House’?” or “God Outside A Pub”? or even “God Inside A Pub”? So many of my young ideas had to be revisited and jiggled about in my mind to try and make them fit together. My mind raced into overtime and remained that way for some time eventually coming to the conclusion, “Yeah, I get it”.  It meant a lot to me that message. It was so real to my young mind.

A couple of weeks later, after school, which also happened to be in Penzance, I decided to risk catching a later bus home (17 then, 517 nowadays) to St Ives by walking over to have another look at this revelation. I was shocked to see that wonderful stained glass window now read differently:


 Somebody had clearly mended a broken window, which in bright sunlight, two weeks before, had not been clear to me. Once again my mind raced and I felt somewhat deflated. I will leave you to your own thoughts on that.


Personal Ramblings

More memories of childhood.


Perhaps the greatest gift I received from my parents was that no attempt at any indoctrination, be it politics, religion or in any other area of life ever took place. I was simply allowed to make up my own mind. However, please understand that I did learn a lot from my parents about morals and how to conduct myself in life but these lessons all came by actions and example that took place around me as I watched my Mother and Father interact with other people. I took this approach to heart for the rest of my life and, although I have clear beliefs, I do not express them. I have lost count of the children who have enquired, “What do you think sir?” I always replied that it is for them to experience life and faith in order to make up their own minds.

In St Ives, our Methodist Minister was the first person to begin to influence me. Looking back, I believe this was because he did not ram any form of extremism down our throats but simply led (by example) a life of wonderful religious morals. His light touch and sense of humour were both infectious.

It was a huge blow to my developing character when I discovered, along with all my friends, that this minister was “being moved elsewhere”. We knew there had been disquiet amongst the more conservative (with a small “c”) members of the church after he once helped out the dreaded (at the time) “beatniks” who to us were living a long haired peace-based life. They really did say things like, “Peace man”. On the odd occasion that we talked to a beatnik they turned out to be very caring and good people, mostly educated university students spending their summer in St Ives. Indeed, a week before, one of them had dived into the sea and saved a holiday maker from drowning in the harbour where there is no lifeguard. Somehow, however, our minister had crossed a line. It seemed he had simply gone too far by becoming acquainted with people who had long hair. His attempts to include young people like me into the main Sunday Service had also been frowned upon.

As kids, we were now totally confused. Surely this great minister (to us) was following the teachings of Christ in its purest sense and, incidentally, Christ had long hair. Now it seemed he was to be punished for it and so were we because the youth club was to be shut down. Predictably the numbers of young people dwindled as the church no longer seemed to have time for us, in any respect.



Towards the end of our minister’s time at the church he asked me to do a Bible Reading in front of the main audience. He had picked a very pleasant and easily understood passage for me but I was extremely nervous. As I mounted the steps to that pulpit the Bible was shaking in my hands but somehow I managed to get through it pretty well as I had practised. At the end of the service it turned out I had to stand at the door of the church as everybody left. Most would speak to the minister but two men on separate occasions approached me and had a quiet word in my ear. Both were extremely kindly and well-meaning and I took an instant liking to both. The first put his arm on my shoulder and said, “Just a small piece of advice in case you do this again; try and slow down just a little, so that the full meaning of the words can have their effect”. I thanked him and heartily agreed. I had not realised I had seemed in a hurry. This seemed valuable feedback indeed.

Then the second man came along a minute later and also put his hand on my shoulder. He leaned forward and said, “I hope you don’t mind a bit of friendly advice but your reading would be greatly improved if you were to speed it up just a little.”  He had a big grin on his face and, as I once again agreed to the offered advice, he gave me a pat on the back and wandered off.

Yes, it would be fair to say that I learnt a very valuable lesson that morning………

c.) ………As I stood there on that morning I realised this was the first time I had ever been on the church steps at the end of a full adult service. It also turned out to be my last at “my” church, due to our source of inspiration being asked to move on. However, one thing I noticed was groups of people lingering and talking on the church steps. As I left, I wandered past a group of ladies and just caught part of a conversation which went, “…Oh yes. That’s three weeks running she’s worn the same hat!” This was followed by quiet “Oohs” and “Ahhs” and (what I took to be) knowing looks. I then passed a group of ladies on my right and caught another tiny excerpt, “….and I told her it’s about time you made an effort with your hair, this is church you know.”

I wandered away wondering if Christianity was in fact a fashion show and whether any of them had taken time out to listen to any of the words. Luckily (for me) I talked this over with our minister before he had to leave. He was a great man.