Thursday, 6 March 2014

What made me the man I am today (part 3)

First, I had better explain something that will become relevant as the final two parts of this account are told.  This revelation will probably give some of my current acquaintances pause for thought and may actually lose me some of my online friends who know me as a different kind of man.  I cannot, however, deny the side of myself that is kept hidden from the public if I am to fully and truthfully chronicle my story so I will take the damage this will do to my reputation squarely on the chin.

From the age of eleven, I started to look at nudie magazines.  At first, it was out of pure curiosity of what a woman looked like but, as the years of my youth went on, they became my only outlet for my raging hormones.  I was unable to attract a girlfriend, possibly due to the fact that I had a full beard and moustache during the latter years of my school career, but possible because I was a miserable bastard for whom personal hygiene was not a priority.  Of course, my lack of pride in my appearance and hygiene were symptoms of my depression but, as I was still undiagnosed at the time, there was no way of knowing that.

It seems strange to think now that, had any of the girls I had crushes on gone out with me, I would have been the most knowledgeable boy they could have gone out with.  I may not have had the hands-on experience but I certainly had the academic learning about what to do sexually even taking into account the vastly fantastical nature of the readers’ letters.

I suppose that nudie magazines also fulfilled another role in my life, that of fulfilling my need to collect things, a need that continues to this very day although with a different focus.
It may seem unbelievable to anyone reading this that, despite reading and collecting nudie magazines for years, I have not grown up into a man who objectifies women as sex objects.  Yes, I sometimes talk in a way that would give that impression but that is simple bravado and not how I see women at all.  I am, in fact, a full-blooded and hopeless romantic who sees all women as ladies, as beautiful and fragile works of art.  Even back then I found women to be the most beautiful creations on the planet but I was also a volcano of raging hormones that needed to let off steam.

Strangely, during my time as Grandma’s carer, I became almost obsessed with cleanliness, a process that started whilst she was in hospital and I was living alone in the flat.  I actually spent a lot of time in the bath although why that was the case and whether that had anything to do with my depression, I have no idea but it seems like the right time to bring it up so I have.

Anyway, it’s time to get on with the story...

I had lived through one of the most devastating blows to my fragile mental health and it would be nice to assume that my life couldn’t get any worse - that was certainly what I thought at the time.  I was wrong.

I had been working for some time during Grandma’s last few months at a warehouse in East London and my focus was now to keep on working as I now had nothing else to occupy my mind.  The problem was that I was tied into the go to work/come home mentality so that’s what my life remained but now being at home was painful.  For a month I had lived at Grandma’s old flat alone whilst the local council allowed us to retain the property to deal with Grandma’s personal effects but, at the end of that time, I had to move back to my parent’s flat.  My brother had moved out by that point so I had the bedroom to myself and that gave me the opportunity to start hoarding stuff.

Meanwhile at work, I fell in love with a woman called Layla.  She was six years older than me and not the most chaste woman in the world but I found her beguiling.  She was, however, going out with someone at the time so I simply had to admire her from afar and take as many opportunities to visit the factory floor so that I could see her.

One of the shift supervisors, a white South African called Andy, became quite a good friend during work hours.  He always seemed to be coming to the warehouse with requisitions for material for rush jobs that then seemed to wait around on the factory floor for days before actually being used so it seemed appropriate to nickname him “Rush Job”.  When there wasn’t much work to do in the warehouse, I used to go and see Andy for a chat; he was a really funny guy with some brilliant stories so my mind was somewhat distracted from total depression when our shifts coincided.  Our friendship was quite strong although mostly confined to the workplace.  At one point I did help Andy and his wife move home but, beyond that, like most of my friendships at school, it was a friendship confined to a specific environment.

After a while I plucked up the courage to talk to Layla in the hope that I might be able to ask her out.  I hadn’t seen her with anyone at the time so I imagined her to be available.  There was to be good news and bad though.  No, she wasn’t single but, yes, she was about to break up with her current boyfriend who was visiting family in Turkey at the time which left the field open for me.  I marshalled my courage and made my move, asking Layla if she’d be willing to go out with me.  I was over the moon when she said that she would but that I would have to wait for her current boyfriend to return so that she could break up with him properly their relationship having reached a natural conclusion before he went but circumstances dictated that he had to visit family before the deed could be done.

