For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to you, For I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well. Psalm 139:13-14
Before I was a Christian, I spent a lot of my life getting things wrong. This page tells a few of those stories. I tried many different ways to find happiness and satisfaction — as I attempted to earnestly follow the things our culture promotes as "Stairways to Heaven".
In some ways, I also had an interesting and unusual childhood. Which contained a mixture of Christian, and strong anti-Christian influences. The end result being that it took me a long time before I became a Christian.
This page describes some of my early life, before I was a believer. And some of the places I looked for meaning and happiness. It's easy to look back on them now, and wish that I'd never experienced many (or most) of them. And also to wish that I'd found Christ much earlier, so I could have been spared so many of the problems that I lived through — and still live with in terms of effects on my physical health, because of my past lifestyle.
However part of being a believer is trusting that God's plan for my life is the right one, and that the things that happened to me happened for a reason. Perhaps one reason is that now, I can very, very clearly understand, from a practical point of view, exactly how and why so many of the ways that God tells us to live work — and how and why the ways that non-Christian culture tells us to live did not work. And I can now understand them in a way that I would have never understood just from reading about them in a book that says things like, "Do this, just because God/Jesus/the Bible/etc. says we must do this".
Some people are clever, or lucky, or blessed enough to put their trust in God early on in life, and hold onto that trust. While some other people are a bit slower to catch on — and really have to stuff things up, completely and entirely, on their own, before they start to listen to God, and ask Jesus into their life, and follow him.
I was more in the second category.
My Life Without Christ
My life on this Earth began (i.e. I was conceived) either on — or within a short time either side of — the day that humans first walked on the moon, during the Apollo 11 mission. I almost died at birth. Mum was in labour for two or three days (she was pretty out of it and doesn't remember exactly), while I was stuck in the birth canal. It have been fairly serious, since Dad overheard some nurses talking about whether or not "they would have to cut the baby's head off".
I was a breech birth (meaning I came out backwards — babies are usually born head-first), and stuck in the middle of delivery with my head, the largest part of a newborn baby, still inside. Once you're part-way out, they can't put you back in and start over again with a C-section. Presumably if my head never came out (which seemed to be on the cards for a while) they would have had to get my head out by caesarean to save Mum. To be honest, there were times when I wondered to what extent the head-cutting-off comment was true. But then I found a similar-sounding case which happened recently, where the baby was decapitated. My Great Aunt Pattie, who I lived with during my twenties — and who wasn't at all prone to exaggeration — said I was a "miracle baby", and that my birth "was horrific".
Eventually I arrived into this world alive. On the same day, the spacecraft Apollo 13 was launched. The one they made the movie about that starred Tom Hanks. Where they all nearly died. Led Zeppelin played at the Kiel Auditorium in St Louis, Missouri, two kilometres from the Mississippi River. A day or two later their guitarist Jimmy Page's favourite "Black Beauty" Les Paul Custom guitar was stolen from an airport. He liked it so much that he used it on most of his early recordings, including (most likely) "Whole Lotta Love", which was Zeppelin's first hit single and ranks highly on many lists of the best rock songs ever — including a 2014 poll by BBC Radio listeners for the greatest guitar riff of all time. Page so treasured the guitar that he "didn’t want to take it out of the house", and almost never took it out on tour. Except for that tour. The Led Zeppelin concert on the night I was born, or possibly the night after, was the last time Page could have ever played it before it was stolen. I was alone in the intensive care ward, and didn't see Mum again for a couple of days.
If you're not a guitar player, that may not seem like much of a big deal. But wait — there's more. Thirteen years later (and before I knew anything about Jimmy Page or Led Zeppelin) I borrowed a book about electric guitar from my high school library. It featured a double page centrefold of a Black Beauty Les Paul Custom. When I saw it I was completely transfixed. I stared at it, as if spellbound, for hours and hours... And from that experience, I decided to learn to learn to play the guitar.
I was given a ukulele when I was three or four, but never learned to play it properly. It came to a violent end a couple of years later when it was smashed over my head, breaking it in half. Which upset me enough that I lost interest in learning a musical instrument as a child. Looking back on it now, perhaps that event, along with it's pain and darkness, was a message from God that I should have just left it there... But years later, after staring as if hypnotised at that picture of the black Les Paul Custom, an interest awakened that would within a few years take over my life — and change it forever.
