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My Life

(in Bits & Pieces)

Marble Surface

I was born in Sunderland, County Durham, England, on the 6th August 1956 at a quarter to five in the afternoon.

            I grew up on a huge council estate, Hylton Red House, on the north side of the city (town, as it was then), a rough place, some would say. All the estates on the north side were council ones, all of them with reputations for being rough. In my single digit innocence, I hardly noticed. My early years, in fact, were happy ones, my parents relatively easy going, and very loving. The only true angst I had to deal with was related to sibling rivalry. I have an elder brother and a younger brother, and I was somewhat the troubled middle child, unsure of my place in the scheme of things, and I still am.

            Darker days came when I started secondary school, Hylton Red House Comprehensive. I think my contemporaries considered me a bit of a swot since I was amongst the higher achievers academically. (To my chagrin I was a complete sporting dud.) So it may surprise them to hear that I hated that school with a vehemence that surprisingly can still surface when I recall those days. It didn't help, of course, being mercilessly bullied on an almost daily basis for two years (my 4th and 5th years leading to 'O' level exams) by a bunch of dim witted thugs. I don't suppose it's a co-incidence that it was around this time I started to notice the casual, indiscriminate vandalism endemic across the north side of Sunderland. It seemed to me to be stupid to wreck your own gaff, as it were, your shared public living places and spaces. It's not as if the graffiti, either, were particularly original, artistic or technically sound.  

            Still, I plodded on with my education and I did quite well in my 'O' levels and dully plumped to do Maths, Physics and Chemistry for 'A' level, because they went together and they were my best subjects and they were my best bet for securing a place at university. Only the first of these assertions was strictly true, but I convinced myself of the veracity of the other two. Why? After all, I was all for leaving school no matter how good my 'O' level grades were. I was a miserable pupil. But my father, frustrated academically by the poverty of his youth, persuaded me to continue. He, more than me, wanted me to follow my elder brother into a university education.

            So I did, plumping to study Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham. I was glad to get away from Sunderland. The nihilistic culture of the town repulsed me. I was sick of the bullies, the vandals and the deadbeats, the simmering threat in the streets, the ugly desecration of public amenities and spaces, the mindless disregard for others. I did not get homesick. However, there was much I only appreciated after I left, the other side of folk from my hometown, the engaging smiles and friendly chatter on the buses, the wry, self-deprecating humour, the tough honesty unafraid to speak its mind, the good natured resilience to the economic hardships routinely suffered. And I still cannot help myself when it comes to Sunderland Association Football Club, SAFC, who I have relentlessly followed from afar, wherever I've lived, with an inexplicable emotional attachment that is still responsible for me anxiously awaiting results during the season and slavishly monitoring their fortunes. It truly is a love that will never die, and I suppose, in a way, I have to admit I do, despite all, still love my hometown.

            However, back in 1974 I was glad to be away, happy to be in Nottingham, a place I quickly came to love. And I rather took to student life, if not the course I was studying. I liked the drinking culture (a little too much) and the crazy late night gatherings, twenty folk in some pokey little bedroom, pompously pontificating on the state of the world, debating important stuff like were The Rolling Stones past it, and had Dylan sold out. The Americans and Israel were bad, Russia misunderstood, the England football team were a joke. Another night it would be the Americans were doing the best they could under terrible circumstances, the Palestinians were terrorists, Russia was unscrupulous and dangerous, and of course England would win the next world cup. The Rolling Stones were still past it and yes, Dylan had sold out.

            As for my studies I have to confess I was a poor student in many ways. The primary problem was the subject matter didn't grip me and I was often lazy and inattentive, bored. I didn't have the confidence to pack it in, draw a line under it, and do something else more engaging. So I brazened it out and subjected myself to intermittent periods of intense study with the sole purpose of just getting through. After all, outside the lecture theatre everything was tickety-boo. The bonus, the saving grace, was establishing and cementing good friendships that have endured over the years.

            I graduated and immediately signed up to study for a PhD - in Chemical Engineering. My elder brother studied for a PhD in Physics and my father was, again, keen for me to go for what he saw as the pinnacle of academic achievement. Again, I succumbed to the familial pressure, and having grown to appreciate Nottingham immensely, and feeling rather at home in the city, I was in fact quite happy to go along with the idea. It was a slog getting that PhD, but I enjoyed a lot of the work. It's a quite unique experience, the level of autonomy you enjoy, and the intellectual challenge is enormous. Near the end, my private life was falling apart, and I do wonder if the PhD had something to do with the pressures I felt at the time that undoubtedly impinged negatively on my situation.

            I moved on to a career as a professional chemical engineer and at the same time started writing earnestly, novels - what else? I plodded on and fairly early in my engineering career it was plain I was never going to be a high flyer. So I did a Dylan - I sold out. That is, I went freelance, which I remained for the rest of my career. This meant working here, there and everywhere, picking up the best contracts I could, within the confines of the UK, since I wanted to avoid the complications of working overseas. In the background I tinkered with my typewriter (the first novel I wrote was hand written and a young lady at work typed it up for me for a modest fee) and later my word processor on my PC, or someone else's word processor on their PC. I was away from home a lot, and my private life again disintegrated, imploded, went kaput, one consequence of which was the loss of the manuscripts of all my early novels.

