The Lasting Legacy of Childhood Sexual Abuse

I WROTE the attached blog piece two years ago, following my nervous breakdown in June 2013. At the time of writing I was trying to make sense of events in my life which had led to the breakdown.

abused child

THE breakdown was a long time coming… 43 years to be precise. Yes, that really is a long time to keep a secret and many events along the way could have been my undoing much sooner. So I marvel that it took so long.

Two massive battles with cancer; the loss of most of my right lung and shoulder; the ruination of a much loved career by my own stupidity; the death of my best friend and later my father; divorces and more failed relationships than you care to shake a stick at; bankruptcy; the suicide of a family member; denial of access to two of my children for 12 years; the repossession of my home; discovering my wife was enjoying sex with another man; becoming a single parent at the age of 50 and an unprovoked assault that almost took my life anyway.

Set against that backdrop there is a star-spangled career in journalism with a raft of awards and recognition at the highest level, the chance to meet and talk with some stellar people, five wonderful kids plus a host of amazing and loyal friends.

These are just snippits of my life so far and more than enough to form the framework of a powerful autobiography.

But casting a huge shadow over every move I have made, every tear, every relationship, every job and every sick joke was something much more sinister.

Wednesday 12 June 2013 was the day the elastic band finally broke and my life unravelled before my eyes, and those of my wife and precious son, who could only watch with me.

It all began in another time and another place…

I was, a young 14-year-old boy standing in darkness in open woodland, with my trousers around my ankles, being sexually abused by a 38-year-old man – a man trusted by my parents to care for me.

It was 1970.

He was the district commissioner for Scouts in my home town and over many months had encouraged me to attend camps, orienteering, patrol leader weekends and wide games to help me ‘get the most out of Scouting’.

I was a bright, gentle and slightly quirky kid who had enjoyed being in the Cubs and Scouts since the age of seven.

But not anymore.

The abuse had begun some months earlier, soon after my 14th birthday, at a so-called winter camping weekend at the Scout-owned woodland campsite – some three miles from my home, and five from the centre of town.

Over the course of 15 months, it had become regular, routine and progressively invasive.

I had been sworn to secrecy by my abuser. After all, I was the one he had caught ‘playing with’ himself and I would be totally humiliated if anyone found out.

I felt dirty and terrified and above all convinced I must be a ‘queer’ (gay) to allow this to happen. But the over-riding feeling was a need to escape this darkness, this nightmare.

I tried all manner of excuses not to attend Scouts and these frequent camps. When eventually my loving parents questioned my ongoing reluctance, I lied that I was being bullied. Their answer was simple: ‘stand up to the bullies’. Followed by: ‘If you leave the Scouts they will know they have beaten you’!

How I wish I had told them the truth. But I was sure my mother would not have believed me and accuse me of exaggerating. Equally, my father was a strong-minded man and I felt he would humiliate me further, if I told him, with jibes about me being a ‘poof’ or something. Sadly in adult hindsight he would probably have hugged me close and physically attacked my abuser had he known.

I don’t blame my parents, they were the most loving and caring I could have wished for. But times were different then and there were many things in life that were taboo.

Anyway, the abuse continued unabated as I turned 15 and as I turned more introspective and aloof to friends.

I was in my abuser’s control and I could not break free.

But I did eventually escape in the June of 1971.

My abuser had arranged a patrol leaders’ meeting at his house on the other side of town. It was a ‘must attend’ gathering.

I had met a lad called Brian from another troop and we had agreed to go together. Brian’s dad would take us there and my dad would pick us both up at 9pm.

We arrived at this spacious bungalow in a quiet middle-class cul-de-sac at about 7pm and were ushered inside by my abuser. Others were arriving and by the time we were all assembled, there were about 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 in the semi-lit dining room.

The meeting was a blur. My mind was already in the dark woods.  And in what seemed no time at all, parents were arriving to pick up their kids. Soon just Brian and I remained silently while the clock ticked.

My abuser said he would make a cup of tea for us both and asked if we would like a biscuit too. Brian said ‘Yes’ for both of us.

Then as he walked down the hallway to his kitchen, Brian whispered to me: “Scarper!”