One afternoon, not long after the beginning of year eleven, I came home from school and Mum (who had no idea about that library book, nor what a Les Paul was) said she'd found a guitar in the local paper for sale. And perhaps we could go and have a look. And she'd buy it for me if it seemed okay. She'd never done anything like that before, though by then I'd desperately wanted my own guitar for a long time. We went to have a look, and it became the first guitar I ever owned. See if you can guess what type it was? As a clue — eventually I'll write a whole blog page about all the strange coincidences I've experienced regarding black Les Paul Custom guitars. Since there's been a few of them. And the colour wasn't the only thing black about my new main interest in life, nor the direction that my life started turning towards...
Several years after that, I attended a talk by the astronaut John Young. Young passed away in January 2018 at age 87, and was NASA's longest serving astronaut. Among his many other claims to fame, Young was the first person to fly solo around the Moon, he not only walked on the Moon but drove a car on the Moon, is one of only three people to have visited the Moon twice, and commanded the first ever Space Shuttle flight. It felt surreal just to be in the same room as him. During the the talk, Young said the first correct answer to his question would win free tickets to the movie Apollo 13. The question was, "What was the date of launch of Apollo 13?" Which I conveniently happened to know.
I never got the chance to visit the moon myself, but being a breech birth, the first act I performed in this mortal earthly world was to "moon" it.
After I was born and got out of intensive care, I went home from St Margaret's Hospital to our rented duplex at Maroubra, where I lived for my first year of life. Our house was near the rocky headland at the North end of the beach. According to Google Maps, it was exactly 140 metres from the ocean. I still love the ocean, the beach, and the views from rocky headlands. Mum says that the first word I knew (other than "Mum" and "Dad") was "light".
I've told people that I lived so close to the ocean you could almost throw a cricket ball from my house into the sea. To ensure the accuracy of this web page, I looked up how possible that would really be. According to the internet, the world record for throwing a cricket ball is 132.6 metres, and the world record for throwing a golf ball is 155.5 metres. In future I'll say golf ball.
The Blue Mountains
About a week before my first birthday we moved to the Blue Mountains. Our new house cost $8,250. It was a small two-bedroom fibro house with an outside bucket toilet. The structural beams in some of the walls were half-eaten by white ants (termites). Dad later installed sewerage pipes and a flush toilet in the inside bathroom, fixed the walls, and eventually extended the house considerably.
I was unusually academically gifted as a child. I knew my colours at nine months of age, and taught myself to read at age two. Mum read to me a lot, and after a while I just started reading along with her. My Grandfather was a retired primary school teacher and headmaster, and he believed that to read at my age was completely impossible. He told Mum that I must have memorised the books from hearing them read to me aloud. But Mum insisted that I could read. He travelled the 800 kilometres from Lismore with his own books (so I couldn't have already memorised them), and found that I actually could read.
Dad later said that "he wasn't supposed to tell me this", but both my primary school and high school had told him I was probably the smartest child who'd ever been to those schools. He usually mentioned it as a reason why I should do more homework. It felt like a lot of pressure to live up to. Though at times Dad was known to exaggerate, it could have been true. Whether it was true or not, I grew up in a home atmosphere of very high academic expectation. Where it was most definitely not okay for me to just be normal like the other kids.
A lot of people called me "The Professor" (and not always as a compliment). I was Dux of my primary school. I wasn't Dux of my high school, but that's a whole other story. Which includes a turn to a wayward lifestyle and in the two days before my first HSC exam being drunk, stoned, sleepless, having furniture in my house smashed and overturned like when you see a room that's been searched by criminals in the movies, and my brother being bitten by a scorpion and taken to hospital in an ambulance. But I still got 99% in Maths and topped my school year in Physics in my HSC exams.
Most likely, around next August or September, that experience will live on as a whole blog page entitled "How Not to Prepare for Your HSC".
Several years later, I won many academic awards while studying Physics at Macquarie University in Sydney. Sometimes they would take me aside and show me things like, "This is the scatter plot of students from [a physics subject I'd completed]. These are most of the students [a big clump of dots near the middle of the page]. These are all the other A-grades [a thin line of dots extending above the big clump]... And this is you [a large gap of white space, and then one dot right at the top]." I wasn't a very confident young adult, and I think they were trying to encourage me, and help me with my confidence, and convince me that I should keep studying Physics.
