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Stephanie's Autobiography - Stephanie - A Girl In A Million - Chapter 1

  Stephanie's Autobiography - Stephanie - A Girl In A Million - Chapter 1. This is Stephanie's Autobiography. It tells the story of Stephanie Anne Lloyd, one of the first openly Transgender Women to speak out about the struggles and achievements of someone who is openly transgender. At the age of 68 I have lived just over 50 % of my life as a woman and the other half as a man. If women knew how much easier it is for men I am sure there would be a revolution. Hopefully this very personaland honest account will give a unique perspective of the real differences between the sexes and also make the path of those who follow in my footsteps somewhat easier in these more enlightened times. As I undressed and changed into my hospital gown, I tried to avoid catching sight of myself in the mirror that stretched the entire width of the wall. I couldn't bear to look at my body and see the evidence of what I had become - an in-betweeny, with the full, firm breasts of a women and the genitals of a man. I felt, and looked a freak. That thought alone was enough to make me realise that tomorrow couldn't arrive soon enough. Was it really only twelve hours since I'd left my house to embark upon what I could only describe as the greatest journey of my life! It seemed like years ago. My memories of the taxi journey to the airport, the brief flight to London and my underground ride to Hammersmith Station were hazy; I'd been far too preoccupied with my own thoughts to take much notice of what had been going on around me as I had journeyed south to London for my appointment with my future - if indeed I was to have a future, I mentally amended. The staff at the Charing Cross Hospital were wonderful, as they took me through the normal admittance procedure before showing me to my room. Of course they knew who and what I was, but they were far too professional to display any prurient interest. Now, at long last, all the necessary first day formalities had been taken care of and I was alone in my hospital bed with just my thoughts for company. Soon, one of the night staff would come in to offer me the obligatory little white pill that would provide a merciful night's sleep, when I would be spending the next few days heavily sedated, I couldn't quite work out. I hoped they wouldn't come too soon, for I needed these few precious moments of solitude to sort out my conflicting emotions. It wasn't that I had any doubts about my decision, for those had all been resolved a long time ago. I simply knew that, before I could face the future, I had to come to terms with the past. Tears slid slowly down my face as I recalled the hurt and pain I had inflicted on others in the years during which I had selfishly avoided coming to terms with my condition. If only I had known that, no matter how I tried to fight the truth, I would still end up in this hospital bed facing the most dramatic moment of my life! Perhaps than I would have been better equipped to spare so many people I loved the anguish that I had unwittingly subjected them to. But here I was and nothing, not all the regrets in the world, could change the past. All I could do was try and change my future but I had no idea of the rollercoaster ride I was about to embark on which would eventually would turn in to the mantra I would come to live by: "The people who mind don't matter and the people who matter don't mind" I have long been a keen reader of autobiographies and have never before thought to question the exemplary lives the authors seem to have led. It was only when I came to write my own autobiography that I discovered the almost overwhelming compulsion to omit all of the parts one is ashamed of, or to censor the mistakes and errors that, with hindsight, reflect badly on one. We all have a natural tendency to gloss over the darker aspects of ourselves as well as those unhappy circumstances that are of our own making - yet writing an autobiography inevitably creates a dilemma: not only have I been forced to relive my life, but also to lay that life bare for public consumption and possibly even condemnation! It has been extremely difficult to produce, but here you have a painfully honest account of my life. The story you are about to read traces my life in excruciating detail. In forcing myself to record all of my mistakes, I have relived the torment and endured the pain of incidents that reflect my inadequacies and thoughtlessness. Yet nothing can undo the past and no one, I am sure, could judge me more harshly than I have judged myself. And so, as my story unfolds, I would ask you to remember that my increasingly inexplicable, irrational and sometimes outrageous behaviour was a confused and emotionally unstable person's reaction to a problem of sexual identity that was growing ever larger and more terrifying with each passing year. Sadly my estranged parents who were dedicated Jehovah's Witnesses are now dead but I fervently hope that this painful honest account will help my beautiful and loving ex wife and my three irreplaceable children truly to understand the complex and wholly untenable condition that I fought to come to terms with and which rendered them innocent victims. If, in addition, my story serves to educate to help minimise the mystery and prejudice that surrounds transsexuals and provide some solace to those unfortunate few who are forced to follow in my footsteps, then it will be an added bonus. My birth was an accident. Just how much of an accident no one fully appreciated until many years later. My father often used to say that I walked to the beat of a different drum - although I'm sure he had no idea of how prophetic his words would ultimately prove to be. My father's family, the Hulls, originally came from Redhill in Surrey, where they owned a successful chain of fish and chip shops. Successful, that is, until one of there trusted managers absconded with the takings. After moving to Harpenden in Hertfordshire and finding himself unable to get planning permission to open a fish and chip shop there, my grandfather started a decorating business in which my father, Frederick, assisted whenever he was not working at his other job, on the railways. One of four children, my father later grew apart from his brothers and sister, so I have few recollections of my paternal aunts and uncles. My mother, born Gladys Beryl Minall, came from far humbler origins. One of eight children, she lived in a small terraced cottage in an area know as The Folly on the outskirts of a picturesque Hertfordshire village of Wheathampstead. My mother's childhood was by any standards a hard one; on more than one occasion she and her brothers and sisters were placed in an orphanage when their parents were too ill to look after them. However, despite their poverty and the problems of having to sleep eight to a double bed (girls one end boys the other!) Despite their straightened circumstances with no running water, outside loo & only gas lighting downstairs they remained a close-knit, loving family. My parents married when they were both nineteen. (as with most of my aunts at short notice when they discovered they were pregnant) Six months after the birth of my elder sister Pearl, Dad was struck down with a mysterious disease. My poor father had to endure over ten years of painful traction, repeated lumbar infections, numerous operations and at one sage the total encasement of his body in plaster for a period of three and a half years, before his doctors were able to diagnose the mysterious disease as ankylosing spondylitis and arrest it with a series of gold injections. Unfortunately, by the time he was finally allowed home to live with his family, all the main joints in his body had become rigid, unable to dress himself or bend down and was thus crippled for life. At the time, social security and the welfare state were not yet in existence, so my mother was forced to experience again the poverty and deprivation of her childhood as she struggled to bring up my sister alone. In addition my father was unable to work on his return home and dependent upon my mother to dress him and help perform all the personal tasks that the healthy take so much for granted. A variety of cleaning jobs. enabled my mother to produce just enough to cover the rent and food and though life must have been very difficult, Mum did what she has always done: she coped. The one thing about my father's physical health and that remained unimpaired was his virility. Within weeks of his release from hospital, an unforeseen and unwanted complication arose which forced him to ignore the doctor's pronouncements that he would never walk again, as well as their warnings that he was medically unfit to work, because my mother was pregnant with me. Obviously, Dad's disability made it extremely difficult for him to find work; even when he did, a succession of employers proved only too keen to exploit his situation by paying him very low wages. Undeterred, he developed a tenacity and strength of character that were to typify his lifelong fight against his disability - the same inherited qualities of courage that enabled me to make the greatest journey a human being can undertake. My original birth certificate attests that Keith Michael Hull was born at the Oster Hill's Hospital for the Poor a St Albans, Hertfordshire on 25th May 1946. Although I was originally an unwanted child, when my parents took me home to 21 Weybourne Close, Harpenden, where I was to spend my first eleven years, they were delighted that I was healthy, whole and very obviously very male to complement my sister Pearl. My father was a strict disciplinarian. A tall man, whose disability caused him to stoop and reduced his height to five feet nine, he propelled himself around with the help of two walking sticks, rarely allowing a smile or any warmth to lighten his countenance. This, coupled with thinning hair and spectacles which gave him the appearance of being older than he was gave an impression of a remarkably formidable and forbidding sort of character. I lived in fear of him until the day I got married. I don't know whether he was ever aware of how very much I longed for a display of love or even affection from him and how disappointed and rejected I always felt at receiving none. To this day I am unsure whether he was totally without emotion or, as I would rather believe, someone who considers showing emotion to be unmanly. My mother, at five feet three, was fairly small, very slim and never still. Always concerned with helping others (who were usually in a better position than herself), she nevertheless has always been a strong, determined character who, once committed to a course of action, is completely unmoveable. Home was a typical 'two-up, two down' terrace. The back door, which was reached through an alleyway separating the two middle houses, opened straight on to the living room, which contained my father's special chair sandwiched between a large valve radio on a shelf and the dining table. The floor was covered in linoleum, which extended into the tiny kitchenette with its walk-in cold larder and old-fashioned gas stove. The stairs to the upper floor, which housed my parents bedroom and the one which I shared with Pearl for seven years until she left home - and a draughty, basic bathroom. The house was always freezing cold because rationing was still in evidence and we couldn't get enough coal. Despite the fact that my father had found a job as a sheet metal worker, luxuries (those things that today we call necessities) were still conspicuous by their absence - fruit, in the shape of half a banana, was a weekly treat, while a bottle of Corona was a cause for celebration! Pearl was undoubtedly favoured by my parents - particularly my father who, having missed the first ten years of her childhood, would often make a great fuss of her. But despite the fact that she was always being held up as a shining example, Pearl and I were very close until she left home. My father often berated me with comments like, 'Why can't you be more like your sister? - though I don't suppose he ever dreamed I would take him quite so literally! Pearl was a paragon of perfect behaviour. One of life's naturally good people, she was appointed Head Girl at school and never seemed to do anything wrong. Unfortunately by comparison I was considered the black sheep of the family. Certainly, my father would derisively condemn me as a sissy whenever I displayed cowardliness at the prospect of my weekly bath. It wasn't that I minded water, or even the bath itself. What filled me with dread were the terrifying antics of our ancient geyser, which was incapable of dispensing hot water without first undergoing a series if death-defying rituals before it would ignite. Its blood-curdling sound effects would have me petrified for hours afterwards. Weekly baths aside, life up to the age of five was fairly uncomplicated. We kept in close contact with my mother's relatives and were frequent visitors to my Auntie Elsie and Uncle Rays's house. My mothers parents, who were extremely frail and hard of hearing, were looked after by my Auntie Kath and Uncle Reg, who lived with them a the same house that my mother had grown up in. My grandmother, a large lady with thinning hair, wore dentures, which she couldn't abide and would spit out at every opportunity and a hearing aid which she took great delight in turning off whenever she had her say and didn't want to hear the response. Because Auntie Elsie and Uncle Ray were both so involved building up their garage business their youngest daughter, my cousin Barbara, who was just a year younger than me, spent a great deal of time at our house, often staying with us for such long periods that we regarded each other as brother and sister rather than cousins. Young as I was then, I can still recall the Christmases we spent at Auntie Elsie's; the presents, the silver three penny bits hidden in the Christmas pudding and most memorable of all, settling down after lunch in front of that rarest of luxuries - a vintage TV set with a tiny, pink, nine-inch screen which was the envy of the entire neighbourhood. Strangely enough, although I can't recollect the precise moment, it was around the age of five that I had my first conscious memory of the dream that was to haunt me continually At first my recollections were minimal; I remembered only that in this dream I had been a girl. Later, I was to discover that in my dreams I was always a girl and only in my nightmares was I male. I don't think anything can adequately prepare a small child for the trauma that is their first day at school especially in an age where pre-school was non-existent. By the time that day came, I had already made up my mind that the prospect was not half so attractive to me as it obviously was to my parents and so, like many other children of five, I was a fairly reluctant recruit to the education system. With me perched on the back of my mothers bicycle, we laboriously climbed Pickford Hill, at the top of whose steep incline stood the imposing house of horror that was Batford Primary School. Too frightened to put on a brave face, I was discharged, crying, into the playground where, in common with my equally bewildered companions, I surveyed this vast, new noisy, baffling world. Like timid sheep we were herded together towards the cloakroom, where an intimidating teacher ordered us to select a hook upon which we were to hang our coats and satchels. The girls, on one side of the cloakroom, had hooks identified by a variety of teddies, dolls and fluffy, cutesy animals. Predictably, the boys hooks had boats, trains and planes. Dutifully, I selected a train and claimed it with my coat. Just at the moment I noticed the approach of what was obviously from his demeanour the school bully in training. He was looking for a suitable target and the inferior specimen he chose was me. Lunging for my coat, he threw it on the floor, replaced it with his own and then shoved me over. Stumbling, I fell backwards on to an object so painfully sharp that I immediately yelped, propelled myself forward and accidentally cannoned straight into my opponent. What happened next couldn't have been more bloody (or more fortuitous) had it been staged and rehearsed by a master stunt-arranger. Caught off balance by the impact, my hapless assailant tripped over his own satchel and fell heavily against the very peg he had fought for, gashing open his head so badly that he immediately collapsed at my feet in an unconscious bloody heap. Chalk-white and still unconscious, the poor boy was carted off by ambulance to the local hospital. A peaceful week passed before he was well enough to return to class, by which time (and completely by chance), having gained the totally undeserved respect of my new school pals, I'd become a local hero and established a reputation that, while unfounded, was nevertheless to provide me with the protection throughout the remainder of my six years at primary school. Thus began eleven years of state education that were, supposedly, specifically designed to prepare this young lad for adulthood. Needless to say, thought they weren't entirely wasted, they were hardly designed to prepare me for what life had in store. Batford Primary School was a good two-mile walk from my home. Every day, summer and winter, no matter what the weather, my friends and I trudged unescorted to and from school. The shortest route took us down the steep slope of Crabtree Lane which, come winter and the much prayed for snow, was transformed into the perfect toboggan run. From there we would cross the ford of the River Lea at the bottom of the hill, skirt round by Batford Mill and then nip through the old deserted prisoner-of-war camp with its tall watchtower and rusty Nissen huts to emerge half a mile from Batford Primary. With my new friends and our exciting adventures to look forward to on the way home, it didn't take long to settle in. Towards the end of my first Christmas term I reached the highest primary school achievement: I was chosen to appear in the annual nativity play as one of the Three Wise Kings. Although fairly central to the storyline, my part and the four words I had to memorise for it hardly constituted adequate qualification for an Equity card in later life. Since our teacher was not one to give praise, I never knew whether my performance had come up to the exacting standards demanded of a troupe of five year olds - and much good would it have done me even if it had. I had just passed my sixth birthday when I fell ill with Yellow Jaundice. It was an illness with unfortunate consequences at school felt decidedly queasy one morning and more than usually dreaded the school dinner. As I stared miserable at the lumpy mashed potatoes, pulverised meat and mushy, boiled vegetable adrift in a sea of watery gravy, I suddenly broke out in a sweat. This was in the days when there was no choice and you were forced to clear your plate. 'Please, miss, may I be excused? I don't feel well, I managed to squeak. 'Certainly not!' came the peremptory reply from the dinner table supervisor. With a sadistic smile she advanced to my table and positioned herself menacingly beside me as I slowly forced the revolting mess down my throat and into my protesting stomach. No sooner was the last forkful in my mouth that the inevitable happened. I threw up with projectile vomit with so much force that I managed to cover my plate, most of the table and everyone within three feet of me. Revenge was sweet - my only regret was that I didn't fell well enough at the time to enjoy it. Once diagnosed. I was ordered to stay off school for several weeks, which neatly enabled me to evade any form of retribution. Pearl caught disease too and unfortunately suffered far worse than I did. However, once we were over the worst we were able to spend a great deal of time amusing each other. Eventually I recovered and was sent back to school to enjoy my second Christmas there. And although none of us was aware of it then, that Christmas was also the last we were ever to celebrate together as a family. This year 1953 was barely underway when a stranger by the name of Douglas Joyce called at our house. That knock on the door - just one of the many doors Douglas Joyce risked having slammed in his face every day of his life - was to prove both unexpectedly fruitful for him and enormously influential in the shaping of my family's life. For he was a Jehovah's Witness and before long he became a frequent and welcome visitor. My mother was the first to embrace the religion and though my father was much slower to make the conversation (which meant he would have to forswear smoking), eventually he, too became so staunch a member that he was ultimately elected to hold office. Having become fired with religious fervour, my parents naturally observed all the rules. Thus Christmas and birthdays like so many other celebrations, became something that only other people's children were allowed to enjoy. The common perception of a Jehovah's Witnesses central philosophy is that they should embrace the Bible wholly and literally - good and bad. It's by no means an easy religion, but I have always found them to be very sincere people who aren't in the least hypocritical. While many do undertake the biblical commandment that they should go out and preach to others, I think their courage, perseverance and continual good humour in the face of hostility, abuse or, at the very least, a series of closed doors, are much to be admired. They still believe that the earth is just 6 thousand years old Interestingly enough at precisely the same time as my parents became converted, out next door neighbour, a DIY freak who made our Sunday's unbearable with his noisy banging and sawing from dawn to dusk, also found religion in the shape of the Plymouth Brethren. From the moment on he gave his Sundays church, which earned my heartfelt approval as it meant that I could at last enjoy a peaceful, albeit very brief, lie-in before our newly acquired religious duties beckoned. My parent's conversion had a dramatic effect on our lives. Suddenly there seemed endless meetings to attend. Tuesday evening, eight till nine, we had group Bible study at the home of a Witness called Vera Fawcett. I always enjoyed these meetings tremendously, not so much because of what I was learning but because the moment we finished studying Vera would ply me with food. Thursday evenings, too, were entirely taken up with meetings and eventually our whole family life began to revolve around the church, Bible study groups and fellow members. Celebrations didn't just stop now we were converted - they went into reverse! The following Christmas was awful. In their attempt to ignore it, my parents went into overkill. There was no gaiety, no family get-together with Auntie Elsie, Uncle Ray and my cousins, no turkey, no Christmas pudding with silver three-penny bits hidden inside (in fact the food we ate that day was far inferior to what we would have had on any normal day) and worst of all, no presents. The changes, coming so abruptly and overwhelming, were very confusing and as time passed, the rigid rules and disciplines of the faith forced me further and further apart from my friends and peers. In retrospect, it was the perfect preparation for a future in which I would be forced to stand apart from the crowd to a degree that few people experience. But even if I had known that then, I'm sure it would have brought little comfort. Come rain, shine, snow and fog, I was made to tramp the streets besides my parents as they delighted in their new mission in life: the spreading of the word according to the gospel of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Every Sunday afternoon we would attend a public talk, which was often given by a visiting speaker from another congregation and afterwards we would indulge in an hour-long study of the Watchtower magazine. Weekly reports had to be filed, stating how many hours we had spent knocking on people's doors. The more involved my mother became, the more often I would be dragged along to strangers houses where my mother would lead study hour after study hour as she sought to convert and save as many souls as she could. Every weekday morning I had to get up at seven to help Mum get Dad off to work, a journey he would make in open topped, open-sided invalid carriage. As our road was at the bottom of a hill, the only way to start this vehicle was for Mum and me to push it up to the top of the road and back down again with Dad inside. Once the motor was running, Dad would swing round at the bottom of the close and puff his way off to work followed by a plume of blue smoke. On one such occasion he overdid the turn at the bottom and to our horror, his invalid carriage turned over. Panic ensued for several moments as we roused the neighbours to help right the vehicle. To our relief Dad was unhurt but the accident had shaken him so much that after he was always extremely careful when he swung the vehicle round a the bottom of the close. The fact that it was invalid carriage provided the few moments of closeness Dad and I were ever to enjoy together, when he's allow me to ride in front of him and even, on occasions, let me take the steering bar when the roads were quiet. When I was seven, my parents bought me a bicycle. An ancient bone shaker, hand-painted in black, it was the most fearsome thing I'd ever laid my eyes on. After Dad had left for work, Mum, determined that I would learn to ride it, would lift me, protesting, on to its uncomfortable saddle. Her method of instruction was basic, to say the least; as I wobbled from side to side in an effort to find my balance, she would alternately smack my legs and shout at me to pedal. Needless to say I proved an apt, though unwilling pupil. Pearl, who'd left school at fifteen and found a job at the same company where my father was employed, became more and more involved with the Witnesses, to the point where she even gave up one of her boyfriends because it was forbidden to marry outside the religion. When she was seventeen she decided to leave home and become a pioneer. Pioneers spend nearly all their time spreading the message by calling door to door. As the work is unpaid and often involves them being sent to live in another area, they have to rely on a part time job to support themselves. Life was totally dominated by the church and gradually I found that the multitude of meetings were impinging on anytime I have available to play with my school friends. Naturally, this resulted in my becoming somewhat isolated and alienated from many of them. Dad's disabilities prevented him from fully exploiting his many abilities at work - though, to his credit, he did get promoted enough to control a large part of the production process. Obviously, his limitations caused him great frustration. But he was a determined man and he soon diverted his energies into his religion. I'm convinced that the very restrictions that prevented him from advancing his career were the fuel he burned in his fervent pursuit of progress within the organisation of our religion. Respected for his leadership qualities and his total commitment, he soon became overseer of the Harpenden congregation. More of our Sundays were devoted to travelling further and further afield as he began to receive invitations to speak to other congregations. In time I grew used to the constant meetings and even to the way in which our religion encroached on every aspect of our life. I am sure that, as far as my parents were concerned, religion was their life. And even the drama of two particular events that stand out in my memory weren't enough to interfere with their devotion to their religious duties. The first drama caused by my fathers newly found interest in brewing. Someone had given Dad a recipe for brewing ginger beer, a fairly harmless substance, he believed. Having assembled a collection of old Corona Bottles with china stoppers held securely in place by metal wires, Dad applied himself to his new hobby with almost the same fervour he applied to the sect. On this particular Sunday Dad and I were patiently waiting, immaculate in our Sunday best, for Mum to come downstairs. 'Come on, son, we've just got time to nip down to the shed to see how the beer's coming along, Dad said. Once there, he inspected the bottles. However, as that did not reveal much, he then picked one up and started to ease the metal wire back to release the stopper. Suddenly, there was an explosive noise and a great fountain of gaseous, still fermenting ginger beer shot straight out of the bottle with all the force of a rocket ship leaving earth. Unlike a rocket shop, thought, it met an impediment - our ancient, rusty, corrugated iron shed roof! With nowhere else to go, the sticky beer, by now combined with years of rust, rained down on us in an avalanche of indelibly staining, muddy liquid. We looked such a fright when we emerged from the shed that my mother did not know whether to laugh or cry. Instead, she shooed us inside the house, stripped our clothes off, scrubbed us until we shone and lectured us both all the way to the meeting house. The rare experience of finding myself accompanied in the doghouse by no less a person than my own father made me feel closer to him in those moments than I'd ever felt before. The second dramatic event occurred when once again dressed up in my 'going to meeting' best, I was riding my bike up and down the close while waiting for my parents to come out. Suddenly I caught sight of Brian, the fourteen-year-old son of another neighbour, messing around with an old motorbike on the other side of our road. Intrigued by the noise and the smoke, I propped my bike against a garden wall and joined a group of other local children who were lounging against the wall avidly watching his antics. Keenly aware that we were giving him all our admiring attention he started showing off by mounting the bike and kick starting it with a display of cool nonchalance designed to show us he was an experienced rider. To his horror - and our pop-eyed, cruel delight - the powerful machine roared into life, jerked off its stand and shot across the road towards us at lightning speed. By now totally out of control, the motorbike crashed straight into my bike. The problem was that, thought the motorbike stopped, Brian didn't. Still in mid-flight and with me right bang in the middle of his flight path, Brian collided into me with such force that we both soared over the wall and crash landed in a heap in the flower bed on the other side. Thirty seconds earlier, or two feet to the right and my life - and my problems- would have ceased to be. As it was, although I was badly bruised and grazed, no great damage had been done to me. My parents, always anxious to avoid a fuss, promised his parents that in return for the repair of a replacement of my mangled bike they would not take the matter any further. Which was pretty fair of them considering that, as Brian was under-age, uninsured, untaxed and had committed half the motoring offences in the book, the police would have treated the matter far more seriously. As vivid as that memory of Brian is, it was his younger sister, Linda Newbold who was to provide me with far more reason to remember the family. For it was she who was to play such a significant role in the furtherance of my sex education a few years later and to end up pregnant by my cousin. All too soon, my life began to change. With secondary school looming large, we moved to a new three-bedroom semi bungalow my parents had had built just a few hundred yards away in Crabtree Lane. Having scrimped and scraped to afford the house, by the time we moved in we were flat broke. Still, at least we could look forward to a winter of relative luxury with part central heating and best of all as far as I am concerned there would be no noisy, frightening geyser to contend with at bath time. Life had taken a turn for the better and even though I still came out in a cold sweat every time I crawled between the bed sheets at night, fearing what my strange dreams might reveal, I look forward to joining the 'big boys and girls' at Manland Secondary School. It never occurred to me that becoming one of the 'big boys' would mean having to contend with the horrors of puberty and the flattering (though privately puzzling) interest of girls -an interest that was to give me a wholly undeserved reputation as a prolific Romeo.