Without hesitation we ran to the front door, fumbled at the latch and tore down the driveway to the cul-de-sac. No sign of my fecking dad! Where the hell was he?

We could hear my abuser call out our names from his front doorway, and we ran as fast and as far away as we could.

We didn’t stop until we reached a red phone box on the outskirts of the town centre, about a mile away. We then stared at each other. At that moment, I knew Brian was a victim too.

Shaking, I rang my home phone number. Mum answered. But before I could say much, she berated me for being ‘so rude’ as to run away from the nice man’s house. She also chastised me for leaving her and my dad terrified for my safety. She told me to stay at the phone box and when dad returned home she would send him out again to pick us up.

He did and when I eventually got home to the safety of my bedroom, I broke down and cried into my pillow all night long.

That night was a watershed for so many reasons.

I had begun to face this demon, by knowing that in Brian I was not alone.

From that day I used every excuse I could find to avoid my abuser and never went back to Scouts or camping again. Even when my own troop leader called at our house to ask if I was okay, I managed to lie and stay safe.

My passion for football and hard school work helped mask the real reasons.

But the events of 1970-71 were just the beginning of the nightmare for me. My abuser’s smirking face and the smell of his stale sweat never leaves me.

I lived and grew through my mid-teens convinced I must be gay to have allowed a man to do the things my abuser did to me. I also lived in terror that either my parents, sisters, or worse still my school friends, would find out and I would become an object of ridicule.

Resultant behaviour patterns started to emerge: a need to control every aspect of my life and the social environment around me, outbursts of vocal anger, walking away from any situation which threatened my control, and as I turned 18, progressively heavy drinking.

The control aspect was – and still is – vital. For without it I feel vulnerable and frightened and unable to function normally. At home my behaviour sometimes borders on OCD.

Once away at university in the far flung environs of Yorkshire I also had a need to prove I was ‘normal’ or straight! Whereas a lot of young men ‘sow their oats’ at uni’, I sowed more than most. I am not proud in any measure, but I bedded as many girls who would say yes as I could, proving to myself I was ‘straight’!

I also needed female company, as a fear of being unsafe and alone was constantly with me. By the time I was 22-years-old I was engaged to a girl who promised to always care for me.

By the age of 24, we were wed. It was a sadly inappropriate marriage of two polar opposites and lasted just eight years. My outbursts of vocal temper, deep introspection and a need to control my own life, plus an affair, did not help!

But I survived my first divorce – and an 18 month battle with cancer – and tried to start over.

In 1990, aged 34, I moved to Scotland and found a geographical escape from my past. It involved burying myself in my job. Often working 16 hour days, prolonged success at work allowed me to control my life at last.

One year after moving north I met a young woman who told me of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a 14-year-old, adding that I was the first person she had confided in. I could not share my abuse with her… but this was an epiphany and I saw a possible way out.

A colleague at work was married to a police officer and I used him to help me lodge a formal complaint against my abuser via the Inspector at the local police station. He, in turn, passed on the complaint to the police force in the area of southern England where I had lived as a young teenager.

It was November 1991.

I waited in trepidation, wondering what might happen next and preparing to come clean with my parents if a court case was involved.

Two weeks passed before I was asked to attend the local police station to talk with the Inspector again. He invited me into an interview room at the back of the station, where he told me something I was not ready for… my abuser was dead!

I walked zombie-like back to my office, barely able to talk with anybody.

How could my abuser be dead! How could he not face justice for what he had done? How could I carry on?

The anger inside me was immense.

The next few months were hard as I tried to keep a lid on my emotions. But rages came, tears and gloom overwhelmed and eventually in the summer of 1992, I walked out and left that part of Scotland for good.

The next 20 years were much like the previous 20 with black moods, multiple broken relationships and a growing need to drink to forget.

Only success at work allowed me to be my real self.

By 2003 I recognised I was fast becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous was a refuge and it allowed me to share my past in confidence with complete strangers.

But life happens and the sudden need to care as a single parent for my youngest child reinforced the desire to take control of life and at last start to live it with purpose as a sober dad.

In January 2006 I moved to Wales to begin again, both at work and at home.