I was the second person ever to win the University Medal for Physics at Macquarie Uni. They explained to me privately that at most other universities, like the University of Sydney, to win their medal "almost all you have to do is top the year", but at Macquarie the medal "really means something".
I've gone on for a fair bit about this — so now I'll copy the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:11, and make an excuse for my boasting (about academic talent).
The important point that I really want to make very clear it is that it's possible for intelligent people to be Christians.
Dad was an atheist, and explained to me repeatedly how intelligence and religion were mutually opposed. He went over and over this idea very many times to me, covering it from every aspect he could think of, using a wide variety of lines of reasoning, metaphors, and stories. It took me a long time to get over that idea. Some people never do.
Mum was a Christian — so I grew up hearing the arguments for and against Christianity. But in my teenage years, a lot of dark things happened (some of which are described further down on this page). Mum basically went insane for a while — and at the same time — in her distress she turned to Jesus much more heavily than she'd done in the past. I heard about Jesus for hours and hours at a time from Mum at home, usually combined with other comments that weren't at all sane, even bordering on psychosis (and for all I know, sometimes on the wrong side of that border). We went to church more, and to more churches. (We went to a lot of churches.)
This all matched up perfectly with everything I'd already heard over and over from Dad — that Christianity was for crazy people. Weak minded people. Who "needed a crutch", as he used to say. For people who weren't the full 100 cents in the dollar. And not intelligent enough to see how science was true, and religion was not. So, the time of my life when Christ could have helped me the most was also the time of my life when I was most turned off Christ — because I truly thought that Christ was for people whose brains weren't working as well as mine. I've covered this issue more on other pages about science and logic and faith.
At preschool my favourite activity was hammering nails into pieces of wood. We used real wood, nails, and claw hammers — though the hammers were smaller than full-sized adult ones. I don't think the 3-4 year-old kids at preschool use real hammers and nails anymore.
Dad grew up during World War II in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, about 12 kilometres from the German border. He had a lot of war stories of things he saw as a child. Which still haunted him throughout his adult life. While studying history at Bible College in 2018, I learned that during the Nazi occupation, many atrocities were committed by people who claimed to be Christians — and that would have been the source of Dad's passionate rejection of anything religious. Dad was quite intelligent, but by his teens he had no permanent residence, so he never finished school. He had zero formal qualifications, not even a year-10 school-leaving certificate equivalent. So when the car factory Dad worked for as an assembly line supervisor went out of business, he didn't find another job easily. He had a try at self-employment...
Not long after I started Kindergarten, my parents ran a small shop in Granville for two years. We lived in the house directly attached to the back of the shop. It wasn't very fun for my parents, but for a six-year old it was very fun to live in a shop.
Occasionally I tell people I that used to be in a gang. And then after a pause I say... when I was six. Our gang activities at age six mainly consisted of idolising teenagers, and talking about the various things we planned to do when we were teenagers, like stealing cars and robbing banks. I often wonder if I'd stayed living there, would I have ended up doing those kinds of things?
As the complete opposite of that, sometimes I went to church with Mum. Or to sunday school. I had a kids prayer book, and I have wonderful memories of reading it before bed and feeling safe and happy. One time I went to some sort of youth night, which was for older kids, and I was amazed by the happy and alive feeling I came home with. They gave me a Good News Bible to take home. Despite these experiences, it would be a long time yet before I accepted Jesus as my saviour and Lord of my life.
One day we woke up in the morning to find TV crews setting up all around the front of our shop. They were filming an episode of a soap opera. I'm 90% certain it was "Certain Women". My grandmother was with us at the time and I remember her walking us back and forth along the footpath, pushing my 2-year-old brother in his pram, hoping we'd get filmed. And yes — a while later I did get to see myself on TV, walking across the background of a scene. According to Wikipedia, all recordings of the episodes from the years I was in Granville (1975 and 76) were for many years thought to have been destroyed. But in 2016 someone discovered them in the ABC archives. So one day I might even get to see that footage again. Which would be amazing, since it was a happy time of life for me — that I like to remember as much of as I can.
