I was brought up in a broken family in the historic welsh mining town of Pontypool, located in the South Wales valleys. My mother married my father a couple of months after I was born. My siblings had all left home by time I was seven or eight. I have 5 other siblings (that I know about).
Ricky, the first born. Donna, the first girl, Tommy, the normal one. Tony, the aloof. Kay, the youngest girl. And then me.
Our mother had Ricky at the age of 18 or 19 and married his father Tom. Mum subsequently went on to conceive Donna and Tommy. I don’t know anything about their childhood.
Something happened in that marriage and my mother moved to Birmingham. I don’t know the events that led to this, but she met a fella either called Harry or Henry, lets say Harry, then went on to give birth to Tony and then Kay. Think our mum was in her early to mid thirties when this happened. She did not marry Harry. Then something happened again and she moved back to Pontypool (her home town) without Harry and the kids in tow, in mid to late 70’s.
Then in 1982 my mother met my father. Keith Lawson Jackson, 38. She gave birth to me in the April of 1983 aged 42 and married my Father in the June of the same year. When I was born, Kay was just nine years old, Tony was eleven, Tom was fifteen or sixteen, Donna and Ricky had already left home and started their own lives and familes. Donna had a child six months before I was born, I have a Nephew that is six months older than me. I know right?
I remember being a happy child. Shy, kind, creative and funny. A lot of my annual school reports from Infant and Primary school said something along the lines of ‘Kris can be rather silly at times’. I loved to laugh. I still do. I loved school, I loved learning. I spent most of my younger years ‘boverin’ (Bothering/Hanging) around four school friends most of the time. Debra, Lisa and Nathan and not forgetting Gavin. We gravitated toward each other, pulled together as we were all very similar, a bit shy, a bit introvert, a bit silly at times. Debra was my first girlfriend, she lived one road down from me growing up, I think her family still live there. Nathan and Gavin were the first male friends I had ever made. Most of the boys stayed away from me. I liked to play with the girls and their toys, I liked playing with their dolls hair the most. Finally Lisa. She had the most amazing laugh, and we would laugh together a lot, Lisa had it tough too and lived with her Nan.
Up until the age of 10 or 11, this was my core group of friends, we sat together, we played together, we laughed together.
All changed for me when we moved to comprehensive school at age 11. This comprehensive school celebrated it’s 100 year centenary during my five informative years there. Trevethin Comprehensive School. Previously a girls grammar school. Everyone from the local district went to this school. Three local Pontypool primary schools were automatically admitted when it was time to move from year 6, to year 7.
It was a failing school. I am fairly sure Ofsted or the welsh equivalent were in our classrooms assessing us for the first couple of terms. No money to do anything. No money for new equipment. Our class of 1999 was the last collective to achieve good results. It started to dwindle afterwards. By 2006/2007 it had closed it’s doors and the buildings torn down. Such a shame for a building with a vast, incredible history.
In the starting term of Septmember 1994, the tiny classroom of 20-25 pupils that I was used to in Primary school, turned into 100. New faces from other schools are suddenly sat next to me, the halls and the rooms felt massive, no longer sitting on the mat for an afternoon story, no longer playing tag in the playground.
All of a sudden, my normal school routine had changed. I simply was not prepared for this. I was very naive at this point. On the first day of comprehensive school I remember asking a group of friends, (we were stood together, clutching our bags, with no desire to interact with the unknown faces, who were just as scared as us on our first day.) “Let’s go play some British bulldog!?”….. I did not understand the reaction that followed.
Looks of utter contempt. It was never explained to me that things change when you move up from Primary school to Comprehensive. You will be given a reputation if you don’t ‘look cool’, conform and be normal. You are supposed to be self aware, you are supposed to know who you are, play the popularity game. Be like everyone else and don’t break away from that.
Very very quickly I learnt, keep your head down, do your homework, don’t be silly, don’t be seen. I didn’t have my siblings helping me, they had their own lives, they had already left home.
I was bullied for being effeminate, having mannerisms you would associate with girls, ‘gay boy’, ‘puff’, ‘queer’, ‘you’re queer you are!’ were daily appearances during my school days. I had absolutely no idea what this meant at this age. I was wide eyed and innocent, naive. I wasn’t taught about the world at all.
It was around this time that the situation at home had started to change. My brother Tommy laughs at me when I say ‘I didn’t meet my mother until I was aged fourteen’, but it is true. I remember my mum being around, being there. But I don’t ever remember her caring or loving me. I got all the love I needed from my dad. A simple ‘noogie’ was his sign of affection. A ‘noogie’ simply consisted of our noses rubbing together three times. Like you would by kissing the cheeks times. This was more acceptable than kissing your Dad.