Work had a purpose as I edited a small but successful weekly newspaper. I had already edited other similar local papers years earlier and had twice taken them to win newspaper of the year awards. This time it was treading water, but enjoyable all the same and allowed stability for a full seven years.

Stories came and went and along the way and I worked with and befriended some wonderful people. I also wasted no opportunity to expose convicted child sex offenders whenever their cases came to light. Ironically the so-called ‘paedo files’ in North Wales seemed more expansive than anywhere else I had lived or worked. It was like unsolicited cathartic therapy.

My empathy with the victims was immense. But still I could not share what remained buried for so long.

Last year fate suddenly dealt me straight and I met my soul mate and now my darling wife. I shared everything with her and I found love and stability for the first time since I turned 14. Life was starting to have a meaning.

But just when life breathes fresh air something unexpected takes the breath away and leaves it stale.

Four months ago that something happened and sent my life into a complete tailspin. And to mix metaphors, the tailspin became a train crash.

While researching on-line for more information about a North Wales’ child sex abuse case we were carrying in the paper, I decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser.

It didn’t take long and the moment will stay with me forever.

I discovered that my abuser was indeed dead. But he had died in 1996, aged 64… some five years AFTER the police told me he was already dead! I double and triple checked my facts.

I still cannot comprehend what happened.

Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? Or worse still was it a conspiracy to protect someone of importance in the local community? I guess I will never know, but I had been denied the justice and closure I had wanted all those years earlier.

The rages and tears came again as I struggled to take back control.

Work was corrosive and I felt undermined at every turn by junior bosses whose experience did not hold a candle to my own. I felt managed out of my job and was losing control of my own newspaper and my life.

On Wednesday 12 June 2013 I walked into my office to find that one of these junior charge hands had changed my front page – after I had gone to press – without any reference to me. I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness.

But now as I write this I am, for the very first time, receiving professional help to deal with my demon. And it is my abuser who is the demon, not some bungling police officer.

The demon will never go away, but I have a loving wife, a courageous and wonderful mother, a gorgeous youngest son and some amazing close friends, who all now know of my dark secret. And by sharing with them, I am slowly losing the need to control my life. It is liberating. I am recovering.

And it is for them that I need to live and share my inner self. The abuser has not won… I am fighting back.

This blog is the means to that end.

 

The Birth of Pendragon

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

The Once and Future KingTH White

LIKE all good tales the one you are about to read began a long, long time ago.

Well, the late autumn of 1984 to be precise.

I had just lost my job in teaching, and as an aspiring writer stuck in my mid 20s had no place left to go. In many ways I was lucky because my good wife was earning enough as a school teacher to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. Fine and dandy… but that still left me unemployed! So I cast around for ideas of where to go and what to do. Friends suggested I should start a private tutoring agency to help children with reading and writing difficulties. So with little preparation I did… and as quick as an arrow called my one man business: DART. It wasn’t quite like that; DART actually stood for Diagnostic And Reading Techniques!

Soon I had clients at the door of my hastily created office and tutoring studio and at a splendid £6 per hour was earning money while helping kids to read, write and spell prupally.

By the summer of 1985 the business was burgeoning with new clients by the score. I began casting about again. This time my cast was on how to develop the business without the need to work seven days a week (I was by this time working five and half days). It was solved partly by taking on a part-time secretary and by visiting WH Smiths for a newspaper.

It was while leaving the branch of WH Smiths that something cream coloured and shiny caught my eye… I looked at this wonderful thing with the eyes of a child at Christmas. It was an Acorn Electron home computer, complete with three free boxed games. And to add icing to cream cake, it was reduced at only £119, and included a free cassette tape player (for the software). The strange thing was earlier that morning my business bank statement had arrived in the post and it showed an unexpected surplus of cash in hand. So with an unassuming cheesy grin I walked back into the store, signed a cheque for £119 and waited while the shop assistant packed the box containing the new toy into a WH Smith’s bag.

Once home I unwrapped the marvellous piece of eight bit magnificence, glanced through the instructions and said the word “Shit” in a very loud voice. No one told me I would also need a monitor or where I could even get one!

