It was around this grey time after discharge when I was fortunate to come across a thriving club called Rotaract. For young people aged 18 – 30, these groups are connected to a Rotary club that keeps an eye on them.
Meetings, upstairs in Chester’s Pied Bull Inn, were attended by 40 or so young men and women. Any men present with even a slight level of self-confidence would be able to find young ladies to wine, dine and vet their potential as spouses.
NB: This was well before the current era when women can happily ask men of their choice out.
Some of the single men I knew were very up front about their reasons for being there. They wanted a wife. Some pursued that aim single-mindedly. It came as no surprise to me when John de Boyler found a wife, withdrew from public life and settled down to have a family.
Still not ‘normal’
Me, even after all these months I wasn’t mentally right. Still there were clouds in my head and jitters in my hands. Was there any chance that in this state I’d be popular with the ladies?
Not on your Nelly.
Fortunately for me, there were other male Rotaractors who were also on the fringes.
There was one who was in a worse state than me, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
One hyper-intelligent guy didn’t seem to regard women very highly, particularly if, in his view, they lacked intelligence.
And there was Niall, who always insisted that because 70% of all communication was non-visual preferred to blind-date women from a big dating service.
I have to say he’d had more dates than I’ve had hot dinners. He did end up with a girlfriend who he was with for a couple of years but ironically she lacked enough of the physical attraction component and eventually they split up.
On a positive note, he is now happily married.
A clump of oddballs
This small group tended to clump together in Rotaract meetings. From my perspective we were the oddballs. Without any doubt I felt like one inside, but I was grateful for the companionship.
And it was nice to have (relatively) sane conversations again.
Niall regularly threw parties in his house and he always wanted lots of people there so he’d invite anyone and everyone. He and I also went out for a drink, a game of pool and so on and I went to his parties. Some of those times I was ill with hypomania.
Once he said to me, ‘You’re fabulous company when you’re high.’ An example of this was the party when I went round asking all the girls what they wanted from a man and offered it to them. Not that actual sex occurred.
The Salvation Army
Generally at Rotaract meetings there was an invited speaker who talked about their career or vocation. While I attended we had visits from a Samaritan, a Salvation Army Lieutenant and a magician. Something of what the Salvationist said rang true in my heart and a couple of days later I visited him at his home.
I have to say that at that time I didn’t fully realise that the S. Army was a church; I thought it was a brass band, and as a trumpet player since the age of 10 I needed a musical home. He was very supportive but more or less advised against making any serious decisions until I was well.
The Raft Race
But it did seem as though I was gradually coming out of my illness, and I have to say there was some great fun to be had. The annual raft race on the river Dee was one example.
Members of Rotaract would design and build a raft for the occasion. I was a crew member that year and remember setting off from the Meadows towards the weir, which we had to negotiate to get to the finishing line. Some other competitors really went to town on their designs – huge, double bicycle-driven machines equipped with full-on weapons: water cannons, sandwich bags full of river mud and giblets from the butcher.
Giblets – appalling
The giblets were particularly appalling, going well off the scale of the disgustometer . The race was fun, but I remember being splattered with mud, blood and entrails.
In future years giblets were banned. Are they a cost-effective weapon the MOD have overlooked?
A year or two later I watched the race from the City Walls and saw the Rotaract raft dressed as the Titanic with the sign, ‘Last orders at the bar.’ A detail that they weren’t able to get right was that the ‘ship’ was towing the iceberg, when in an ideal world the iceberg would be to the front.
But it was a great idea.