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Monday, 20 January 2014

Life Jim, But Not as we Know it ~ Part Two

AGED 13: Move to England's south-west ~ Glozzurrrrsheeeerrr, to be precise. Our family causes a rumpus in the sleepy hamlet of Quarhouse as we move into our new home: Spring Cottage. Who knew a big, fat removal truck wouldn't squeeze down a country lane the width of Mick Jagger's waist? I also quickly make an impression at my new school St. Peter's High (Gloucester) when I park my butt in Anthony Holmes's seat for Mr. Fleming's maths class. Anthony returns from a school skiing trip to Italy and politely asks me to shift a place over. I oblige and we become fast friends ~ remaining so to this day. Despite now living 4,500 miles apart.

AGED 14: Head to Saint-Brieuc in Brittany (northwestern France) on the annual Third Year exchange. My pen-pal is Eric ~ a year older and about a foot taller than the rest of us. And most of humankind, for that matter. Eric had to repeat a year (something our Gallic educator friends were pretty hot on) though I'm not sure whether this was due to screwing up exams or absenteeism. Rumour has it Eric made a great sideline terrorizing local communities ~ just for fun, of course ~ as a life-size Godzilla impersonator. One trip highlight ~ like literally a 'high'-light ~ was my kamikaze walk around the castle walls atop Mont St. Michel. A 400-foot drop to sinking sand was never more than a few inches away. What was I thinking? Well mainly... how can I most impress Delphine? The fair French maiden I had the hots for. Was she impressed? Not a jot. Just thought I was a pocket-sized lunatic. I also experience another rush-of-blood to the head (not fuelled by flaming loins this time, as I recall) when we go awanderin' in Saint-Brieuc's back country and attempt to cross a river via stepping stones. There's one jump that's tantalizingly out of reach. Or is it? Eric, whose stilt-like legs ensured he only had to step across, goads me into going for it. I can't resist. "Easy!" I lie. "Watch this!" I focus hard, summon all my courage and... soar like a salmon, making the jump. "See! Told you I could--" ... SPLASH! I hadn't accounted for the forward momentum. "The water's GREAT. Coming in? Anyone got a towel?"

AGED 15: Pass GCSE maths a year early (aged 15) though freak out after my result (a Grade C) gets lost in the mail. Looking back, this seems a slight over-reaction. After a summer assembling jewellery cabinets and playing Tetris with cardboard boxes (for my parents' design business), the Fifth year ~ and bulk of my GCSE exams ~ pulls into view. I start a paper round just before Christmas (1988). Perfectly timed... Yuletide tips! My maiden route took me through nearby Bourne ~ more village with a small 'v' ~ before I graduated to one featuring Bourne with a dash of France Lynch. Not sure if there was Gallic significance to the latter's name. Though, to be fair, I rarely plunged into the heart of Lynch's bosom. One theory, going back an age or three, claims the town's folk were famously 'lynched' by the fearsome Gloucestershire mob ~ led by Chip Cooper ~ who tied them all to a giant cheese before rolling them down a nearby hill. The move ignited a craze that's held firm to this day.

AGED 16: Two months before my GCSEs, I discover golf. I don't remember the exact moment this happened ~ though it may have been watching Nick Faldo win his maiden Masters in 1989. Or perhaps it was arch-rival and fellow Brit Sandy Lyle getting up-&-down from a bunker 150 miles (OK, more yards) out to become the first Brit to bag a celebrated Green Jacket 12 months earlier. Lyle's carefully choreographed victory jig was one for the ages. We had a golf course (Minchinhampton Old) located on the other side of the valley (to Quarhouse) and my buddy Marc and I spend countless hours sneaking onto the Par 5 12th, when no-one's looking. Mainly to evade our nemesis, the membership warden. "Are we members? Absolutely! Not of this golf course... per se. But of something I'm sure. Let me get back to you on that." We hiked up Brimscombe hill whenever we could, hitting balls with an old half-set of clubs Marc had been donated. This was something of a calamitous development for my academic career. Around this time I also bag my first proper Saturday job: kitchen assistant at Diner's Den. Free pizza (of my choice) for lunch made it all worthwhile. Back when wheat and I got along.