Unfortunately, as is the pattern to my life, events were to screw things up for me.  During a rush to prepare the warehouse for an inspection by one of the company’s clients, I dislocated my left knee cap.  I had been standing on a pyramid stack of rolls of PVC reticulated foam moving rolls from the front of the stack to the rear whilst other guys were stacking more rolls at the front.  I hadn’t noticed that my left foot had become caught between two of the rolls and, as I swivelled my body to position another heavy roll towards the back, my leg swivelled as well but my knee cap didn’t.  Suddenly, I collapsed back and to the side so that my back was lying against the stack of rolls with my head facing the floor three or four feet below me.  My boss came running to see what the commotion was about and, seeing me, took my knee cap in his hands to prevent it moving any further.  The accident left me with a fear of unsupported heights that stays with me to this day.  If there’s something to hold onto, I’m fine; otherwise I can’t stand heights.

I was rushed to hospital by ambulance which was one of the few cases of good fortune that I’ve had in my life as the ambulance service was due to start a strike over pay and conditions about three hours after they picked me up; unfortunately, it was also the night that I was supposed to take Layla home so I was robbed of my first chance to be alone with her.

One of the guys from the factory floor came with me as it was almost knocking off time anyway and he lived near the hospital so he could make sure I was alright and still make it home earlier than usual.  Two nurses came to my cubicle in the casualty department and started to remove my jeans so the doctor could sort out my knee.  They asked if I was alright with them removing my jeans and, bolstered by the courage given to me by Layla earlier in the evening, I joked that they were actually fulfilling a personal fantasy.  It wasn’t true but I just wanted to make light of the awkward situation.

I was given gas and sedatives via injection ready for the relocation of my knee cap and I was literally flying high.  The guy from work, who was someone I used to talk to but wasn’t exactly a friend even just a work one, stuck around until the drugs had taken effect before going home.  He said that I had said something embarrassing as I was passing out and he later implied that I had said something about Layla but, to give him credit, whatever it was he heard me saying, he never told anyone, not even me.

I don’t remember the rest of that night apart from being put in a car at the hospital and getting out of the car when I got home.  The journey home and everything else that night is a complete blank.

The next day, Stephen, the only friend who stuck with me after our time at school, came with me to keep an eye on me as that evening, with my leg in plaster and trying to move at speed to get the bus to work, I tried to make it up to Layla by taking her home that night.  I should have realised that she was leading me on at that point but I was in love and blind to what was blatantly obvious to Stephen.

I was unable to work for quite a while but still went to work of an evening to see Layla and I kept on trying to get that elusive date with her.  In fact, it was only the possibility of having Layla as my girlfriend that kept me going until she finally crushed my hopes by saying that she wouldn’t go out with me because I was no good to her with my leg in plaster and she had started seeing someone else.  I was devastated.

My leg had been in plaster for three weeks and that had allowed time for my leg to start growing fibres preventing me from bending my leg properly so I was forced to endure three or four months of painful physiotherapy that didn’t seem to work.  My physical pain was matched only by the emotional pain caused by Layla’s rejection but I continued to try to push myself to get better regardless of the lack of progress I seemed to be making.

Eventually, however, my leg gained some of its original range of movement although it has never been the same since the accident and not a moment too soon as my boss was under pressure to sack me for being off work so long.  So I returned to the warehouse but my fear of unsupported heights caused me a problem and the fact that so many mistakes were being made by some of the other warehouse operatives meant that, despite the fact that I was the most accurate picker in the warehouse, even I was not allowed to sign my own dockets, I took advantage of an opening in the Quality Control department to get away from the warehouse.  It was a more responsible job, had better hours (8am – 4:30pm) and had a higher wage attached but it was also the worst move I could have made.