So with plans of using this new computer to grow my business going west by the second I wandered back into town to the branch of WH Smiths. I gently accosted the lady who had sold me the Electron some 90 minutes earlier and began by saying: “Remember me?” She looked a little awkward as I asked how the hell was a supposed to use the new computer without a monitor? She explained that WH Smiths didn’t sell monitors, only computers, as she pointed to a Sinclair ZX Spectrum on the shelf next to her.

“Maybe these might help,” she added, pointing towards a magazine called Electron User. I hastily agreed to buy a copy and rushed back home to read up about my precious but useless toy. It took about an hour, but the answers I needed were all there in black and white… I could buy a monitor or TV/monitor via mail order. It would cost me another £60… but hey, it was worth it! So with a first class stamp I mailed off my order that afternoon. By the time the monitor arrived the following Saturday, I had read everything I needed to know about this little Acorn Electron. I had also looked keenly at the three free boxed games – all by a company called Acornsoft. One game called Sphinx Adventure intrigued me – to be honest after all these years I can’t remember what the two other were called! But, I was able to read a bit about it in a two page column by Merlin in the Electron User magazine I had bought.

In no time at all I had wired and fired up the Electron and waited patiently for the Sphinx Adventure to load. I was intrigued as I stumbled between the on screen clues, typing in all kinds of nonsense on the keyboard. It took me a while to realise that only certain combinations of two words worked and allowed me to progress. But it was intoxicating and by 10pm I was making some real progress – after being killed by a bloody Dwarf with an axe a few dozen times! By midnight I was hooked and reluctantly went up to bed when my wife came down for the third time to ask: “What on Earth are you doing?”

The next day was Sunday, so I had a whole day to play some more with Sphinx Adventure … and I did all day, oblivious to the real world around me.In two short days I had changed from an almost normal guy into a computer nerd and a text adventure addict!

After scouring the Merlin column for clues I eventually completed Sphinx Adventure on the following Wednesday evening. I took me five days, but I did have to work (tutoring) and sleep (a little). But I was hooked and sat wondering what to do next! How do I come down from this high? The Merlin column told me of the existence of other so-called text adventures and a few names stuck. The following morning (Thursday) I wandered into our small market town and into an independent shop which I knew stocked some computer software. You can imagine my surprise when I laid my eyes on a cassette box with the title Twin Kingdom Valley a name that resonated from the Merlin column. The box alerted me to the fact that this game was for the Acorn Electron! I hastily handed over the cash and made home with my new adventure. Once loaded I realised this game was quite different from Sphinx Adventure and although fun, it didn’t seem quite up to the same standard of puzzle solving.

By the time I had completed this second adventure, I was convinced of two things: one was I had to buy a copy of Electron User every month, if only for the Merlin pages; and two I needed to buy more games. Scouting the advertising pages in my one copy of Electron User I noticed a company called 21st Software in Manchester (the company was owned by a certain John Snowden who later became a life-long friend – but that’s a story for another day) sold a host of other text adventures for the Electron and all could be bought by mail order. I immediately ordered two more games by Acornsoft: Countdown to Doom and Philosopher’s Quest, plus an interesting sounding title by another company called Voodoo Castle.

A few days passed before all three adventures arrived is a sealed box. This was it, I was having another fix, and another and another. But, this time by my side was an A4 pad of paper and a pen. I decided to start trying to map the adventures as I played them.

By the late autumn of 1985 I had played and completed about a dozen text adventures for the Electron, had the Electron User delivered to my door each month by subscription and was greedily eyeing a BBC B+ computer for Christmas.

As the year passed into the cold wetness of January 1986 and into the coolness of February, I was the proud owner of a BBC B+ and an Acorn Electron computer, which sat side by side on my new desk – made from a two metre length of kitchen worktop! Above the desk was a shelf bulging with text adventures and below it was a drawer with my scribbled maps of the adventures I had solved. I was also now receiving each month both Electron User and its sister title BBC Micro User magazines and devouring the adventure pages in both.

For the Electron; Fourth Protocol, Project Theseus, Savage Island, Strange Odyssey, Quest for the Holy Grail, Lost Crystal, Citadel and Myorem (by the amazing Robico) delighted me. But with the more powerful BBC B+ I could now go further with the advanced Acornsoft adventures Quondam, Acheton, The Seventh Star and Kingdom of Hamil. I also started buying and solving the now legendary Level 9 adventures – which sadly would not play on the 32k Electron.