Stephanie-a girl in a million-chapter 2

Chapter 2

When I was made a prefect in my fourth year, no one was more surprised than my parents and no one was more disgusted than the games master! But even that accolade was earned more by default than merit, and it was my sister Pearl who was the unwitting cause: apparently the head teacher, Mr Bloxham, found it impossible to believe that any brother of Pearl's could be all bad!   My first (and last) ambitious project in woodwork class was a tea trolley which took most of my five years at secondary school to complete and provided a perfect weekly excuse for "money for materials"- half of which went to support my newly acquired "habit" of illicit smoking. When my parents enrolled me in private music and singing classes with a lady called Miss Toyer, it didn't take me long to discover a better use for my time and their money. Inevitably, after several weeks, non-attendance I got caught out and the tea trolley, which had been progressing at a cracking pace while I had an alternative source of cigarette funds, once more slowed down in production.   Our favourite haunt at that time was Le Capri café in Harpenden village. It was run by a chap called Benny who, no matter how much time (or how little money) we spent hanging around sipping espresso coffee and smoking umpteen cigarettes, remained unfailingly cheerful and chatty. My one and only period of truancy from school, which lasted a whole week, was spent almost entirely at Le Capri with Rodney and a few of the lads, plotting exciting (and foolhardy) escapades. It was there that we first dreamed up the idea of sneaking out of our houses in the middle of the night. As I lived in a bungalow this proved to be remarkably easy, though how the others managed to climb out of a second-storey window and shin down a drainpipe without being caught, I'll never know. On one of these midnight excursions we decided to paint a slogan on the side of a big railway bridge that spanned the main A6 road. For years afterwards, whenever I drove down that road and saw the words "KEEP BRITAIN GREAT" in enormous capital letters on the side of the bridge, I would feel faint, wondering how I had managed to conquer my fear of heights to take part in such a dangerous prank.   Not long afterwards, the husband of a bible study acquaintance of my mother's went to Spain, leaving his large motorbike safely (or so he thought) in storage at our house. The temptation proved too great, and before long Rodney and I had developed the knack of quietly wheeling the bike out of the garage at night and rolling it down to the bottom of the hill where, safely out of earshot, we'd kick-start it into life and embark on a hair-raising, heart-stopping ride at great speed around the Hertfordshire countryside. It makes me shudder now when I think of two fourteen-year-old boys with no insurance, no road tax, no crash helmets and no protective clothing doing seventy miles per hour down those dark, unlit country roads when our parents thought we were safely tucked up in bed.   Predictably, we got caught - not by the police, but by someone whose wrath was far more terrifying: my mother. We had sneaked the bike back into the garage, bidden each other a whispered goodnight and then, just as I had one leg over the sill of my bedroom window, the light snapped on. I froze in horror at the sight of my mother framed in the doorway with a grim expression on her face. Convinced they had given birth to the biggest sinner of all time, my parents refused to believe that my adolescent pranks were fairly normal for a boy of my age - if I'd been sneaking out at night, then it had to be for some deeply illegal or immoral purpose. It must have been months before they were able to get a good nights sleep again.   So my nocturnal wanderings came to an abrupt halt. Not so my smoking "habit" concealed, I regularly got caught. If I'd been to the cinema, I'd rub my fingers on the brickwork outside the house to remove all trace of nicotine stains and stuff myself with extra strong mints to mask the smell, but my mother possessed the nose of a bloodhound so all my efforts were in vain, and time and time again I'd be on the receiving end of lectures about my evil ways as yet another lighter and pack of cigarettes were confiscated.   Outwardly, I appeared to be no different from any other boy of my age. Inwardly, however, I was becoming more and more confused. My friends were clearly acquiring a sexual interest in girls, and they'd talk about it a great deal which as I found was mostly derogatory and related to the size of their tits and how far they would go, the top of stockings was referred to as "the giggle line" as once you were past it you were laughing. This does not change as at any age men still express the same attitude. It seemed strange to me that I didn't share their enthusiasm, but again I didn't dare tell anyone how I felt-it was too private, too confusing and far too difficult for me to explain or deal with - let alone anyone else. Besides, I was sure everyone would think I was gay; after all, people are expected to be one way or the other, and if a boy's not sexually attracted to girl's there's only one other conclusion that people normally reach. But in my case they would have been wrong. Although I was a very sensitive boy who would often be moved to tears in private by sad songs, books and films, I definitely wasn't attracted to boys either.   For any normal boy, being brought up a Jehovah's Witness would have been a heaven-sent opportunity as the girls of our faith were banned from dating anyone outside the religion and they far outnumbered boys. But for me it proved only to be a source for yet more embarrassing and confusing episodes - particularly as I was the only teenager male in our congregation. I had one or two innocent relationships with girls which involved a lot of hand-holding and a little kissing, which I didn't mind in the least, but when I met Sandra I soon realized I was totally out of my depth.   Sandra was a full figured comely girl who lived just a few miles from us, and went to the same school. I enjoyed her company and was quite happy to go out with her, to hold her hand and even kiss her. But, as I soon discovered, that the tame stuff to Sandra, who was not only sexually experienced but had every intention of continuing her education with me. I tried everything I could to prolong the kissing and hand-holding stage, but it soon became clear that what Sandra wanted was sex - not a romantic little seduction, but hot, passionate sex.   My parents were away one Sunday so we ended up on the floor of my parents lounge. With mounting fear and apprehension I panicked as she insisted on dictating the pace. My first mistake was to display my inexperience when I fumbled with the hooks of her bra, which only caused her to push me impatiently away and undo it herself. My second mistake was in pretending to be so overwhelmed by her charms that I spent far too long exploring her breasts with my hands and mouth - silently hoping and praying that things would stop there. Inside my head a million questions were vying for answers. Should I run? What would she do or say if I did? Should I give her what she obviously wanted? How could I? Should I refuse her? What would she say if I did? After all, it's usually the girl who refuses the boy, not the other way round!   Impatient with my dithering, Sandra discarded her knickers. And then I knew I was really in trouble. What I needed now was either a step-by-step instruction manual or a quick run through an educational film. I'd heard stories in the playground, but I wasn't sure how accurate or reliable they were. I knew the vernacular for the hidden parts of male and female bodies, but no one had even hinted at the existence of such a thing as a clitoris - and if they had, in my ignorance I would probably have thought it was a plant.   Eventually we were both stark naked, when Ray Taylor, our congregation overseer !! Unbeknown to me, my parents had asked him to keep an eye on me while they were away giving him a key to facilitate this, I was to be humiliated once again- it's extremely difficult to remain dignified when someone walks in unannounced, switches on the light and finds you absolutely stark naked with a girl! Mr Taylor was so shocked that all he could do was order me to get dressed, take the girl home and come straight back. Quaking with terror and a sense of impending doom, I set off with her to walk the two miles or so to her house.   The girl was clearly far less distressed that I was, because as we passed the common she dragged me into the bushes and, despite all my protests, insisted we finish what she had started earlier. Convinced I would never get out of there until I complied, I decided the best thing to do was find some other way of giving her the satisfaction she so desperately sought. And that's when I made the discovery that to give is far more rewarding than to receive-for some women, oral sex is not only a perfect substitute for the real thing, it can also earn a guy a lot of brownie points as a caring, unselfish lover.   After the Sandra episode I decided it would be far safer to stick with the girls who were Jehovah's Witnesses, reasoning that, as all forms of sexual contact between unmarried people were banned, I would always have a "get out" clause. It didn't occur to me until much later that a girl's religious beliefs didn't necessarily counteract the effects of nature and their libido!   One might think that after such episodes I would have steered clear of the opposite sex; but I honestly enjoyed the company of girls and, provided things didn't get out of hand, I was still quite happy to have girlfriends-particularly as, for some strange reason, girls seemed to find me so attractive. Although I wasn't aware of it at the time, in retrospect I can see that my submissiveness with women must have been partly due to the incident with Sandra. I was particularly anxious to avoid any situation which might call attention to my "difference", and having so many girls chasing me helped provide the perfect cover. So many incidents with so many girls somehow or other came to light that everyone was convinced I had a Casanova complex. I'm sure my parents thought I was a sex maniac in the making, and the lads I knew were certain I was having the time of my life, which was really quite ironic. However, thanks to the next girl I met I was able to sustain the notion that I was a full blooded, healthy male, and so nobody was any the wiser.   By now I'd reached the obvious conclusion that I just wasn't physically equipped for sex. So when I met Margaret Oakley, who at fifteen was a year younger than me, sweetly innocent and painfully shy, I was enormously relieved-particularly when I found that nothing more was expected of me than chaste kisses and long, hand-in-hand walks.  Margaret and I spent a great deal of time together over the next two years, though rarely alone as we'd either be in the company of our parents at one of our houses or surrounded by fellow members of our congregation at meetings. Perhaps it was our shared innocence that made me feel Margaret was particularly special; certainly, she was the first girl that I ever really deeply cared for.   My parents still insisted I attend all the meetings of our congregation, and these, together with my friendship with Margaret and my work for O-levels, left very little time for anything else. Mum and Dad were totally against my staying on at school. They believed that, as Armageddon was imminent, further education was a complete waste of time. Though Armageddon never came, they stuck solidly to this attitude throughout; later on, whenever I told them of my career successes, they would quote a biblical saying as "It's better to store up treasures in heaven than on earth" and "It's harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle", so I needed every bit of self motivation that I could muster.   During my last year at school I worked at Uncle Ray and Auntie Elsie's garage in the evenings, serving petrol; as it was right next door to the local cinema I was able to provide myself with a constant supply of cigarettes and chocolates. My job also provided a handy excuse for not attending the evening meetings. Unfortunately, that meant I didn't have much time to see Margaret either, so gradually our relationship began to dwindle. When I saw her one evening walking along the road hand-in-hand with another boy, I knew it was over altogether. I felt devastated and cried copious tears over what I considered to be the ultimate betrayal, but as time passed I eventually came to terms with my loss and am now so thankful such a great girl had such a close escape.   Even after my exams were over we were still required to attend school until the end of term; the only exception was for job interviews. Rodney and I must have applied for every job that was advertised, just so that we could skive off school for a day. Rodney answered an ad for a lab assistant at Adhesive Tapes Ltd, famous for Sellotape. Pretending to have an interview too, I accompanied him on the day trip to Borehamwood. Immediately after Rodney's interview I was called in and, though I protested that I had not sent in an application and was merely along for the ride, the manager not only insisted on interviewing me but at the end offered me a job at the princely sum of £5 a week.   Life at Sellotape was fun. All the lab assistants were young, we all got on well together and practical jokes were frequently played to relieve the boredom and monotony of the job itself. One of our favourite tricks was to smear the black, sticky mixture which was used to form the base of insulation tape all over the earpiece of a black telephone receiver. We'd then go through to another lab, partitioned off by a glass room divider, and ring the extension. The unfortunate person who took the call invariably ended up with a messy ear that took hours of scrubbing to restore to its former state.   Another favourite involved the use of acetone which, when sprayed, evaporates into an invisible cloud of cold vapour. In the summer we'd climb up on to the flat roof of the building where, with the aid of a giant laboratory syringe, we'd spray the acetone over the side. As acetone is heavier than air it naturally descended to engulf anyone who might be enjoying the hot weather below, and within seconds would transform them into a startled, shivering wreck. On one occasion when some of the staff were horsing around we unwittingly discovered another, far more interesting result when one of the lab staff squirted acetone down the lab coat of an attractive female research assistant. Acetone has a dissolving action upon nylon, and we had accidentally stumbled on the quickest method of denuding a woman yet devised by man!   As part of my training I attended Welwyn college, where I studied physics and chemistry as a day release student. As both the college and the factory were quite some distance from home I'd bought myself first a 70cc Capri scooter to make my journey more convenient, and then, when that gave out on me, a second hand 125cc Lambretta. This vehicle served me admirably throughout the spring and summer months, but winter snow and ice made the journey far more hazardous. One day while travelling to work the roads were so treacherous that, when I attempted to brake as a bus cut across my path, I skidded straight into it, flew over the top and landed neatly on the platform. Fortunately I was unhurt, but my pride suffered a devastating blow in the face of the conductor's and passengers obvious hilarity. Strangely enough, problems with my various modes of transport always seemed to bring out the best in my father, who never minded how much time he spent tinkering around with them. Sadly, though, they were the only occasions when I felt remotely close to him.   I continued working at the garage in the evenings, and my frequent visits to the cinema next door to stock up on cigarettes and sweets paid off when one of the staff informed me they had a vacancy for a part-time projectionist. Given my interest in cinematography, I jumped at the chance. The owner of the cinema was a grand old lady called Mrs Dempsey. The staff consisted of two managers, a cashier, a girl who worked in the kiosk selling sweets, drinks and cigarettes, a cleaner, a senior projectionist and two usherettes-Paula and Veronica, who were sisters.   Projection boxes in those days differed greatly from the modern, highly technological affairs of today. Each complete film took up several reels, which required changing every twenty minutes or so. The approaching changeover was signalled by a little white circle that would flash up on the right-hand corner of the screen to warn the projectionist that it was time to start the motor to enable the next projector to gather sufficient speed, followed by another circle which indicated that it was time to switch the picture and sound from one projector to the next. The changeover was always timed to coincide with a change in the scene, and if the switch was carried out by an expert it was virtually undetectable to the audience. Finished reels then had to be rewound and placed safely back in the can for the next showing. Obviously it was extremely important to be highly organized and efficient, as failure to rewind or keep the cans of film stacked in the right order could lead to disaster.   The Projected light source was generated by burning carbon rods, with the necessary gap between the rods being controlled by a slow-moving, motor-driven track. This was subject to all kinds of problems as the rods tended to burn at different speeds, which meant they required frequent manual adjustments, and during a lightening storm they would invariably flicker out.   For younger readers a quick explanation of how what we called "the movies" operated. Cinemas were grand buildings decorated in crimson and gold with the "stalls" the downstairs seats and the "balcony" upstairs. The programme provided a whole evenings entertainment lasting from 7pm through to 10-30pm. Big heavy curtains became visible shortly before the beginning when the "asbestos fire curtain" was raised. The projectionist would play music (vinyl records) whilst the audience was seated. Next the heavy curtains would open revealing the screen (with adjustable blackout curtains set for normal or cinemascope mode) First trailers for future films, then cartoons,  Pathe News, Pearl & Dean adverts and then the secondary feature film normally 60 minutes and quite often produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Close curtains, spotlight on ice-cream girl and the intermission. Then the main feature film and all of this for one shilling & nine pence in the stalls or 3 shillings and nine pence up with the Gods (less than 20p but there again a gallon of petrol was only 3 shillings and nine pence back then).   The projection box itself was completely soundproof, and there was an internal speaker to listen to the soundtrack when required especially at the end of the major feature where you needed to play "The National Anthem". We also had our own secret alarm system in case of fire or other emergencies: fading in "Land of Hope and Glory" over the soundtrack signalled a major emergency such as a fire, which required complete evacuation of the cinema. The procedure was that the usherettes would throw open the emergency exits while the cashier would grab the takings box and run for her life to the garage next door. But these carefully rehearsed plans all went wrong one night just as we had begun to run through a new programme. Unbeknown to any of us, "Land of Hope and Glory" featured as part of the film's soundtrack. This of course precipitated our emergency evacuation procedure, which all went very smoothly indeed. Unfortunately, as we'd had our speaker turned off in the box the senior projectionist and I were totally unaware that after that point we were playing to an empty auditorium!   Shortly after that event the senior projectionist fell out with the manager and handed in his notice; his job was offered to me. Fired with a sense of increased responsibility, omnipotence and a few extra shillings a week, I jumped at the chance and assumed complete control.   We were required by law to provide a secondary lighting system in case of a power cut, so that the "Exit" signs would always remain lit and enable the audience to escape safely during any emergency. The chloride batteries we used were frequently failing and the manager, who had been trying to work out a useful alternative, suggested placing night lights behind the Exit signs. Theoretically it was a good idea; practically it proved to be disastrous.   I arrived one evening to find that the chloride batteries had suffered a total breakdown of the system. The night lights were duly lit and we had just begun the evening performance when the phone rang in the projection box.  A panic-stricken usherette announced that there was a fire in the auditorium and begged me to rush down with a step-ladder and a fire extinguisher.  It quickly became clear that the flimsy Exit signs, which were made of cut-out wood heavily gilded with a highly flammable material, had caught light. Quick as a flash I pointed the nozzle of the extinguisher at the signs and sprayed them liberally. Unfortunately the main lighting bulbs inside, which had become overheated from the flames, reacted to the cold dousing by exploding, and showering very fine shards of glass all over the place. To make matters worse, other Exit signs around the auditorium caught light at the same time as the spool of film ran out, which meant that all that hit the screen was a blinding white light. Some of the audience had lingered behind to watch the fun as the cinema staff ran around in blind panic, squirting extinguishers wherever flames appeared and then ducking and diving to avoid flying sparks as the bulbs exploded. It was like Bonfire Night and the Fourth of July all rolled into one, and though we eventually got the situation under control I'm convinced that most of our audience went home that night with far more vivid memories of the free entertainment the cinema staff provided than of the comedy film they had paid to see!   Although I tried hard to be diligent, efficient and professional, being the only person in the projection box meant that with a three-hour programme of cartoons, advertising and two feature films, lights to control, records to put on for the intervals, curtains to open and close and umpteen reel changes in between, I was on the go for the entire evening. And although I was a reasonably good projectionist, inevitably there were times when I either forgot to rewind a film or showed reels in the wrong sequence. Whenever these disasters occurred, I often wondered how many cinemagoers went home totally perplexed by the plot or convinced that they'd wasted their money on a rotten film, when in fact I had simply missed out one of the reels or played them in the wrong order! Eventually I had to leave the cinema-not because I was bored or particularly wanted to leave, but because the antics of Paula and Valerie, the two usherettes, were getting beyond control.   The more I resisted their advances, the more determined they became. Together they tricked me into turning up at the cinema one Saturday morning on the pretence that the manager wanted to see me in the projection box. The box door had a key on the inside as well as a bolt for added security. When I opened the door I found I was locked in with two man-crazy girls bent on a venture that I didn't dare contemplate. What followed was akin to rape: I was held down and semi-stripped, with Veronica squatting on my face whilst Paula made every attempt to get me erect in order to achieve her aim. To say they were rough would be an understatement; it was weeks before the bruises and other marks subsided.   At seventeen I had just over one year's full-time working experience and two part-time jobs behind me. I'd also had more sexual encounters than most young men of my age could ever dream of, but where did my future lie?     Although I regularly attended meetings at our church and still accompanied my parents on their missionary work whenever I could, over the years their attitude towards me had developed into one of total perplexity. I'm convinced that in their hearts they really loved me, but they never could approve of me. The main problem was their inability to come to terms with the fact that I couldn't be more like my perfect sister. Though I tried very hard to be the kind of son they wanted me to be, past experience had probably taught them that sooner or later another unfortunate escapade would occur to confound and disappoint them yet again and who could blame them? After all, they appeared to have all possible reason to imagine that I was as susceptible to the sins of the flesh every other young adolescent male of my age. Certainly, if the other lads in the neighbourhood viewed my apparent success with girls as a sure sign that I was a budding Casanova, why shouldn't my parents - who believed they had real evidence to that effect - share that view? It was ironic when you consider that, now on the threshold of manhood, I was completely convinced that my total lack of any normal sexual responses meant that I was never going to be able to live a normal life.   I was about seventeen and a half  when I got a new job as a costing clerk at the Murphy Chemical Co., just three miles away in the village of Wheathampstead. To my consternation, I found that once again the young women vastly outnumbered available men. But, having learnt a very painful lesson, this time I decided that if rumours of my sexual inadequacy were not to flourish I would have to be very careful to avoid any situation which might give people cause to speculate.   Now that I was earning more money I was able to part-exchange my Lambretta for a more powerful BSA 350cc motorcycle on which I lavished all my pent-up emotion and pride. Each weekend I'd clean and polish it till the chrome sparkled, and frequently I'd strip it right down and clean all its innards so that even the piston and cylinders gleamed like mirrors too. Reluctantly my mother agreed to be my very first passenger, gingerly hitching up her skirts as she hopped aboard the pillion behind me. All went smoothly until I stopped at an intersection and put my feet to the ground. Unfortunately my mother, unsure what to do, decided to emulate me, and when I roared off she was left standing in a decidedly inelegant, legs-akimbo pose in the middle of the road.   That year the Jehovah's Witnesses held a large weekend assembly at Luton Town Football Club. As I'd been asked to help out on all-night security duty, I went straight from work on the Friday evening and reached the ground just in time for the closing sessions of the Assembly. Two other lads and I took turns to snatch the odd hour of sleep in between patrolling the grounds. The following day one of my fellow guards introduced me to a bright, bubbly, young girl with jet-black hair. Sarah stuck by my side, chatting throughout the day until after the evening session when she had to leave. I'd found Sarah's company pleasant and enjoyable, but that was all. She didn't attract me in the least, and I didn't believe I had given her any encouragement to think otherwise. But, as I very soon fount out, I was wrong. I was shaken awake at around two in the morning by one of the guards whispering in a horrified voice that Sarah had somehow managed to get into the grounds and was demanding to know why I hadn't turned up for our prearranged date. Totally mystified, convinced there must have been some mistake, I none the less felt I ought to see the girl and find out what was going on. Anxious to avoid a fuss, I took her to the control box. But no matter how much I asserted that I hadn't arranged a date, Sarah obstinately maintained that I had. In the end, and partly to pacify her, I kissed and cuddled her in the hope that, as a good Jehovah's Witness, she wouldn't be looking for anything more. But I was wrong again, for it soon became clear that Sarah was intent on seduction, and nothing less, than total surrender was going to satisfy her.   Once again my ingenuity saved the day and I took refuge in my old stand-by, allowing my tongue to accomplish what other parts couldn't. Thrashing around in a demented frenzy, Sarah finally exploded in an incredibly violent - and incredibly noisy - orgasmic ecstasy that was, at that very moment, also being relayed, courtesy of one of the most sensitive PA systems in the counter, to the entire population of Luton! With one of her wild jerks Sarah had switched the machine on. The first we were aware of our unfortunate 'broadcast to the nation' was when we were alerted by the arrival of a breathless, panic-stricken guard begging us to 'get your clothes on and get the hell out of here!' I imagine a new world speed record was set that night for the time it takes two people to get dressed!   Living my life in fear of God's - and my parents' - wrath was by this time an all too familiar state. Since the age of five I had been brought up to believe that God had the power to strike me down should I even think bad thoughts - the fact that I'd not only thought them, but acted upon them and then allowed thousands of local residents to eavesdrop on them, had me quaking in sheer terror. I found myself imagining what horrors awaited me in hell and also, of more immediate significance, what horrors awaited me here on earth when my parents found out the culprit was none other than their very own son. I don't believe I have ever been so scared in my entire life. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep (though given the nature of my disturbing dreams, that was a blessing). I didn't even dare leave the house unless it was to go to work or to meetings. It seems to me in retrospect that my life was like a Woody Allen farce: every opportunity was there, but it always led to disaster. I blamed my parents for having brought me up to be unfailingly polite, particularly to women; I blamed Sarah for her stupidity in turning up uninvited, for her determination to seduce me and her mindless thrashing around that had accidentally switched on the PA system; but most of all I blamed myself for being to cowardly to say no. Why did these things keep on happening to me? What was it about me that attracted all these women so? No matter how many times I asked myself these questions, I never could come up with an answer. Inevitably, each question led me straight to the most fundamental question of all: What was wrong with me? God's punishment, as it seemed to me then, was not going to be long in arriving.   With my part in 'The Luton Town Incident' still undiscovered, over the next few weeks I gradually regained the confidence to resume my outwardly normal life. Having arranged to meet some friends one evening, I rode my motorbike home from work through torrential rain, stripped off my soaking protective clothing, changed into dry clothes and then dug out an old set of yellow oilskins which I hoped would protect me from the downpour.  