My dad had a routine every weekday for as long as I can remember. He would wait for me at the bottom of the front garden, see me walking towards him far off in the distance, give me a big almighty wave, hand and arms, like a air traffic controller with their bright paddle boards. I would wave back. He would then climb up the garden, (it was steep) go back inside the house and make me my dinner. We did this every weekday afternoon and around 4pm and when it was my curfew to come home.
Suddenly and ubruptly, without a shimmer of warning. It stopped. I didn’t know why. It suddenly felt like I was left to fend for myself. No one ever sat me down and explained to me with any honesty, or in a way I could understand, what was going on around me. What was going on around me? I don’t think I had the capacity to understand even if someone did tell me.
My dad was diagnosed with a social phobia, not sure which one at this point in the timeline, it pretty much left him incapable of leaving the house. He would spend a lot of time in the marital bedroom without mum, watching TV and listening to sport on his 5 inch portable black and white TV. Complete with tape deck and FM radio. I can still see the cigarette burn on the eject button for the tape deck, where he had let a cigarette to burn through to the filter. We would spend evenings together on the bed, playing board games, playing cards. He would watch sport, while I coloured in my drawings. Even though my routine had changed, I still had my Dad.
Due to his social phobias my father put on a lot of weight. Obviously not exercising or leaving the house he piled it on. He didn’t really look after himself. He subsequently developed diabetes, heart problems, blood circulation problems, you name it he suffered with it. This carried on for a few years. Back and forth the hospital, ambulances, doctors. All were a regular events in our house. I still never understood fully what was going on. This must of been incredibly hard on my mother. Who was working all hours, I call it working but it was more of a hobby she got paid for.
My mother had a fantastic hobby of hand rearing birds. Hatched from a tiny egg, to hand feeding them every couple of hours, throughout the night too, and making a little bit of money from it.
Bird keepers and breeders from all over the country would come to our house with their freshly laid eggs, ask my mum to look after and care for the birds until they are old enough to eat solid seeds. We had every breed of bird you can think of in our house. Go on think of one? No no penguins i’m afraid. Budgies, Cockatiels, Cockatoos, Finches, Miner Birds, Pheasants, Parrots, African Greys, Amazons, Scarlat Macaws, Parakeets, Lories, Hawk heads, Eclectus’, Conures, Love Birds, Rosettas… She taught them all to talk. She made her mark as a bird breeder and trainer. She received national news coverage in newspapers, local radio and local news stations. She had taught one of the parrots to repeat phrases back that the radio station wanted for jingles through a competition. I think it was Talk Radio, but I could be mistaken.
We had a dozens of home made incubators made by my father (he trained as a chippy at some point in his life) in the spare room of our three bedroomed terraced council house. Simple wooden boxes with viewing holes and lightbulbs to use as heat. Catches on the doors, mesh over the lights to keep the birds from escaping or burning themselves. Simple design, well made with internal electrics. My mum would feed the tiny dinosaur like creatures with a porridge like food mixture we made at home consisting of vegetables amongst other things. Mum used recycled stainless steel spoons, folded and bent into shape on the sides just enough for the contours of the spoon would fit into the parrots tiny beaks. We had two separate parrot enclosures in the back garden for breeding parrots ourselves. My Dad set up CCTV at one point to keep and eye on the parrots to see if they were breeding. Not forgetting also we had 3 large tropical fish tanks, a fish pond in both the front and back garden, many many dogs through the years. As you can imagine, our house was very chaotic and noisy.
By the age of 12-13 I had turned into an introvert. My friends had parents who were normal. Who had a clean house, without the hundreds of animals to care for, it didn’t smell of putrid bird crap or feather dust covering every surface. They had a mother and father who would take them shopping, or to a local football match. Take them out for a McDonalds. They didn’t have parents who were estranged from each other, living separately in the same house.
I had learnt that it was best to keep my head down in shcool, try to be as invisible as possible, don’t raise your hand. At home I’d be sent to my bedroom. I’d spend my evenings and weekends listening to music, singing with a hair brush, dressing up as Scary Spice from the Spice Girls and miming in the mirror. Playing Crash Bandicoot and escaping into a different colourful world. The world I was existing in was bleak!
The bullying and torment was too much for me to deal with at school. Never physical, always emotional bullying. I’d shut down. It was easier to ignore them, ignore home life, and fantasize of something different than face up to it and walk around with my head held high.
I was still a very innocent young teenager. I didn’t understand about the birds and the bees, I wasn’t taught about love, about relationships, about kindness, which are the fundamentals of life. I still question whether I was emotionally mature enough to understand them even if I was told. Of course there were happy times, fun times, lovely times. But the darkness never allowed me to enjoy them as I should have.
Ages 14, 15 and 16, I skipped school as much as I could. It was easier not to turn up. I would spend most days in the forrest area below the school, climbing trees, watching the school day from afar. Wanting to go in and do my lessons and learn and speak to my friends, but I never had the courage to do that.
