In January Humphrey Bogart died, in August Oliver Hardy.
James Ingram, Siouxsie Sioux, Melanie Griffith, Stephen Fry, Gloria Estefan, Rachel Ward, Donny Osmond and Billy Bragg were born. The Gold Coast and British Togoland became Ghana, the Suez Canal was re-opened, and the EEC was established. Stanley Matthews played his last international and Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope was opened.
On October 4th the Russians began the space race by launching the first satellite to orbit the Earth, Sputnik -1; on November 3rd they launched the second, Sputnik –2… and on May 21st I was born.
1957 was the year I took my first breath; I was born at home, as was usual then, the second son of Pamela and Peter Stringfellow. My brother had been tragically killed two years earlier, so my upbringing was that of an only child. As a result of the loss of their first son, Johnny, at the tender age of 4½, my parents were, understandably, extremely protective of me, particularly when I was young. As I grew older I began to fight against their restraints and could not appreciate why they were so restrictive but now, as an adult and a parent myself, I fully understand how terrified they must have been of losing a second son.
My parents grew up in a war torn Britain and although they were not poor, they were not overly affluent. Their expectations were generally quite modest, as was my upbringing. I remember being loved and cared for and being spoilt on birthdays and Christmas’s, my early childhood being generally a happy one. When I reached teenage status it was a different story, my independent streak and adolescent defiance caused havoc. I rebelled against my parent’s protective restraints leading to numerous confrontations with my father in particular, who would only be trying to protect my mother’s heart from her worrying nature.
We lived in Wolverhampton and I have remained in the vicinity of the city most of my life; my first school was St Mary’s and Johns, a Catholic Convent school where I was taught by nuns from Our Lady of Mercy Convent. I remember being terrified on my first day, I had not had the benefit of attending a nursery to lighten the blow of being suddenly amputated from my mothers apron strings. Regardless of the initial shock, I soon settled in and did well at school, ultimately passing the dreaded eleven plus and securing my place at St Chad’s College, another Catholic school, this time run by Marist Brothers; I spent my early years being taught by women in funny frocks only to go on to being taught by men in funny frocks…this has a lot to answer for!
By the time I left St Mary’s and Johns all of my grandparents had died.
St Chad’s was an all boys grammar school on the opposite side of the city to where we lived and I went from being walked to and from school every day by my mother to having to catch two buses each way, one into the city centre and the second out of the city to school and vice versa. Initially I found this quite daunting but soon began to relish the independence and freedom the journey gave me.
Again I did well at school, excelling in anything artistic whilst also being academically astute. I had always been artistically talented but tended to take my talent very much for granted, it was just something I could do. I never saw any career potential for my art and the options I was offered were limited to teaching or commercial art, both of which terrified me.
When I reached thirteen I began to take a strong interest in music, of the rock genre. The heroes I adopted influenced me to begin writing, mainly poetry and lyrics. I had found my desired calling, apart from a yearning to be the next Eric Clapton, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Although I made a weak attempt to become a rock star, my overwhelming lack of any musical talent (despite being the grandson of a leading musician) meant that my cousin and I never made it outside the living room of his parent’s maisonette. Writing, however, I could do.
This desired occupation did not sit well with my father’s guidelines for me and I was gently steered towards a ‘secure’ career. My father was a Telecommunications Engineer and believed that a similar direction would be more suitable. I initially bowed down to his influence and although having attained a good number of ‘O’ levels and embarked on an ‘A’ level journey through English Literature, History and Art, I began to develop a craving for a wage packet so began looking for work. I had always worked part time, after school and on Saturdays, mainly to fuel my hunger for music but now felt the need for full time work, or at least the resulting money. In 1974 Britain had an unemployment level in excess of three million and school leavers prospects were low; when I was offered a position with a leading construction company, training as a Civil Engineer, I grabbed at it, abandoning my ‘A’ levels halfway through. The training involved periods of six months on site work and six months at college. I hated the site work, although I was proficient at it and the bridges I set out and oversaw the construction of in Stoke-on-Trent are still standing. The college life I enjoyed, I had ceased being a schoolboy and was now an adult in a learning environment, which I relished, albeit the subjects were not of my natural choice. I attained my ONC in Civil Engineering with honours and distinctions but realised that the job was not for me, not only did I hate the job itself, I hated being no more than a number in the company system. The day that I collected my certificate from college, I went to see the personnel officer and handed in my notice!
I did of course have a plan, although my father was not impressed!
Both of my mother’s brothers owned their own butchers shops; I was thus familiar with the trade from an early age. I had also worked part time at a local butchers since I was fourteen and a full time position had become available there, which I took. My father embarked on his lecturing tactic, rebuking me for giving up a career with such good prospects, I replied by quite arrogantly stating that I would never own Tarmac but I would own my own butchers shop within two years…which I did.
In this period I met and then married my first wife just after Elvis died in 1977, and just before the death of Marc Bolan. The marriage was short lived and we separated in 1979.
During all of this I maintained my interests in the arts, still exploring and exploiting my creative talents. I used to paint pictures, which I would display and sell in the shops I worked in; I also took private commissions for paintings and drawings. I would always have a notebook to hand, even in the shop, which I used to jot down poems and ideas that I would later develop. I regularly submitted poems, articles and short stories to various publications, many of which were published, but I always viewed my creativity as a hobby, subconsciously I felt that I did not have the ‘life experience’ to be a writer.
By mid 1982 I had met and married my second wife. I had sold my business and was looking for a fresh challenge. She was a dancer, classically trained but too small to go professional so worked with her mother in a shop that supplied dance wear and made children’s clothes.