Stephanie-a girl in a million-chapter 3

Chapter 3

  Travelling out of Harpenden on the A6, I accelerated up to 70 miles per hour along a clear stretch of straight road when, without warning, a van suddenly pulled out of a side turning in front of me. I didn't even have time to brake before I crashed straight into it. My engine stopped dead as the force of the impact buried my treasured bike completely in the van's engine. Still travelling at the same speed, I was propelled 120 feet along the road.   Two things saved me from death or terrible injury. The first was the fact that I had hit a van with a low bonnet, so there was nothing to impede my propulsion; the second was that, as the aquaplaned for most of the distance and so prevented massive damage to my body. I recovered consciousness to the sound of horrified whispers. 'I think he's lost his legs,' said one man. 'I don't think he's going to make it,' declared another. Fortunately, they were both wrong. For 20 agonising minutes I lay there, unable either to move or to be moved, until an ambulance arrived to take me to St Albans hospital. The police were despatched to notify my shocked parents in the middle of one of their meetings, but they insisted on waiting until the meeting had concluded before visiting me in hospital. I was taken to the theatre so that the surgeon could assess the damage. Two nurses leaned across my body to prevent me seeing the injuries I had sustained while the surgeon carefully cut away the yellow oilskins and the trousers I was wearing beneath. Miraculously, though my legs and feet were badly cut and damaged, no bones were broken. The most difficult and painful task was removing the gravel embedded in my limbs, and in fact I still bear the scars today.   When I was finally sent home, it proved impossible to manoeuvre the stretcher around the back of the house to my own room. So it was that I spent several weeks confined to bed in my parent's bedroom, a captive audience to their continual exhortations to mend my evil ways and do something worthwhile with my life. Privately convinced that my accident had been both a small demonstration of God's wrath and a timely warning, I was physically, emotionally and mentally too wrecked to resist their constant pressurising any longer. 'What do you want me to do?' I asked weakly. I should have known what their response would be: 'Follow in your sister's footsteps and become a missionary, or pioneer as they classify it Desperate to win their approval and prove once and for all that I was not the black sheep of the family, as they so firmly believed, I gave in.   Being a missionary in Leighton Buzzard is probably not as romantic or hazardous as in the Brazilian rainforest but, believe me, it's every bit as onerous - or at least it was for me. For if I'd found a few weekly hours of door-to-door preaching an effort, finding myself committed to a minimum 100 hours of preaching each month in addition to holding down a part-time job in order to support myself was  to prove downright gruelling.   As luck would have it, my arrival in Leighton Buzzard coincided with the onset of winter. As I've never been able to tolerate the cold, the sad sight of this freezing me from the downpour. Travelling out of Harpenden on the A6, I accelerated up to 70 miles per hour along a clear stretch of straight road when, without warning, a van suddenly pulled out of a side turning in front of me. I didn't even have time to brake before I crashed straight into it. My engine stopped dead as the force of the impact buried my treasured bike completely in the van's engine. Still travelling at the same speed, I was propelled 120 feet along the road.   Two things saved me from death or terrible injury. The first was the fact that I had hit a van with a low bonnet, so there was nothing to impede my propulsion; the second was that, as the aquaplaned for most of the distance and so prevented massive damage to my body. I recovered consciousness to the sound of horrified whispers. 'I think he's lost his legs,' said one man. 'I don't think he's going to make it,' declared another. Fortunately, they were both wrong. For 20 agonising minutes I lay there, unable either to move or to be moved, until an ambulance arrived to take me to St Albans hospital. The police were despatched to notify my shocked parents in the middle of one of their meetings, but they insisted on waiting until the meeting had concluded before visiting me in hospital. I was taken to the theatre so that the surgeon could assess the damage. Two nurses leaned across my body to prevent me seeing the injuries I had sustained while the surgeon carefully cut away the yellow oilskins and the trousers I was wearing beneath. Miraculously, though my legs and feet were badly cut and damaged, no bones were broken. The most difficult and painful task was removing the gravel embedded in my limbs, and in fact I still bear the scars today.   When I was finally sent home, it proved impossible to manoeuvre the stretcher around the back of the house to my own room. So it was that I spent several weeks confined to bed in my parent's bedroom, a captive audience to their continual exhortations to mend my evil ways and do something worthwhile with my life. Privately convinced that my accident had been both a small demonstration of God's wrath and a timely warning, I was physically, emotionally and mentally too wrecked to resist their constant pressurising any longer. 'What do you want me to do?' I asked weakly. I should have known what their response would be: 'Follow in your sister's footsteps and become a missionary, or pioneer as they classify it Desperate to win their approval and prove once and for all that I was not the black sheep of the family, as they so firmly believed, I gave in.   Being a missionary in Leighton Buzzard is probably not as romantic or hazardous as in the Brazilian rainforest but, believe me, it's every bit as onerous - or at least it was for me. For if I'd found a few weekly hours of door-to-door preaching an effort, finding myself committed to a minimum 100 hours of preaching each month in addition to holding down a part-time job in order to support myself was  to prove downright gruelling.   As luck would have it, my arrival in Leighton Buzzard coincided with the onset of winter. As I've never been able to tolerate the cold, the sad sight of this freezing individual with blue fingers and a red nose often melted the heart of even the most hardened atheist, so much of my time was spent sipping form a steaming mug of hot chocolate or coffee in the warmth of someone's kitchen.   The problem of where to live was solved by the kindness and generosity of Arthur Howe, the congregation overseer, and his wife Audrey, who offered me a room in their tiny two-up, two-down terraced cottage in the nearby village of Linslade. Arthur and his brother ran an electrical contracting business and, being the selfless, honest and charitable individuals that most Jehovah Witnesses are, they kindly offered me part-time work two days a week. Their offer was all the more generous as my knowledge of electrical wiring was minimal.   If there's one thing I hate more than the cold, it's heights. So you can imagine how I felt when I discovered that most of Arthur's contracting work, rather than being carried out inside buildings, was in fact conducted on top of them. How I managed to conquer my fear and nausea I'll never know, but by some feat I mastered the art of precariously balancing myself at the top of impossibly long ladders and dangerously high gantries without throwing up and falling off  - though I have a feeling that this was only accomplished because the sub-zero conditions froze the vomit where it lay in the pit of my stomach! But on the whole my native wit and strong sense of self-preservation enabled me to manoeuvre my two days so adeptly that I only worked on the inside jobs. The congregation at Leighton Buzzard differed dramatically form the close-knit, harmonious atmosphere I'd enjoyed at Harpenden. I couldn't help but be aware of a marked division of loyalties between those who supported the Howe faction and those who surrounded the Oddie family. As a missionary I knew I ought to remain neutral, but this proved impossible as I was constantly being invited to different houses on the pretext of sampling one family or another's hospitality - only to find myself subjected to a series of thinly disguised attempts to enrol me in my host's particular 'camp'. Matters weren't helped any by the fact that I lived at Arthur's house and was also employed by his firm.   This precipitated my decision to establish my independence - and there my neutrality - by finding myself a bed-sitter and self-employed work. Without any capital, it soon became clear that my choices were severely limited. With great ingenuity I acquired a few vital necessities, the lofty title of Plate Class Restorer and a partner (well, given my fear of heights someone had to clean the upstairs windows!), though to be fair 'partner' was a rather grandiose title for Colin, the youth I'd recently met at the local congregation and whom I'd press-ganged into service. Colin was an unusual lad in that he'd become a Jehovah's Witness without any parental encouragement. I often wondered whether he'd joined us more out of a need for friendship than through any religious convictions, particularly when I learned that, though he still lived with his mother (his father had left some years before), she showed no interest in him at all.   As business prospered and Colin and I became reasonably close companions, he seemed to grow more attached to me and to look upon me as his guardian and provider. Despite this, I still managed to keep an evening or two for myself, when I liked to take long, solitary walks along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, trying to make some sense of the troubled thoughts and emotions that were always lurking in the back of my mind.   I was almost nineteen and yet, no matter how many friends I made or how much company I enjoyed, I still felt incredibly isolated from the rest of the world. Sometimes I wondered half-hopefully whether what I believed to be my life might in reality prove to be nothing more than some terrible nightmare.   My first inauspicious encounter with her occurred when my resolve to live a blameless life was still burning. I was standing on the doorstep of an ordinary prefabricated, chalet-style house preaching to the door when I caught sight of a pretty girl who kept shyly peering, then disappearing around the edge of a door. I thought no more about the incident until a few weeks later when I was walking home from a meeting. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Susannah stepped in front of me and asked whether I was the same person who had called upon her mother. When I acknowledged that I was, we fell into an easy, friendly conversation and I walked her home.   Over the next few weeks Susannah seemed to pop up miraculously wherever I went. The significance of her frequent appearances, alone and always at night, was not lost on me, but as she'd never made any overt moves I  was happy to pass time in her company. It became a habit for me to see her safely home and so, little by little, I learned more about her and the difficult life she had led.   Susannah, who lived alone with her partially disabled mother, had suffered greatly at the hands of a sadistic father who had beaten her frequently and severely throughout her childhood. All my chivalrous instincts were aroused as I began to understand why, despite her age, she still seemed little more than a frightened, shy girl. So I allowed our harmless friendship to continue, safe in the knowledge that Susannah didn't have a scheming bone in her body.   When Susannah's mother issued an invitation to tea I eagerly accepted, anticipating a pleasant, undemanding evening and better food than I was used to. During the meal, however, when Susannah had popped out of the room, her mother suddenly turned to me and said, 'Susannah is very keen on you, Keith.' Not knowing how to reply, I merely smiled and stuffed another piece of her delicious home-made cake into my mouth. 'And I just want you to know that I ...er, approve,' she continued pointedly. At first I wasn't sure what she could possibly mean. What, precisely, did she approve of? And then it began to dawn on me. At that point I thought it would be best if I made my escape. 'Good heavens, is that the time? I really must be off.' I responded nervously. 'You can't go yet - it's far too early,' Susan's mother quickly replied. 'Besides, Susannah's just made another cup of tea.   Another half-hour passed as we sat round the table drinking more tea. Susannah and her mother kept exchanging meaningful looks, and I was beginning to feel more uncomfortable with each passing minute. Several times I stood up with an excuse to leave, but each time I was thwarted by their apparent determination that I should stay. Then Susannah's mother spoke, and what she said numbed my brain so completely I couldn't think of anything to say. 'Why don't you two go off to bed and leave me to clear up down here?'   Though she put it as a question, it was more like an order. Panic began to rise in me. Should I stay? Should I go? Would they let me go? What possible valid reason could I give for leaving? I didn't live with anybody. I had no one waiting up for me at home. No one even knew where I was! It may sound a weak excuse, but I was in such a state of shock that I just gave in and meekly followed Susannah to her bedroom. I'd been in unusual situations with girls before. But nothing had ever prepared me for a situation like this. Not only was Susannah's mother condoning this sexual liaison - she was actively encouraging it!   Nervously, I undressed and slipped between the sheets of Susannah's bed. She had a beautiful body: her skin was so white it almost seemed translucent, and her long dark hair, which trailed across her breasts, was soft and silky enough to drive any man wild. But all I could think of was how much I envied her, and, lovely as she was, I knew I couldn't make love to her. At the same time, there was something so shy, so appealing and so vulnerable about Susannah that I couldn't possibly do anything to hurt her.   I decided the only way out was to confess. I pulled Susannah into my arms and, without daring to look her in the eye, whispered into her ear everything I felt she had a right to know. I had no idea how she would react. Half of me anticipated that she would laugh, while the other half expected her to be angry. Instead, she cried - not out of a sense of rejection, but with real sympathy for my plight. It was then that she confided more about her own past to me. Her father had not just beaten her but had sexually abused her too. We lay there throughout the night, taking it in turns to weep and comfort each other, knowing that we both had serious problems. In the morning we had breakfast with her mother, who seemed rather pleased with what she thought she had accomplished, and then I left.   I wouldn't have blamed Susannah if she had never wanted to see me again, but I desperately hoped that she would, for I felt I had at last found a soul mate. Three long and lonely days passed, during which there was no contact. Just as I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that Susannah was probably laughing behind my back - as so many other girls had done before - she reappeared, to accost me once more in the street. 'come home with me, Keith,' she pleaded. I agreed, but first I insisted on dropping my bag off at home. Somehow, taking my Bible along to this kind of assignation just didn't seem right. Susannah's mother was busy preparing supper. When we sat down to the meal she suddenly looked at me closely and I froze as she said, 'Susannah's been telling me about your problem.' Unsure whether I had unwittingly offered myself up as a victim for humiliation or, worse still, blackmail, I just sat rooted to the spot, waiting for the other shoe to drop. She then proceeded to explain to me how difficult it had been for Susannah to form any normal relationships because of the way her father had used her. 'You're a nice young man, Keith. As soon as I met you I could see you would be perfect for Susannah. And now that I know all about your own problems, I'm convinced you can both help each other to lead a normal life.'   The sense of unreality, I'd always lived with deepened over the next few months as I tried desperately to develop a normal satisfactory relationship with Susannah. And always there was her mother, encouraging us and trying to help with her cool, calm, analytical discussions of our mutual problems.   At the same time, the situation within the congregation was getting worse as the rift between the two warring factions grew wider and more bitter each week. The pressures of being stuck in trying to please Susannah and her mother inevitably began to take their toll. My pioneering work, which I'd undertaken with such zeal, had, like everything I seemed to do, degenerated into farce. I was no true missionary.   Rescue came in the form of the circuit overseer, who, by now well aware of the huge divide in the Leighton Buzzard congregation, ordered me back home to Harpenden. I took my leave of a tearful Susannah and her even more regretful mother with much sadness and many promises to keep in touch. But I think we all knew that it would be far too painful to keep those promises. Looking back now, I can see how some moralists might decry what Susannah's mother did, but I truly believe that she had her daughter's best interests at heart. As for Susannah, I can only hope that this sweet, kind, caring, unselfish girl has found happiness with a sensitive, gentle and patient man who has been able to eradicate the nightmares of what she suffered at her father's hands.   So I returned home to Harpenden with another failure behind me to add to the growing store of disappointments I could see reflected in my parents' eyes. With no job, no money and no real skills to offer, I did the only thing I could. I took an early morning job helping out at the local newsagent's where I'd been a paper boy in my youth. Seven days a week I'd get up at four thirty, mark up forty-five newspaper rounds and then help the paper boys and girls disperse their hefty bundles throughout the town and rural areas. I was supplied with a van - a decrepit one to be sure, but to me it was sheer luxury because it meant that at least I now had wheels. When the steering wheel came adrift from the drive shaft while I was out on my rounds one day, I thought for one awful moment that my time was up. Helplessly I waited for the almighty impact that was sure to follow as the van slowly mounted the pavement and demolishing a lamp post which, in excruciating slow motion, folded in half and came to rest on top of the van. Fortunately I escaped without injury, and as soon as the state of the van was discovered it was immediately replaced by a smart new one which proudly proclaimed 'Whitehouse's' in the freshly painted livery colours of the shop.   Whitehouse's was part of a chain of five shops owned by Councillor Ken Hill, who at that time was Mayor of St Albans. Councillor Hill was a kind and a generous employer who allowed me to assume as much responsibility as I could cope with, culminating in promotion to joint manager. My co-manager, Miss Culley, and I worked well together, and over the two years I spent there we were so successful that we were able to add records to the existing lines of gifts, tobacco and stationary. One of our more famous customers was a Mr Freddie Bartholomew, otherwise known as the wonderfully funny Eric Morecambe. When we used some of our profits to splash out on a refurbishment of the shop, I boldly knocked on his door and asked Mr Bartholomew if he would preside over the Grand Reopening. It never occurred to me that celebrities could (and invariably did) charge enormous fees for such appearances, and to his eternal credit Eric never saw fit to enlighten me. But that was typical of the man, who was as genuinely nice in private as he was in public.   The work was hard and the days were long, but for the first time in my life I was, if not happy, at least far too busy concentrate on my own problems. In addition, as I had very little time for social life I was able - with one or two minor exceptions - to avoid repeating any of my former abysmal failures with the local girls. But even those exceptions turned out to be not quite as bad as I had feared. The first occurred when one of the female employees made a misguided play for me; fortunately I was able to deflect it to on the basis that it was unwise to mix business with pleasure. The second proved to be more difficult to extricate myself from with the same degree of dignity, but by now I was becoming so inured to being the object of female interest hat, outwardly at least, I was able to deflect it with dignity. Inwardly, however, each failure cut just as deep as the last. It is an eternal puzzle why I allowed myself to be drawn into these situations. Part of me obviously hoped that this time things might be different. But it never was. The fact is, my life seemed to me to be like a badly scripted B movie filmed in black and white, while everyone else was experiencing the real thing in colour.   Things were slightly different when Linda, whose brother had nearly killed me with his runaway motorbike some years before, re-entered my life. Linda was a very unusual girl, who, apart from being enormous fun and an outrageous flirt, was also refreshingly frank. But what made her unique in my experience was the fact that she lacked any sense of shame or embarrassment. For some reason Linda latched on to me and, welcoming the light relief, I did nothing to discourage her friendship. Because I started work so early in the morning I kept odd hours throughout the day. This meant that I had one and a half hours' break between nine and ten-thirty, when I'd go home for breakfast, and another break between one and three-thirty in the afternoon for lunch. Taking advantage of the fact that my father was at work all day and my mother was also out for most of the time, Linda very quickly adopted the habit of popping in and out of our house on occasions when I was at home alone.   Naturally it didn't take long for Linda to uncover the truth about me, but unlike all her predecessors she simply chose to ignore it. She would frequently have me on the verge of an apoplectic fit when she innocently made some remark in front of my parents that had me convinced she was on the point of blurting out an incriminating detail about the various intimacies we indulged in. Although she always stopped short, I lived in constant fear that one day she just might reveal all. In fact, though Linda caused me so  many heart-stopping moments of fear, I was filled with admiration for her nerve. She'd think nothing of interrupting me while I was in the middle of decorating our bathroom and calmly stripping off to take a bath - apparently oblivious to any thought of my mother walking in. And on the few occasions when my mother did come home - while we were both in my bed, I might add - she'd simply throw on her clothes, perch herself on the bed and greet my mother as sweetly and nonchalantly as you please!   Despite Linda's brazenness, I couldn't help being drawn by her apparently irrepressible sense of fun and though she was far from being the brightest of girls, her naivety and straight-forwardness endeared her to me. Perhaps those characteristics endeared her to my parents as well, for the one thing I could never quite work out was why, when they had ample justification for regarding me as the local stud, for some strange reason they never displayed the slightest shred of suspicion about our friendship. By coincidence she got pregnant by & later married one of my cousins.   Wednesdays were the only night I had off, and these I spent in the West End seeing a show or film with a girl friend. On our way home we'd stop off at the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant for a meal, and then round the evening off by going upstairs to the Nine-Ten Gambling Club to watch the punters lose their money. It was on one of these occasions that I got chatting to the owner of the club and learned that they owned a large house which he wanted to let. I was earning a great deal of money for a young man of my age - which, I realised, enabled me to seize this opportunity to make even more: I leased the house from him and then promptly sub-let the 4 bedrooms. I had already lined up my first tenant in the shapely form of Dulcie, my friendly local traffic warden who popped in to the shop for a warming cup of tea and I didn't believe it would be too difficult to find another three.   Unfortunately my friendship with Dulcie, a divorced women of around thirty-five, was misinterpreted by my father, who caused a terribly embarrassing confrontation when he refused to believe that I wasn't 'keeping an older woman', as he'd heard. The arguments between Dad and myself on this issue produced a lot of tension between us, and our relationship, which had never been good even at the best of times, began to deteriorate further. It upset me greatly that Dad and I seemed to have such difficulty in developing the kind of relationship I had always wanted and needed. Sometimes I felt as thought we were becoming close, only to find it all disappear again.   One occasion that does stand out in my memory as a time when I felt very close to my father was when, as the proud owner of an ancient Austin 16 car which I had recently acquired for the princely sum of £25, I took him and my mother on holiday to North Wales.   Dad was in his element as he navigated, choosing secondary, and even unclassified, roads that took us through pretty countryside. The car doped well with the bumpy terrain as we climbed a steep, unclassified road, and when we had successfully negotiated the summit to start our descent she began to pick up speed at a cracking pace. Unfortunately, older vehicles had a tendency to suffer from 'brake fade' when the brake drums became overheated, and to counter this I was forced to change right down into first gear, apply the foot brake and even the hand brake.   Meanwhile, Mum was chattering away in the back seat, blissfully unaware of the fact that, despite all my efforts, we were still picking u speed. Dad and I exchanged a silent look of panic when, as we neared the bottom of the incline, a sharp bend loomed in front of us. There was only one thing left: I had to steer the car at a slight angle in the hope that hitting the chain link fence along the roadside would hold the car firm and, I hoped, push it around the bend. The mudguard hit the fence with a thud, then scraped along with a harsh metallic sound. Miraculously the fence held, we made it round the bend and gradually came to a halt several hundred yards further along. 'Now's as good a time as any to stop for a while to give the brakes a chance to cool down,' Dad wisely advised. While we were waiting I walked back up the road to take a look at the spot which had caused us so much concern. I wondered whether I would have had the courage to take such a gamble with our lives if I had known that beyond that chain link fence lay a forty-foot drop!   On the Sunday night I walked alone determined to find a pub and enjoy a quiet drink unappreciative of the fact that parts of Wales were "dry" on Sundays. I only became aware of this when I asked 2 girls for directions. Taking sympathy on me they invited me back to their place for a nightcap or three. A mind blowing threesome ensued which resulted in me stumbling and exhausted back to the b&b quietly fishing out for the door key which was on a string accessible via the letterbox, sneaking up the squeaky stairs and slipping into bed shortly before dawn broke. At breakfast my mum observed that I looked "peaky" and might be "coming down with something".   When we returned home the distance between Dad and me returned also, and as it became more and more intolerable I began to realise that it was time I bought my own home. It was while looking around for a suitable property that Linda popped up again in my life. I was in the shop one day when she appeared, obviously deeply distressed. It wasn't hard to work out why. Linda was in a very advanced stage of pregnancy. Apparently her parents had thrown her out and, having nowhere to go, for some strange reason she had decided to come to me.   By now I had let all the flats in the house I was leasing, so that option was closed. However, vulnerable women have always managed to bring out the soft side in me, and so I came up with the bright idea of temporarily installing her in the room above the shop while I worked out what to do. For three days and nights Linda slept, if not in comfort then in blissful contentment, certain that good old Keith would come up with a solution to her problem. Meanwhile, I spent three sleepless nights trying to work out what to do - in between worrying what would happen if either my employer or parents discovered what was going on.   I eventually found Linda temporary accommodation, provided her with money for food and rent, and spent endless hours worrying about her plight. I even took her to the hospital when she went into labour (protesting my innocence to the midwives all the while), and then took it upon myself to visit her mother and inform her of the arrival of her new grandchild.   To my relief and surprise, Linda's mother seemed to accept this fact with some resignation. She merely said: 'Oh, well. you'd better tell her to come back home when she gets out - and bring her bastard with her.' She and my cousin John (sadly now deceased although I am still in regular contact with his brother) did not last long and I have no knowledge of where Linda found her future but wish her well as she was a really nice person who got a tough break in life.   My parents were baffled and deeply disappointed with me, every girl I met inevitably wanted more than I could give. Somehow, it seemed as if the harder I tried to please, the more I ended up disappointing people. There had to be some way of getting my life in order and of making my parents proud of their son. My mood was so desperate that, when I bumped into Margaret Oakley again, it seemed a good idea to pick up our relationship where it had left off. After all, Margaret was a sweet girl who was not only comfortable to be with but still shy enough not to think it odd if we did not go past the heavy petting stage and, equally important, she was a good Jehovah's Witness of whom my parents would wholeheartedly approve. Thus we embarked on a fairly easy courtship that everyone assumed would some day end in marriage, and for the first time in my life I actually began to experience some sense of calm. I hurt her badly at the end when I met my wife to be, Marylin, but I do know that she went on to marry and have children, so for her at least a very lucky escape as she deserved someone much better than me.    