My depression had reached a new low with everything that had happened and I started to drink alcohol.  My father regularly received bottles of whiskey for Christmas from co-workers at the warehouse he worked in so there were plenty of bottles in the sideboard waiting for someone to drink them.  My father had given up drinking alcohol years before after a drink-driving car accident on his stag night claimed the lives of his father and his friend.  I don’t know who was driving the car but my father and his brother survived so I assume it was one of the other two.

I didn’t really like the taste of alcohol and still don’t but I managed to force myself to drink some of the whiskey before I turned to drinking vodka instead.  I wasn’t a massive drinker as I didn’t earn enough to be able to buy more than a bottle a week but each bottle I bought was polished off pretty quickly at home whilst I sat on my bed alone.  My mother didn’t come into my room unless I invited her in so I was able to keep my drinking from her.

The rest of my wages was spent on my only other vice – collecting videos.  We had never had a VCR before or even had a colour television until the end of 1989 when my mother bought both with the money Grandma had left her.  Of course, all the kids at school had been talking about all the films they had seen so I went out and bought as many as I could find when we first got the VCR; it’s a habit that has never really gone away although the focus is now on DVDs.

Things could only get worse for me as I found Layla had changed shifts to be with her boyfriend and our shifts coincided so I had to face her quite a bit at work.  That was a hard time for me and my collecting and drinking were the only things stopping me from going mad.  Layla disappeared for a while and then returned but there was no sign of a boyfriend so I tried my luck again as I was still in love with her.  She agreed to go out on a date with me and I was so happy but that happiness was short-lived when she didn’t turn up.  I went to her flat to pick her up and she let me in.  She said that she had forgotten and she got ready and we went for a drink.

We never really had a date as such because even though we went for a drink, Layla maintained a distance.  I should have realised what was going on but I was naive although not quite as naive as she thought I was when I let on that I realised that her ‘weight problem’ was actually a pregnancy.  Oh, she was happy enough leading me on but didn’t want to tell me the truth.  I would have stayed by her side and taken on another man’s child because I loved her so much but it was not long before I found out she was still seeing the baby’s father at the same time as leading me to believe I had a chance with her.  Although we had never been a couple, I felt betrayed and rejected.  We had been in her flat when I found out and I have no idea how I got from there back home I was in such a daze.  My drinking became worse and so did my depression.

I couldn’t stop myself from loving Layla even after that final rejection and I ended up an angry and bitter man.  Things finally came to a head at work when I got in early and decided to get some of the press tools I needed for the gasket samples I needed to send out.  I got into a row with the press shop manager who seemed to think that I was trying to steal one of the cutting tools without permission.  I clocked out, still earlier than my start time, and decided to go home.  I bumped into my manager on the way out, however, and I told him what happened adding that “I might be back tomorrow”, a misspoken word but one that ended up with me being given a choice the next day of getting sacked or quit my job.  I chose to let them sack me as I was sure I could put a good enough case together for unfair dismissal due to the argument and my departure taking place before my official work hours, however, when I discovered that the company never lost a case even when they were in the wrong because they had high-priced lawyers on retainer, I decided to just walk away.

I managed to get a Christmas job with Virgin Games Centre in London pretty quickly so I was still able to continue collecting my videos and buying alcohol.  It was a night job and I loved it.  I was even told that there might be a permanent job going at the store in the new year but it was the first in a series of lies that I got from the managers of that particular store.

Apart from a three month stint at a local supermarket and a month at a company that made sewer pipes, I spent the next three or four years being unemployed.  I used to go to the jobcentre every day to try to find work but I always seemed to be too young or too old for the age groups the prospective employers wanted.  It was during this period that my father was made redundant and we spent a lot of time together trying to find work including a 20-mile round trip going to all the local jobcentres on one particular occasion.

Throughout that whole time, I was still hurting from what happened with Layla.  Stephen was with me through that whole period but even his patience with my low moods and heartbreak started to wear a bit thin.  He was a good friend but even good friends have their limits.  I’m not exactly sure when he finally gave up on me but I feel it only right to mention it here while I remember it.

