Evening folks. Just a quick one from me tonight, but on a slightly different vein than usual.
I am a very lucky man. Not only am I happily married, but I have three beautiful, healthy children, my own house and all my family alive and well and living within 5 miles of me (Mum and Dad actually live directly across the road!) I was lucky enough to get a first class honours degree at night school in my thirties and be a finalist on one of the best loved and most watched TV shows of recent years.
I am not always blissfully happy though. Until my early thirties I was basically a walking shambles. I’d dropped out of University in disgrace when I was twenty and lived a fairly poor excuse for a life for the next five years – I worked in bars and clubs; earning just enough to buy cigarettes, beer, a bit of rent and a depressingly tawdry gambling habit. I was serially unfaithful to anyone foolish enough to become entangled with me, a terrible friend, brother and son. I spent a few years almost completely nocturnal due to the club scene, and the grinding lowering of my own standards. I was directionless, hopeless and just plain rubbish. You cannot live like that indefinitely with no consequences though. I don’t know if I ended up with depression, or had just plain used myself up but I did spend one year sofa surfing, and many months being unable to get out of bed for days, even weeks at a time. I’d lock myself away and cry where no one could see. The shame of who I’d become stopped me from phoning home and the person I’d become used to being was no fun for anyone around me.
Things came to a head when two people I knew gave up and ended things. I started working out exactly how I’d follow them and how everyone else’s lives would probably be better for it. I had a decision to make, and I did what any self respecting wastrel would do and phoned my Mum! She, my Dad and my two sisters drove to Brighton that hour and brought me home. Over the course of 6 months fed me up from my sickly 9 stone, didn’t ask questions about the previous 5 years and provided me with a bit of much needed structure. They put me to work almost immediately. They nurtured me in ways that my teenage self would have raged against, and made me feel I was worth something. I took my bricklaying exams, worked on site with my Dad. We went fishing and I caught up with old school friends. I met a girl, married her and bought a manky old flat that we rebuilt. We had children. Things were looking up.
The problem was though, that I could never shake that niggling sadness. The feeling of having wasted so much time, of having left too many people smarting in my wake. I don’t know how it is with you, but when I was a kid, time seemed to stretch out forever. I could spend a whole day playing a computer game, or just sitting reading without feeling another segment of my life spinning away into eternity. Nowadays, life goes so fast. It only feels like a few months ago that Sarah and I were bringing home our first child, wondering if we were grown up enough to be responsible for such a fragile young life. She’ll be 8 years old in June! Life rattles by when you get older.
Sarah, who is not only far smarter, funnier and more successful than me, is also tougher too. She’s seen me when I’ve been wallowing in self-indulgent sadness, and it’s built up into despair, and every time has dragged me out of it. She is pragmatic in her solutions too – when I was feeling like I’d wasted my education, it was she who pushed me back into Uni. When I was re-learning how to work a computer and being stroppy and petulant when it didn’t do what I wanted it to do, she’d take me in hand and work through things with me, many times typing while I read out notes for a late-night essay. Once I’d completed my degree and was applying for science jobs and PhDs, it was she who drilled me in interview skills, thrashed out my CV and pumped me up for each meeting. It was Sarah who filled in my application for the Bake Off, and sent it and was squarely in my corner for the entire show. I would have never have stood a chance without her, in my degree, the Bake Off, or any one of a hundred other things that crop up in life.
Like I said – I am a lucky man. Do I deserve this much luck? Probably not. Do I appreciate the second chance at life I’ve been given? Certainly. When I met Sarah, the one overriding thing I knew was that I absolutely had to be worthy of her. I was going to try to be the good man she thought I was. I started volunteering at various places, including local nature reserves and eating disorder clinics. I became a school governor, and started giving baking classes to the children in local schools and clubs. Through Bake Off I’ve been able to work with a long list of charities, including Great Ormond Street and ZSL London Zoo. I’ve run two marathons and loads of charity fun runs. I’ve done my best to be a good father to our beautiful kids, and a good husband to the person who changed my life. This week I spoke to Year 8 students at a local school about resilience, and how even if life looks impossible, there are always people who will help when you need them. I’ve tried really hard to keep despair at bay.
For the most part it has worked. I’m not saying things are perfect. I still feel deep sadness from somewhere every now and again, and being a man often feel too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. I could get along with my old man better, and I could certainly be a better husband in many ways. I could drop a few pounds and walk the dog more too! But these days I remember to really appreciate how things could have been if I hadn’t asked for help. This may all read to you as a load of self justification – I am currently in the Dog House with Sarah after all (pretty much all my own fault too), but I just thought I’d share it with you all the same.
One thing that always catches Sarah is people saying “Oh, you’re so lucky to have a man like him. My husband never does anything!”. The truth is that I am the lucky one. The undeserving, often grumpy, sometimes sad, but very definitely lucky, loved and in love one.