Stephanie A Girl In A Million - Chapter 4



Having decided that I needed to get a career I applied to several "blue chip" companies famous for their rigorous training as a sale rep. I was accepted by Hoover subject to passing an intensive 4-week training course. It was I was working out my notice with Councillor Hill, I made my almost daily trip to Lloyd's Bank to obtain change for the shop.   I popped along to the bank with a bundle of notes. 'Five pounds worth of florins, five of half crowns, and five each of shillings and sixpences,' I said to the girl behind the counter, as I counted out notes to the value of £ 20. Then I looked up. The breath caught in my throat as I looked straight into the eyes of the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. And I was totally unprepared for the wave of curious sensations swept over me as she stared straight back into my eyes. 'Sorry, could you repeat that?' She apologised with a smile. 'Um, er...a tenner's worth of ten bob notes...er, a fiver's worth of coppers and...um, I'll take the rest in sixpences,' I replied falteringly, unable to take my eyes off her face.   I left the bank in a complete daze. It was only when I looked at the pile of wrong coins and notes that I began to feel foolish. Half-hoping, half-fearing to see the beautiful new cashier again, I made another trip to the bank. I didn't know whether to feel glad or disappointed when I collected from another cashier the correct change and the rubber stamp the bank allowed me to borrow to enable me to save time by pre-stamping the paying-in slips for the deposits I would be making that night.   When I arrived back at the shop, Doug, our representative from Pye records, was standing on the pavement outside waiting to speak to me. Although married, Doug was a self-confessed womaniser and, having no one else he could safely confide in, we had a standing arrangement to have lunch at Le Capri whenever he called so that he could bring me up to date on his latest exploits. As we stood there on the pavement, chatting, a voice suddenly interrupted us. 'I understand you've stolen my rubber stamp.' When I turned round I was face to face with the beautiful girl from the bank.   She was about five feet seven with long, dark hair, and drop-dead gorgeous. And once again I found myself again faltering for words. Assessing the situation, Doug took control. 'We're just going for lunch at Le Capri. Why don't you join us?' he invited. To my surprise, she agreed and during the introductions revealed that her name was Marylin. Throughout the lunch, Marylin and Doug kept up a line in humorous banter, while all I could do was sit and stare wordlessly at Marylin and wonder at the strength of the attraction I felt for her. It was the first time in my life I had experienced such a strong and profound attraction towards a girl.   I couldn't get her out of my mind. All I could think about for the rest of the day and night was how I could meet her again. The following day I was a nervous wreck. I had to see Marylin almost lunchtime and then nervously went along to the bank on the pretext of requiring change. I tried so hard to appear to be cool and casual, but I was shaking so much that my words fell over themselves without making any sense. Calmly Marylin waited, a little smile hovering at the corner of her mouth. 'Will you...I mean, er, would you like to come to Le Capri for lunch again?' I eventually managed to blurt out. Again to my surprise and delight she agreed to meet me fifteen minutes later. My feet fairly flew back down the street as, heart thumping to an unfamiliar beat, I contemplated the exciting prospect of spending a whole, uninterrupted hour in the company of Marylin and wondering whether this heart-stopping, ecstatic feeling that was so foreign could possibly be love?   With each passing minute that we lingered in Le Capri I became more and more enthralled. Hesitantly, I asked: 'Would you like to take a look at the house I'm in the process of buying?' (corny or what!!) but she smiled her agreed As we drove to my new house I jokingly commented that, though I'd had lots of offers of help, I still had no one to make my new curtains for me. 'So how good are you at sewing?' I laughingly asked.. On the return drive I plucked up the courage to ask her if she would have dinner with me that night -to which, once again, she agreed. I couldn't believe it! That this beautiful girl wanted to go out with me was incredible. I was so excited, I couldn't wait for the evening to come. The moment I finished work, I rushed straight home and scoured the Yellow Pages in search of a restaurant special enough for such a wonderful girl who appeared much more sophisticated than myself.   Marylin lived in Wheathampstead with her grandmother, with whom she had stayed ever since her mother had returned to her home town of Torquay following the tragic death of Marylin's father in a road accident three years earlier. The grandmother was a sweet old lady but, as I soon found out, Marylin's mother was a different kettle of fish. Having been brought up with the idea that women should never work, she had married an army officer while she was still very young and had then been thoroughly spoiled with servants and a comfortable, easy lifestyle when he was posted to Berlin.   Naturally her husband's death had come as a terrible shock to Marylin's mother and, unable to cope, she had had a nervous breakdown and spent some time in a mental institution. When she recovered she passed much of her time in the company both a vodka bottle and other men, leaving Marylin alone at home to look after her two younger sisters. Eventually she moved to Torquay, taking the two younger girls with her leaving Marylin to live wither her grandmother.   I took Marylin to dinner at the Cowper Arms at Digswell, near Welwyn Garden City. Wanting everything to be perfect I spared no expense, ordering the finest food as though I'd done it a thousand times before. Perusing the wine list, I nonchalantly added; 'And bring us a bottle of Nuits St George.' It wasn't until weeks later (after we were married, in fact) that Marylin teasingly told me that I had mispronounced it as 'Noots St George'.   Just one evening with her was enough to convince me that for the first time in my life I was totally, incredibly and irrevocably in love. What was even more amazing was that Marylin appeared to feel the same way, too! Immediately I did the honourable thing by breaking off my relationship with Margaret who was heartbroken. From that moment on, I intended to spend every available moment with Marylin. The change in my life and my personality were dramatic. The miracle of love had come into my life, and I felt sexual arousal just at the thought of her. I WAS A HEALTHY NORMAL MALE AFTER ALL !!!!   Marylin and I saw each other at every possible opportunity, and our mutual love grew stronger daily. I would leave romantic little notes in the basket of her bicycle when she was at work, send her soppy little cards, and buy her flowers and silly, inexpensive little gifts. All my romantic impulses that had for so long been stifled now had an outlet, and I couldn't help expressing all the love and happiness that were bubbling up inside me.   On 5 November 1967, just ten short days after we had met, as the night sky exploded with the shooting stars of fireworks celebrating the anniversary of Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, the stark black and white imagery of my previously monochrome life exploded into glorious, living colour as I placed an engagement ring on Marylin's finger. The only dreams I had that night were of Marylin. The nightmare had gone and I was finally free. As luck would have it, both Marylin and I caught severe colds and that precious week, for which we had made so many plans, was spent in bed - she in hers, I in mine, but Marylin's grandmother was out shopping one day, and with no other motive than a discussion of our wedding plans, I joined Marylin in her room. One thing inevitably led to another, and before I knew what was happening we were making tender, passionate love. Afterwards, cuddling Marylin in my arms, I felt as if I was walking on air. There's nothing wrong with me, after all, I thought triumphantly. All I needed was to meet the right girl. I was so happy I could hardly speak. The truth was, no words could possibly describe what I was feeling and when the thought occurred: My God, what would I have done if I had never met Marylin? I could only cling on to her and hold her tightly, knowing that it would be impossible for me ever to let her go.   When I heard footsteps on the path I had difficulty tearing myself away from Marylin's side, but knowing how outrage her grandmother would be if she caught us in bed together I had no choice. With a foolish grin of pure joy I crept back to my bed. I couldn't believe it. It was incredible! A miracle! I was twenty-one years of age and I'd finally become a man! I wanted to throw open a window and proclaim my joy to the world. Every single emotion and thought I'd ever read about or seen in the movies coursed through my veins. I wanted to sing it from the mountain tops and shout it from the chimney stacks. I was in love...and I had just made love - and all with the woman of my dreams! With my four-week course looming, we made as many plans as we could. We'd originally planned to get married in March 1968, but now we both knew we couldn't wait that long, so we brought the date forward to 6 January. Meanwhile there was so much to do. I telephoned Marylin's mother and formally asked for her daughter's hand, invitations were sent out. Doug agreed to be my best man, and Auntie Elsie and Uncle Ray said they'd be delighted to come. But from my parents there was no word. With most of the arrangements made, I tore myself away from Marylin's side and set off for Watford to start training for my new career. Now, more than ever, I was determined to build a successful life for Marylin and, of course, the children we hoped to have. Despite missing Marylin dreadfully, I acquitted myself well on the arduous course. Every aspect of salesmanship was covered, and when we weren't attending lectures and seminars on selling techniques we'd be locked in sessions specifically designed to help us assimilate what we had learned. It was during one of these sessions that I was called away to take an urgent phone call that had come through. It was Marylin. She was panic-stricken because my mother had visited her at the bank and asked her to call round at my parents' house that night. I was horrified. What were Mum and Dad up to now? Knowing I couldn't possibly allow Marylin to face them alone, I begged my instructor to release me for the evening from the residential course in Watford on compassionate grounds, saying that there was an emergency at home. I drove like a maniac to Harpenden to collect Marylin, and together we presented ourselves at my parents' front door. Though they must have been surprised to see me there, neither of them let it show. I held fast to Marylin's hand, willing her not to allow them to intimidate her and bravely trying to hide my mounting fear. We sat down on the settee like polite strangers, waiting for my father to speak. When he did, he took the wind right out of my sails. 'Are you pregnant?' he asked Marylin. I was so appalled and ashamed that I hardly knew what to say. 'Of course she's not,' I protested. 'Please try to understand. We love each other very much and, though we hate to see you both so unhappy, we will be married. There's nothing either of you can say or do to make us change our minds.' 'You seem like a nice enough girl,' my father said to Marylin. 'And it's not that we've got anything against you personally. It's just that...' He stopped, too upset to go on as the tears trickled down his face. I knew what my parents were thinking. Their attitude might seem strange to anyone not brought up in such a rigid religion, but I understood what they were going through. Their devotion to their faith was total. My father was an Elder, and the church meant a great deal to him. My mother was even more fanatically devoted than he was, and I don't believe it's an exaggeration to say that she would have died for her beliefs.   Poor Marylin could only stand and stare at the three of us as the tears poured down our cheeks. It was hardly the best circumstances in which to meet my parents for the first time, and I'm sure she was totally nonplussed. I was devastated, but part of me could only admire their absolute refusal to compromise. Being a Jehovah's Witness is not easy - in fact, it's probably one of the hardest religions to follow. But my parents were committed so wholeheartedly that they really believed they were doing the right . They couldn't give us their blessing, and we refused to cancel our plans. Eventually, knowing there was nothing more I could say or do, Marylin and I took our leave. We didn't see my parents again until after the wedding and the birth of our twin boys.   We spent Christmas at Torquay with Marylin's family. At first her mother and I got on well (though time was to alter that in the same way that it's altered so many things in my life), and I thoroughly enjoyed the first real Christmas I had known since religion entered my life. January came, and our long-awaited day finally dawned. I had spent the night before at my Auntie Kath's, unable to sleep through nervousness, still praying that at the last moment my parents would relent and show up at the reception. Doug and I looked resplendent in top hat and tails. Auntie Kath had wisely forced a brandy down my throat to still my knocking knees, but I was shaking right up to the moment when I saw Marylin walk down the aisle. She looked so radiant that she took my breath away.   We spent eight glorious days honeymooning in London, seeing the sights, taking in the shows and, of course, making love. We acted like kids let loose on a spree. We played with each other, saw cartoon films galore, even played games of hopscotch in the street. We didn't mind that we couldn't afford to eat in the hotel – we were happy enough with sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers bought from street stalls. All that mattered was that we were hopelessly in love.   We stayed with Marylin's grandmother until March when we were finally able to move into our first home at 14 Westfield Drive, in Harpenden. The very same house about which I joked months earlier that Marylin might like to make the curtains. Having cut my income by two-thirds when I'd moved to Hoover, the additional expenses of the wedding and the house purchase meant we were now flat broke, but we didn't mind in the least. Then came the magical day that Marylin told me she was pregnant, we had even more cause to rejoice. I fussed around her and when, three months into the pregnancy, the doctor informed us that Marylin was carrying twins, it provided me with the perfect excuse to envelop her with even more love. I think that was possibly the happiest year of my life. I'd spend hours lying in bed next to Marylin, my head close to her stomach, one hand resting protectively on her tummy as I heard and felt our babies moving inside.   When my sons were born I was with Marylin throughout. Though it was a difficult labour, the moment Stephen emerged I was filled with so much emotion I thought I would choke. As Andrew was not to arrive for another two hours, I was allowed plenty of time to hold Stephen in my arms. My elation was indescribable, for no words can do justice to that incredible feeling of having helped to create not one, but two, new lives. Having had two forceps deliveries Marylin was exhausted, and as she fell asleep I held her hand and gazed lovingly at my two sons. If anyone had ever had cause to doubt my manhood, what Marylin and I had accomplished together must surely now have confounded them all. We experienced a few traumatic days when Stephen was rushed off to St Albans Hospital with stomach problems, which fortunately turned out not to be too serious and soon he was returned to us and I was able to take my wife and sons home to Harpenden. I had taken a substantial drop in salary when I joined Hoover, and now the strain that Andrew and Stephen put on our already stretched finances meant that I had to take on extra work. So after a full day's work I did a part-time job as a barman from six till eleven, as well as a gardening job leaving just Sundays free But I was never happier or more fulfilled, particularly as the twins' birth had prompted a tenuous reconciliation with Mum and Dad who, having been presented with a fait accompli, now concentrated all their efforts on saving my soul my converting Marylin. They never did succeed, but when the twins arrived they were so smitten with their grandsons that they couldn't possibly bring themselves to reject us totally.   I revelled in every aspect of parenthood and as there were 2 babies we both needed to respond to cries for feeding or nappy change throughout the night.. To bathe my sons and watch them gurgle with delight as they splash around in the water was a constant delight, and although for most of their waking hours (and many of their sleeping hours, too) I would be out of the house earning the money to support us all, back home I was never too tired to spend time cuddling or feeding them. If meeting Marylin had brought peace and contentment into my life, becoming a father had increased that feeling a thousand-fold.   I never mixed with my colleagues after work because I just didn't have the spare cash to buy myself or them a drink. The mortgage was crippling us, and we were so hard up that we'd often exist on a sack of potatoes and a catering can of baked beans to enable the boys to have everything they needed. But when you're young and in love you survive the hard times, and though juggling work and my part-time jobs was exhausting, I always seemed to find the energy to keep going.   Less than two years later, Marylin was expecting again. We were overjoyed and very much hoped that this time we would have a daughter to make our family complete. Naturally we anticipated everybody else would share our happiness, but when we broke the news to Mum and Dad, who openly adored Stephen and Andrew, their disapproval and hostility took us aback. 'It's wrong to bring more children into such a wicked world,' they preached at us, 'particularly when the Bible tells us that those who are evil will soon be destroyed by God!' I was so incensed by their negative attitude that for once I couldn't stop myself from arguing. 'How dare you tell us what we should do,' I protested. 'No one has the right to dictate to us how many children we should have, or when.' I just couldn't believe their attitude, and this time my anger lasted for weeks.   Eventually, of course, they got used to the fact, and on the surface at least the rift was once more breached. Ironically, when my sister Pearl (ten years older than I and with two young teenagers to boot) announced shortly afterwards that she was expecting twins, my parents greeted her news with a great show of pleasure and a noted absence of adverse comment. Despite all the treasures I now had in my life, I still craved my parents' approval, and their obvious preference for Pearl the religious paragon they revered sometimes still irked me. Marylin's second pregnancy didn't go well. In her sixth month she was confined to bed with a threatened miscarriage, and having to look after two little boys, hold down two part-time jobs as well as a full-time job and care for a sick, pregnant wife in addition to dealing with all the cooking and cleaning left me exhausted. But nothing was too good for my Marylin and I fussed around her like a mother hen, always finding the time to do special, romantic little things like placing flowers on her dinner tray and devising tasty little recipes for her. I remember the day she had a yen for something sweet. All I could find in the kitchen was a packet of Angel Delight. As I whisked it up with a milk in a bowl and watched it turn bright green, I felt quite proud of my culinary ability. I sat on the bed, grinning with pleasure at the expression on Marylin's face as she ate it all, right down to the very last spoonful – blissfully ignorant of the fact that what I had taken for a smile was, in reality, a grimace of distaste. Poor Marylin – to this day she cannot stand the sight of green Angel Delight!   It also makes me smile now when I think about the midwife who used to call round to check up on Marylin's progress. How it used to amuse her to see me struggling with a baby under each arm and a vacuum cleaner in one hand. 'You know,' she said to me once, 'you'd make someone a wonderful wife.' I often wonder what she would say if she could see me now!   However, when Rebecca Louise was finally born on 1 April 1971, Marylin and I had to agree that all the work and the worry had been well worth it. Her birth coincided with my promotion to area manager, a position which carried a salary substantial enough not only to ease our financial burden but also to allow us to move to a larger house. We found just what we were looking for in a small village called Langford, just three miles south-west of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. It was a modern, three-bedroom detached house that boasted a separate lounge, dining room and study, and on the day we moved in I couldn't help feeling proud of our achievements. At that moment we seemed to have it all.   Looking back now, it seems as if those days were always filled with sunshine, happiness and shared laughter. The children were thriving, Marylin and I were still very much in love and we had our first family holiday to look forward too. We stayed at Caister Sands, a self-catering holiday village not far from Great Yarmouth. The weather was gloriously hot the entire fortnight and we had a wonderful time building sandcastles on the beach, teaching the twins to swim, flying kites in the park and even taking out first flight around the coast in an aeroplane. No matter how much time we spent together, Marylin and I never became bored with each other. She was intelligent and interesting, and we always had plenty to talk about. The following year we ventured abroad on a camping holiday in Brittany. Here again, we had such a wonderful time together that we decided to repeat the formula, but to journey further afield each year. We drove to the south of France, then Italy, Switzerland, Austria and even Germany. Though it didn't seem possible, each holiday was better than the one before.   My career at Hoover was going exceedingly well, and after heading up the customer service department I was promoted into marketing, where I discovered that I had natural flair for solving complicated marketing problems and promoting products. The year we planned our German holiday, I was approached by the troubled Pickles organisation which at that time was the sole distributor for ICI gardening and decorative products. The group consisted of three divisions: Pickles, Johnson Wall coverings, and Saga DIY Retail, of which they appointed me to head. With thirty-two stores ranging in size from just 1500 square feet to a virtually unheard-of 82,000 sq. feet which at that time was the largest hypermarket in the UK, it was an irresistible challenge.   Since the warehouses and stores were distributed around the country, I spent a lot of time away from home. My secretary, Leslie, often had to accompany me on business trips; it caused much ribbing from the guys in the office but, as I knew our relationship was totally innocent, I just ignored their rather juvenile remarks. When Leslie left she was replaced by a young girl called Sandra Tree. Sandra was quite tall and attractive, with dark, frizzy hair and such a sweet, shy manner that I was amazed when she told me she was in the Territorial Army. I couldn't believe that a girl who seemed so innocent, who blushed as easily as she did, could be interested in something like the TA. Pretty soon it was obvious to everyone that Sandra was completely infatuated with me. She'd often come to our house at weekends and we'd sit in the garden discussing business, or talking about the people we had met one of our trips away together. It didn't occur to me that there was anything wrong with our friendship, or even that it could be misconstrued by anyone. I was happy with Marylin, and though I was spending more and more time away from home or working late at the office, my reasons for doing so were genuine.  

CHAPTER 5 THE NIGHTMARE RETURNS The Saga division of Pickles, which was my main responsibility, was in a bad way financially. Much of it could be put down to the Hoover syndrome of too many people at the top having grown idle and complacent. I was working very hard trying to get to grips with Saga's problems, and it didn't take me long to realise that since so much of the financial bleeding was being caused by security problems at the largest store, in South East England, I should concentrate most of my efforts on reorganising things there. I spent the next year restructuring the company, selling off 'oddballs' so as to concentrate on more manageable units, establishing a new corporate "Superdex" identity developing an own brand product range, recruiting additional staff, conceiving more aggressive promotional policies and implementing tight budgetary controls. All this required a great deal of commitment in terms of effort and hours and, though mentally I thrived on the stimulation, physically it was taking it's toll I began to feel run down. Once or twice, when Marylin wanted to make love, I'd find myself confronted with the worrying syndrome of 'the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak'. At first I tried telling myself that it was only natural for a man who worked as many hours as I did to feel tired, but when virtually every attempt at intimacy ended in failure I began to worry. For seven wonderful years I'd known nothing but total happiness and contentment, and the prospect of having all that snatched away from me was a real threat to my peace of mind and security. I'd never told Marylin anything about my former problem because it hadn't seemed relevant. But with each repeated failure I began to wish that I had. Instead, I said nothing and, keeping my fears to myself, threw myself more and more into my work. I was caught up in a vicious circle of failure, fear and work, and I didn't know which of the three was aggravating my problem the most. I started taking paperwork home with me and, as I still insisted on spending lots of time playing with the children before they went to bed, my 'homework' became the perfect excuse for staying up long after Marylin too had retired for the night. It was far too wrapped up in the horrors that were once more beginning to invade my own mind. Inexplicable cold shivers of fear would suddenly strike me, though I couldn't work out why. I began to have trouble sleeping ,and when I did eventually drop off I'd wake up several times in the night as if I'd had a nightmare whose details I couldn't remember. When I awoke with a start in the early hours of one morning to find myself shaking and my body soaked in sweat I couldn't deny what was going on: the dreadful spectre that had haunted so much of my life had returned. Sick with fear, I crept out of bed and locked myself in the bathroom. The same question that I'd silently screamed all those years ago was now repeating itself over and over again in my brain. What was wrong with me? Only this time it had a new twist: Why now, when I thought I'd been 'cured'? And then a new thought occurred: Was it possible I could be going insane? Poor Marylin. God knows what she must have thought at that time. Perhaps if I'd been a different kind of man it might have occurred to me that there's only one conclusion a women will draw when her husband apparently loses all interest in the sexual side of their relationship, and not only spends a great deal of time staying away from home with a good-looking young secretary but even lets her visit him at home. It was only in retrospect that I realised how insensitive I had been, because of course Marylin was perfectly justified in believing that I was having an affair with this girl. In fact her occasional outbursts of intolerance about my relationship with Sandra ought to have alerted me to the situation. My only defence was that I was so wrapped up in my own problems I didn't give a thought to what Marylin might be feeling. How thoughtless and selfish I was to a beautiful devoted loving wife. Marriages don't survive long with too many hidden secrets, and eventually Marylin became so upset that she confronted me over my 'affair' with Sandra. I was so aghast that all I could blurt out was: 'My God, Marylin, I can't believe you'd even think such a thing!' 'Well, what do you expect?' she said, miserably. 'After all, you spend most of your time with her. You rarely come home before ten o'clock, and calmly tell me you've been working late at the office with her. You stay away with her most of the time. What else am I supposed to think?' I was so upset that Marylin had been so unhappy for so long and had not said anything to me that I knew there was only one way I could make amends. The moment of truth had finally arrived, and if I wanted to save my marriage I had no choice. In order to reassure Marylin and convince her that I hadn't been having an affair, I must tell her everything. We sat down together and I told her all the things I should have told her when we first met. Holding nothing back, I explained about the dreams; the problems I had always had with girls; my previous sexual inadequacies; even my fears about not knowing whether there was something seriously wrong with me. And Marylin, bless her, was wonderful. Naturally, her first reaction was relief. I don't think that at that stage either of us had any idea of the enormity of what I was saying, probably because we both assumed that the real problem, whatever it might be, was solvable. I was so glad that I'd finally been honest with Marylin and got everything off my chest that all I could feel was relief. we both cried as we held on to each other. 'Why didn't you say something sooner?' I asked. 'I was so afraid,' Marylin sobbed. 