Our brains are like sponges.
They need a good squeeze every now and then.

CHAPTERS IN TIME

Below is a list of chapters in my life. The places mentioned reflect where I spent most of my time during that time period. I haven't included everything, and certainly not everyone, just certain highlights and lowlights. There is currently very little mention of my siblings, even though they're my closest friends. This isn't intentional, just that I wanted to offload some other stuff first. More chapters to follow...

DEAL

I was born in Kent (the Garden of England as it is more commonly known) in the mid 80s. I am the third of four, and fortunate enough to have a very wholesome upbringing. Dad was a 6ft 6in biker, covered in tattoos, and would regularly use swearing as a term of endearment. Mum on the other hand was the complete opposite. She was rarely out of her apron and was always cooking or baking something. Keeping four kids clean, fed and watered... as well as running the shop whilst Dad was away buying and selling out the back of his old vintage van. Appearances can be deceiving, but they were soulmates.

Anyway, I grew up in Deal, a seaside town just down the road from Dover. I studied at The Downs CEP before moving onto Castle Community School. For every year I was there, a new head teacher would start... all trying harder than the last to make it work. I liked the challenge of doing well against all the odds. Don't get me wrong, we had some amazing teachers, and I wouldn't change my experience there if I could. During this time I found a love for skateboarding. Again, I loved the challenge and it kept me out of trouble during my teenage years. I still pop out every now and again on my board, just to remind myself I still can.

However, one of the hardest things to go through at such a young age was the news about Dad. He was diagnosed with having a brain tumour. We were all devastated, but his attitude was to not let anything get in his way, including the golf ball sized growth trying to kill him. The tumour was eventually operated on, and the operation was thankfully a success. For many years after he had to go for checkups, and even followed up with another operation. It's hard to explain what we went through as a family but the whole experience brought us closer together, something that's still true today.

After doing such a fine job in my exams, I managed to get into Sir Roger Manwood's, a grammar school in Sandwich. I went from top of the class, straight to the bottom... and couldn't have fallen faster if you had tied anvils to my ankles. The confidence had been completely knocked out of me. The challenge was no longer the system, but my peers. I was up against some pretty fine brains, completely out of my depth. I studied Maths, Physics and Art, which was such a lovely relief from all the numbers and equations. All I wanted to do was to draw and be creative, but that wasn't going to pay the bills, or so I was told.

I was briefly in a band, which was nice. I played a bit of guitar and also made weird, melancholic sounds into the microphone. I loved it, as I felt like I belonged. I had joined this school and people actually wanted me in their band, incredible. This was until I was never called up for practise one day, or ever again. The whole band branched off without me. They're now called Yndi Halda if you fancy a listen. Don't troll them, they're really lovely boys. So, skipping to the end, Architecture was the degree I'd be studying. I scraped by with the results I needed to study at Plymouth and waved goodbye to the rocky path that got me there.

Plymouth was my first true taste of independence. My parents had kept me alive up until this point, but all of this was about to change. I had to fend for myself. I had worked weekend jobs from a very young age, but clearly hadn't grasped the true worth of money. My student loan came into my account for the term and I managed to spend it all within 3 weeks. Skateboards and beer. My parents kindly subsidised me £30 a week for food... I still don't know how I managed to survive that first term, what an idiot. I clearly couldn't look after myself, and clearly wasn't ready for this next chapter in my life.

A couple of weeks into my first term I found out my other half at the time didn't want to be with me, and my mind spiralled into an abyss. I felt lost, confused and alone. Plymouth was a great place to reflect, but I just wasn't invested enough in my course. And, before I knew it, I had failed my first year. I had the option to retake but lacked the passion needed. The one thing I'm truly grateful for is for the friends I made whilst in Plymouth. There's a group of us who have stayed in touch ever since. I even went to their graduation party dressed as a sailor from the Second World War. We try to meet as and when we can.

Whilst I was at Plymouth University pissing my braincells down the drain, my parents opted for a change, selling our home in Deal, and moving onto pastures new. They bought a pub in a beautiful village in the middle of nowhere, which would now be my home for the foreseeable. Most of my friends took gap years to travel the world and to "find themselves". My gap year included working in the pub, making tiles in a pottery down the road, and learning to drive, so I could finally explore pastures new. Unfortunately I was going through a period of misunderstanding, and by that I felt that nobody understood me.

I went to visit my friend in London during one of the lowest points in my teens to take the edge off a bit. We some how managed to get mugged by a gang of 8 youths. "Cut 'em up, chuck 'em in the water". Our innocent 3am kebab inside the gated halls of his University had turned into the most terrifying night of my life. Luckily my Nokia at the time was enough to to pay the ransom, and they left. My friend put up a fight, because he was an idiot at the time, and managed to escape with only a black eye. We survived the ordeal and some life lessons were learnt. For example, I don't eat kebabs at 3am anymore.

Things started to look up as I was successful in my application to study Fine Art in Canterbury. Me and my brother ended up living in a flat together, and I have many fond memories of this chapter in the old city. It was a time of confidence building for me, I was at rock bottom and needed to finally let go of all the shit that had happened to me in the previous year. I was also working at my parents pub too, and slowly come to realise the village wasn't that sleepy after all. I made some really sound friends during my time there too. Back in Canterbury, I also made some great studio buddies, so I was really starting to feel the love around me again.