Also while at Granville, I saw computers for the first time. My much older cousin went to the University of Sydney, and took me there a few times to play on the card punch machines. No-one seemed to mind me being there, and each time I left with a box full of cards to play with at home. In those days computers still took up most of a room, and had lots of buttons, lights, and switches on them. I loved the blinking lights.
The Blue Mountains, Again
We didn't make any money from the shop, and moved back to the Blue Mountains — narrowly avoiding bankruptcy, and only just hanging on to our original $8,250 house (which we'd rented out while living at the shop). I'd just started year two of school. For the second time. In Granville, after kindergarten I went into a composite year 1/2 class, and they put me with the year twos. Back in the Mountains they said I was too young for year three (which, looking back, was probably true — I was already one of the youngest in my year even for year two). But after that experience, no amount of explaining could convince that I went to school to learn anything. I went to school so "the welfare man" wouldn't come and take me away to the boy's home where I'd have to fight all the tough street kids.
Mum went to work as a psychiatric nurse. Before getting married she trained at Gladesville Mental Hospital. Which Mum recalls with horror... And which consistently ranks well on lists of the most haunted places in Sydney. Occasionally during the school holidays my brother and I were taken to Mum's work for the day. We learned to play poker from the alcohol and drug rehab patients.
Dad stayed at home, extending our small two bedroom house to 2-3 times its original size over the next several years. Growing up around tools and construction, I learned a lot of things that most kids don't get to learn — even compared to many of the kids with "tradie" parents. All Dad's work happened at home, so I got to see it and even do some of it. I was allowed to use many tools unsupervised (after instruction) from a young age (like 7-9), including the electric drill, jigsaw, and belt sander. Occasionally the wood lathe. But never the electric planer.
(Important safety warning: This should absolutely not be considered as general advice to give full size adult power tools to young children, and especially not unsupervised. Dad didn't have that many power tools, even to build a house with — and anything I did with them, like drilling, sawing, and sanding, I'd already spent a lot of time doing with hand tools).
Our home extensions were done almost entirely with second hand building materials. When you buy new bricks they come on pallets, nicely stacked in rows. Our bricks were dumped by large dump trucks in a huge messy pile, still stuck together by the cement from their original building in whatever arrangement the wrecking ball had left them. They had to be broken apart, and then the remaining cement was cleaned from each brick. One by one. Using hand tools. It was very labour-intensive.
The tray of the wheelbarrow above came from the local hardware store. I think it cost $10. The wheel was probably lying around the garden somewhere. A lot of things were lying around the garden. The rest of it, Dad made himself. I remember him proudly showing me the contouring he put into the wooden handle grips — which looked quite professional.
I got used to using tools. I could mow the lawn with a full size adult lawn mower from about age eight. My first paid job was when I was nine, mowing the lawn and raking up leaves, etc., for a nice old lady down the road. If I remember correctly, I got $5 for the afternoon.
Also when I was nine, Dad explained that the oil was going to run out in the first part of the next century, and society would collapse — but it would be okay because I could learn to survive in the bush. I loved the bush, and already spent a lot of time wandering around the local bush, either alone or with friends. So this seemed like an okay idea to me. I especially liked the idea of everyone living in "tree houses" that didn't take most of your life to build.
I still read a lot. My fourth grade class was my fourth grade teacher's first class after graduating from College (or whatever they called it then). I was a bit in love with her. One time, she made me swear on the Bible in front of the class that I'd really read all of the six long books that I brought in, hoping to be awarded more stars for a reading chart at the back of our classroom. Around that time I tried to read an old battered copy of The Living Bible from start to finish, but I only got as far as halfway through Exodus. Which isn't very far compared to the whole Bible.
Around age ten I got in trouble with the law for making prank phone calls. The police coming to my house gave me a good scare, and it was almost another ten years before I made any prank calls again.
Late one night, when I was supposed to be going to sleep, I remember looking through a Gideons Bible (the ones they give out for free at school) and wishing that I believed in it. And thinking how cool it must be to actually believe in all that stuff about heaven and being loved, and saved, and looked after by God like the birds in the fields. And feeling kind of jealous of the people who did. But thinking of myself as intelligent and scientific, I thought I knew much better than to believe in the Bible.