'I didn't want to lose you. But now I know you weren't having an affair and that you do still love me, everything's going to be all right again.' If only we had known that nothing was ever really going to be right between us again. Neither of us had any inkling that, far from being the beginning and end of a small difficulty between us, the situation with work and Sandra had merely precipitated the identification of a very serious problem indeed. In fact it was the beginning of the end. How I agonise in hindsight of how I could have handled it better and maybe have reduced the hurt I inflicted on the best wife in the world and our 3 beautiful children. By now I was well aware that not even my most drastic measures were going to be enough to keep the company afloat. But the salvation appeared in the form of Gordon Steel, managing director of PGW Retail, a subsidiary of Berger, which was in turn part of the giant West German Hoechst Pharmaceutical Company. Gordon just turned up at my office one day and calmly announced to me that he was thinking about acquiring the entire Pickles organization. "What's your reaction to that?" he asked in a tone that gave me no indication of what might lie behind the question. Initially I was very wary, but as we talked I began to realize that, since he was being so forthright and frank with me, the least I could do was return the compliment. Having painted a very bright picture of the group's future should Berger (who owned PGW and was a subsidiary of the giant German Hertz Pharmaceuticals) gain control, I knew I had no option other than to support the takeover bid. I duly reported the conversation to my own boss, assuming that everyone at head office would be highly delighted with the prospect of imminent rescue. But within a few days I was left in no doubt that I had seriously miscalculated the situation. Hastily summoned to Yorkshire, I presented myself before the board and was immediately threatened with suspension if I co-operated with Berger or in any way aided their acquisition attempt. Mystified and very angry, I informed the board that as my responsibility was to work for the survival of the company and preserve the job security of my staff, the only course of action open to me was to support Berger's takeover bid. Furthermore", I added angrily, "if you suspend me I'll report this conversation to the Daily Telegraph who, given the investigative series they're currently running on the strategies of this group and the behaviour of certain members of the board, will, I'm sure, greet this information with great interest". Pickles plc was a publicly quoted FTSE company therefore had to publish it's accounts and report any takeover offers. It was a game of chess-and one that I knew I had a strong chance of winning. With so much at stake, and so may people's jobs depending upon me, I was not about to be intimidated and it showed. Berger formalized the takeover offer and Pickles was absorbed into the PGW Group. A few weeks later I presented my proposals for the reshaping of the retail division, based on the relocation and redevelopment of the large out-of-town DIY and gardening units, to Gordon Steel and his fellow directors at their Kingston-upon-Thames head office. My proposals were accepted. With Gordon's backing I was appointed divisional controller, allocated a substantial sum of money to put my plans into action and given complete responsibility for everything from buying and merchandizing to marketing and promotions and a substantial pay rise to boot. With renewed enthusiasm I immediately set about organizing clearance sales, using TV advertising to promote loss leaders. Following each successful sale the stores were closed down, redesigned and completely restocked with a new mix of merchandise. The moments when I stopped to catch my breath and review my situation, both professionally and personally, were few and far between. But whenever I did have time to think about my life, it struck me as rather ironic that I seemed to be caught up in a real-life game of Snakes and Ladders. On the one hand I was climbing the corporate ladder with great rapidity and my professional star was clearly on the rise, while on the other my personal life was sliding down those snakes with astonishing speed. It was all very well for me-I could hide behind my work, my constant travelling and the excitement and challenge of solving my corporate dilemmas. But what of Marylin? True, we now had more money to cushion us and there were the children to keep her occupied. But in my heart I knew she needed and deserved far more than that; she needed a husband who came home for supper, not one who, if he turned up at all, crept in at three in the morning and never disturbed her with his touch. But Marylin was marvellous-she remained loving, understanding and incredibly supportive, and I was filled with admiration and guilt. I earned a huge salary and enjoyed a successful career that offered me status, responsibility and a reputation as something of a whiz-kid amongst my colleagues, but as a husband I seemed a total failure. I never put it into words, but I couldn't hide it from myself: in every way that really counted, I was letting Marylin down. That's why, though the idea filled me with horror and shame, when Marylin tentatively suggested that we seek medical help I felt I owed it to her to agree. Together we went to see out GP. This proved a totally useless exercise as, predictably, he put the whole thing down to "pressure of work". We went back time and time again until eventually, confounded by something he couldn't understand, he referred me to a psychologist and then to a psychiatrist. For me the whole thing was humiliating and debasing. I had to endure these people probing into my background and my mind almost as if I was insane. But always at the back of my mind was the thought that what Marylin had been enduring for the past year or two was far, far worse, and because I knew that she had been through more than any woman could–or indeed should have to–put up with I continued with the treatment. Meanwhile, some of my more imaginative business ideas were beginning to meet with resistance from my superiors. I had negotiated production of a new own-brand range, for which I had designed the containers, and was on the verge of awarding a contract to a manufacturer when I received a directive ordering me not only to give the contract to the Berger division of the group, but also to cease selling competitive brands of paint forthwith. I couldn't understand the company's reasoning. To imagine that stifling the competition would increase our own profitability seemed ludicrous to me. I argued the point, but the board remained adamant. Ignoring my protestations and warnings, the company proceeded to implement a major restructuring of their retailing and marketing strategy which I found wholly unacceptable. Unfortunately, at one heated moment I had rashly declared that if the new policies went put into effect I would be unable to continue my employment with the group. It was a foolish thing to say because, as is so often the case, the corporate machine rolled on regardless of this (albeit fairly senior) cog in their wheel, and I found myself backed into a corner in which the only exit sign pointed to the door of resignation. Reluctantly and with great regret, I took my leave. Gordon wrote me a really nice letter shortly afterwards, expressing his sorrow at losing "a valued colleague and business friend" and his sincere appreciation not only for the support I had personally given to him but also for the hard work and effort I had put into my job. I'd received a rather large ex-gratia payment from PGW, which not only bought me a little time in which to consider my next professional move but also paid for a "new" second-hand Volvo car for Marylin, who had been very worried and upset at this latest blow. I made one or two applications for jobs but, not wanting to leap too quickly, I took my time evaluating which was the best. Once more I was at home, happy to be spending time with Marylin and the children or pottering about the house and garden doing the hundreds of little jobs that had for so long been ignored. I applied and was successful in finding an even better new job in the North of England as sales and marketing director with the Hestair Group plc, a FTSE 100 company, one of the leading contractors in the field of educational supplies, this did much to distract me. Once again I was fired into action by this new career challenge and, although we were reluctant to move so far away, it had to be done. We put our house on the market, sold it the same day and moved in with my parents, who fortunately had two spare bedrooms, until we could find something suitable near my new job. I embarked on a weekly train journey commuting between Manchester, where I worked in the week and Harpenden where I spent the weekends. Six months were to pass before we found the perfect home in Darwen, Lancashire- a rambling, six bed roomed house called Wynthorpe. It was love at first sight. We couldn't get over the fact that, in addition to having a one-and-a-half acre garden, we had a large lounge and dining room, a massive kitchen, a utility room and our very own wine cellar. However, not even the luxury of our new life could stop Marylin from feeling homesick and she never really settled there so far from her family and friends. I threw myself into my new job with the same vigour I always did and it didn't take me long to find out that the challenge I'd taken up was even greater than I had anticipated. I was horrified to learn that we were committed to an average of twenty-seven educational exhibitions each year, with all the attendant costs of such exercises. What nobody had ever set out to analyse was just how much commercial sense these exhibitions made. So I decided to attend one myself. As I suspected, most were just an excuse for married men to stay and play away from home. One of my first tasks was to sort out the huge, full-colour catalogue which was sent to every school in the country. Once again I was appalled, because even the basic principles of marketing were being ignored. Instead of applying a sensible pricing structure that reflected the uniqueness of certain lines as most companies do, Hestair operated a set formula of marking up by a fixed percentage on cost regardless. The result was that some items would be priced at £1.01 when, of course, they should have been rounded down to 99 pence while others should have been priced a great deal higher simply because they were unobtainable elsewhere. I was going to have to scrap the new catalogue, which had only just been printed, arrange for every single product to be re-photographed and then have the whole thing rewritten. In addition to that, the entire pricing structure required radical reformulation in order to make commercial sense. It was a wonder how a company operating with so many handicaps could have survived., that it did so was largely due to inept competitors. I drew up a master plan and then implemented the most radical changes the company had ever seen. I scrapped the majority of venues on the exhibition schedule, retaining just six which I thought might possibly produce something worthwhile. I replaced every technical expert the company employed with a sales or marketing professional and went out to competitive tendering for photography, typesetting and print on the new catalogue. The result was a bigger, better catalogue at a reduced cost per page. I then had developed computer programs capable of analysing order input, margin price and relative earnings per catalogue page. I also cancelled the science equipment catalogue that had only achieved sales of £20,000 on a stockholding five times that figure before travelling to Czechoslovakia to negotiate a deal that reduced the product range by 90 per cent. Having virtually worked around the clock for weeks, during which time I had sweated blood and tears on proposals which would either consolidate my position within the company or lead to disaster, all I could do now was mail out the catalogue to every school in the country and then sit back and wait for the verdict. Vindication was visible to all when turnover immediately leaped by 40 per cent, with an accompanying 5 per cent rise in gross margins. Better still, I was given the immediate go-ahead to exploit both the contract and export sides of the business. Soon, contract after contract was falling into our eager hands after we tore up the cartel agreement with all of our competitors which had ensured that no contract was ever won or lost and councils paid top dollar for all their school stationary. From being a fifth-rate regional supplier, My decision to discount books to local authorities immediately won us contracts but almost immediately The Publishers Authority which championed the Retail Price Maintenance Legislation sued us. I went down to address them and found a lot of elderly fuddy-duddy's who wanted to maintain the status quo which in effect just subsidised poor sellers at the disadvantage of both local authorities and the reading public. So we went to court and won, thus bringing to an end another cartel. Subsequently of course Amazon has turned their cosy world upside down. No-one has a divine right to take your money, they have to compete to do so and that will always be in the interest of the consumer. We also took on Griffin & George by running advertisements showing the exact same laboratory borosilicate glassware product with identical description stating "the only difference is the price" and that difference showed savings of circa 75%. These ran weekly as full page ads in the Times Educational Supplement and inevitably I soon received a writ but they only thing they could achieve was to get us to remove their trademark from the ads. Within five years we had moved to take over the market leader slot. but I knew that staying ahead of the game required even more work after Robert Maxwell purchased our fiercest competitor E. J. Arnold. So I formulated an idea for a competition to encourage people in the educational sector to submit their own ideas for a new product or teaching aid. We developed my idea in conjunction with the Times Educational Supplement and launched the "Brainwave Awards", which proved to be successful enough that they soon became an annual event. Hot on the heels of that success, I was approached by an eccentric, likable Welshman called Rupert Oliver (we met up years later and rekindled our friendship which lasts to this day) Rupert's concept, so simple and yet so brilliant, has now become known as a "totally soft play environment" (TSPE) for blind and handicapped children. It involved first padding the walls and floor of a room with foam material covered in tough, washable PVC; this room would then be filled with enormous shapes such as giant balls, circles, mountains, slides and so on, all constructed from the same soft protective materials. We placed the first installation at the Royal School for the Blind in Edinburgh, and I went along to witness at first hand how the children would cope with this unique equipment. The memory of that day will stay with me for as long as I live, and as I flew home that evening I felt immensely humbled at what I had experienced with those wonderful children who lived in a world of darkness and had to rely totally on their hands to "see". Over the next seven years, success followed success as I began to spend more time travelling abroad to straighten out the export side of Hestair's business. I'd climbed a long way up corporate ladder and though it was tough getting to the top, the ambitious streak I discovered within me meant that I revelled in every tiring, hard-working minute of my climb. Professionally, it seemed I could now do no wrong. But in my personal life things were going from bad to worse, and my relationship with Marylin was sliding downhill fast entirely down to me. The Psychiatrist whom I had been seeing suggested that I should try being analysed under hypnosis. It seemed a pretty bizarre idea to me, but having come that far it would have been daft to refuse, particularly as I didn't think they'd have much success hypnotizing me in the first place. When the session was over, he made no mention of what I had said or even what he might have learned, merely suggesting that I take some advanced medical tests and come back and see him again. At the time I wasn't aware that Marylin might have been taking anything more than a normal interest in what was going on. She attended most of the session with me, except those that involved hypnosis, and when we got home we'd often discuss what had occurred. To be honest, my feeling was that it was all mumbo jumbo, and nothing so far had caused me to change my long held belief that psychiatrists are far weirder than any of their patients. However, something that may have been said (or even left unsaid), or some line of reasoning that may have been pursued had, as it turned out, given Marylin food for thought. One evening she announced that she was going to the library, and when she returned a few hours later she looked as if she had seen a ghost. "Keith", she said a little distractedly, "let's sit down and talk". At first I thought she might want to say something about one of the job offers I'd turned down, or maybe to discuss a minor problem with the kids. Though I could see she definitely wasn't her normal, cheerful self, it didn't occur to me that what she was about to reveal would change the course of our lives. I made a pot of tea, carried it through to the lounge and sat down next to Marylin on the settee. There was several minutes of silence as she thoughtfully stirred her tea, put her cup to her lips and took a sip. Then, as if she'd finally reached an important decision, she placed her cup firmly back on the saucer, took my hand between hers and looking straight into my eyes uttered the words that, had only we known it then, were to herald the end of our life together. "Keith, I know what's wrong. I know what you are". Uncomprehending, I could only stare back. "Keith", Marylin explained, her voice gentle and patient, "you're a textbook transsexual". Her words filled me with horror. "What on earth are you saying" I said indignantly. No one had ever uttered the word before, so she couldn't have picked it up from one of the psychologists. Clearly, something that somebody had said had triggered off a new line of reasoning in her head. I could only presume that, having absorbed and recalled everything I'd told her about my past, she had been determined to learn more. Marylin tried hard to make me understand: "What you are....what you have is.... more than the usual amount of feminine traits". "I'm not gay!" I hotly denied, upset and annoyed that I was being accused of something, but not quite sure what. "I don't mean that. I know you're not gay. What it means is that....." It was difficult for Marylin to find the words that would convince me of the truth she now seemed to be so sure of herself. "Look, think back. Think how you were with the children, the babies, think how you always loved to help me.... how you've always been able to understand me, to know intuitively how I feel!" Not only could I not believe what I was hearing, I was incapable of even beginning to comprehend the enormity of what Marylin was trying to explain. "Well, yes, I've always cooked a lot, but lots of men do". "Look, you've fathered children, so there can't be anything physically wrong with you....but, inside you....." I must have looked in total shock and Marylin, unable to get through to me, was growing more upset and frustrated with each attempt. "Remember how naturally you helped me with the twins when they were born? How easily you adapted to being their mother when I had a threatened miscarriage?" "But lots of men have done all those things" I protested. Marylin took a deep breath. Then, very quietly she said: "Okay, then think about your dreams, for gods sake!" I'd thought about those dreams-God knows I'd hardly ever stopped thinking about those damned dreams-but somehow I couldn't relate them to what Marylin was telling me now. If you add two and two together, you expect four, but what I'd just been told didn't add up at all. If Marylin had said to me, "You've got a loose wire, a loose connection in your brain", I could have lived with that, but what she was telling me was something far, far worse. The word had been spoken, and now that whatever it was had been given a name, it seemed more monstrously real. We both began to weep, me trying hard to cling on to my sanity in the awful light of what I had just heard but couldn't quite believe, and Marylin trying to cling on to me amidst the dreadful certainty of what she now knew to be true. How terrible it must have been for her. To discover that the man you've loved and lived with for many years, the man who's fathered your children, is emotionally and mentally a woman is bad enough-but to have to be the one to convince that man of the truth about himself. How did she find the strength to do it? That night we held each other close in bed, neither of us saying much- what was there to say?-both of us unable to sleep. Marylin must have been distraught, but all her concern was for me. The following day we tried to carry on as normal. Neither of us mentioned Marylin's revelation of the previous evening, probably because neither of us could think what to do next. And, as the old saying goes, "When in doubt, do nowt." The one thing I did do, though, was immediately cancel all my appointments with the psychiatrists. I'd listened to something I didn't want to hear, and I had no intention of allowing things to go any further than that. If there truly was something wrong with me, I'd sort it out on my own-I didn't need anyone else interfering in my life. And so I buried the knowledge that I didn't want to believe. Not being able to face the enormity of it, I simply blocked it out of my consciousness and thus out of my life. In desperation I went to see my GP who, having access to my file and therefore the psychiatrist's notes, just looked at me with great sympathy and told me gently that in his considered opinion there was only one way out - I was a transsexual with the body of a man but a female brain. Still, I refused to believe him. There must be something that could be done, some way out of this mess. I was frantic, unable to accept that this was the end of the road for my marriage, but too weak to decide what else we could do. Frightened, lost and helpless, like a man in the grip of a witch doctor's spell, The stress made me physically ill so I retreated to my bed where I stayed for eight tortured weeks. I lay there like a zombie, wanting only to die. The awful dream that had for so long tormented my nights now spilled over to haunt my days as well. What made it even more unbearable was that I knew Marylin was also going through a private hell of her own. Meanwhile, my work was suffering. Although I dragged myself out of bed to go on a Far Eastern trip that had been planned months before, once I was out there I became so ill that the company had to fly me straight back home.. I was beginning to go insane. Though my memory of those days is still far from clear, it seems that on one particular occasion I even flew out of my bed and dashed around the house screaming as I held my head in my hands. All poor Marylin could do was sit on the stairs and sob her heart out. I can't begin to imagine what her life must have been like during those months. I only know that I put her through hell and that's something I know I'll never forgive myself for. Neither of us knew what too do and both of us were beyond sorting ourselves out, let alone helping each other. My decision made, I felt nothing but a strange sense of peace flowing through me. The desperation, the panic, the trauma would soon be a thing of the past. I checked to make sure the children were still asleep, then I sat down and wrote a note to Marylin explaining my thoughts and feelings, asking for her forgiveness for all that I had put her through and reassuring her that in no way was she to blame. To be as I was, was not anybody's fault. Knowing that people have a tendency to blame themselves when things go wrong, I wanted only to reassure Marylin now. It wasn't her fault, it wasn't my parents' fault, it wasn't anyone's fault- it was just the way things were. I was counting out the tablets into my palm, preparing to swallow them one by one, when the telephone rang. I hesitated, not knowing whether I should answer or just let it ring. Fate dictated. It was Trevor. Had he had some kind of premonition? Or was it sheer coincidence? Trevor and I had grown so close over the years, it was useless my trying to deny anything was wrong when he could tell just from the sound of my voice. 'Keith, whatever you're thinking about or planning, don't do it - it's not worth it,' Trevor insisted. 'Promise me, Keith, that you won't do whatever is on your mind?' Trevor stayed on the phone for what seemed like hours as he talked to me, saying the same thing over and over again. Eventually he made me give him my word that I wouldn't commit suicide, but just to make sure he insisted that I ring him again in half an hour. 'If I don't get your call, I'll phone your local police station immediately and I'm going to get straight into my car and drive up there,' he warned. I knew Trevor would do just as he had threatened, so I returned his call not once but many times, because on each occasion he extracted yet another promise that I'd call him again at the end of the next half-hour. Tired beyond belief, I abandoned all thought of suicide and eventually managed convince Trevor that my darkest moment had passed. I don't know what time Marylin came home, but when I awoke she had left for work. Feeling like hell, I stumbled into the bathroom and was my reflection staring back at me in the mirror. One glance was enough to convince me that I looked like hell, too. You've got to do something, I told myself. Make a decision. Either kill yourself or have medical treatment, because you certainly can't go on living like this. Either way I'd lose my beloved Marylin and our three children, and faced with that, surely suicide must be the best way out? Once again I toyed with the idea. How would my parents cope with the news that they had a son who might soon become their daughter? How would my wife come to terms with the fact that her husband was going to become a woman himself? And, worst of all, what psychological damage might it do to my children if the discovered that their father could soon be a woman? No truly sane individual could possibly make the people he loves go through that. And if I decided to live and got through with the change, what would be the cost to all of our lives be? Over the years, both Marylin and I had learned a little more about the word 'transsexual'. We both knew that the only course of action involved three years of hormone treatment before painful and dangerous surgery. Gender reassignment, the technical term for the process of changing sex, seemed to me to be a long, hard, unrewarding road that would cost me absolutely everything I had achieved and everything I held dear. But more than that, I couldn't conceive that there could be any worthwhile kind of life beyond it. For days I wrestled with my problem, uncertain what to do for the best. On the one hand, part of me wanted to die right then; on the other, something kept whispering in my mind that if it hadn't been for Trevor, I wouldn't be alive now. Could that mean that my moment of truth had come and gone? My mind had been made up, but something about Trevor's uncanny sense of timing seemed to me to be a sign. And then I knew that my very last option had gone. I had to face it - there was only one way out, now. I would go through with it. I'd finally do what I had not had the courage even to think about over the past seven years. I would undergo the dreaded treatment and if I ended up a freak I would kill myself then... When Marylin came home from work we had the most sensible - and certainly the calmest - conversation we had had in a long time as I outlined what I had decided. Having made up my mind, I felt incredibly calm. All the anger, the trauma, the pain and the fear had gone, and for the first time in several years I felt at peace. Having asked Marylin to think carefully about what I had chosen to do, she came back with the suggestion that I wait for two months. I remember it was just before Christmas, and though we both had a great deal on our minds, it was probably one of the nicest Christmases we'd had in many years. When the two months were up, Marylin asked for more time. I didn't mind, I knew what I had to do - all I needed now was Marylin's support.

Chapter 6 A month later Marylin gave me her answer: 'I've thought long and hard about this, Keith, and if this is the only way in which you can live, then it must be the right thing to do.' So the die was cast and I bought a copy of the Manchester Evening News and scanned the accommodation ads. I made a phone call, arranged to view a flat the very next day and paid six month's advance rent on my new home. Marylin and I had discussed what we would tell the children and the only plausible explanation we had been able to come up with was to say that I had an illness for which the only cure was intensive hormone treatment. That treatment, we said, would result in my becoming a woman. Though Stephen and Andrew were thirteen, and Rebecca even younger, I don't think they were old enough or mature enough to absorb fully what we were saying. None of them said a word - they merely clung to me and cried. There was a lump in my throat as I looked at Marylin's face. Leaving her was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but by now we were both resigned to the fact that the die had finally been cast in a bizarre nightmare that had begun long before we had even met. For seven long, traumatic years I had refused to acknowledge the truth about myself. My denial had caused me to inflict more pain on Marylin than anyone has the right to inflict on someone they love, and I felt bitterly ashamed of my selfishness. I knew, too, that I was the only person who would benefit from what I was about to do. For those whom I loved, there could only be more suffering. Two weeks later I signed on with a new doctor in Todmorden, (luckily although it was the same surgery as Dr. Harold Shipman practised, I was assigned to another partner)and though he was undoubtedly surprised and nonplussed to be confronted by a new patient with a condition he had not heard of let alone treated he gave no sign. In fact I have to say he rose remarkably to the occasion. Dr Ryland listened patiently, oblivious to the queue that was building up in his waiting room and then, after admitting that he knew nothing whatsoever about transsexuals, assured me that he would make it his business to gather all the information he could before my next visit. True to his word, he contacted my old GP in Darwen and then made a special trip to Wythenshawe Hospital to consult a specialist psychologist who also treated hopeless alcoholics and drug addicts. Like so many people who are continually confronted with the bleakest aspects of life, Dr Ryland had long since learnt the value of humour to relieve seriousness of living, and under his wonderful care I soon found my sense of humour returning. Thus it wasn't long before my regular trips to his surgery became one of the brighter points of my week. 'I'm going to refer you to a specialist by the name of Dr Hoare,' he informed me during one visit. 'He also happens to treat alcoholics, so don't be alarmed if when you go to see him at Wythenshawe his reception area is full of men clutching brown paper bags'. 'Crikey!' I said, 'I've just about got used to the idea of being a TS. Do you think I can cope with being regarded as an alcoholic, too?' We got on so well that we were even able to make a joke about the hormone treatment he began to give me. 'I'm going to put you on a drug called Androcur and another called Premarin, which is a synthetic form of oestrogen. Its name is derived from the way in which it's produced - it comes from pregnant mares' urine.' 'Which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ''taking the piss'',' I laughed. Dr Rynald told me that the Androcur was designed to inhibit the production of male hormones, while the Premarin would at the same time flood my body with female hormones. Within six months the Androcur should ensure virtual chemical castration. By this stage he had found a leading specialist, Dr Russell Reid, the famous consultant Psychiatrist at Charing Cross Hospital's Gender Reassignment Clinic, who would monitor my progress at three-monthly intervals. There was one awkward moment when I took my prescription to the local chemist. When I handed it over, the female pharmacist gave me a very odd look before taking me aside to whisper: 'There must be some mistake. These are female hormones your doctor's prescribed!' 'I know,' I whispered back. 'I'm a woman in disguise.' 'Oh!' was all she could say. But her face was a picture! Highly embarrassed, I hung around, desperately trying to look nonchalant as she went off to make up the prescription. Despite feeling uncomfortable, I was acutely aware that this was just the beginning, and if I couldn't put up with a little bit of embarrassment then I might as well give up now. As soon as I got home, I shook the pills out on to the table an just sat looking at them. This is it, I told myself nervously. Once you've swallowed these, the decision will be irrevocable. With shaking hands I filled a glass with water, put the pills in my mouth and gulped them down - and the strange thing was that the moment I'd swallowed them an overwhelming sense of contentment swept through me. Even now, when I think back on that moment, I experience the same kind of thrill. It was the moment I truly knew that the decision had been made. Over the next few months I watched spellbound as the gradual feminization of my body took place. Slowly, I developed breasts and hips and my waistline began to narrow. My skin became softer and smoother as the rate of hair and beard growth slowed down. I knew that by the time I started my three monthly meetings at Charing Cross with Dr Reid, who would be counselling me and vetting my progress, I would have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could cope with travelling and staying in London looking, to all intents and purposes, just like a woman. Back at work, however, where no one had the slightest idea of the treatment I was undergoing, it soon became necessary for me to keep my suit jacket on always and to wear larger shirts in order to conceal my by now sizeable breasts. As I was earning around £ 36,000 a year, which was a stupendous salary in the early eighties, I was able to handle all my financial commitments to Marylin and the children quite comfortably. I still saw the family fairly often. We'd even have dinner together at times, and though we were getting on better than we had done in years, I think she found coming to terms with the changes in me difficult to handle - as I'm sure anyone would. Our parents were devastated by the news of our separation, as indeed were most people who knew us. Marylin and I had made a pact not to discuss my impending 'change' with anybody else until it was absolutely necessary and, ignorant of the true reason for our divorce. Despite the hormones, my facial hair growth was not diminishing as fast as it should have done, so I made and appointment with a lovely motherly woman called Betty who, I was told, would use electrolysis to deal with the problem. (this was before the development of beard and body retardant creams which Medica now provides for Transformation) So three times a week, from seven-thirty till ten-thirty in the morning, I'd steel myself to visit Betty and undergo the most painful form of treatment I have ever had in my entire life. When it comes to pain, I am not a fan. Added to that, I have an absolute horror of needles, so you can imagine what an ordeal electrolysis was for me. I am often asked questions about the actual operation and how painful it was, but remember I was asleep then, I'd rather go through the operation twice over than have to endure the agony of electrolysis again. To my mind, if anything is going to put a man off going through with gender reassignment, it's electrolysis. My face began to look sore and red, and though at work I was able to pass this off as a reaction to shaving, the first time Marylin noticed she knew immediately what it meant. I thing that was possibly the first time that what I was about to do really hit her. Soon afterwards, she announced that she was going to move down south live with her mother. I was shattered. It hadn't occurred to me that she might move away, though of course it was a logical and reasonable thing for her to consider. All I could think of was that it might be ages before I'd see her or the children again. I travelled down south to see Marylin and the children settle in. The private education they had received up until now didn't necessarily qualify the children for admission to the grammar schools we wanted them to attend. Fortunately, I was able to use my position at Hestair to make an appointment with the heads of their prospective grammar schools and, much to our relief, the children were accepted. That night we all went out for a meal as a family to celebrate not knowing it would be for the last time. The following day I drove back north on my own, feeling dejected and totally alone. A few month later, I was approached by a head-hunter to discuss a potential new job. Fison's, a well-known company that sold horticultural and DIY products, would like to meet me with a view to inviting me to work my magic on their subsidiary company, Griffin and George, who, like Hestair, were involved in the educational supplies market. I duly had my meeting with the Fison's board and was made an offer which, I had to reject knowing the treatment I faced. Quite coincidentally and almost farcically at the same time, my chairman and managing director, called me into his office. 