By May of 1986 I was a text adventure junkie. When I wasn’t playing the darn things I was drawing out ever more complicated maps, reading every syllable of the monthly adventure columns and even writing in to the authors of these columns with clues and solutions. Something else happened that month… the name and author of the BBC Micro User adventure column changed from Alice to The Mad Hatter. And boy, did I love the playful style of the new columnist. And I became more of a fan the next month when he published one of my solutions in full with full acknowledgment to me. Wow… I was famous! And it fuelled my addiction still further.

But nothing prepared me for what happened next…

One morning in late June I received a large and unexpected letter with a Cornwall postmark, addressed in handwriting I did not recognise. I quickly opened the surprise missive. It was a handwritten letter of thanks from The Mad Hatter! His letter suggested I may like to review new adventure software for Electron User. He gave me the name and phone number of the Reviews Editor at the Database Publications offices near Stockport and suggested I contact him immediately. I was beyond excited… wow, what a break!

Within an hour I was speaking directly to the reviews guy Chris Payne and was promised a couple of games to review immediately. The bonus was I would be paid between £20 and £40 per review plus I would get to keep each game I reviewed. For a junkie like me this was heaven. As I sat and took in the Mad Hatter’s letter I glanced at the foot of the notepaper to see the small letterhead: Rev R J Redrup. I turned to my desk and typed a hasty reply to Mr Hatter, thanking him for his letter and quizzically asking who was Rev R J Redrup?

Within a week the first two games for review arrived from Database Publications plus a reply from the Mad Hatter. This time his letter was signed Bob and an explanation that his day job was that of an Anglican vicar in St Kea in Cornwall. No ordinary vicar though: in my humble opinion the best adventure game columnist ever and the best man to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie!

And so began my life as a text adventure game reviewer and a lasting friendship with the Reverend Bob.

By now, I imagine I have sent many readers to sleep, so I will try and paraphrase what happened next…

I spent the rest of the year continuing my obsession with playing and mapping text adventures for the Electron and BBC B+, writing game reviews and sending in solutions to Merlin and the Mad Hatter for their respective columns.

Sometime in August my phone rang. I answered to hear the unexpected and gentle voice of Reverend Bob. He asked how I was doing, he thanked me again for my adventure solutions and mentioned that Merlin was stepping down from writing his column in Electron User, before adding: “I think you would be ideal as his replacement”. I almost gagged a response of something like “wow” “really?”

“Yes!” was Bob’s reply, “You can obviously write and love text adventures. Is there any chance you can pen a 1,000 word sample column and post it out by tomorrow?”

Without hesitation I agreed and by the next morning my humble first column was winging its way by first class post to a man called Alan McLachlan at Database Publications. A few days later the phone rang again and a guy with a broad Manchester accent told me they were delighted with the column and I was to be their new adventure columnist at a rate of £140 a month! “What shall we call you?” he asked.

“Just Nic will do,” I stuttered a reply.

“No, I mean what shall we call your column?”

I had recently finished reading TH White’s Arthurian novel The Once and Future King, and without hesitation replied: “Pendragon … you know pens and dragons and Arthur and Merlin!”

Alan laughed and agreed that I would become Pendragon.

And so Pendragon was born. My first proper column was published in November 1986, with a cover date of December and continued for the next three years. I worked on a freelance basis writing Pendragon and reviewing text adventure games and educational software until June 1988 when I was taken on as a full-time member of staff by Database Publications. My job was as Assistant Editor of the sparkling new Atari ST User, where Pendragon found a second home writing a monthly column for that magazine too.

In 1990 I left the computer magazine stable and ventured into newspaper journalism – again that’s another story!

People asked me often for my favourite text adventures on the Electron. Three stand out: Sphinx Adventure, the wonderful Village of Lost Souls and the quirky The Ferryman awaits.

Part one of my original database of Electron adventures can be found here: http://www.acornelectron.co.uk/mags/eu/arts/a-adv1.html

NOTE: Remembering how all this came about is a blast from the past and personally poignant.