For much of that period of my life, I was heavily into science and other nerdy things like electronics. And eventually, computers. Especially once I discovered that ordinary people could actually buy them and own them and have them at home. My grandfather took me to a computer show in Sydney that was run by Tandy Electronics. The highlight of the show was a session with a room full of desks, with TRS-80 computers set up on each desk. They talked everyone though writing a short computer program on the TRS-80 and then running it. That was the first time I even saw a computer program being written and then run in real time in real life, let alone wrote one and ran it myself.
After that I wanted a computer more than anything else in the world except for a girlfriend. Like the stereotypical nerd, I was terrible at sport and very, very shy with girls, even the ones that seemed to like me.
Also when I was about ten, Gramp lent me a book about how semiconductor electronics worked (like diodes and transistors). It was an adult book that went into subatomic physics (atoms, orbitals, free electrons, holes, etc.), at approximately the level of the current NSW Year 12 HSC Physics course. He'd read the book but, although electronics had been his hobby and passion for many years, he didn't understand much of it. So he lent it to me in the hope that I'd understand it, and at a deep enough level that I could explain it to him. Which I did. After that I moved on to another book in the same series, about how microprocessors work.
When I was about ten or eleven we got colour TV for the first time. We still didn't have a phone (apart from the two years in the shop).
Around year four or five I was given an astronomy book and got really interested in it. We bought a small second-hand telescope from a man named Ken Beames, and ended up becoming good friends with him. He was in his eighties and had done some amazing things. Including building his own observatory, complete with large telescope and dome. And a full-size Grandfather clock, and person-sized planetarium projector, both made out of solid brass.
Ken gave me a beautiful quartz crystal, and showed me how to use it for divination as an "astral pendulum". Ken gave Dad an old hardcover book called "The Huna Code in Religions" by Max Freedom Long. Sitting on the shelf in my parents' bedroom it seemed to invisibly glow, calling out to me with a mystical, magical presence that I was powerfully attracted to. Sometimes when no-one was around, I sneaked in and read parts of it. I'll have much more to say about it, and the things it led me to, on this website in the future... The reason I had to sneak in to read it was the same reason that Mum confiscated my astral pendulum — because of her Christian faith. Many years later, I wished I'd listened to Mum a lot more about those kinds of things.
By year seven I was spending much of my spare time learning how to program computers. Even though I didn't have one until the end of the year — for Christmas we got our first "family" computer, a Commodore VIC-20 (which was really bought for me). Almost immediately after that, in January, Dad was diagnosed with terminal spinal cancer. We got the phone connected. They gave Dad three months to live but he lasted eight. Although Mum's mum, my grandma, who lived two kilometres away and we saw all the time, did die three months after Dad was diagnosed.
One of the last things that Dad ever said to me was to "Look after your little brother and don't let your mother mess up his head with all that Jesus rubbish". That's how against Christianity Dad was for most of his life. Though Mum says that in his final days of life, he had a change of heart. Dad could only barely speak by that stage. He held up two fingers in a V-shape and said "Before, we [meaning him and God] were like this". Then he moved his two fingers close together touching each other, and said "Now we are like this".
Perhaps strangely, I have fond memories of going to hospitals to visit Dad (he was in four of them). I guess it's because we knew he was dying for a long time, and they were the last places I saw Dad alive. Occasionally even now I drive to the hospital he died in, and sit in my car in the car park, imagining it's back then and that I'm going there to see him.
Immediately after Dad died, we spent a few nights in the A-frame house on Ken Beames' property near Ken's main house, to give Mum a break from the aloneness of our house. In the same month that Dad died, Omega Science Digest, my favourite magazine, ran an article entitled "Whizz Kids Striking It Rich in Software". I seemed to really take that message to heart. Perhaps because it was the last thing I was into while I still had a father. It gave me a feeling of hope, and a point of focus to carry on my life with after Dad was gone.
In the year 1984 I read the book "1984" for school, and spent most of the year writing computer programs in my spare time. My grandfather moved into the "granny flat" under our house, which was part of the extensions. He sold his house to another of his grandchildren, my cousin Dr Stuart Kidd. We got our first automatic washing machine and not long after that I started doing my own laundry, which I've done all my life since then.