'As you're well aware, Keith,' he said, ' our turnover is now excess of £ 20 million, and as we're considering making a sizeable investment in expansion through acquisition I believe it's time we separated the role of chairman and MD.' I waited patiently for Stuart to unfold his plans. 'I'd like you to become our new MD.' I was so surprised I didn't know what to say. Rapidly evaluating my position, I spent the next few moments concentrating my thoughts. Here I was, with an enviable and successful track record, being confronted with the opportunity to fulfil all my career ambitions by not one but two large, well-respected companies. And yet, after eighteen months of hormone treatment, I knew that it would only be another year or so before I would change my sex. I had planned to stay with Hestair in my present position for the next year or eighteen months, and then quietly leave before the operation. Afterwards, I had thought I might open a restaurant of hotel somewhere. 'I'm sorry, Stuart. I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn the offer down,' I calmly said. Now it was Stuart's turn to be surprised. For several moments neither of us spoke as he sat there digesting my statement. Then he rose from his chair and began to pace around his office. 'You can't mean that, Keith, surely? I mean, if it's a question of money ...' It wasn't the money. It wasn't even the offer from Fison's. But would Stuart believe or accept that? And if he didn't accept that, what explanation would satisfy him? My mind raced as I tried to think up a plausible reason for refusing what we both knew was a splendid opportunity. But I couldn't think of even one. In the end, knowing that I had to give a reason, I opted to tell the truth. 'If you've got an hour to spare, Stuart, I think you'd better sit down and hear what I have to say.' Fully anticipating that I would tell him I was resigning to take up a better job, Stuart sat down to hear me out. An hour later, having sat through my entire story without uttering a single word or trying to interrupt once, (just doing good imitation of a goldfish) he was at a complete loss for words. Then, shaking his head in amazement, the only words he could find were: 'Well, in my long career I thought I'd come across every conceivable personnel problem in the book, but I have to say this one's a new one on me.' Then, 'My first reaction is to tell you that I don't want to lose you. However, I think I need some time to let this sink in. Perhaps it would be a good idea if we discussed this over dinner somewhere privately tomorrow night.' The next night we went to a small restaurant in Rochdale where Stuart informed me that, having given the matter much thought, he felt fairly certain that the staff, our suppliers and the board had enough respect for my abilities to except my situation and offer me their wholehearted support. 'After all,' he concluded, 'it's only your body that's changing, not your brain or abilities!' On hearing this news, I rapidly discarded my previous plans and gratefully and speedily accepted his offer to stay on in my present position as marketing director. I took the easy option but the wrong one that was to have disastrous consequences. With my future now seemingly secure, I embarked on the next step of learning how to be a woman. I was introduced to Sandra, a young beautician who would teach me how to put on make-up, to walk, stand and deport myself as a convincing woman, in preparation for my new life. Over the next year Sandra proved to be a remarkable friend, always cheerful, supportive and endlessly patient as she demonstrated over and over again the correct way to apply cosmetics or explain why a certain outfit would do nothing for me at all. I couldn't conceive how I might look as a woman, but I was determined that, no matter how much work and practice it took, I wasn't going to look like a man in drag - particularly as Dr Ryland had told me that the next time I visited his surgery I was to come dressed in women's clothes. Every detail of that day, from the moment I walked out of my front door to the moment I returned, is etched on my memory in vivid detail. My appointment was at five in the afternoon and I allowed myself four hours to get ready. I left work at lunchtime and rushed home to prepare myself. I was sweating so much through fear and nervousness that I was terrified my make-up would run. As I drove into Todmorden, I was shaking from head to foot. The reception area was laid out with chairs all facing the front, which meant that only the people sitting next to me would be able to get a good look. The problem was, we were called four at a time to go along a corridor and sit on the four chairs that were lined up against the wall outside the doctors surgery door. By the time my name was called I was panicking so much that I was sopping wet with sweat, and as I clattered along in my unfamiliar heeled shoes I was convinced that everyone in the reception area was laughing behind my back. When I finally got into Dr Ryland's office I could only collapse weakly into a chair. 'How do you feel?' he asked sympathetically. 'Exhausted...a bleeding nervous wreck! It's taken so much out of me I feel terrible,' was all I could say. Dr Ryland smiled. 'Actually, you look quite good.' The moment I got home I poured myself a large vodka and tonic to calm my shattered nerves. If a brief visit to my own doctor could have this effect on me, how on earth would I cope with having to travel all the way to London as a woman to see Dr Reid? Thinking about that daunting prospect reminded me that it was now imperative for me to decide on my new feminine name. I'd been advised to choose a three-syllable female names like Margaret, Isabel and Antoinette and then coming up with another girls' Christian name to tack on the end. As I'd been warned about the danger of having three initials that spelled something embarrassing when put together, I'd sat for hours toying with various name combinations to ensure that I didn't end up with a name like Tina Isabel Turner which might inadvertently cause a problem. I didn't' have a clue what I wanted to be called; I just knew that I wanted to incorporate something that reminded me of the children. So I put Stephen and Andrew together and came up with Stephanie Anne but when it came to a suitable surname I was stumped. It was only when I received a call from the hospital asking which name my appointment should be made in that the solution presented itself to me. As I cast my eyes frantically around my flat, looking for inspiration, my gaze fell upon my chequebook on the table. It bore the legend 'Lloyds Bank'. That's it, I thought - I'll be Stephanie Anne Lloyd! The next step was speech therapy, for which I had to travel to Bury General Hospital because it was one of the few hospitals in the north of England to have a special computer program that was able to detect whether a voice was male or female. I used to sit in front of a computer screen with a microphone and follow a pattern, which would be displayed on the screen. First a woman's voice would make a statement, and then I would have to try and copy it so that the computer could match up the patterns and analyse whether it was a woman or man speaking. For months it kept saying 'Male', but then miraculously one day the girl at the control panel in the other room came rushing out excitedly yelling, 'It's a girl! It's a girl!' I was so thrilled that I hugged her and we danced around the room yelling, 'It's a girl! It's a girl!' like a couple of demented new fathers whose wives have just given birth! But getting my voice to sound like a woman's to a computer was the least of my worries in this connection, for then I had to start learning about inflection, how to start a sentence and how to end it because - women's voices go up at the end of a sentence, whereas men's go down. Learning to be a woman was difficult and very confusing. For example, men are used to sit with their legs apart. When men are introduced to each other, they're trained to shake hands firmly and look each other straight in the eye. If women do that they could be perceived as issuing an invitation! Then there were all those zips and hooks and buttons which seemed to do up in a different way. I even had to learn how to gesticulate in a feminine manner and to play with ear-rings and necklaces and twiddle my hair! There was one unexpected benefit to all this tuition, though, because I actually found my new skills coming in very useful in the board room or at a particularly tense meeting. Previously I'd always been fairly commanding in meetings - my problem was I was a bit of a table thumper when I got annoyed. Now, however, I discovered the art of just waiting, saying nothing and looking round the table in order to bring a room under control. I soon discovered it was just as effective as banging your fist. When Stuart, my chairman, had insisted I stay on, he had said that he would break the news about me gradually. First he would tell the board. Then he'd let management and executives in on the secret, and finally, he'd make an announcement to the staff before I left to undergo the major surgery involved. In this way everyone would have an opportunity to get used to the idea before it became fait accompli. Once again it was decided to explain this highly complicated situation by simply repeating the story I had told the children, about an incurable condition necessitating hormone treatment which would transform me into a woman. When everyone in the company had been informed they were all very supportive. If people gossiped and speculate behind my back, it was never made known to me. The only person who didn't seem particularly happy was the Production Director, Nick Bellamy, with whom I'd never got on, but he of all people should have been over the moon because he got the MD's job in my place. At that point, everything in my life seemed well. The date of my operation was drawing nearer, I'd been assured that my job was secure, and I was finally beginning to master many of the things I needed to learn to be an effective and credible woman. The one sad aspect was that I didn't get to see my children as often as I would have liked, but Marylin and I wrote to each other regularly and frequently spoke on the phone. Apart from that, the only cloud on my personal horizon was the prospect of having to tell my parents what I was about to do. Following my divorce, I'd been down to stay with them for odd weekends and our relationship had been fairly good, but in my heart I knew that the moment I told them the truth all hell would break loose. I kept putting the moment off. First I convinced my mind and decided phoning would be better. This went on for weeks as I deterred about how best to break the news. Finally, I knew there was no alternative: I had to visit them and tell them the truth face to face. I left work on the Friday evening and drove straight down to Harpenden. As usual they were pleased to see me. That night I didn't say a word - somehow I couldn't bring myself to ruin the whole weekend. But by Saturday evening I was a nervous wreck. I said I wanted to talk to them, and we all went into the lounge. We sat for several moments in uncomfortable silence as they no doubt wondered what to expect, while I was playing for time and wondering how - and where - to begin. Eventually I took a deep breath and simply said: 'There's no easy way to tell you what I'm going to tell you. And there's no way I can prepare you for the shock of what I'm going to say.' And then I told them everything. I don't think they believed what they were hearing. They were in such a state of shock they could only sit there staring blankly at me. Dad's first words, when they eventually came, were; 'What are our friends and neighbours going to say?' If it wasn't so sad I might have been tempted to laugh; it was precisely the kind of inane remark people make when they're too upset to think what they're saying - though I'm convinced Dad hadn't meant it the way it must have sounded. Then, after several moments of strained silence, he said: ' If you do this, I'll disinherit you.' I have never benefited from anyone's death and would never want to My eyes travelled back and forth between the faces of my parents. I couldn't think of anything to say. It was obvious from the look on Mum's face that she was devastated. In my heart I knew I had always been special to her, as sons usually are to their mothers in a way they're not to their fathers, and I'm sure the shock was far worse than it would have been were it my sister telling them she wished to become a man. I looked once more at my father. I knew there was no possible way I could make him understand. Having been brought up in their faith, I was all too well aware of the Jehovah's Witness belief that the Bible teaches that men are the superior sex. Dad simply couldn't comprehend why a member of that sex should want to give up his superiority, and not only give it up, but actually undergo surgery in order to become a member of what he had been trained to believe was an inferior sex. There was nothing left to say and nothing that I could do, so I went to bed and lay there in the dark, hating the way I was hurting them, but knowing that things had gone too far for me to turn back now. I didn't sleep, partly because my numb brain wouldn't allow me to and partly because I could hear my mum crying all night long. In the morning we all looked dreadful. Cutting my visit short by several hours, I told them I was leaving right away. Once again we went through another traumatic scene that seemed to mirror grotesquely the one we'd played years before when I told them I was marrying Marylin. They begged and pleaded with me to change my mind. Mum clung to me at the door, sobbing, while Dad stood angry and mute in the background. I had no doubt that Dad would never forgive me and that his righteous anger and indignation would see him through the weeks and months that lay ahead. But Mum? Without doubt it must have been the worst thing she's ever had to endure. I drove away with the tears pouring down my cheeks. It wasn't a case of wishing I could change my mind - it was too late for that now. I'd tried everything to avoid this decision, and nothing had worked. If my parents thought, as they'd indicated before I left, that 'I could always go and see another doctor and it would be all right again', they were grasping at straws. I suppose what made it even worse was that there had never been any sign of my being effeminate. With my crazy past they had every reason to believe that I was nothing less than a red blooded male who had a long succession of 'girlfriends'. Despite being deeply saddened and distressed by this latest breach between me and my parents, as my body took on more and more of a woman's shape I began to be filled with a sense of wonder and awe. For more than thirty years it had looked just like every other man's, and now, suddenly, it was totally different. Sometimes, however, my feelings were strangely ambivalent. I found it difficult to look at myself in the mirror unclothed, though I didn't mind if I was half-dressed. I could cope with the top half looking like a woman if I couldn't see that the bottom half still looked like a man, but it was too bizarre to see the two halves of me together. I was an in-betweeny, neither one thing nor the other, and though on the one hand it was frustrating and at times even made me feel freakish, there were also many occasions when my situation gave me cause for reflection. One of them was during a regular three-monthly trip to London during which I had to dress and behave as a woman. By now I was becoming fairly confident whit my new 'image' and thought I was a rather convincing 'lady'. It was a hot, sticky summer's day and I was perspiring (I no longer 'sweated' like a man) as I caught a taxi from the station to the hotel. On arrival, the cabbie unceremoniously dumped my luggage on the pavement, leaving me to struggle into the hotel with it myself. Grumbling to myself, I staggered into the reception and rang the bell for attention, barely taking notice of a guy standing in the reception area staring at me. A few moments later the man approached with a drink in each hand and drawled in an unmistakable Canadian accent: 'Hi, honey, you look like you could really use this.' 'Well,' I said, 'that's the most novel introduction I've heard yet!' If the man had offered to buy me a drink I would have refused. Instead he'd pre-empted a potential refusal by buying it anyway and offering it to me at the very moment I was most in need. I had to admire that for as I have found since , there are very few real gallant gentlemen left in this world. That evening we enjoyed a very pleasant meal together, which he insisted on paying for. Thankfully, my companion proved to be a stimulating conversationalist and not in the least pushy, although to be fair if he had been he would have been on a hiding to nothing. As it was, I retired to my room alone and spent the night reflecting not only on how nice it was to be completely accepted as a female, but also on the novelty of having a man buy dinner for me! What with work, my thrice-weekly date with Betty's dreaded needle and my shopping jaunts and 'lessons in being a lady' from Sandra, life was fairly busy and therefore time passed quickly. But as my big day grew closer and closer I felt an increasing sense of excitement and trepidation. After Marylin had moved south, she kindly allowed me to take the children on holiday each summer. Determined to make the most of our stay together, we all had a wonderful time. Those days remain in a corner of my memory as the brightest spots in those two and a half years before my 'change'. The previous year we'd had a canal holiday, which was great fun, and though I'm sure Stephen, Andrew and Becky couldn't help but be aware of the physical transformation that was taking place in me, to their credit they never once asked an awkward or embarrassing question. In fact, the only time the subject was raised was when Stephen watched me hauling our cases out of the car boot and shyly said: 'Let me take those, Dad. Remember, you're going to be a woman soon.' 'Oh, my God!' I thought, gulping in surprise. 'I wonder if he's really thought about what he's saying?' Was it nothing more than a purely spontaneous remark? Or could it be that Stephen was already coming to terms with what was about to happen to me? This year, my very last as their father, we were going to have another holiday together just a few weeks before my operation. We decided not to do the canal trip again, but spent the time going to the theatre, shows and meals. All too soon it was time for them to return home. I drove them to Manchester Piccadilly Station on the Sunday morning to catch their train, desperately trying to conceal the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat. I loaded them up with food, drink, chocolates and reading material, kissed them all goodbye and then walked down the platform, not daring to look back over my shoulder for fear I'd break down. As always it was heart-wrenching to see them go. Had I but known it was going to be the very last time I would ever see them for so many years I don't think I could ever have been able to let them out of my sight. Just before Christmas I wrote a memo to the staff informing them that I would be leaving the company on 23 December 1983, to be replaced as a marketing director on 5 January 1984 by Miss Stephanie Anne Lloyd. It continued: ...and whilst you will, no doubt, notice many differences in appearance, our management styles are identical. Miss Lloyd will face a difficult time next year and I know she will appreciate all the help you can give her. I sincerely hope that this unavoidable change will not cause any difficulties, and whilst both you and she maybe somewhat apprehensive on the 5th, I hope that it will not take long to establish a relaxed and comfortable working relationship. Finally, may I thank you personally for the many messages of support I have received. Whilst it was never my intention to stay when this time arrived, I am now deeply grateful to Stuart Wallis for his persuasion and support, and pleased that his prediction of people's reactions has proved to be so accurate. Having taken care of everything I could possibly take care of, I left my office for the last time as Keith Michael Hull. The moment I got home, I stripped off my business suit for ever. After packing a case with my female clothes I took a bath, then poured myself a drink. At long, long last my years of torment and waiting were finally over.

Chapter 7 Born Again On 12 September 1983 I was born again-a fully grown woman. I didn't want to hear the gory details about my rebirth, but I couldn't avoid knowing what was involved though fortunately I was asleep throughout and heavily sedated for the next few days. The procedure which was literally to transform my life would take around nine hours. During that time the surgeon, Mr Philip, would use every ounce of his skill delicately to eradicate every visible trace of my former male self. He would remove the testicles from the scrotal sac and the tissue and muscle from within the penis, leaving only a shortened urethra and the outer penile skin intact. Then he would create a false vagina approximately ten to eleven inches in length, which he would line with the penile skin before packing it with surgical dressings to minimize the chances of my new vagina caving in. Utilizing the penile skin in this way would mean that, as the nerve-endings were still present, I would be capable of enjoying normal sexual intercourse as a woman. And while I would not possess a clitoris as natural women do, it was still possible, I was told, for me to have an orgasm from penetrative sex. It's a common fallacy that male-to-female transsexuals are homosexual by nature, as that's rarely if ever the case. Sexual intercourse was the last thing on my mind, because I'd never been the slightest bit interested in men and certainly didn't envisage that situation changing now. All I wanted was to look like a woman and be a woman with my brain sex now matching my biological body thus it was immaterial to me whether that included being able to function like a woman in a sexual respect. Having said that, I couldn't help but find it ironic that as the person who had once worked so hard to perfect the art of clitoral stimulation through oral sex on females, should now be incapable of achieving any satisfaction myself this way. If I have inadvertently oversimplified the enormous skill that such surgery requires, giving the impression that anyone with a Black and Decker drill and sewing kit could accomplish this miracle, then I apologise to the surgical and nursing team. It was indeed an extremely long, dangerous and highly complicated operation. Perhaps it's testament to Mr Philip's exceptional skill that, though I've had examinations since then, not one doctor has ever been able to detect the seam, and BUPA still try and undertake a smear test at my annual medicals. "Stephanie! Stephanie". I was vaguely aware of a gentle voice tugging at my consciousness. I tried to open my eye's but my eyelids were weighed down. I felt as if I was floating in a long, dark, warm tunnel and really didn't want to wake up. Then, having satisfied themselves that I was all right, the nursing staff allowed me to drift back into a heavily sedated sleep for the next two or three days. My first conscious recollection was waking up to find Mr Philip sitting on the edge of my bed, gently stroking my hand. "Hello, Stephanie." Such simple words, but oh, the relief I felt at hearing them! I managed to smile back at the man who had spoken them, for I knew from his expression that my transformation into a woman had been a complete success. I was exultant. I'd come through and now I was truly a woman. There was nothing left to fear. As tears of pure joy streamed down my face I could only look into my 'creator's' eyes and pray that he understood my gratitude. This man had given me the most precious gift on earth; he'd given me back my life. There were no adequate words to convey what that meant to me. "I don't need to tell you again that your new life will be far from easy, Stephanie. When you leave here you will encounter prejudice and rejection to a degree that you have never known or imagined. Yet, no matter how difficult the road ahead may prove to be, always remember that you are a girl in a million!" Those words have stayed for ever in my head. For, though Mr Philip was right and I have encountered just about every reaction it is possible to predict-and even some that aren't, when people have treated me like a pervert or a freak - his word's have given me strength, the pride and dignity to hold my head up high. The mood of joy stayed with me for the next few days, even as I lay wired to an ECG monitor with an assortment of catheters, bags and tubes snaking in and out of my body. A few days later the sedatives were withdrawn and I was encouraged to get out of bed and start learning how to use this wonderful, unfamiliar new body I now occupied. As I hobbled the few yards across my room to my en suite bathroom in a determined effort to test out my new mechanics, I couldn't help laughing at the sight of myself in the mirror. For someone who had taken two years of deportment lessons I made a very credible impression of John Wayne walking! As I attempted to relieve myself I was in stitches, both figuratively and literally, at my complete inability to control the direction of the flow. As a man, of course, I'd been used to standing up to pee, but clearly as a woman that just wouldn't do at all! The entire situation struck me as so comical that, despite the stitches and pain, I was doubled up with laughter. On the following Saturday-the sixth day of my new life-Mr Philip came in specially to remove the vaginal pack. If I'd thought electrolysis the most painful thing on earth, it was a breeze compared to the sensation of having my entire interior dragged outside. How do women cope with childbirth?? Obviously, too, I was tense and nervous as he went to work, wondering what else might be removed or dislodged by this excruciating and highly embarrassing excavation work. To my delight, Mr Philip's handiwork survived the experience. When the all new transformed Stephanie was ten days old I was allowed to go home. Obviously I wasn't in a fit condition to drive myself from London to Lancashire, so I had to rely on cabs and planes to deliver me safely home. The journey was horrendous, as every lump and bump in the road made itself painfully obvious to my tender, swollen genitals. But the pain and discomfort were tempered by the sweet glow of comfort, contentment and peace I had felt since the first conscious moment of my rebirth. If I had likened meeting Marylin to coming out of a monochromatic world, seeing the same world through Stephanie's eyes was like looking at life in glorious, dazzling Technicolor. Had everything always been this bright? Or did it merely seem so because I was so grateful to be alive? If I could have skipped to reflect my happiness I would have. Back home I settled into my new life, taking it easy while I recuperated. Every day for the first month I had to use plastic dilators in order to ensure the future elasticity of my vagina, and though it was undignified and awkward I could never fail to see the funny side as well. Sandra visited me once or twice and remarked at my new-found serenity and joy. Trevor called too, inviting me to stay with him at Christmas-an invitation I was only too grateful to accept. I telephoned my parents to make sure they were all right, but since I had no wish to upset them further by speaking of things they had no desire to hear of, my conversation was stilted. Then, to my complete astonishment, my mother asked me if I would like to spend Christmas with them. I could hardly believe my ears, particularly as it was the very last thing I had expected them to do. Now I was really in a dilemma; on the one hand I had already accepted Trevor's offer and had been really looking forward to seeing him again. At the same time I knew I couldn't possibly turn down this opportunity for a reconciliation with my parents. So, despite the fact that my parents faith would inevitably mean a fairly cheerless, possibly even tense non-celebratory Christmas, the very fact that they had extended the invitation filled me with so much gratitude and hope that I couldn't possibly refuse. Unfortunately, my optimism was short-lived. For after a long, tiring journey I was greeted by a mother who, while she tried valiantly to put me at my ease, clearly felt uncomfortable, and a father who still doggedly persisted in calling me Keith! My heart sank as I realised that this attempt at reconciliation was at my mother's insistence, and though it stemmed from the purest of motives, I wished she hadn't bothered. Dad's barely disguised hostility towards me confirmed what I'd always suspected: he was never going to accept me as Stephanie, and this Christmas was going to be the worst kind of trial by ordeal. My favourite and much loved Auntie Elsie came over for a meal and tried hard to act normally in order to force my father's hand, but each day was worse than the one before. We were obviously not communicating and I don't know which was worse - my father's implacable face or my mothers haunted, imploring eyes. We returned Auntie Elsie's visit, but it was all a horrid pretence. Unable to bear it any longer, I made my excuses and left. I couldn't watch my own and my mother's hopes disintegrate any further. Once again I drove through a curtain of tears, the roads were dreary and uncharacteristically empty as I made my way north, but I hardly noticed; all I was aware of was the bitter ache in my heart and the lump in my throat. On a whim, as I passed through Bolton I decided to stop off at an animal sanctuary and find some lonely little pup in desperate need of love. Despite the fact that I'd half expected it, I was feeling so abandoned, mistreated and desolate myself that some how the only way I could conceive of easing my anguish was through taking care of someone more unfortunate than myself. I surveyed the sixteen dogs caged in individual concrete pens, pathetically awaiting either salvation or death, my heart sank. I wished I could take them all. Tails wagged in an hysterical bid for affection as dog after dog sprung to the front of its cage, yelping and barking to get my attention. But all I could see was one sad, lonely bitch who looked to be an odd cross between an Alsatian and whippet, shivering and shaking at the back of her cage as if she knew she didn't stand a chance. As I read the card on her pen revealing that she would be put to sleep the following day, something tugged at my heart. Instinctively I knew this dog was for me. Here was someone who knew all about suffering, pain and rejection, and therefore had a great deal in common with me. I discovered later that she had been starved and then cruelly whipped with a chain before being abandoned. I carried Sheba to my car where she immediately cowered in terror beneath the seat. On the way home I stopped off to buy food, bowls and a lead, and then felt wretched when I saw that, fearing more punishment, she immediately wet herself at the sight of the lead. It was six months before I was able to win her confidence enough to house-train her, but Sheba repaid all my patience , time and effort a hundredfold and bought me love and devotion when I needed it the most and stood faithfully by my side living until the ripe old age of seventeen.

