Friday, 8 June 2012

If I weren't the way I am, I shouldn't write my symphonies. [Gustav Mahler] - PART THREE

Well, dear reader (if anyone does read this), I owe you an apology. For very personal reasons, which I won't go into here, it has been over four months since my last post and whilst I wanted to increase your anticipation I feel that I have neglected you for too long.


In the Summer of 1981 I finally finished school, with mixed feelings I have to say. I would certainly miss my friends and a number of the teachers and had, for the most part, enjoyed the Sixth Form but there were always dark shadows too. 

For a number of years I had been bullied, sometimes with the knowledge and even participation of some teachers, for being different, for being too emotional, because of my mother's job as a journalist or just for any spurious reason that the bullies could find. Once one is seen as a victim then bullies don't need a reason, one is just fair game. 

I was brought up to always try to do the right thing, to stand up for what one believes is right, to respect and protect girls and to always follow ones conscience. My Dad is a great fan of the films of the 30' s and 40's and I grew up on a diet of musicals, romances and war films with Fred Astaire (I'm still in love with Ginger Rogers - my perfect girl), Gene Kelly, Ronald Coleman, John Mills, Jack Hawkins and Cary Grant as my idols. (For our younger readers, ask your parents to explain who these screen greats were). I firmly believed that doing the right thing was the only choice, that the good guy ALWAYS got the girl (even if the girl hated him to start with) and that the hero, even if only posthumously, always had his reward. It's taken 40 years of hard knocks to dent that once unshakeable faith. 

Of course, the worse thing about bullying is not the beatings nor the verbal abuse, not even the constant fear of what they might do next, it is the shame and self-loathing. I was ashamed when I saw the pity in the eyes of those very girls whom I wanted to impress (so important at that age), ashamed at, in my mind, having something wrong with me that made the bullies single me out, ashamed that I wasn't stronger than them. My self-loathing manifested itself in cutting and other forms of self-harming. I kept a razor blade inside a pencil eraser and when things got too much I would sit in a practice room and cut my right forearm until the pain outweighed the inner pain of the bullying. I well remember on one occasion being set up to take the blame for something by the bullies during an art class. The teacher lost his temper and, grabbing me forcefully by the right forearm, threw me out of the class. The strength of his grasp opened the wounds on my arm and my white shirt was quickly soaked in blood - his shock and fear (of being reported) saved me from a beating but I had to run home in order to wash my shirt so that my parents wouldn't find out what had happened.

Until now, dear reader, only one other person in the world knew about this but I have sworn to be honest in these posts and if you are taking the trouble to read my ramblings then the very least I can do is to share everything with you.

The bullying and the cutting went on for years and have left me with scars, both emotionally and physically. I still find it very difficult to walk into rooms where there are other people if I am on my own and often will make the effort to go to a function (sometimes where I am the reason for the function) only to turn away at the last moment or sit outside in my car until everyone has gone. I find that I constantly crave praise and approval but, when I get it, I don't believe it is genuine. Worst of all, looking back with hindsight, I now realise that there have been occasions when, thinking that it was just a bit of banter or practical jokes, I may well have been a party, whether actively or passively, to bullying. If this is the case then I am truly ashamed and sorry.

The rest of the Summer after leaving school was a mixture of trepidation and excitement. First of all, I didn't get the required grades to get in to University College Cardiff and had to wait for a decision. After a week's wait I rang the departmental secretary, Mrs Chapple, and she told me that Professor Hoddinott had decided to waive the grade requirement and that I had a place on the B.Mus course - I was overjoyed. 

My Mum really didn't want me to leave home but still pushed me to go to Cardiff as she knew it was the right thing for me to do. We had always been close and she was overly protective of me; mainly, I think, as a compensation for her own poor relationship with her own mother. I deeply resented the constant attention at the time but the passing years, especially since her early death, have made me understand why she was as she was. While at university I had to ring home morning and evening every day and did so religiously, ever mindful of my mother's fragile health and what worry might do to her heart condition. It prompted some wag to write above the public phone in the music department "CP phone home" in parody of the then new E.T. film.

Arriving in Cardiff was tremendously exciting - only 30 odd miles down the road from Port Talbot but a whole new world. I had lodgings in Whitchurch (about 4 miles from the Uni) with a very kind lady called Cynthia Torres. Cynthia was a widow whose son had not long married and left home and she spoilt me rotten. 

On my second day in Cardiff (such was my excitement that I had arrived a day early) I arrived at the Department of Music for my interview with Professor Hoddinott. Whilst waiting my turn I started to meet the other "freshers" and began to realise that this would be a completely different experience to what had gone before. 

I have dealt at length with my relationship with Alun Hoddinott so I won't repeat myself here. My personal tribute to this remarkable man who made such an impact upon my life, my aspirations, my thoughts on music and my compositional career, and who was such a good friend and support to me, can be read at

Life changed dramatically for me at Cardiff and my horizons widened considerably. I instantly went from being a big fish in a small pond to a minnow in a vast ocean. Every day I became aware of how little I knew and how much there was to learn. The course at Cardiff was a fairly strict academic one but with much practical music making (some of it compulsory) and the first year was tough. It was great to be amongst other musicians and to listen to discussions on topics I knew nothing about and then to rush to the library to find out more so that I didn't look too stupid the next time. 

The social life was great too although living so far out and having a landlady did somewhat curtail my nocturnal behaviour. I made great friends during this time - I had intended to name them but thought that this was unfair as there are so many people that I'd leave out for reasons of space. Suffice to say that there was a fantastic atmosphere and camaraderie and I can honestly say that the six years that I spent at UCC were the best years of my life and I often long to go back to them.