One thing that came up in the early 1990s was the fact that I started to find out about the huge following Doctor Who had.  I had been a fan for years but it was a solitary pleasure for me and I didn’t really share my love of the show with anyone.  I didn’t even know that there were signings by stars from the show until I saw one advertised in Doctor Who Magazine and I decided to go.  I arrived at the venue bang on time and found myself at the end of a line of fans about half a mile long.  If I had known then that Elisabeth Sladen was so popular I would have gone a lot earlier but, the lovely kind woman that she was, Ms Sladen didn’t leave the signing until every single fan had something signed and had a brief chat with her.  I’ll always remember that.

That day was also memorable because I met another fan who became a friend for a while.  Paul was a strange sort but seemed nice and we hit it off so when he suggested setting up a Doctor Who fan club, I was all for it.  Being associated with other Doctor Who fans allowed me to legitimise my veracious collecting – videos, magazines, photos, anything that I could get me hands on I collected.  After all, I couldn’t chat about the show with other fans if I didn’t have a similar level of knowledge, could I?

We set up the club and we made a few connections but it never really went anywhere.  It did, however, give me my first opportunity to become a writer.  I became the chief writer, editor and production manager for the club magazine and I found that I loved writing and editing. 

Through the club I met a similarly-minded person to myself, not for us the clichéd favourite Doctor Who actor of our childhood but a more considered choice disregarding nostalgia for quality.  He was a character and took the name Nikira as his preferred name.  He would have quite an influence in my life later on but that’s a story for next time.

While the club was still going, we had the idea of trying to create our own video adventures so I started working on a storyline which would later become the basis for a television show I wanted to write but that’s also another story.

I also met a young lady called Lisa who attended a couple of meetings before the club folded.  She was a nice woman who had experience of acting in amateur video productions and had a love of all things science-fiction.  We lost touch for a while after the club ended but her influence on my life would become quite substantial over the next couple of years. 

The club may have been a bust but it did stop me from drinking so for that I’m grateful, even if it was only a short-lived cessation.

Each Christmas, I went back to Virgin Games Centre/Future Zone and each year I was told that there might be a job going come the New Year until, in 1995, it actually came true.

I became the Future Zone chain’s only dedicated stockroom supervisor and was there when the chain changed hands again, becoming Electronics Boutique.  I was a dedicated member of staff even to the point of taking on unpaid overtime when there was a big job on.  During the closedown for the refit when Electronics Boutique took over, I worked a 27-hour shift and a 24-hour shift to pack up all the stock for transport to the EB warehouse but, despite my dedication and hard work, I was the lowest paid member of staff.  A lot of ideas were thrown about – I was going to be sent out to the other stores in the region to instruct their staff on how to manage their stockrooms properly or I was going to be the supervisor for both of the stores on Oxford Street, shuttling between the two – but none of them happened.  I was called the stockroom manager by the store manager but it was decreed by the area manager that I was not allowed to be given that title when we were given name badges to wear.  It got to the point where I felt so undervalued and unappreciated that I decided to look for another job.

It was during the time I spent with Future Zone/Electronics Boutique that I worked on the storyline for my amateur video productions, creating a kind of British ‘X-Files’ what I don’t really like calling it but it seems the most appropriate term to use for now.  It blended the best aspects of three of my favourite TV shows with my fascination for the unexplained, the supernatural and the extraterrestrial.  It also included a healthy dose of conspiracy theory from my association with a group of conspiracy fans who I met through Nikira.  It is this conspiracy thread that made people describe my idea as a British ‘X-Files’, however, I had never seen ‘X-Files’ at that time so the similarity was completely coincidental.

At one point, when the controller of BBC2 was looking for a British ‘X-Files’, I sent a very brief outline of the first season of my idea with some notes on the characters.  It is to my credit that I received two letters, both positive in tone, about my ideas but with the note that I needed to think a little more about altering it as it was a little too close in style to the ‘X-Files’.  Apparently, getting a letter from the BBC is almost unheard of if you are an untested writer.

It was during a Tube strike that I found myself walking into the jobcentre in Holborn.  I walked straight up to the board in front of the door and found a job as a warehouse supervisor for £800 more than I was getting at the time so I applied for the job.  It was another one of those rare times when I was in the right place at the right time and things worked out even better than I had hoped when I was told at the interview that the salary had been noted down wrong at the jobcentre and was actually £1800 more than I was getting.