Gramp was very keen for me to become a radio ham. He died of a heart attack when I was nearly 15, about a year after moving into our house. His will said that said no-one could withdraw any of the capital from his estate until fifteen years later — except for an amount of $600 that was left specifically for me to buy an amateur radio set. Around age 15 or 16 I learned Morse code and got my amateur (a.k.a. "ham") radio licence. But (even with being keen to honour my grandfather's memory) I was too shy to talk to anyone on air.
Within less than two years, Mum lost both of her parents and her husband. She never worked again after Dad was diagnosed, and never recovered from her loss. As a teenager I was taken to a great many different churches. And psychotherapists.
Around the time I turned 15, we got our first VCR (inherited from Gramp) and microwave oven. Also around that time I went through a shoplifting phase which lasted for several months of year ten. I even went housebreaking once. The most expensive thing I stole was a brand new CB radio from a local electronics shop. The shop later went out of business — which I'd helped contribute to. Since I was too shy to actually talk to anyone on the radio, I sold it to a friend from school. I can't remember if that was before or after I got the ham radio set.
I started guitar lessons in September of year nine, a year after my father died almost to the day. The lessons went for several months and after that I was self-taught. For my year ten electronics project, I made a guitar amplifier from Dick Smith Electronics kits. When my English teacher (who was my favourite teacher, even ahead of my maths and science teachers) saw it, he refused to believe that I made the cabinet for it by myself at home. I was mostly known as a computer nerd — and by then, increasingly as a guitar player and as somewhat of a comedian. Never as a carpenter, sheet metal worker or upholsterer. It was that same teacher who most nurtured my comedian side, which is why I enjoyed his English classes so much. When I insisted that I'd built the cabinet myself, he skeptically pointed out the round contoured edges under the vinyl covering, and which "looked like they were made in a factory", and asked how I made them. I answered, "With a rasp". I'm not sure how convinced he was. Which isn't really that surprising, since he had no idea that I grew up watching (and sometimes participating in) much of my house being built from scratch using very basic tools.
In year eleven I built another one for a teacher from school who had a reputation as a hippie. One time he walked into one of my classes (he wasn't one of my own teachers) and, in front of everyone, gave me a few hundred dollars in cash and asked "Have you got the gear yet?" I knew that he meant had I got the gear to build the amplifier with, but I'm not sure if everyone else knew what he meant.
By year 11, my focus in life had shifted from computers to guitar. "Focus" isn't a strong enough word — I became completely obsessed with guitar. I tried to distance myself as much as I could from the computer nerd image I'd grown up with to that point.
I never thought I had much talent, but I figured I could make up for that with determination. I definitely had no shortage of that. I read in a magazine that Yngwie Malmsteen practiced nine hours a day. I was keen to emulate him, but that made it hard to keep up with school. (Or hold down a normal job after I left school, especially when commuting four hours a day from the Mountains to the Sydney CBD.) By the time I was in late high-school, Mum was far from sane so it was quite difficult to study at home anyway. Guitar seemed like a good escape from all that.
A friend and I bought half-size guitars to carry around during our breaks at school, so we could get every possible minute of practice time in. But even that wasn't enough, so we made pretend guitar "necks" out of bits of wood — with nails bent across for frets, and six fishing line "strings" — so we could practice scales (etc.) discreetly under the desk while sitting in class. We made our own glass bottleneck slides from real wine bottles, using stonecutting/lapidary equipment that my brother had.
Sometimes I jammed with friends in the squash court down the road from me after-hours. And very often at friends houses, preferably when their parents were out. We were keen enough to carry all the required gear — including amps, speakers, P.A., and a whole drum kit — part-by-part, on foot to each location for our jams. And then carried it back to our houses afterwards.
I used to be an alcoholic. I refer to the term "alcoholic" in the past tense, because that's how it's been for me. I no longer drink nor have any desire to. (I'll write up something in future about how I gave up drinking. Click here to read more about this.) Other people may prefer to use the term in other ways. I could have "just a few" if I wanted to, and then stop. I could also take just a little cyanide if I wanted to, or arsenic perhaps, and then stop. I could even mix my arsenic (or cyanide) with something that tastes nice, so I could enjoy it for the taste. Or I could just drink something else — that isn't a deadly poison, and that doesn't present an open invitation to unseen things from the realms of darkness.