In September 1987 I was diagnosed with an aggressive malignant cancer and taken into a hospital in Chepstow for surgery and later radiotherapy. My first visitor (other than my family) was this nimble guy with a bald head and a dog colour and a smile as broad as the Severn Estuary. He introduced himself as The Mad Hatter. Bob had driven all the way from Cornwall to see me.

He sat by my hospital bed, blessed me with holy water and prayed, before we both sat and drank a glass of malt whisky. We spoke for over an hour about BBC and Electron text adventures. We also discovered we had been born in exactly the same hospital – albeit 20 years apart! I have never forgotten that moment nor Bob, who got me started in a journalism career which has lasted 30 years. Needless to say I recovered. Sadly Bob died far too young in 2000.

You can learn more about The Mad Hatter in a blog written by his wonderful son Peter: http://www.themadhattercolumn.wordpress.com

Also visit this great site: http://www.myacornelectron.com

No Direction Home

“I was born very far from where I was meant to be, so I am on my way home” (Bob Dylan)

YEARS which end with number Four seem to have unwittingly become major watersheds in my life as I too quickly approach my 60th year on this planet.

Forty years ago in 1974, I left the sanctuary of my parents’ home in the rolling downland of Sussex to begin studying for a history and geography degree in the cold, grey Yorkshire mill town of Huddersfield.

I was just 18 and the move was at the same time both terrifying and exciting, a time of discovery, rebellion, revelry, reality and education.

The locals spoke with an odd accent I had only heard on a few BBC2 dramas or Emmerdale Farm. Nowt, owt, rintin, snap, spice and eh lad, quickly entered my everyday vocabulary.

At first the people seemed abrupt and cold, but also welcoming and warm. They were different to those I had grown up with but I quickly learned to love them.

I also quickly learned the wonders of Tetley’s and Sam and John Smith’s beer, a pie floater on mushy peas, fish wibbits, Wednesday nights at the seedy Coach House nightclub and cheap second-hand LPs in a record shop secreted on the top floor of a decaying Victorian arcade.

Huddersfield Polytechnic (now University) was truly far from home – 260 miles to be precise – and at times may well have been Mars or Jupiter, such were the rudimentary means of communication with friends and family back home.

Those were indeed different times.

In 1974 the UK was fresh from the miners’ strike and the three day week. It took two general elections that year to re-establish a Labour Government, initially under Huddersfield born Harold Wilson and later (from 1976) under Jim Callaghan. It was a time of increasing industrial unrest and the beginning of the shift to high inflation and unemployment. Strikes were commonplace and the whole country appeared to be in political flux – none of us foresaw Thatcher or the 1980s! It was also the time of rising unrest in Northern Ireland and ever increasing acts of terrorism.

Oh, and finally the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe was still at large – one of his victims Helen Rytka was picked up near Johnnies’ Nightclub – a favourite haunt of Poly students.

At the Poly, life mirrored the world around us. Most of us had the luxury of full maintenance grants and thereby disposable cash which was often spent at the Student Union bar or Trinity Hall bar, nights out at the aforementioned Coach House nightclub or Johnnies’ and at loads of diverse and fabulous music gigs.

During that time we had rent strikes, a sit-in/lock-in in the Admin block, put up Workers Rights marchers in the Union building and two students were arrested and held in police cells for two nights under Terrorism charges – they were later released!

Revolution was in the air, smoke was in the lungs and beer on the carpet.

Twice I was almost sent down, once for failing two first year exams and a second time for being a reckless drunk playing tag on the flat roof of a four storey student hall of residence.

Oh and I also stood for election as president of the student union, but as Leeds United manager Don Revie famously said: “You get nowt for coming second”.

Somehow, between all this, I graduated in 1977 with a good honours degree in my two favourite subjects: geography and medieval history.

I was now 21 years old and for the first time I learned the difference between a vocational degree and a non-vocational degree. I had studied for the latter! What career options were open for a young graduate in two academic humanities subjects? The answer was simple: teach or lecture the self-same subjects. To lecture I needed a second degree and was luckily accepted onto an MSc course at Edinburgh University. I had a new focus, but three weeks before the academic year was due to begin the funding body wrote to me to say they had run out of cash and I would have to wait another year.