I went into the interview with the confidence of a man who was going to walk away with the job, mainly because I was so desperate to leave my current employer that it crushed my usual pessimism.  It worked as I was offered the job and I managed to walk away from Electronics Boutique forever.  They could have kept me if they had paid me more and appreciated what a good job I did for them, a point made quite clear a few months after I left when the whole staff of the store had to be suspended due to an increase in thefts by the staff.  I also found out that the person who took my place was given a badge that declared him to be the ‘Stockroom Manager’, the title I was not allowed to have.

I still had some friends in Electronics Boutique so I kept in touch but that proved to be problem when two of them had a falling out.  They were both assistant managers but whilst one was a stickler for the rules, the other was a little more relaxed.  The stickler took it upon himself to test the other by hiding a game disc below another game disc when he bought a game to take home.  Usually the other guy would not have checked and the stickler would have been able to let the manager know so the security procedures could be tightened up.  Unfortunately, his plan backfired when the full security check was made properly and the stickler was reported as trying to steal a game.  I was the only person who was on the scene at the time and who the stickler had told the plan to so I got dragged into the debacle.  The incident was immediately reported to the area manager rather than it being dealt with by the store manager which was a breach of procedure and the whole thing kicked off.  The stickler was soon to be leaving for a job in the police so his future career was on the line and I could see where he was coming from as there was a need to check the security checks were being performed correctly; however, I could also see the other guy’s point of view and see that performing the unauthorised check was a bit of a stupid idea.  So I was stuck in the position of going for a drink with each one individually, trying to maintain a friendship with both of them while needing to take the side of whoever I was with at the time.  Not a nice place to be in and certainly not good for my mental state.  It is for this reason that I don’t like to make friends at work and that has been extended into a blanket policy.

I had not given up hope of trying to create a Doctor Who fan club so I decided, with Nikira’s help, to start up a new Doctor Who fanzine the subscription to which we could base a new club.  It was a good idea but as doomed as the previous club.  It did, however, give me a real focus for my personal life which was falling apart at the seams.  My collecting had expanded to include partworks, American comic books, novels, videos and, I’m ashamed to say, porn.  I was collecting nudie magazines and porn videos to make up for the lack of any female companionship and my bedroom started to look like a shut-in’s hovel.  The only saving grace was my work on the magazines but even that was a double-edged sword as I had to rely on an unreliable person to provide the artwork which was the only thing I couldn’t do myself.

I was certainly struggling with life at this point.  I was also coming under increased pressure to help friends during their times of personal strife.  My friend Paul’s mother became ill and I was there for him during her illness (as much as I could be, given the distance between us).  Paul had a very close relationship with his mother so when she died he fell apart.  I used my lifetime’s experience in putting on an act for the world to fake an illness with my manager so I could stay with him for a whole week to help him sort out the funeral arrangements and to tidy up some of her personal affairs.

My friendship with Paul also led to me being introduced to the woman who would become my wife – Diana.  Paul had found Diana’s details somewhere that listed people wanting pen pals and their friendship progressed to the point that they exchanged telephone numbers and wrote to each other as often as possible.  Paul was in a vulnerable place and took Diana’s kindness and interest in him as love.  As time went on, Paul started to believe that he and Diana were engaged and that he would move to Florida to be with her,  a situation that I totally believed in and was happy on Paul’s behalf for.  It was also a situation that Paul had built up in his own mind, one that Diana had no idea about.

On one of my trips to see Paul, Diana was on the phone with him and, unable to explain the difference in the gender divide in Doctor Who fans in the UK and in the US, Paul asked me to explain to Diana as I had explained it in his presence once before to someone else.  I stumblingly explained the explanation I had arrived at and got off the telephone as quickly as possible but it was that simple exchange on the telephone that sparked Diana’s interest in me (at least, that’s what she told me later on).  A couple of weeks later, Diana began to write to me, having been given my address by Paul, and we became pen pals.