Chapter 8 IT ALL GOES TITS UP The day finally arrived when was due to return to work. For Keith it would be a familiar journey, one he had taken for the past seven years. But Keith was no more, and for Stephanie this would be the first. In order to make my arrival less spectacular, I'd arranged to go in a little later than everyone else and for Sandra to come to my house to help me with my make-up so that I would look my best. There was twitching of Venetian blinds as I walked across the car park. It was only natural that people should be curious to see what I looked like, I supposed, but the reception staff behaved as efficiently and normally as ever. When I walked into my office I was staggered to see that it was full of flowers and telegrams from people wishing me well-including Stuart, the chairman. My return was greeted with less prurient interest and more generosity and warmth than I had anticipated, and I was grateful for the chance to be allowed to ease myself back into the job. At the beginning of February 1984 I attended an exhibition in Paris with Nick Bellamy, who had been appointed MD in my place. During one of my regular calls to my secretary I was alarmed to hear that two reporters from the Daily Mirror had been snooping around and, having been refused either access to or comment from any of the directors, they'd stooped to hanging around in the local pubs to see what they could learn from our shop floor workers. I wondered how they might have got hold of the story and soon it became known, one of my very own staff had betrayed me to the press-and for the price of just £100. I caught the first available flight back to Manchester and drove straight from the airport to our family home, Wynthorpe, which I had moved back into when Marylin had left. I parked in the drive close to the front door and was just unlocking the boot when I suddenly became aware of a scuffling sound. I looked up to see several people bursting through the bushes into the garden, and was momentarily blinded by the flash bulbs of what seemed to be dozens of camera's. Bewildered by the questions that were being thrown at me, I didn't know what to do. I was trapped outside my home and there was nowhere to run. I had no option other than to stand my ground and say something that would make them go away. "Look, guys, under the terms of my contract of employment I'm not allowed to give press interviews. However, if you're patient I'll try to ensure that the company issue an official statement outlining all the details of my situation." "Lets have a picture then!" one of the mob yelled. It was just like being at the mercy of a pack of baying hounds. Why did they want me to pose for pictures? They'd already taken enough to fill an album! Eventually it became clear that they were determined not to go away empty-handed so, against my better judgement, I agreed to pose for two formal pictures in return for their promise that they would omit all details of my former wife and my children. The moment I was able to escape into the safety of my home, I locked the door and phoned Stuart. "You did the right thing, Stephanie," he said "I think I'm going to have to discuss this with the board before any of us says anything more." Stuart's calm handling of the situation did much to relieve my anxiety. If the paper knew they would be issued with an official statement, they'd hardly print a story on what they'd got so far. At least that's what I thought. Unfortunately, unbeknown to me, one member of staff had given the Daily Mirror a new angle by inadvertently mentioning that I'd been flown home, desperately ill, from the Far East three years before and had been undergoing hormone treatment ever since. The Mirror wasn't about to let go of a story on which it believed it had a world-wide exclusive, and so it simply put two and two together and came up with five. That same Sunday night, as the Mirror's presses rolled out the following day's paper, I was besieged by newspapermen all wanting to get in on the act. During the early hours of Monday morning I was even woken by reporters from the Manchester Evening News who were screaming through the letter box at me to come down and give them the story too. I hadn't seen the paper's before I left for work, but I wasn't allowed to remain in ignorance for long. On Monday, 6 February 1984 I was front page news. Under the banner headline 'MIRROR EXCLUSIVE' screamed the words: 'AMAZING SEX CHANGE BY THE BOSS'. The entire front page was taken up with 'before' and 'after' pictures of me, alongside a totally erroneous story which covered not only the front page but all of pages two & three. I couldn't believe my eyes. If it hadn't been so awful, I might have laughed. After all, all I wanted was simply to be allowed to live in peace as a woman, and now here I was a tabloid page three girl! Our head offices were picketed literally crawling with British and foreign journalists who, desperate for news and frustrated by our refusals to co-operate, had resorted to accosting every single member of the company who might be able to give them some juicy little detail to boost their circulations. Confounded by the sheer intensity of the media's interest, none of us knew quite how to cope. In retrospect I believe we all handled it very badly, but at the time we did what seemed the most sensible thing. Instead of issuing a statement to the press, the company chose to remain silent and I was advised to go away and hide for a week in the hope that things would die down. Unfortunately, the lack of information only fanned the flames. Desperate for any kind of story, true or false, the press decided to speculate. The company suggested I get right out of the country for a week or so, but I preferred to take a week's break in the Lake District-at least that way I would be able to keep in touch. The press coverage continued throughout the entire week I was away as newspaper after newspaper became more fanciful and sleazy. If it hadn't been so tacky and upsetting, I might have been amused; for if I'd truly done everything they claimed, I'd be more than a mere story-I'd be a legend. Upon my return Stuart called and asked me to meet him and Nick at the Last Drop Hotel in Bolton to 'discuss the present situation.' I had no idea what to expect, but I was beginning to feel decidedly apprehensive. The moment I looked at Stuart's face, I realised what was in store. Hestair simply couldn't handle the publicity. My fears were confirmed when Stuart informed me, albeit regretfully, that my situation had now become to hot for them to handle. Moreover, they were afraid of the possible reaction from the company's institutional shareholders. To save the embarrassment of being fired I resigned and my resignation was promptly accepted. Stuart simply said, 'I'm sorry Stephanie' and I believe he really was. 'But we'd like to invite you to remain as an external consultant if you're willing to do that.' 'I'm sorry too, Stuart,' I replied. 'But on reflection, I feel it would be better for us all if the break is completely clean.' Once again, as so often before in my life, I drove back home in tears. I must have cried so often in that car it's a wonder the interior wasn't rusty from damp. If only I'd followed my earlier instinct and left twelve months before. At least then I would have been able to set up my own company and be in charge of my own destiny. That night I telephoned Marylin to break the awful news. She was furious understandably, because the family were still totally dependent on me financially. Without a job, or even and prospects of a job, how would I be able to support them all? I understood that it was more than she could take, but I was also saddened and upset. It was a disaster for her and a catastrophe for me. What was I supposed to do now? The phone call marked the beginning of the end of my comfortable relationship with Marylin, and from that moment things quickly began to go sour. In an attempt to protect Marylin's and the children's financial security, I suggested that it might be wise if I signed all our joint assets over to her. A court hearing, at which the legal formalities would be taken care of, was duly set for several weeks hence. Though my salary had been a good one, the cost of running two households, together with the additional expenses of treatment and a whole new wardrobe meant that I'd never been able to save. When I counted up all my assets I had seventy eight pence, the clothes I stood up in and one loyal, faithful, dependent rescue dog. I had lost my job, my salary, my car, my family and everyone I thought were my friends. For the first time in my entire life I stood completely alone but for Sheba my ever faithful rescue dog and yet, though some might find this difficult to believe, apart from my immediate practical problems the most pressing problem as far as I was concerned was how I was going to be able to afford food for Sheba. On a recommendation I contacted a solicitor, Richard Holman, who I hoped would represent me at the court hearing. It was three days before he could see me. During those three days Sheba and I existed solely on milk and bread that I was able to get delivered on credit from the local milkman. If I took Sheba for a walk, I'd find my footsteps being dogged by hordes of young children who would follow me, chanting names. It brought home to me the fact that I was considered a freak not only by those who knew me but also by those who didn't. The thought occurred to me that, were I suddenly able to skip back a century or so, I'd undoubtedly have been exhibited in a freak show or executed as a witch. Three days later, and now all but destitute, I visited Richard Holman at his office. 'Look, I'd better tell you right now, I have no money, no job and no immediate prospects of a job, so I don't know how I'm going to pay you,' I told him frankly. 'Tell me about yourself,' Richard instructed . By the time I'd finished he looked both interested and doubtful. 'You must have some money,' he said. 'None at all,' I assured him. He then began to question me about my car, my home, my bank accounts and so on. By the time I'd answered all his questions he was sitting back in his chair with a totally incredulous look on his face. 'You really don't have anything, do you?' Without further ado, Richard picked up the telephone, contacted Social Services and, after much frustrating bureaucracy, managed to extract an emergency payment of £25 for me. 'Don't worry about our fees,' he said, 'I'm sure you'll qualify for Legal Aid.' I was flabbergasted at the sincerity of his interest and concern. Richard's firm, Foyster's, weren't some tin pot little solicitors but a large practice that didn't normally deal with Legal Aid cases. But, as I soon discovered, Richard's concern stemmed from a genuine belief in Justice and despite my desperate straits, he treated me with exactly the same respect as he did all his clients. Now, with the princely sum of £25 in my pocket, I was as least able to buy food for Sheba and myself. A few weeks later Richard accompanied me to the court hearing at Bolton. Marylin had made the trip from Devon to be there, but she refused either to look at me or to speak to me, leaving her barrister to address me on her behalf before the hearing commenced. 'You're still prepared to sign all your assets to your ex-wife?' he said. 'Yes,' I replied 'Though I would like to keep one or two things, of course.' 'Oh. Like what?' 'Well, I am going to need a bed-and then there are one or two personal things that belonged to my parents and aunt". The barrister looked put out. Signalling me to wait where I was, he rejoined Marylin for a whispered discussion. Then he returned to us. 'No, I'm sorry. She doesn't want you to have anything I didn't believe him! We had such a large house and there were at least four or five single beds and a couple of doubles. In hindsight, however, it was understandable in hindsight given the mental torture I had subjected her too for her to lash out. Although we haggled and bartered, the actual hearing itself was very brief. I had insisted on retaining possession of an antique sideboard that had belonged to my aunt, simply because I knew my aunt would be furious if I allowed Marylin to take it. But Marylin's attitude had me totally confused. I was handing just about everything I owned to her, including our house, which was worth about £75,000 and only carried a small mortgage and the majority of our belongings. Why was she doing this to me? Particularly when she knew that the moment I signed those papers I would be destitute. But in my heart I knew the answer to my questions. Marylin had finally had to confront Stephanie in the flesh- something she simply could not cope with, the Keith she loved was gone forever. All the friendliness of the past few years, the phone calls and the chats, she'd only been able to handle because she had convinced herself I was still Keith. Now she had the evidence of her own eyes that Keith no longer existed and I believe that was the final straw. I have nothing but admiration for her, for had the position been reversed, I am not sure that I would have met her high standards. Naturally I assumed that I would be able to stay living in the house until a buyer was found, but even that was denied me, for within a week or so I was served with an eviction order. The bank froze my (empty) account, I was unable to use my credit cards because I was without the financial means to pay my debts. Every which way I turned led to a dead end. What on earth was I supposed to do? I had felt badly enough about losing my job, my entire career, but the financial implications hadn't really dawned on me. Somehow, I had thought I might be able to buy a little hotel or something; but now that the reality of my situation was staring me in the face I was beginning to realize how naïve and over-optimistic I had been. I was totally alone (except for Sheba), destitute and unemployable. Contrary to what the press had reported in the past few weeks, ,' I hadn't received a single penny from Hestair. The whole thing seemed like some crazy farce to me. This couldn't possibly be happening to me! But it was. Still, I was convinced I'd soon be able to find myself another job. I'd been headhunted many times during my years at Hestair; there were lots of companies who would be eager, and even grateful, to acquire a person with my skills, experience and knowledge. It never occurred to me that, just like a stack of dominoes, once one part of your world starts to tumble down the rest of it is not very far behind. and it only stops when you reach rock bottom which is where I had now reached. More immediately, however, there were other problems to attend to. With eviction hanging over my head, I had to find somewhere to live. Once again, Richard came to my rescue by managing to get a two-week extension on the eviction order. Meanwhile, the £25 emergency payment I'd received had run out and though I had contacted dozens of employment agencies and sent my c.v. to whoever I thought might be interested, I hadn't received so much as an acknowledgement, let alone the prospect of an interview. With only Sheba for company I walked all the way into town and signed on at the dole office. That, as anyone who's ever been on the dole will undoubtedly confirm, is such a horrendously, humiliating experience that I could hardly bring myself to go back the following week. My face had become so well known that wherever I went I was bound to attract unwelcome attention. To be as notorious as I had become was bad enough, but to have people staring and pointing at me in the dole queue, and knowing that they probably believed all the stories about the huge sums of money the media reported I'd received as a payoff was so humiliating. The strain and pressure were finally beginning to take their toll, so when I visited my doctor for a routine check-up and he suggested an alternative to being on the dole, I was only too grateful to accept. 'After all,' he explained 'if the publicity and all your other problems are affecting you this much, you have every right to be considered temporarily unfit for work. And although that means you won't qualify for dole money, you will be able to claim sick relief. Despite the fact that this meant I'd actually be £1 a week worse off, I was so relieved not to have to face the dole queue again that it was worth it to me. Then at last my job applications began to bring in a number of requests for interviews-but, despite my excellent track record, not for the right reason. It soon became apparent that I was only being invited because the interviewers were intrigued. They knew who I was, of course. With all the publicity, how could they not? No one, however, seemed to be remotely inclined to employ me. I spent several days thinking over my plans, finally reaching the conclusion that the only business I could do well in would be one in which who & what I was, would be an asset not a liability. Meanwhile I needed to buy myself a cheap an old car having lost my company car but with no money or assets it seemed impossible and I was still having facial electrolysis (there are now good alternatives to this costly & painful treatment), I needed to get to & from Betty, who had treated me for 3 years, and had kindly agreed to continue to do so without payment. Even an old banger would do, but I had nothing to sell. My only possession was Aunt Elsie's antique sideboard and as I couldn't bear to part with it permanently I wondered whether there might be some way to secure a loan against it. I picked up the Yellow Pages and rang the first number I came across to seek advice on how to go about organizing a valuation. 'We can't help you here,' the friendly young man at the end of the telephone said, 'but there's a man I know who is very knowledgeable and could advise you on its worth. I can arrange for him to come and see you tomorrow if you like.' I said that would be fine. The next evening Robert arrived at my door. He was not very tall, rather thin and very well-preserved for a man whom I judged to be somewhere in his sixties. I invited him in, made a pot of tea and then asked him to evaluate the sideboard. But to my consternation, he seemed far more interested in evaluating me! Bob, as he asked me to call him, was obviously a wealthy man, though very much the public school type who did not believe in flaunting either his wealth or status. He was well-bred, knowledgeable, intelligent and interesting, and I couldn't help liking him. To be honest, though, it never occurred to me that he could be interested in me. I had been a woman for such a short time that I still wasn't aware of the things women intuitively know about men. In retrospect I can now see that for Bob it seemed the ideal situation. Here I was, a divorced woman living on her own and therefore eminently available. I was more intrigued by the fact that he gave no indication of knowing who and what I was, and that was a novelty to me. After giving me his estimation of the sideboard's current value, Bob seemed strangely disinclined to leave. The following day I received an enormous bouquet of flowers from him. The next day, another bouquet arrived, and the next and the next, until there was only the dogs bowl left without a floral arrangement. By that time I was beginning to panic. Should I telephone him and thank him, or should I wait for the inevitable call? On the one hand, Bob had boosted my ego enormously at a time when nobody else wanted to have anything to do with me. On the other, what would happen when he found out about me? Finally he telephoned and despite having expected it, I found I was totally unprepared when he invited me to have dinner with him. I declined. It was impossible-I couldn't possibly get involved with this man, as nice as he was. But I reckoned without Bob's persistence. He refused to take no for an answer, though he eventually settled for the promise of a drink. Obviously, he wasn't going to let me off his hook that lightly. So, knowing that I was in a tricky situation, I resolved to tell him the truth. I arranged with Bob to collect me at home that evening, suggesting that we drive out to a pub called the Thomas Dutton at Edgerton, just the few miles across the moors that divide Darwen from Bolton. I spent the rest of the day worrying about what I should wear, selecting and discarding a variety of different outfits. Why not just turn up in jeans and sweater? I asked myself. You're only going to tell the man the truth-why bother to get dressed up? But six-thirty found me bathed, made up, dressed to kill and nervously alternating between checking my lipstick and my watch. When we arrived at the pub I sat in the darkest corner I could find, hoping and praying that nobody would recognize me or stare. I hadn't been out in ages, and soon the combination of that novelty, Bob's easy conversation and the odd drink or two made me relax. Then he made his move. 'I'd very much like you to have dinner with me one evening, Stephanie,' Bob said. Uh oh! I thought. Here it is. How are you going to get out of this now? There's only one thing to do. You've been avoiding it long enough, but you're really going to have to tell him the truth now. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. 'Em, I think I'll just pop to the ladies,' I said, taking the coward's way out. Once in the loo, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. What's the matter with you? I said to myself. You've stood up in front of hundreds and delivered word-perfect speeches. You've appeared on TV, you're confident and self-assured. Just get on out there and tell him. With stiffened shoulders, I marched resolutely out into the bar, walked across to the table and said to Bob: 'Right. I've got something to tell you. But.....first I'm going to put on my coat.' Bob must have thought I was mad, but maybe he had first hand experience of eccentrics, because he merely stood up and helped me into my coat with no more than a quizzical smile. 'Right. Now. You're not to say anything at all. Just sit there and listen. And when I leave, you mustn't follow me.' Bob's mouth opened and closed like a goldfish as I launched myself into my tale. Thirty seconds later, having encapsulated my entire life story into that short period of time, I rushed out into the night. There was only one vital flaw in my plan, without a car, how the hell was I going to get home? What a bloody fool you are, Stephanie! I berated myself as I began to tramp the long, weary road that snaked across the moors back to my home. Two cars passed me as I walked and both stopped to offer me a lift, but as each contained a solitary man I ignored the offers and walked on. I had covered almost half the distance when Bob's car pulled up behind me with a screech and he jumped out, wrenched open the passenger door and commanded me forcefully to get in. I did. We drove back to my place in complete silence. When we arrived I got out, unlocked the front door and started to walk away, certain that I would never see this man again. Suddenly, Bob's arm reached out to grasp my shoulder and turn me round to face him. With a wry smile, he gently touched my tear-stained face and said: 'I think you're one hell of a courageous lady.' Then with a quick kiss he left. Sheba lay waiting for me in the hall. Dropping my bag on to the floor, I lay down beside her with my arms around her neck and wept into her fur. At three in the morning, I awoke to find myself still there with Sheba curled up in my arms. I had an aching back and was stiff all over, but I felt better than I had done for weeks. When I eventually got up, red-eyed and weary but otherwise in a far better mood, I was pottering around cleaning up the house before taking Sheba for her morning walk when the doorbell rang. On the doorstep stood another gigantic bouquet with a card attached which read: 'Just because you are who you are. Love Bob.' Poor Sheba's walk had to wait until I'd repaired the ravages of another bout of tears. After that Bob became a regular and very welcome visitor. We went out for meals, played backgammon together and took long walks with Sheba. Bob displayed an amazing amount of kindness towards me and as he never attempted anything other than a quick goodbye kiss it wasn't long before I began to relax in his company and simply enjoy his friendship. I soon learned that he was sixty-three, successful and very seriously wealthy and, predictably, also very much an unhappily married man.(It was years before I learned what most women seem to be born knowing, that all married men intent on having an affair say that they are unhappily married.) but I was a 33 year old female virgin back then. Soon enough the postponed eviction order was enforced. Once again I contacted Richard with the Plea: 'What am I going to do now?' What happened next was almost unbelievable. After he contacted Social Services offered to put me into a hostel for the homeless and to have Sheba put down. I was outraged. 'How can you suggest a thing,' I groaned. 'This dog is the only friend I have in the world!' I would have rather slept rough with Sheba than in comfort without her. Like most people, I didn't have a clue as to what my basic rights were. Fortunately, Richard did. He contacted the local council and said 'I'm coming over now with this girl and her dog. They will sleep on the council office steps and I'll bring a posse of reporters to record and publicise your callous attitude.' Oh, the power of the press! It was just as if a magic wand had been waved, for in no time at all the council agreed to provide a roof over my head. I moved in immediately into a small house in West Houghton and for the next few weeks the only time I emerged was either to potter around on my own in the garden, shop for food or take Sheba for a long walk with Bob. I couldn't help growing more fond of Bob as he helped me to move into my new house at West Houghton, always appearing eager to help around the house and do odd little jobs for me. He even built a kennel for Sheba. And whilst part of me was rather nervous that he might want 'payment in kind' I was curiously drawn towards him. Without doubt, it was a weird situation to be in. I was behaving like a shy little virgin. which of course I technically was. Then, one night, Bob took me out to dinner and ordered champagne to celebrate our having known one another for a whole month. When he took me home, we relaxed with another bottle that he'd left on ice, and as the hours gently passed in the warm and heady atmosphere Bob successfully and expertly seduced me. I couldn't believe that I had lost my virginity in the most romantic, gentle love-making I had ever known. If I had been stone-cold sober, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to go through with it. As it I was relaxed, slightly drunk and my defences were definitely down. And, if I'm perfectly frank, I enjoyed this new experience of being seduced. If I had any momentary qualms, they came at the point of no return, when suddenly I feared the surgeons skilful handiwork might not stand up to the wear and tear! The amazing thing was the difference in the actual quality of orgasm. As a man, I'd only ever experienced an orgasm that was totally centred on my loins; I had no idea that for a woman it's totally different. It was like dropping pebbles into a pond and watching the waves spread right across the water in ever widening circles. Another strange difference intrigued me. Knowing what it was like to make love as a man, I was well aware that for most men all the affection and tenderness seems to come before their orgasm-or, to put it another way, for men orgasm is a full stop, whereas for women it's merely a comma, a prelude to a feeling that can become something much more. For me it was a totally incredible and beautiful experience, one that I couldn't possibly ever come to regret.