AGED 17: I fail the first of four driving tests (in the UK). My lean towards perfectionism was an issue. Well, that and mowing down an old-age pensioner (JOKE! The mowing was more of an upward motion). It's also true that the pressure and intimidation factor compounded with each test. Finally, beta-blockers came to my rescue on Test #5. That and NOT mowing down an old lady (JOKE! She wasn't that old).  I've now taken seven driving tests ~ including two in Canada ~ so it's become something of a part-time hobby. Also bag a job at the Debenhams (department store) restaurant, Intermissions.

AGED 18: Realize my golf addiction has got slightly out of hand, after I essentially flunk my A-Levels. D-E-N were my grades. Did actually get an A for my English Lit coursework. But that was only worth a third of the total mark. Which shows I really F'd up the exam. Like actually earned an F. Though my provisional place at the College of Ripon & York St. John has now gone for a Burton (I needed B-C-D to get in), I am still able to nab a college place ~ through Clearing: Computer Science with French at Staffordshire Polytechnic.

AGED 19: After a year in Stafford ~ I was able to switch from (computer) science to the arts two weeks in ~ my department moves to Stoke. So I'm forced to relocate. End up in the front room of a sloping house in the suburb of Etruria. Park Lane this wasn't. Housemates Eric & Ernie keep me entertained. Eric freely admits he's only here to drink. Alcohol, I mean. And he would graduate with Honours.

AGED 20: Flunk university exams and return to the family's new home in Hardwicke, Gloucester, where I work a night at a milk factory before bagging a part-time gig at a diesel injector factory. My buddy Ant calls it "making flutes". Which I think was pretty close. Get promoted to 'machine operator' and end up spending 18 months at Stonehouse-based Lucas EUI Systems. Mainly work evenings, so I can pursue my golf dream.

AGED 21: Get my handicap down to 8, but this doesn't cut the mustard. Realizing I'd now need to get a 'proper' job/career, I reignite the journalism dream. Submit a golf course guide I'd written to one of the local Gloucestershire weeklies (the Stroud News & Journal, where I'd done work experience at school). They call me up and get me to cover a rugby match the following Saturday. My report is the back-page lead the following week. No doubt a slow week for sport, but a feather in my shiny new journalist's cap. The following week, my golf course guide (to Painswick) makes it to the back page. I get referred to the Glos Citizen ~ more specifically Deputy Sports Editor, Terry Palin.

AGED 22: After working essentially as an intern three days a week, my soon-to-be buddy Shep and I are offered the chance to work for three months ~ the Summer of '95 ~ on the Summer Pink 'Un. We're paid 60 quid a week and are now living the dream. Or pretty close. Get to be a roving reporter at the English Open (Forest of Arden). A young buck, Lee Westwood ~ seven days my junior ~ was starting to make his mark on tour. Seemed like he had a lot of potential. Whatever happened to him?

AGED 23: I take the NCTJ Pre-Entry journalism course at GLOSCAT, needing this to earn a full-time slot at The Citizen. Meet buddies Steve, Nat and Jon (Land) on the course. Steve and I are able to land jobs as reporters on The Citizen ~ though I have to retake one of my exams. Finished top-of-the-class in shorthand though; only guy to pass 120 WPM in teeline (NCTJ requirement was 100). Work on news for three months, before snapping up the chance to replace Mike (Richards) as the Citizen's football reporter. Yippee! Learn how to ski via six lessons at the Matson (Gloucester) dry ski slopes. Spend Yuletide '96 skiing in Austria.

AGED 24: Steve and I train for our first marathon ~ London 1998. We're both doing it for charity; I'm representing Guide Dogs for the Blind and raise 800 GBP for the cause. Raising the sponsorship was tougher than the race--just kidding. It was WAY tougher.

AGED 25: Trying to break four hours in London, I'm a shade outside ~ 4:08. But that first one's all about finishing. Having been a roving reporter, covering Gloucester City then Forest Green Rovers, I leave the Citizen for pastures new: The Western daily Press. Actually finished on the Friday (September 30) and started my new job the next day (covering Swindon Town V QPR).

AGED 26: I run two London Marathons: the first aged 26 and one day (April 18th, 1999); the second, aged 26, 364 days (April 16th, 2000). The former is a disaster, as my festering stomach issues rise to the fore and wreck my day. A creamy pasta dish, doubling as both my birthday and pre-race dinner, is the main culprit. I see the inner decor of too many portapotties this day. Plus, a pub close to the 7-mile mark (somewhere in Woolwich, I recall). Final time is 6:18, after I'm forced to walk most of the way. 363 days later I return to clock 3:41; my first Sub-4-hour time and some kind of redemption.

To be continued...

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