After a year or so, I met up with Lisa again and I fell in love with her.  I didn’t want to because it was a sad fact of life in the Doctor Who fan world that there were so few female fans that they were constantly being hit on by the male fans; however, I couldn’t stop myself.  It had been about seven years since Layla and I was too weak to stop myself from falling in love with someone who was so nice and kind and didn’t look upon being a Doctor Who fan as something to be ashamed of.

My new job was going as well as could be expected but while I was just about coping with the workload, my boss seemed to think that the whole thing was a breeze for me.  I was never one to show any weakness so I continued to put up the front of handling the work rather than saying that the workload was starting to get too much.  I was doing more and more unpaid overtime to struggle to cope and when I got home I sat on my bed watching my videos on my portable TV/VCR combi sinking deeper into despair.

Lisa tried to help me by offering me a slim hope for the future when I could no longer hide how I felt about her but that was a mistake on her part.  We went out a couple of times as friends but my longing to love and feel loved in return started to take its toll.  Lisa started to become uncomfortable around me, not in a bad way but in her compassionate way of trying to help me through my feelings so we could remain friends.  The last time I saw her was when we went to see a film at the cinema.  Ironically, the film was ‘The Fifth Element’, a story about the ultimate power of love.

Thanks to a minor accident at work, I was thrust into the orbit of a lovely young lady, a trainee nurse at Bart’s Hospital.  I refused to let the rejection from Lisa affect me as badly as Layla’s rejection had so, having found myself attracted to her, I asked her out for a drink.  This was a brave move I hear you say but it was nothing of the sort because, and I have never told this to a living soul before, I actually telephoned the hospital to ask her shortly after I had left.  It was cowardly but it was the best I could do given my low self-esteem and nervousness.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to ask her face-to-face as I would not have been brave enough.  It was, however, the first step in trying to break the pattern of loneliness that I had been living with and the pattern of letting a rejection haunt me into paralysis.

It was around this time that I made my first suicide attempt although I never actually got the chance to go through with it but the intention was there and it signalled a growing problem in my life.

With everything falling apart in my personal life and my ability to cope with the workload severely compromised, it only took one final straw to destroy me and that straw was the sight of a large stock report unceremoniously dumped on my desk with no warning one morning with a note asking me to go through it as soon as possible.  I cracked and in the most public of ways.

The events immediately prior to my breakdown are very hazy to me from the moment I saw the stock report on the desk and coming fully back to my senses.  All I know for sure is that one minute I had started crying and shaking uncontrollably and the next I was under my desk in the foetal position unable to communicate with my work colleagues who had found me but able to hear every word that was being said about me.  I heard them calling for an ambulance and the crew of the ambulance arriving.  I remember the lead paramedic saying that, due to the risk of injury to me or to either of them, they were unable to pull me out from under my desk but simply had to wait until I was more lucid and able to scramble out myself.

I don’t really know how long I was under the desk but my hazy recollection is that I was under there for about half an hour before I seemed to come to my senses.  It seemed as though I was roused from my emotional state by the voice of an army drill sergeant who was shouting “what the bloody Hell, do you think you’re doing man?  These people could be out saving lives but they’re stuck here waiting for you to crawl out from under a bloody desk.  You should be bloody ashamed of yourself so get moving!”

It certainly worked and I was taken to hospital.  It was there that I was given a referral to my local mental health team and I finally got a diagnosis of depression.  Finally, I was given a reason for why I had been different all these long years although I was (and still am) no nearer to knowing what caused my depression in the first place.

I took a week off work to recover my composure and it was then that my beloved cat, Merlin, entered my life.  My mother had found a card in a shop window advertising Silver Tabby cats for sale and she thought that a pet might help me although the cost was prohibitive as far as the advertised price was concerned.  It is here that another piece of rare blind luck worked in my favour; the price written on the advert was £250 per kitten but, when we called to confirm the details, it transpired that the amount had been incorrectly noted by the shopkeeper and the real price was actually only £25.  It was that simple error that meant that none of that particular litter had been bought and I had the opportunity to pick from the whole group.