Home life was at it’s worst. My father had developed something called ‘Manic Depression’. Today this is called Bipolar. It is a mood disorder. A chemical imbalance of the brain. The severity of this condition, again, was never explained to me. My father tried at times, It didn’t compute. Everything I was dealing with at the time took precedence. When you are a teenager and one of your best friends stops playing with you because he was being called ‘Gay’ and a ‘Bum Boy’ for being friends with you, is devastating. Especially with my undeveloped emotional maturity. My whole world was literally upside down.
Untreated, bipolar has a side that is really detrimental to those inflicted. When bipolar is good, it’s really good. You can take on anything, do anything. But when it’s bad, depression, anxiety, it inhibits any goodness from getting in. It can cause you to overthink, let your thoughts run away with you. You become addicted to your thoughts, good and bad. You can’t sleep due to how your brain is dealing with these thoughts. You can be awake for days. Insomnia sets in, paranoia sets in. Then thoughts can get dark and destructive.
My dad destroyed what little family life we had. He would say unspeakable things about me to other members of my family. Unspeakable things about my mum. He would be derogatory towards my brothers and sisters. My weekends away at Tommy’s house stopped. My sister Kay wanted nothing to do with him so wouldn’t come to the family home. What little I saw of Tony, Donna and Ricky diminished even more. My mother would derogate me away from Dad, slander his every word, bad-mouth him and belittle everything he did. She finally had enough after he accused her of poisoning him with a tray of roast potatoes. He literally phoned the ambulance after having a heart or angina attack, took the now cold potatoes with congealed lard on them, on his lap, as he was carried to the ambulance. Seriously I’m not making this up. They finally separated.
I was happy he was gone, a chunk of my stress and anxiety had been removed from my life. He was still my Dad and I still loved him, yes. Understand him, No. He went to go live with his Mum, my Nan, down in the bottom of the Pontypool Valley.
Now, life should have been a bit more peachy at this point, No stresses on Mum, Dad seemed happier away from her. Be that as it may, It was around this time where I started to learn who my mother really was.
My father seemed to be out and about a bit more, his social anxieties were no longer obvious. My mother on the other hand soon learnt that without my fathers income of social security and disability benefits, she couldn’t keep the council house, she could not afford to live there. She lured him back into the family home without discussing it with me.
I was incredibly livid. Anger like I had never felt before. Frustration…. and then some. It turned me bitter, angry, foul mouthed, I wouldn’t listen, I wouldn’t understand.
I left the family home to go live with my sister Kay who lived on top of the hill of our estate (I say hill, it’s more like a mountain). I could not be part of that facade, no way, no how.
A few months down the line, after my sister Kay was receiving my child benefit for caring for me, my mother, used Kay to beckon me back to the family home.
‘Oh Kris, mum isn’t coping very well. She needs you to come home so she can pay the rent’ or something along those lines Kay would say to me.
This put such unnecessary emotional guilt on me, they used me, an emotionally immature 14-15 year old, they guilted me into something that had nothing to do with me, and for money. My mother selfishly put her needs before my own. What sort of mother does that?
I was enslaved to return to the family home. Reluctantly, I let it happen. What could I have done to stop it?
I returned. I hated every second of it. I avoided them both as much as I could.
This brings us to the summer of 1999, I had been away at my brother Ricky’s for some reason, probably babysitting or 12 hours of hard labour for £20. Ricky really isn’t worth writing about so I’ll try not to mention him as much, but he does rear his contemptuous head every now and again. I return home after a week away only to find my mother had opened my GCSE results without me present. She tried to re-seal them, with sellotape. But her demeanor gave it away, as soon as I entered the room.
“What are you going to do now, your not going to get into college now are you?” She wailed at me.
“I’m not going to college mam, I’m going to get a job” I stated.
“Oh yes you are, if you don’t go to college, how are you going to pay the £100 a week rent i’m going to charge you?”
“Oh is that right? Bye then”
This conversation is probably exaggerated and shortened. But in the short, that is how it went. Again selfishly putting her financial needs before the well being of her children. I left. In the years to follow I learnt she pretty much did this to each and every one of us in some way.
Believe me, I am not innocent in all of this, I was a chaotic teenager. Do you blame me with all this going on? I was a loner, I was Isolated, I had so much to deal with. I was bullied while trying to understand my own sexuality. I was being recycled again and again and used as a pawn for financial gains. This is a form of child abuse. I had family members bash my father when he was suffering from a serious mental disability. I did not have the emotional education or maturity to deal with any of what was going on. I became bitter, nasty and a turbulent young man. This was my normality. This was an everyday occurrence. Drama, commotion, instability. I carried this for the 20 years that followed.
I used to believe in fate. Now I know, fate and karma are the same things. You can allow circumstances, events to dictate your actions (Fate) but how you react, behave, acknowledge those circumstances, will guide you in the right direction. (Karma)
Thank you for reading, until next time, Kris 🙏