Together we formed a theatrical business that evolved into a number of key elements, within which I found a niche that exploited all of my creative talents.
The business comprised of a dance and drama school, a retail outlet that supplied theatrical goods, a theatrical costume hire department, which supplied costumes for complete productions nationwide and a custom costume and prop making department supplying television, theatre and the leisure industry in general. The later was predominantly my area although there was an obvious tendency to overlap and compliment each department.
For the next decade the business went from strength to strength and I became a leading expert and talent in specialist costume, puppet, mask and prop making, also in special effects make-up. To all these areas I had applied my sculpting and artistic skills to the full, my finished products being made from a variety of materials but with a predominance of them being in latex.
I worked on a vast number of varied projects with regular clients like Ken Dodd, Timmy Mallet, Joe Pasquali, Ronn Lucas and many more. Television productions such as’ Further Abroad’, ‘Fantasy Football’, ‘TFI Friday’ and many many more including a variety of children’s programs regularly showcased my work; there were also numerous stage productions, from pantomimes to ‘Cirque Surreal’ with Rick Wakeman. I lost track of the number of projects I have worked on long ago and frequently see whatchamacallits I have made appearing and reappearing in different roles and entertainment genres.
In March 1985 my first daughter was born making my parents and I very proud.
In the January of the following year my father tragically died. My parents had been life long partners and my mother was inconsolably broken hearted, she also died just five months later. They were only 56 and 57 years of age.
October 1986 saw the birth of my first son, again making me proud.
Partnership problems began to develop with my wife’s mother so I dissolved the partnership in the early 90’s and formed my own company focusing solely on custom made costumes and props, my business and expertise continued to grow.
May 1992 saw the birth of my second daughter, yet again making me proud.
In 1994 my second marriage failed.
In 1996 I married my third wife and my second son was born (and yes I was proud).
I continued working in the same vein but my umbrella of work began to cover limited edition sculptures of celebrities and the manufacturing of latex masks and a variety of other items, which were wholesaled to retailers throughout the country.
In 1997 my eldest daughter, who was only twelve years old, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During the next two years she went through numerous operations to remove the initial tumour and reoccurring tumours, along with enduring the effects of chemotherapy.
My youngest son was diagnosed as epileptic during the same period.
Both have now been given the all clear but at the time their illnesses put an unavoidable strain on life and I found that I was spending days in hospital with my children. During the hours of waiting I turned more to writing and throughout the long periods at their bedsides I decided that I now had amassed enough life experience to become a serious writer. My business had now begun to struggle, as I did not have enough time, between hospital visits, to commit to it, so I started to explore avenues where I could utilise my writing skills to earn a living.
I exploited and developed contacts, opening up opportunities with Public Relations companies and began writing corporate articles. I sent out short stories and endlessly touted my creative writing. I was then offered a temporary position managing an independent Television Studio, which I accepted.
When I left the studio I resumed my writing agenda; I also assisted a colleague with a number of commercial productions for Television.
In 2002 my third marriage failed.
I determinedly continued with my schedule until in 2004 I suddenly found that I was in a position to capitalise on a number of opportunities that I had been carefully developing, so I did so whole-heartedly. I formulated the framework for my book ‘From Beneath the Wizard’s Gown’ and secured a publishing contract. I formed a Production Company with two colleagues and filmed a pilot for a children’s drama that I had written and then Directed.
In 2005, my first book was complete, the children’s pilot was in the audio editing stage and I was keenly cultivating and working on a forest full of further projects. I finally felt confident in proclaiming myself a writer, knowing that I had the life experience to feed from.
Time, however, moves on.....
In 2007 after a fall out with my then publisher, I re-worked my Marc Bolan book, adding approximately 100 pages and more juicy bits for fans, set up a publishing company with a colleague, and re-published it as a special edition to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his untimely death, under the title of ‘The Wizard’s Gown – Re-Woven’, It was very well received by critics and fans.
As well as continuing with my writing career, in 2011 I was elected a Town Councillor of my local town but resigned in May 2013, totally disillusioned by the ineptness of local politics.
During this time I also spent approximately 3 years writing and presenting my own radio show, ‘Page One’, for WCRFM, which was poetry and literature led, miraculously I managed to develop a worldwide audience, but unfortunately time constraints have meant I had to close that book for a while, but the airwaves are always tempting me back....
I also trained worked as a tutor and assessor, predominantly in HM Prisons but also in colleges and for the WEA. I taught in Prison for approximately 4 years, predominantly art and creative writing, and I found it incredibly rewarding, I had a genuine feeling that I made a difference to the lives of a lot of people who had been struggling with life. Unfortunately Chris Grayling in his narrow minded wisdom cut all the art courses in prisons and most art tutors were made redundant...myself amongst them, despite having something like a 98% pass rate! I'm not at all bitter and twisted about that.
To make things even worse, I return home one day from my role as 'Writer in Residence' at the prison I worked at, to be greeted by my then wife waiting to tell me she was leaving, and she did, there and then, never to be seen again! Call me cynical but I feel that maybe the fact that the weekend before I had completed the huge kitchen extension, thus finishing the 10 year renovation project of our house, making it highly saleable and profitable for her, might have been a factor! (Still bitter...haha)
But I have to say , if all the above hadn't happened, I would not now be living in the beautiful Barmouth in sunny Wales with the amazingly lovely Sharon and with my new and rapidly developing Paper Swan Studio creating artwork daily...chilled and content!
Thanks for all the crap everyone, it really paid off!!!!