We went to the owner’s house that very afternoon to see the kittens and I was totally drawn to the only female in the group but I wanted the kitten I was to buy to pick me rather than I pick them.  I wanted the choice to be theirs.  The female had no interest in me (so what’s new?) but a handsome male kitten made a bee-line for me and the choice was made.  We hadn’t got any of the necessary paraphernalia needed to keep a cat so we paid for the kitten and said that we would pick him up that evening once we were set up at home.

Merlin settled in quite quickly and we bonded the next day when he laid on my chest as I sat in my father’s rocking chair.  He was so tiny, only six weeks old, but he simply took up a comfortable position in the middle of my chest and we fell asleep.  The entire week was fantastic, getting to know the creature I would come to think of as my son but every good time has to end and after that week I had to return to work.  Merlin was left alone in the flat for long periods of time after I returned to work because by then we were all in work for some hours in the day.  It was due to this isolation that Merlin became more self-sufficient than I was hoping he would.

It was about this time that I saw Nikira for the last time in over a year.  He later told me that he thought he’d never see me again as he thought I’d kill myself.

Diana and I were still pen pals at this point and she let me know that she was coming to the UK for a holiday with her mother.  They would be staying with Paul whilst they were here.  I was pleased for Paul as I was still under the impression that he gave me that he and Diana were engaged.  I said that I hoped to meet her but that it might not happen if I was working.  Paul had, by that point, become redundant and was cash-strapped as a result.  He asked me if I could take Diana and her mother out once or twice to show them around so I arranged my holiday to coincide with the second week of Diana’s holiday.

It was the last week in May 1998 and Paul had arranged for me to show Diana and her mother around London on the Monday of that week.  What I didn’t know at the time (and what could actually have been a lie Diana told me depending on later revelations to come in part four) was that Diana had become attracted to me during our pen pal relationship and as far back as my initial telephone conversation with her; as a result, part of her reason for coming to the UK was to meet me in person.

Diana and I hit it off that first day and what started out as my duty as Paul’s friend to take his fiancé out once or twice, became a week-long set of days out.  I was under the impression that Diana was a Doctor Who fan so I even took her to the exhibition of costumes from the show in Wales for one of the days.  If Diana is to be believed, it was that day in Wales that convinced her that I was the one for her and she started to show her feelings towards me.

I suggested that, as it was my birthday on the Saturday, we could return to Wales and stay overnight so we could get a better look around the area as Diana seemed to like the views.  Diana agreed but I was not aware that Paul had decided he wanted to take her to the Dickens Festival in Rochester on that same Saturday.  He was obviously angry at me for trying to ‘steal’ his ‘fiancé’ from him and, as that was not my intention, I asked Diana to spend some time with him towards the end of the week as she was set on going back to Wales.  She agreed to spend the day with him that Friday but events were already in motion that would end my friendship with Paul and seal the relationship with Diana.

I was looking forward to a day by myself, going up to London to buy my latest week’s worth of US comic books, meaning I could leave mid-afternoon to get to London rather than having to go up early in the morning.  That plan, however, was foiled when I received a telephone call from a distressed Diana.  Apparently, Diana had told Paul that I let her know that I would be going up to London that day and that I would meet her there if Paul’s plans fell through.  Unfortunately, Paul took that as a firm appointment for Diana and I to meet up again which was untrue.  He angrily took Diana to London and, after dragging her through Soho, disappeared on her, having walked off into the crowd at a speed Diana couldn’t match.

I got ready and met her outside the shop I had directed her to within an hour.  By this time Paul had found her and he was pissed off at me for arranging to meet Diana on ‘his’ day with her.  I tried to explain but he didn’t want to listen as all he could see was that I was trying to take his fiancé from him.

We took a trip together to a local Doctor Who location on Paul’s suggestion but his attitude did not get any better and he stormed off again, making his way home.  This meant, however, that Diana and I spent the rest of the evening together.  By now, I was feeling quite close to Diana and we had what can only be described as a romantic evening, sitting on a bench on the South Bank of the Thames overlooking the river and the illuminated cityscape.  Unfortunately, we spent so long sitting there enjoying each other’s company that we were unaware of trouble on the train route back to Paul’s home until there was only one chance to get a train back.  We were informed that the final train might get cancelled so I telephoned Paul who angrily suggested that I sent Diana home by coach.