The first time I got drunk was on New Year's Eve between year 11 and year 12. I felt like a fish that had just discovered water. Unless I really massively overdid it, I didn't get hangovers. Usually I felt better the morning after a night of drinking than I felt when I hadn't been drinking. I wish that I'd got hangovers.
During year 12 I was getting drunk about once or twice a week. Over the two years after leaving school, this increased to a bottle of port (about 13 standard drinks) almost every day as my "bread and butter" daytime drinking — plus whatever else was going if I was having a big night, perhaps a couple of times a week. Towards the end of this period, as soon as I woke up I'd decide if it was a ten or a fifteen morning. The number being how many long, slow, mouthfuls (as in mouth-completely-stuffed-full) of port I'd gulp down right after I got out of bed and before I did anything else. Then I'd go and have a cigarette. And then some more port...
After a few years of this lifestyle my health was in poor shape. And is still affected now from the things I did (and didn't do, like eat properly) in those days. A friend from that period later said he didn't know how I could even still be alive. Actually a few people have said that. My brother, who hung out with some quite hardcore people over the years, much later said he'd never seen anyone scull a bottle of spirits like I used to. Whisky, usually bourbon, was my favourite. But vodka was the baddest — when the orange juice (or whatever) ran out, the rest of the vodka went down like a man dying of thirst on a hot day.
Music was an absolutely massive influence on my drinking. I'll have a lot more to say about that in the future... Much of the music I listened to and played on guitar was heavily occult-based. I'll have much more to say about that in future also. (You can now read more about this here.)
I never went as far as to actually worship Satan, but I did dabble in a few things. I had a fascination with tarot cards since seeing the James Bond movie "Live and Let Die" with my father many years before. By my late teens I had a couple of decks of my own, and knew the meanings of each of the 78 tarot cards in a deck well enough to read the cards without having to look them up in a book. Needless to say, they were kept well hidden from Mum.
I was very shy socially. In my first job interviews I'd completely freeze up and barely be able to speak at all, apart from a few mumbled incoherent words. Once a Centrelink worker told me I was the most nervous person she'd ever seen. That's literally what she said. It didn't really help my confidence. Eventually I was accepted for a part-time job at... of all places... Liquorland. After I'd been there a few months, they said they couldn't put me on full-time because I was "too nervous".
Once at Liquorland I asked my boss what was the strongest drink in the shop. It was Inner Circle Black Dot Overproof Rum, at 76% alcohol. I didn't scull that straight from the bottle. (Of course I had to try, but it was too strong.) At a friend's house we poured some in a toilet bowl and lit it up, to see if it would catch fire (it did).
But the strongest drink I ever got drunk on was 96% laboratory ethanol. We poured it into an empty vodka bottle (it seemed appropriate) so it wouldn't seem weird turning up at the party we went to carrying something from a chemical lab. Mixed with orange juice, it tasted like vodka and orange, with a hint of "Artline Texta Liqueur" flavour to it. My friend thought it would be a good idea to light the end of the bottle after we'd finished it. It didn't explode, but a flame shot out and burnt his hand.
When people asked me what I wanted to do for a career I said I didn't know, or made up something random. What I actually thought was that I'd either die young or end up confined to a mental institution. I used to joke with my drinking buddies that if I lived to 30 then I'd live to 130 — since they both seemed about equally possible to me at that time.
My first car was a Mazda 1300 which I bought for $300. It needed some work. I got it driveable and then got it to pass rego. When I burned out the clutch doing very dumb P-plater-like things, I couldn't afford a new clutch right away. Fortunately, there was a road near me where people used to dump unwanted and stolen cars. There was another Mazda 1300 at the bottom of the valley, conveniently resting upside down on its roof. So I climbed down the hill with a backpack full of tools and my Gregory's Service and Repair Manual, took the clutch out of it, and put it in my own car.
Tax Collector and Sinner
When I was 19, after some intense experiences (one of which is described further down on this page), I decided to give up both drinking and my attempted career guitar playing, and get a real job. When I was 20 I joined the Tax Office. Because I figured they'd take anyone.