I was doing well, I found something I really enjoyed doing, but I still nearly buggered up my last year. I went ski-ing 6 weeks before my final submission and managed to get into a ski-ing accident, dislocating my arm, which meant my 'drawing hand' was out of action. Anyway, I did thankfully graduate in Fine Art and was ready to take on the world with my artistic wit. The summer that followed was one of my fondest, spending a lot of time in and around Deal again. Live music, drinking, chilling, laughing. I started to get itchy feet. My degree gave me hope, but I needed to do something with it.

The obvious choice was London, but I wasn't going to go there as that place still terrified me. I became really close with someone over the summer, and we just ended up doing everything together, it was so nice. Innocent could be a word to describe it, a friend you would hang out with as a kid for example. They were studying up in Edinburgh and said I should check it out. I also had friends from Plymouth studying their Masters there too, so thought best to see what all the fuss was about. I had a car and was up for an adventure so we did the 11 hour drive up there, chatting, listening to music, fond memories.

It was here I experienced the next chapter in my life. Edinburgh was by far one of the most beautiful cities I had ever seen. I felt inspired for the first time since graduating, and I couldn't stop drawing. I met someone shortly after touching base and for me that sealed the deal, I was moving to Edinburgh. As most graduates do, I worked in a pub. I tried to setup a website selling drawings but it didn't really work. Instead, I set myself the task of doing a drawing a day, to keep my motivation up, but it wasn't getting me anywhere. I met some lovely people in Edinburgh, but I needed to get out of the pub trade, and start focusing on a career of my own.

I ended up heading southward, and after a brief stint back in Kent, I managed to find myself in London. Armed with a CV, I paraded around Covent Garden (the only place I really knew at the time) and finally got offered a junior design role. My friends thought I was mad, and that I was underselling myself. I could only see where I'd end up, that was my only focus. It was the first job in a long time where I wouldn't be serving pints, however, I did probably make a few hundred cups of tea in my first year. It was tough at first, and the financial burden was really starting to affect my living. I just needed to stick it out.

It was my Dad who compared the situation to restoring an old classic car. If I stopped mid-build, it would be worthless, so keep at it, and one day it will be worth all that hard work I'd put into it. I listened, and that advice helped me get to the next step on the ladder. However, I still couldn't quite get the work/life balance right and it ended up crippling my personal life. My relationship had broken down, and we drifted apart. During this strangely pivotal moment in my life I thought I'd move back to Deal... I am still not sure how this happened, but it did. My friends back in Deal were looking for a housemate, and I was totally up for the change.

Deal was quite literally a breath of fresh air. I had the buzz of working in London during the day, and the calmness that the seaside would bring during the evenings and weekends. I was living with a great crowd too, a bunch of like minded creatives who really got me thinking about my future. I also spent more time with my family and friends, which was great. I started to get a glimpse back to the summer after my graduation. Music was back in my life again and I felt like I belonged. Like a penguin in high season, I tried to find a mate, but with no luck at all. My pebbles weren't doing it for anyone down here.

The sea air had clearly got to my head and I believed I was ready to do my own thing. I handed in my notice and after a few months, my commute to London would end. However, just before I left the office in London, I met someone at my leaving drinks. An Irish flame had caught my eye. We ended up seeing each other more regularly and just knew something special was going on. She would hop on the train and visit me in Deal or I would do the same and visit her in London. What was going to be the next step? The lease was up on the place in Deal and so naturally I moved back to London.

I've been in a few relationships in my life, some were amicable, some not so much, but all have shaped me over the years. This relationship was different though, there was a trust like I had never experienced before, we just understood one another. She met me as an illustrator, but I didn't draw anything for a long time. I freelanced for a bit in London but was invited back to help out at my old work during their peak season. I thought it would be silly to turn down the offer, and so I accepted. After rejoining I was offered a full time contract and ended up accepting that too. Everything appeared to be going well, but then life stopped very abruptly.

Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We were all destroyed. Mum stayed so strong throughout, an absolute hero, and we stayed strong for each other too. I will never forget the call I received whilst I was at work. Dad told me the treatment was working, it was shrinking the cancer. We both cried with joy, Dad's done it again, survived 2 brain tumours and now he's going to survive cancer too. However, the doctors had missed the spread of cancer. He never let his guard down, and never once showed his suffering to us. He showed courage right up until his last breath. Life just won't be the same without him.

When you meet certain people in life, you either hit it off or you don't. Some will bring out the best in you, and some will bring out the worst. Some people even bring an air of clarity, and when that happens, it's hard to let that person go. Dad described it as watching life through a black and white TV, but then all of a sudden, everything appears in colour. In the time I've known my partner in crime, I've learnt more about myself than the rest of my life put together. I was unaware of the importance of mental health, something she very much brought to light. However, looking after your mental health is only the beginning.

If you want something to last then you have to look after it, and maintain it. For example, you have to look after love and never take it for granted. Love is not enough on its own to keep two people together. You have to put the effort in, whether that be a cup of tea or even a hug, and that's a moral we have stuck by. We have become a lot closer as a result, and more understanding too. However, it hasn't been plain sailing and we did need a little nudge in the right direction. A pirate was never put off finding their treasure because a few sharks and a choppy sea voyage... or at least I didn't think so.

We are now married, and we couldn't be happier about it. We kept the whole thing a surprise from our families and friends, until afterwards that is. Because of the global pandemic, we had a tier 3 wedding, which included 2 of our good friends as our witnesses, and that was it. We didn't want the pandemic to stop us getting on with our lives, and we thought we could always celebrate at a later date. I'm just so lucky to have her in my life, as well as my family, my extended Irish family, and my friends. Who knows what the next chapter will bring, just going to remember to have fun doing it.