I flirted with psychiatric nursing during that ‘year out’ and settled for a second best option and enrolled on a post graduate teaching training course at Bretton Hall College – ironically just 12 miles from Huddersfield.

I qualified in 1979 and proved to be a good teacher. I enjoyed five full years teaching in two high schools in Barnsley and later in a small town on the Welsh Marches.

But Four was about to strike…

George Orwell foretold 1984 as a year of doom for mankind; for me it is a year that will be forever Orwellian. As a 27-year-old ‘highly gifted’ teacher I made a monumental blunder that was to end my teaching career and change my life forever.

I won’t bore with the full story as it can be read in detail in a piece titled Regret on my blog.

Thankfully, or rather selfishly, I had started dabbling with early personal computers and had even run a lunchtime computer club at my last school. I had bought myself an Acorn Electron home computer – at just 32k memory it was the little brother of the BBC B computers which were finding their way into most British schools at the time.

My new nerdy hobby soon became a passion and I began writing letters and games solutions to two monthly computer magazines: BBC User and Electron User. In what seemed like no time I was given new software to review and a few months later a regular monthly column in one of the mags, for which I was paid a handsome £120 a month.

Two years of freelance writing, private tutoring and teaching English to YTS trainees followed. Then in the summer of 1988 I was offered a staff job as assistant editor of a new magazine Atari ST User. Somehow this directionless history and geography graduate had become a journalist.

My rise through magazine and later (1990) newspaper journalism was meteoric and reached its zenith when the next Four came around: 1994.

In a nutshell it was an amazing year: a succession of major exclusives unravelling a link between the test firing of depleted uranium tank shells (the same ones used in both Gulf Wars) and childhood cancer drew international attention. I scooped two major press awards for my work and to cap it all I was informed that 41 MPs had signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons praising my investigation. Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. But the sixth signature on that motion was Tony Benn. His name next to mine was like a personal shield of honour.

Later that year I was head-hunted by Scotland’s premier daily broadsheet The Scotsman and elevated to the position of Chief Investigative Reporter.

The next 10 years passed too quickly. The long awaited Millennium was here and gone in the blink of an eye and my hair was turning grey as I made my way into middle age.

In 2004 I had moved away from newspapers and plied my trade in PR and publishing. They were treading water years, but in hindsight I learned and honed new skills of writing precise and detailed copy for demanding clients, including county council and national sporting bodies. I also became a publisher, writing, designing, editing and printing brochures, annual reports and newspapers.

In 2006, due to an unforeseen change in domestic circumstances, I returned to my passion of newspaper journalism and became editor of a thriving county weekly tabloid in North Wales. But life is always a rollercoaster and my demons caught up with me – catalogued in detail in my blog – exactly a year ago. On 12 June 2013, I suffered a nervous breakdown and as I recovered knew I had to change my direction home. Last November I signed off for the last time almost 28 years in employed journalism.

A rocky road to freedom followed. Supported by my gorgeous wife and son I began writing for real. I found escape, refuge, solace, excitement and therapy in my blog, my poetry and my most recent teen novel: Poison (The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield). I was writing for myself and learning more about who I really am than I had glimpsed during the previous 56 years.

Autumn leaves fell, winter came and went and the spring of 2014 heralded a new tomorrow.

This week I am launching my company writeahead, from its base here in North Shropshire. For my US and Australian friends, Shropshire is a long county bordering Wales in what is known as the English West Midlands.

My company promises a new way forward in marketing and publishing for small and medium sized businesses and for individual clients. Drawing on my years in journalism, I aim to provide a one-stop tailor-made service to research, write, design, print and publish, everything from simple business cards to brochures, magazines and books.

I will also offer a unique service to interview, research, write and publish memorial and celebratory publications for individual clients. Whether it is a one-off eulogy in the local press for a departed loved one, a fuller memorial for a funeral service, a This is Your Life type magazine for a 40th, 65th or 80th birthday or a full bound biography, there lies my new tomorrow.

I am home.

Or as John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

NOTE: You can check out my new company at: http://www.writeahead.co.uk