            In the course of my freelancing I lived in or spent considerable time in many places around Britain including: Ulverston, Port Talbot, The Shetland Isles, Glasgow, Manchester, Leith, Edinburgh, Darlington, Grangemouth, Aberdeen, Troon and Irvine. Many of those years were spent in Aberdeen working in the oil and gas industry for a variety of operators and design houses. When the oil industry collapsed a few years ago and Aberdeen suffered hugely, it effectively put an end to my engineering career. However, I had by then spent many lonely hours after work writing away in the office of whoever was currently engaging me, and I had a number of novels sketched out and a few first drafts ready to be tackled and upgraded.

            In all the time I worked in Aberdeen I kept my residence in Dalkeith. I always saw Aberdeen as a short term stop gap, something I had to do because there was little suitable work elsewhere in the UK, and at least I could get there in a couple of hours. Maybe if I'd known I was going to work there 15 years I would have made the move, but in truth I never took to the town, so there was no local attraction to pull me in. So I hung on, and only moved to Biggar in 2017, after 21 years' resident in Eskbank (Dalkeith).

            Nowadays I reside in Symington (Biggar) and spend my days creating new novels and finally resurrecting, finishing and polishing my unpublished back lot produced during all those late-night post-work sessions which are gladly behind me.    

The iconic Wearmouth road and rail bridges in my hometown Sunderland. The view is looking north where the old Monkwearmouth Station stood. It's now a museum. I remember getting steam trains from there before they built the new station on the south side

Sunderland Bridges.jpg

My old school, the dreaded Comp where I spent many an unhappy year. This old B&W picture shows it as pretty much as I remember. It's much changed and the school is known as Red House Academy these days.

Red House  Comprehensive.jpg

The Stadium of Light, home of my beloved SAFC. Much amusement around the naming of the stadium, a gift to them the Geordies said, who I presume still refer to it as the Stadium of *****.


Nottingham University Park campus. I lay sprawled on those lawns every summer with mates, post exams, pissed and stoned, working out where we were going in Nottingham to celebrate. And we had two of the hottest summers on record, 75 and 76, to enjoy. Happy days.

nottingham universsity.jpg

The famous market square in the centre of Nottingham. The starting and end point for many a wild night out. I don't remember the water feature, but it was a long time ago. When I finally left Nottingham I missed the place for years.


One of my earliest freelance jobs was at the old BP Chemicals works in Baglan Bay near Port Talbot. This is an aerial shot of the site. Nearby Port Talbot had a cinema I spent many an evening in, and Swansea was not too far away, with a bigger cinema complex and a better choice of restaurants and bars.


This is an aerial shot of the Sullom Voe Terminal in Shetland, where I spent 18 months. Horizontal rain in the winter and fog in the summer, or as one wag put it, 9 months of winter and 3 months of bad weather. There are two big pursuits / activities on the islands, one is drinking and the other is not the folk or fire festivals.


I lived in the west end of Glasgow for a couple of very happy years. This is the famous Devonshire hotel, now a Hotel du Vin, where very rich and very famous folk often stay when they come to Glasgow. I lived just round the corner.

Hotel du Vin Glasgow - Devonshire.jpg

I lived a year in Manchester. It rained every day. I never took to the place. Every night it was the wail of police sirens and I was always on edge in the city centre. This is Piccadilly Gardens one evening quite recently. For me, this picture personifies the place, or at least my experience of it. I do believe it has a reputation for being a hip and trendy place these days. The best thing about it in my time  were the curry houses.


This is the wonderful waterfront in Leith, Edinburgh. I lived for a couple of years within walking distance and spent many a happy night out there in the fine restaurants and bars. It was an incredibly relaxing and overwhelmingly charming place to be.


I may have lived in lovely Leith but I worked in grim Grangemouth. This is an evening shot of the infamous refinery complex, once owned by BP and now in the clutches of Ineos. I did a couple of stints there over the years. 


Edinburgh: the finest city in Britain. I may not have lived there since my years in Leith, but I did live within spitting distance and considered it my town for over 20 years. I loved everything about it - the restaurants, the bars, the theatres, the festival, of course - everything except the crooks in the west end. The Xmas and NY shows and events are still special, though I miss the days when you could stroll unhindered without a ticket down Princes Street as the New Year was rung in. 


Dalkeith, the high street, where I resided for over 20 years. The infamous Jarnac Court is to the left of the picture, just out of shot. Midlothian Council had a mania for digging up the high street. At one time it was effectively out of action - i.e. you couldn't drive down or through it - for 18 months. The best thing about the place? It's close to Edinburgh.


The Justinlees, Eskbank's very own boozer. A rough diamond rural pub when I first lived there, unfortunately ruined by a takeover by one of the major brewery chains. Later, there was a management / staff buyout and there were improvements in service and quality. But I believe that floundered and I'm not sure who is and how it's operating these days. Eskbank is the part of Dalkeith that likes to think it's still a separate independent village community.


The cross at the incomparable market town of Biggar, now my home.

biggar cross.jpg

A view across Thankerton village to the Tinto hills in the distance, a mile or so from Symington, the charming village where I reside these days.

thankerton and tinto hill.jpg
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