I realise that I made a mistake not going with Diana but, as I needed to get ready for our trip to Wales the next day and Paul had agreed to meet her in Gravesend, I made sure that she was safely on the coach before making my way home, making sure Diana promised to call me as soon as she got in.  I should have forgotten about needing to get ready for our trip because I was destined to get no sleep that night.

By rights, Diana should have been home before I was because the coach wasn’t busy being the last one of the day and because my route home took me via a very patchy rail and bus service area so I was worried when I had not come home to the news that Diana had arrived safely.  I tried to call Paul’s house but I got no answer.  Over the next two hours, I called Paul’s house but still got no answer so I called the police, frantically worried for Diana’s safety.  I even called the telephone company to see if there was a problem with his line.  I was greeted with a nightmare of silence.  I contacted the coach company to see if Diana had fallen asleep on the coach and woken up at the end of the route but she hadn’t.  Finally, at 6am, my mother told me to get some sleep if I could and she would continue to wait for news.

About an hour after I stumbled into bed, we received a telephone call from Diana asking where I was.  She was at the station in London where we were going to pick up the train to Wales.  I rushed to get ready and went to meet her not knowing what had happened the night before but glad that she was alright.  However, the trip was already very much behind schedule meaning that we had a lot less time in Wales than we planned on having.

On the train ride to Wales, Diana filled me in with what happened the previous night.  She had indeed arrived in Gravesend well before I was home but Paul hadn’t gone to pick her up from town to take her back to his house so she ended up walking the two miles or so to the house accompanied by a drunken man because she didn’t have the money for a taxi.  When she got in, she couldn’t make a call to say she had arrived home safely because the telephone was in the living room where Paul was sleeping and she was worried about waking him due to the foul mood he was in.  It transpired that the reason I had no answer from Paul’s home after I arranged with him to meet Diana in Gravesend was that he unplugged the telephone from the socket hence no answer but also no fault on the line either.

Whilst Diana and I were waiting for our connecting train service, I called home to let my mother know what had happened but she had already spoken to Paul and she gave me an earful about how Paul had told her I was ‘stealing’ Diana from him.  Later on it would transpire that she didn’t believe what he said but, in her usual ham-fisted way, made it sound as if she believed Paul’s version of events, something I could totally believe given the relationship I had with my parents.

Despite the fact that the day was ruined and everyone but Diana had seemingly turned against me, we decided to continue onto Wales, however, we were unable to do more than sit by the river running through town and talk.  We did get a rushed trip in to see a ruined abbey on the way home the next day but the trip turned into more of an opportunity to get closer to Diana.

These events ended my friendship with Paul, further strained the relationship with my parents and set me on the path to marriage with Diana.

It is Diana’s recollection that we got engaged on that weekend trip to Wales but I’m sure we got engaged later over the telephone after she had returned to Florida.  This is one of a number of conflicts in our recollection of events in our relationship that I will point out during the final part of this series.

Again, I made the mistake of sending Diana back to Paul’s house alone because I didn’t want my presence to act as a catalyst for further anger but, with hindsight, I should have gone with her so that I could have punched him in his arrogant face for what he did to Diana.  I’m not a violent man but that day I would have been.  As I saw Diana’s train pulling away from the station and her face speeding out of my life, I cried and I could see that she was too.  I thought that that would be the end of a simple holiday romance that resulted in nothing more than some hand-holding in some romantic settings and some nice memories.

The next day, Paul dumped Diana and her mother at the airport and they never spoke again.

Over the next six months, Diana and I wrote to each other and spoke at great length on the telephone.  It seemed that our relationship wasn’t about to fade into memory after all.  We got steadily closer and started talking about me going to Florida for a holiday over Christmas and it is at this point that I believe that we got engaged.  We started talking about getting married when I went over to Florida and, eventually, plans were put in motion that would lead me to having my first overseas trip and would result in both the best and worst decision I would ever make – getting married.

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