Chapter 9 Transformation is Born Following all the publicity, I had received several letters from complete strangers. One of these came form a transsexual called Caroline who lived in Chester. Caroline told me she was a qualified accountant, and offered to use her knowledge and expertise to help me with my financial affairs. By this time I was in debt up to my ears and being threatened with bankruptcy demands on all sides. The only reason it didn't happen was because it would have cost my creditors at least £700 to issue a writ, and as they knew it would be impossible to recoup even this small amount the whole exercise would have been like flogging a dead horse. It was to be several years before I was in a position to pay them all off. By now things were just about as bad as they could get. Apart from the fact that I had a roof over my head and Bob and Sheba for company, my only real consolation was the feeling that things surely couldn't get any worse. As so often it was not long before I was to be wrong. I opened my mail one morning to find this letter from the Elders of the Jehovah's Witness Sect: Dear Keith, As indicated in reports and on television, the Elders believe that you have gone astray in a moral sense and displayed conduct contrary to good Christian behaviour. As you were baptised originally into the Christian congregation as Keith Hull, a male, you are, therefore, unacceptable to God as female. You are hereby summoned to appear before a judicial committee of Elders to examine your behaviour and determine whether you have contravened the Jehovah's Law. Deuteronomy Chapter 22, Verse 5. Although I had not been active in the religion of my parents for so long, I was, of course, aware of the very real consequences of being excommunicated ('disfellowshipped as they call it), Being excommunicated wasn't the problem; what worried me far more was the effect it would have on my parents as from the moment I was banished from the faith I would, to all intents and purposes, be considered 'dead' by every Jehovah's Witness, and if that were to happen, I knew that because my parents' devotion to the faith was absolute, any faint hope I might have of effecting a reconciliation in the future would be gone forever. Reluctantly, I concluded I had no choice but to attend. I obtained statements from every doctor and specialist I had seen, some of whom were even prepared to attend personally and swear that mine was a true medical condition and therefore, had been treated in the only way known to the medical science. On that basis, the biblical verse in question (which forbids the wearing of male and female clothing by members of the opposite sex) simply was not relevant. Immediately before the hearing I was informed that I could only take one companion into the hearing with me - and that person should be neither a doctor nor a legal representative. I was stumped. Clearly, the Elders of the faith saw only one way to deal with the bad publicity that they felt I had brought to their religion: dispose of me, and the publicity would disappear too. So on the appointed day I found myself seated alone before what can only be described as a kangaroo court of four grimfaced, self-appointed male 'judges'. What happened next can best be summed up by quoting the letter I subsequently sent to the committee: "Although informed on several occasions of my current medical condition which calls for the complete avoidance of stress and emotional upset, you have shown a total lack of empathy and have, by your actions, induced such conditions, thereby adversely affecting my health. I was amazed at your statement that 'as my problems are a result of my own actions I do not deserve any help'. Surely this is akin to refusing to give medical assistance to a child when it falls from a tree on the grounds that it should not have climbed it. I just cannot imagine that Jesus Christ would take such an attitude. The charge that was formally read to me was that I 'had gone astray in a moral sense and displayed conduct contrary to good Christian behaviour', and yet you have been completely unable to provide a sound Biblical basis for such a judgement, rather, basing your argument on the fact that as I was baptised whilst legally male, I am unacceptable to God as a female. From my own knowledge, both of the Bible's teachings and Society's, I am convinced that the way my case has been handled was fundamentally wrong and, therefore, is worthy of further investigation. Your religion teaches that Elders should show love, consideration and a desire to help the sick and needy back to full health, whether spiritually or physically. Yet your attitude towards me has been one of trying to dispose of a 'problem' as quickly and as quietly as possible. I believe it is obvious that I was tried and sentenced before the hearing actually took place." The actual letter I wrote was, of course, far longer than that, and showed all the emotional anxiety and frustration that their callous attitude caused me to feel. I was more than disappointed - I was devastated. To appeal would be futile. I just had to find a way of accepting my excommunication. Far worse than that, however, would be having to come to terms with the fact that as far as all Jehovah's Witnesses including my parents, were concerned, I was now officially dead. This final blow of permanently being estranged from my mum was almost too much to bear. Part of me simply felt like going to bed and wallowing in self-pity, but from the very beginning of my unemployed period I had been aware that the biggest danger was that I might grow lazy and undisciplined, finding that the less I had to do the less I would want to do. In order to combat this I imposed a very strict regimen upon myself, making sure that I got up early, took Sheba for her morning and afternoon walks, cleaned the house religiously and shopped whenever I needed to. The only people I saw or spoke to were Betty, Sandra, Richard Holman and Bob, who would pop over for a few hours every afternoon. Although I had found a measure of inner peace and contentment, I was becoming more wary and insular, preferring to avoid all but the tried and tested few. Far better, I reasoned, not to get involved with strangers, who only seemed to want to indulge their prurient curiosity about me. However, when two gay lads, John and Martin, moved into the house next door in West Houghton and appeared not to have any idea who I was, or show any curiosity about my strange lifestyle, I soon found I could relax in their company and warm to their friendly, easy-going ways. As I subsequently discovered gay men make the best male friends any woman can have. I stepped up my efforts to find a job, applying for every single marketing and sales director position advertised. My c.v. was a problem in that as all my experience had been achieved as Keith Michael Hull. Should I write a covering letter explaining why I was now calling myself Stephanie Anne Lloyd? Or should I simply substitute Stephanie's name for Keith's and let the recipients assume that I'd held my previous positions as a woman? I opted for the latter course, on the basis that explanation would only prove necessary immediately before any interviews I might be offered. Shortly afterwards, a job agency contacted me and asked me in for an interview. Although at £17,000 the salary was far less than half of what I was either used to or worth, in my present position it seemed like a fortune. The job was as a marketing controller for the Co-op and, despite the fact that I made no secret of my background, the interviewer thought my credentials were perfect. 'As the position's been vacant for around six months,' said the interviewer, 'I imagine they'll want to see you as soon as possible. Why don't I telephone them right now to fix an appointment?' 'That's fine by me,' I replied. 'But I'd prefer you to make my identity and ircumstances known to them before am interview.' He picked up the phone. From the way the conversation went, it soon became obvious that the Co-op were more than interested in me. That is until the interviewer added: 'There's just one thing. The applicant is with me now and she's insisted that before any interviews are arranged I should inform you that she has recently been the subject of a great deal of publicity. Her name is Stephanie Anne Lloyd.' I watched the expression on the interviewer's face turn from a smile to a frown. My heart sank. 'I see,' he commented before putting the receiver down. Hardly able to look me in the eye, he quietly said: 'I'm terribly sorry, but they simply don't want a transsexual.' As the Cooperative is renown as an ethical company who probably would be more likely to employ me, it rather sounded the death knell on any future as an employee of any company. I went home alone to face the stark reality of my situation: despite my excellent track record, I wasn't just unemployed - I was unemployable. For several hours I was miserable. Then my fighting spirit returned - from that moment on, I resolved I would never again work for anyone but myself. All I had to do now was find something that I could set up on my own. John, Martin and Bob were unfailingly kind and did their utmost to keep my spirits up while I thought hard about my professional future an my financial problems. I received an invitation form the BBC to take part in the Midweek programme presented by Libby Purves. This would entail spending a night in London with all expenses paid courtesy of the BBC. I had nothing to lose, and nothing else in my diary, so I decided to go along. When I arrived at the hotel I was amazed to discover that I had been allocated an entire suite. This was luxury indeed! After indulging in a long, hot bath I dressed for dinner and went upstairs to the restaurant, arming myself with a book which I hoped would deter any unwanted advances. By now, I was beginning to be aware of the dangers inherent in being a woman on your own. Men seem to view single women in hotels as easy pickings. I was seated close to a table where two men were involved in what seemed to be a business discussion. To my surprise, as I finished my main course the waiter came over and relayed an invitation to join them in a glass of champagne. My first instinct was to say no, but a little voice in my head said: 'This is probably the last opportunity you'll have to drink champagne in the years to come. What harm can it do?' So I accepted their invitation. Shortly afterwards, on of the men excused himself while I continued my discussion with his friend. It soon became apparent that my companion was nothing less than an Middle Eastern multimillionaire who seemed to have business interests in just about every field of commerce that existed. Much of his wealth, he informed me, had been inherited, but he had contributed greatly to his riches by his own business acumen. The conversation turned to me and, reluctant to reveal too much about myself, I talked a little about my background without going into any great detail. As the evening wore on, the restaurant slowly emptied until finally there were just the two of us left behind. Omar (yes, that really was his name!) asked me what kind of music I liked best. Then he wandered over to the grand piano and, just like a scene in a romantic movie, began to play . His champagne, his charm and his exceedingly good looks were beginning to work their magic and I sat gazing at him with a mixture of pleasure, embarrassment and concern. 'I'd like to see more of you. You're not like any other woman I've ever known,' he said when he returned to the table. Half of me was thrilled to pieces, the other half appalled - and the irony of his last statement was not lost on me either! I only knew one way to handle this delicate, uncomfortable moment, and that was to tell Omar the truth about myself, just as I had done with Bob. 'I'm going to tell you something about myself,' I began. 'And when I've finished, I just want to say goodnight and leave. But first, let me thank you for a very enjoyable evening, for your hospitality, your kindness, and for the immense pleasure you have given me tonight.' Then I told him. And when I'd finished, I gathered up my book and my handbag and rushed straight to my room. My last backward glance registered his handsome face composed in an expression of total shock as he sat there staring after me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Tears were welling in my eyes as I sped upstairs and into my room where I lay on my bed weeping my heart out in the certain knowledge that this was a scenario I would surely have to face over and over again in my life. And yet I could not, would not deceive anyone. How long I lay there I don't know, but my weeping was ultimately interrupted by a knock on the door. Miserably I rose from my bed, not even bothering to clean my mascara-stained cheeks or straighten my rumpled clothes. What did it matter how I looked? I opened my door and stared in amazement, for standing in front of me was Omar with a tray, two glasses and a magnum of champagne in an ice bucket. 'I've thought about it...and it doesn't make any difference,' was all he said in that husky, accented voice that was so sexy it reduced my knees to jelly. I cried again, but this time it was for an entirely different reason. Then we were lying on the couch together and my tears were forgotten as he began kissing an caressing me. When he had made love to me he carried me to the bed where we made love again - more slowly, tenderly and more satisfying than I had ever known. He stayed with me all night as we exchanged intimate confidences about ourselves and our lives. He wanted me to have breakfast with him, but my interview was scheduled so early that it was impossible. 'Then meet me for lunch,' he said imperiously. Had I just gone from virgin to slut, now I had slept with two different men? The live interview went well, though I thought it rather odd that I should be sharing the slot with a vicar and an escapologist who performed what I believe to be the only escape live on radio (which was all the more strange as there were only five of us present in the studio to witness such a feat!). The moment the interview was over I rushed straight back to the hotel, left my baggage with the porter and called Omar on the house phone to let him know I had returned. 'Wait there,' was all he said. Within seconds he was bounding down the stairs and, to my utter stupefaction, hugging and kissing me in front of a hotel full of startled guests. I had feared that when the magic of the night and the champagne had worn off he might feel differently about me, but here he was, apparently just as keen. We ate lunch in a small Italian restaurant, holding hands and gazing lovingly at each other. When we had finished, Omar looked deeply into my eyes and said: 'Stephanie, will you marry me?' I was astounded that I couldn't think of anything rational or even appropriate to say. All I could think of was a number of reasons why marrying Omar would be the worst possible thing I could do. He was a Muslim; What would his parents say or do? It would be bad enough in their eyes for him to propose to someone he had known less than twenty-four hours, but how much worse would they feel knowing that I wasn't even legally a female? And what about the all the other implications? Somehow I managed to garble out all the objections and protestations that presented themselves to me, but Omar refused to take no for an answer. Finally, I said, 'Omar, I just can't make a decision of this magnitude at such short notice. You have to give me more time to think.' Reluctantly, he agreed. Then, brightening slightly, he asked the waiter to bring over a piece of string which he wound around my finger triumphantly before declaring: 'Wait here. I'll be gone just a few moments.' Then he disappeared out into the street. As I waited for Omar to return, I sipped my liqueur and gazed idly around me thinking, 'I don't believe this is happening to me.' My thoughts were in such a jumble that I'd lost the ability to think objectively or rationally. The only possible thing I could do was to play for time. I gave no thought to where Omar had gone, or for what reason but, true to his word, he was back within fifteen minutes saying: 'I know you've said you can't answer my question yet, but I would like you to do one thing for me.' Not wanting to commit myself to something I knew nothing about, I demurred, but the more I resisted the more he pressed. In the end, I caved in. Immediately he produced a small, square box form his jacket pocket and with a flourish presented me with the most extravagantly gorgeous ring I had ever seen. Twenty-five individual, sparkling diamonds winked at me as I gazed in awe at the beautiful sunburst-patterned ring. It must have cost an absolute fortune, and I was totally lost for words. Omar took my hand and placed the ring on my engagement finger. 'Please wear this ring - at least until you give me your decision.' I was so taken aback that I couldn't think of one single valid reason for either refusing or accepting, so I said nothing. 'Now,' he continued, 'you've said we do not know each other well enough. What I would like to suggest is that we go away for a few days together.' Without waiting for a reply (though, frankly, I was incapable of any coherent thought at all), Omar outlined his plan. We would fly to Geneva where he had some business to attend to, and then we would go anywhere in the world that I wanted to for a few days' relaxation, during which time we would get to know each other better. 'Omar!' I protested. 'That's impossible! I can't just disappear like that. I have a dog to take care of. I don't have my passport with me. I don't even have any suitable clothes with me!' Like a man who considered such concerns a mere inconvenience, Omar brushed my protestations aside. 'You can call someone who will look after your dog. We can buy whatever clothes you are in need of. And we can fly to Manchester to your home to collect your passport.' Omar's offer was sorely tempting after so many months of deprivation and loneliness, but somehow I knew that, if I accepted, I might well come to feel so obligated that things could get out of hand. Besides, while I was in his company I was patently unable to make rational decisions and in all probability would just be swept along by Omar's whims. So with a supreme effort I summoned up the determination I didn't really feel, I said no and insisted on returning home immediately. Despite being immensely disappointed, Omar insisted on taking me in his chauffeur-driven limousine to Heathrow and, after calling ahead for John to meet me at Manchester airport, saw me safely on to my plane. Throughout the short flight I was in a state of profound shock. I just couldn't believe what had happened to me! It must be every young woman's dream to be swept off her feet by a dark, handsome, rich stranger - but that it should happen to me! If it wasn't for the enormous, expensive ring sparkling merrily on my finger, I would have been convinced the whole episode had been nothing more than a fantastic dream. When I told the tale to John he seemed just as stupefied as I, although he did tell me that I must be mad not to have gone. 'How absolutely typical of a man!' I thought. Within days calls started arriving for me at John & Martin's house from all over the world. Wherever Omar went he telephoned me, and on every occasion he repeated his proposal. But despite hours spent walking amongst the fields surrounding West Houghton. Discussing my dilemma with Sheba my closest friend, but incapable of replying I still couldn't reach a decision. My relationship with Bob had by this time settled into no more than platonic friendship. I'd been disillusioned and surprised when I had first discovered that he was married, but the hurt turned into outrage when he announced his objections to my spending so much time with John & Martin who were a committed gay couple so it wasn't even as if they wanted anything from me that Bob might have felt was his. We still continued to be friends and to see each other in the afternoon, but I didn't want to continue a sexual relationship with him anymore; and though I'm sure he wasn't happy about that, he knew me well enough by now to realise that "no" was non-negotiable. Besides, I wasn't particularly happy or impressed by the fact that, apart from our first date and the night when he'd seduced me, he never took me out. Like a lot of wealthy married men, Bob didn't like parting with his money or being seen in public and though it simply didn't occur to me to ask for financial help, the fact that it was never even offered spoke volumes. I had been providing free, easy daytime sex to someone who really didn't want anymore from our relationship. Bob's extreme meanness was finally brought home to me on my birthday, when he came over for his usual afternoon game of backgammon and presented me with a package. Delighted that he had remembered, I tore the wrapping off to find that Bob had bought me a large wallet of coloured felt-tip pens! Convinced that this must be a joke and that his real present was to follow, I laughed. When I realised that this was my present, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the insult. I needed a set of felt tip pens like I needed a guided missile or another penis - either would have been about as much use to me in my present dire situation! Perhaps if I'd stayed with Bob until Christmas I'd have got the colouring book as well! Still, it was my birthday, and John and Martin had very thoughtfully decided to make me out for a meal, so at least there was one bright event to look forward to. If only I'd known then just how memorable that birthday would prove to be! Before we left, two significant events occurred. The first was a whole vanload of flowers. The second was the arrival of a reporter from the Manchester Evening News. I had confided the details of my meeting with Omar to only about six trusted friends, and yet here was the Manchester Evening news begging for more details! Once again I had been betrayed by somebody whom I considered to be a trusted friend. Within days the national Sunday papers were on to the story and, as if to remind me of the fact that I would never be able to lead a normal life again, once more what seemed like the whole world was prying into my private life. In the event, there were two good things that came out of that particular blaze of publicity. The first was that it forced me to concentrate my mind on the subject of marriage to Omar. Where would we live? Would his family reject me? What about his friends? If everyone in Omar's world refused to accept our relationship, wouldn't that make him resent me in time? The conclusion was staring me in the face. I must turn Omar's proposal down. When I broke the news to him he pleaded with me to change my mind, offering me every possible reassurance that he could. But I was adamant. The second benefit was that it made me realise how genuine John & Martin's friendship was and I have consistently found that gay men make the best friends for women. (Sadly they both died of AIDS which is why I can now use their real names). Until the moment I hadn't really been sure that they knew who I really was, so when the publicity broke I had begun to avoid them in the mistaken belief that they might not want to be associated with me. But they refused to let me to do this, telling me in no uncertain terms: 'When will you get it through your head that we love you for who you are'. The absence of Omar's phone calls proved more painful than I had imagined, and many times I cried over what I thought could well have been my most disastrous mistake. With hindsight, I can see clearly now that my decision was right. Granted, I would have enjoyed incredible wealth and a fantastic lifestyle, but I doubt whether I would have found the same degree of happiness and contentment that I now have. The time had come for me to give immediate consideration to my future. I knew I had to do something on my own, but what? I knew it had to be some venture in which my past and my background would not prove to be a major liability. Unfortunately, this ruled out most of the things I could think of. And even if I did come up with a suitable venture, what would I use for capital? I considered setting up a marketing constancy business, but then the thought occurred to me that I might be boycotted by any reputable companies because of my notoriety. It was whilst I was running through every possibility that I began to wonder where people like myself who were tall, or larger than 'normal' size, bought their clothes. This led me to pondering the problem of where transvestites - or cross dressers or TVs, as they are often known - got their female clothes, which in turn led to wondering about how many transvestites there might be in Britain. Researching this subject was far from easy, because by the very nature of their predilection transvestites do all they can to conceal this fact about themselves. But by visiting the local library, and through John's efforts to obtain specialist TV magazines for me, I was able to reach the conclusion that here was a market which was vastly under-catered to. Moreover, of those who were providing the means for TVs to indulge their relatively harmless hobby, the vast majority were exploiting the TVs' plight by selling shoddy goods at inflated prices in sleazy back street dives. The idea that started life as no more than idle wondering began to germinate , and before too long I had put together a complete proposal for a business that would cater exclusively to this market. Percentage-wise the market couldn't possibly be that extensive; therefore, if the venture was to have any chance of succeeding, I would need access to densely populated areas. The north-west seemed to serve my needs well in that respect, and it also attracted a great deal of passing trade. When I looked at a map I saw that the easiest place to reach from north, south, east and west was Junction 17 on the M62. My proposal included not just clothing, wigs, underwear and shoes, but absolutely everything a transvestite might conceivably need, including a beauty salon with trained staff to give advice on make-up and running, a confidential mail order service could easily reach the rest of the UK. (retrospectively I know that whereas the gay market represents about 10% of adult males, cross dressers account for a fraction of 1%). The only vital piece missing from my jigsaw was capital. Despite approaching numerous banks and finance companies, I reached the conclusion that the oft-repeated maxim was true: "banks are only happy to lend you an umbrella when there is no chance of rain". I think since 2008 everyone has discovered that banks are so much worse than we then believed, however without collateral I was stumped. No one was prepared to put up unsecured capital finance such a venture, so there was only one avenue left for me to explore. I placed an advert in the Manchester Evening News: 'Mature businesswoman with innovative idea wishes to meet partner with capital in return for fifty per cent of the equity.' I received thirty-six replies. Some were immediately disqualified because of their tone, others after the first telephone conversation. I was now down to just eight which seemed to warrant a meeting. One day over coffee I was telling Sandra, the beautician who had taught me so much about looking and behaving like a woman, of my plans. Suddenly she said: 'my brother Raiko's always fancied going into business'. She explained that Raiko was currently working for the British Shoe Corporation as a manager of one of their larger shops in Liverpool. A few days later I received a note through the post, asking me to ring Sandra urgently. 'I've mentioned the matter to my brother,' she said excitedly, 'and he's very interested in meeting you.' Sandra had an Italian mother and a Yugoslavian father; a nicer family one could ever expect to meet, and Raiko, it soon transpired, was just as nice as everyone else. We clicked immediately and within twenty minutes we'd sealed a bargain to go into partnership, with Raiko investing every penny he had (£6000) in our joint venture. The next step involved meeting the eight interested parties left on my list. Some were immediately put off as soon as they learned the nature of the business I intended to set up, while others I couldn't relate to and instinctively felt that a partnership would never work out. Only one of the eight, a woman, emerged as a front runner - until I made the mistake of inviting her round for a drink with John and Shaun one night. Unfortunately, John had rather too much to drink and insisted on telling this lady her fortune, which apparently consisted mainly of 'dark waters'. Whether it was John's dire predictions or something else that put her off I'll never know, but in the event I received a negative response from her two days later. All I had left now was one last note which I had initially disregarded on the basis that it was scribbled on the letter heading of a company called Booth's Supermarkets. It was a very brief message and the almost illegible scrawl that worried me, for it merely said 'Ring...' followed by a telephone number and a signature that was virtually indecipherable. But what did I have to lose? After all, there weren't any other runners left in the race now. In a far from optimistic mood I rang the number and spoke to Mr Booth, who arranged to visit me to discuss my proposition. Many months later I learned that it was literally only as he was setting off to meet me that David Booth discovered my identity from an item in the evening paper. Thank goodness David was not the kind of man who chooses to judge a book by its cover! Promptly at eight David arrived and, after being invited in, immediately took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to make himself at home. Over coffee I explained that, with Raiko financing the retail side, I still needed capital for the mail order operation and beauty salon. David's response to my outline ideas was fairly non-committal: he only said that it would be essential for me to meet his wife, who was in partnership with him. Meanwhile, Raiko and I were busy trying to find the right premises in the location that I had pin-pointed, as well as suitable suppliers - the latter proved to be far more difficult than either of us had envisaged. On Raiko's one day off each week we would scour the locality visiting potential suppliers and inspecting premises. We must have made a very odd couple indeed, with me touching six feet in height and Raiko barely five feet four, but never once did Raiko give me any reason to imagine that he was either embarrassed to be seen with me or had any hang-ups about our relationship. We eventually found a suitable property which, despite being fairly run down, met with most our criteria. The fact that it had been reduced from £40,000 to £35,000 also helped make it more appealing. I approached the local shopkeepers' agency, who arranged to have the property surveyed on our behalf; they recommended that we didn't go above £30,000. To undercut the original asking price by £5000 when it had already been reduced by the same amount seemed a bit risky to me, but we did as we were advised. The plan was that the shopkeepers' agency were offering. I was undecided. On the one hand I didn't really want anyone interfering in our business; on the other, Bob and I were still good friends. Eventually, Bob said that if I rented the property from him, he would buy the freehold, rent it to me & leave it to me in his will. I was surprised for once by his apparent generosity. In the meantime, we could have it on a nine-year lease with an option to buy the freehold after six. The premises located at 428, Bury Old Road, Prestwich also has a 2-bedroom first floor accommodation along with a lounge, kitchen diner and bathroom so the obvious solution was to live in the flat above the shop, and that's precisely what I did. I moved into the flat on 5 July 1984, much to the consternation of the local Prestwich residents who were horrified to have such a notorious person as an immediate neighbour. A further three months were to elapse before we took possession of the shop premises, but what with the flat, a jungle of a garden to transform, stock to buy and a myriad of other details to sort out before we would finally be ready to do business, I had plenty to keep me occupied. In the meantime David Booth had arranged for me to meet his wife, Ethel over a drink. Ethel, it transpired, had been virtually blind with acute myopia when David and she had first met. Because this condition is very much linked to the state of the nerves, her ability to see would vary, though her sight was never particularly good and she relied very much on a guide dog to help her get around. The meeting went well, despite the fact (as I later learned) that Ethel was extremely nervous about meeting someone as infamous as me. A few days later David telephoned to say that, having been in the retail food business for fifteen years, he and Ethel had decided it was now time to expand their interests and take a chance on something different. Having been impressed with my proposals and my professional background, they both felt their money would be wisely invested in me. We decided to form several companies under the banner name of Transformation, with me as a 50 per cent shareholder and either Raiko or David holding the other 50 per cent according to the interests of the particular company. As so often happens, when things begin to sort themselves out in one area of your life, you find that everything else starts improving, too. I had been far too preoccupied with the launch of Transformation to give much thought to a social life, so when I received an invitation for drinks at the house of an acquaintance one evening I didn't fell particularly inclined to accept. In the event, I was ridiculously pleased that I had agreed to go, for it was there that I met what I thought was Mr. Right. At just twenty-eight Peter was not only ten years younger than I, but incredibly good-looking too. From the moment we were introduced he made it quite plain that he was interested in me, and I was immensely flattered. As we talked and relaxed in each other's company, I learned that he was only visiting Manchester for the weekend to attend a local authority conference and that he actually lived and worked in the north-east. Peter was so charming and attractive, and so obviously attracted to me, that I was hooked. By the end of the evening I felt like a starry-eyed teenager in love for the first time in her life, and when he offered to come down the following weekend just to see me I agreed immediately. Ours was a whirlwind romance and, like most such lightning affairs, it was exceedingly intense with ridiculously high peaks and painfully low troughs. We couldn't wait to be with each other at weekends, and during the week we would spend hours talking on the telephone. I was so infatuated that the only person who couldn't see the potential danger was me. Man number 3 was Mr. Right, or so I thought at the time. I was developing a love-live as a teenage girl and was just as naive Each weekend, for forty-eight passionate, romantic hours nothing could separate us; when we weren't in bed, Peter would be right alongside me helping to paint the walls in the shop or putting up shelves - anything, so long as he could be with me. Within a very short time he was like one of the family and both David and Raiko accepted his presence in my life (and, consequently, in theirs) without comment. Privately, however, Raiko had his doubts. Though he kept them to himself at the time, I later learned that he had always felt Peter was far too un-ambitious for me and leaned on me far more than was good for either of us. But I was so besotted with Peter that when he began to talk about finding a job in Manchester and of getting married I was too overjoyed and excited to worry about the fact that it was all happening much too soon. When I was with him at the weekends, my mind was full of him and the wonderful future we would have together, and when we were apart during the week I filled my thoughts with plans for Transformation. On 13 October we were finally ready to open. The Manchester Evening News had published a photograph of me standing outside the shop holding a notice declaring that we would be 'opening shortly', and our first weeks' business was encouraging. Obviously the female population thought we were a straight-forward beauty salon providing all the services that beauty salons provide, while the closet TV population of the area knew from our discreet ads in the Manchester Evening News and TV press that here was a local business that could provide for all their needs. However, as one might expect, this mix of clientele was not without its problematical (and hysterical) moments. We'd hired two young assistants, Maria and Karen, to help out in the shop so that Raiko could continue working at his day job, and quite often I'd be in the difficult position of having a woman in one cubicle having her legs waxed with a man in the next secretly having the same treatment! We worked long hours, opening seven days a week from 9am until 10pm, but it wasn't enough to make the business profitable. Even with our stringent budgetary controls and a hastily arranged overdraft it didn't take long to realise that we were struggling to keep afloat. As a trainee accountant, Peter proved very useful when it came to doing the books for us each weekend, but there was no hiding from the truth: we were heading for financial disaster. David took no part in the day-to-day running of the business because he had his supermarket chain to take care of. Besides, he trusted Raiko and myself to get on with the business of Transformation, and didn't see any need for anything more than a weekly update. Raiko and I began to feel depressed and concerned, and soon even Peter's weekly visits, welcome as they were, weren't enough to lift my spirits. By the time Christmas approached I was beginning to despair: if business didn't perk up soon, I'd be in the unhappy position of being responsible for letting down the only two people in the world who had had sufficient belief in me to invest their hard-earned money in my plans. And as if things weren't looking bleak enough, during one of Peter's weekend visits I realised that something else was obviously going wrong. His attitude was different, and though it was only a subtle change I began to fear the worst. By the Saturday my fears were confirmed: Peter wanted to finish our relationship. I was heartbroken. My first proper boyfriend, who just a few weeks previously had been discussing wedding plans, was now telling me he no longer wanted me. The pain I felt was indescribable. Peter had to stay with me all weekend because he had dropped his brother off in Leeds and wasn't able to collect him until Sunday. It must have been terrible for him: all I could do was mope around with tears streaming down my cheeks, begging him to tell me the reason why. He never did say, but I assume it had something to do with my background. When he walked out of my life that Sunday afternoon I was devastated. Once again I knew what it was like to be alone. If it hadn't been for Raiko's tremendous support, and the fact that I now had a business to bury myself in, I don't know how I would have coped. I was in such an emotional state that for the first five days I could hardly bring myself to get out of bed. All I could do was cry my heart out, alternating between dementedly ranting at fate and bitterly declaring that I now hated all men. Raiko tried his hardest to cheer me up, but he was fighting a losing battle. I could not sleep, eat nor summon any interest in work. As a weight loss programme I knew no equal. Physically, mentally and emotionally I was in such a hopeless mess that I felt the best thing I could do would be to leave both the flat and the business and start all over again. Fortunately, David and Raiko were both marvellously supportive and refused even to consider such a prospect. When sanity returned I realise that however much you love someone it can never make up for them not loving you back. With each passing week Transformation was doing less business. In an attempt to cut costs Raiko left his job and joined me full time so that we could manage without staff. We paid ourselves only £30 a week, yet despite every economy we would be facing bankruptcy if things didn't pick up soon. But when things are at their darkest, salvation often comes along in the strangest of forms and works in the most mysterious of ways.