At lunchtime on my third day of working at the Tax Office, I walked through the front door of the building on my way out for a cigarette. I was accompanied by two young ladies from my floor who were about to cross the road to get lunch. At the exact moment that we walked out of the building, what appeared to be the entire several-story building directly across the road fell down right before our eyes. It probably only took a few seconds, but seemed to happen in slow-motion. As it turned out, it was "only" the brick facade and scaffolding of a building that had mostly already been demolished.
I was intending to stand across the road from it, and have a smoke. But if we'd left half a minute earlier, my two office companions would have been buried underneath the pile of rubble. Along with a handful of other people who weren't so lucky. A few of the bricks (etc.) hit my building, including the large glass awning and entranceway we were standing underneath as it happened. Evidently the glass of our building was quite strong, since the awning above us was undamaged. We got the rest of the day off while they evaluated the structural safety of our building.
I couldn't find many online news archives of it, but if you follow this link and type hunter street collapse in the "ALL of these words" search field, and 1990 in both the "From Date" and "To Date" fields, there's a few stories. You can see a few images here.
Having a real job in the big city brought with it greatly increased opportunity for socialising. Not long after I started working there, I lost my virginity to a married woman. We met up secretly on our rostered days off, usually at different hotels and motels — about once every 2-3 weeks, for a period of three years. It's probably the worst thing I've ever done morally. Music was a dark influence here too. For example, the final song on what was my favourite album in my drinking days. Afterwards, I regretted having the affair, and vowed to myself that I'd never again get involved with a woman who was already with someone else. I kept that vow, even during my pre-Christian years when I didn't try to follow any prescribed moral code. I just thought of the whole experience as bad karma, and wished I'd never done it.
So I became, well and truly, a tax collector and a sinner. I didn't think about it much at the time, but the Bible says Jesus is a friend to tax collectors and sinners.
During the two and a half years I stayed at the Tax Office, among many other things, I worked on SGML — the precursor to HTML, the language of the World Wide Web. The first time I had an internet account (and at home even, not at work) was in 1991, which is earlier than anyone else I know in real life.
Years later, I learned from the other side of the fence what it felt like to be cheated on. And learn it, I did indeed. Just in case having a long-term girlfriend seeing a string of different men behind my back wasn't enough of a lesson for me, I became the unknowing and unwilling co-star of a sex blog. My live-in girlfriend of seven years was the author and star. Perhaps I broke a mirror just before I met her.
I didn't even know what a sex blog was. Until I discovered I was in one, and started reading it. There were blog entries with titles like "Two Men in a Day", and "Three Men in Three Days". With every moment and body part of every act described in graphic adult-magazine-style detail. In both of those entries (and plenty of others) I was one of the men, and had no idea at the time. And almost no idea that anything like that was going on.
I did have some idea that something was going on, though. Which is why I installed keylogging software on our home computer to hack my girlfriend's online activity. Including the passwords that gave me access to all her secret accounts (like the blog site, her very busy account on an adult/swingers dating site, and dedicated email addresses).
(A warning to anyone who may be interested in trying this: Much of this kind of software is full of viruses, and is likely to send private information, like your banking login details, to people you'd rather not have access to them. Also a disclaimer, in case anyone who knows me in real life is wondering: Unless you already know me well enough to know who they are, you probably don't know any of the women mentioned in any of these stories. Nor are they still in contact with people I currently associate with in real life, nor have they ever gone to my current church.)
The scale of what I uncovered was enough that a few people who I told afterwards (independently of each other) said I should write a book about it. At first, a couple of my own close relatives literally didn't believe it could even be true. Initially my Mum said (of the sex blog) "It's a fantasy... They make these things up, you know". One cousin just flat-out disbelieved. For a short while. But once the cat was out of the bag, there was no denying it — and my now-ex girlfriend openly confessed to everyone (including her own family) about everything.
I thought of it as my karma coming back to me in spades for my earlier affair with the married woman.
To her credit, months afterwards, and without me asking (nor even hinting as far as I can remember) that she might do such a thing, my ex offered to and then paid me back the $9,000 I'd let her clock up on my credit card during our relationship. Sexually her morals were a long way from my own, but she was no gold digger.
The experience turned out to be a key motivation for my interest in Christianity. Some of the spiritual things I was into until that time were highly questionable, to say the least. Afterwards, I started to long for a belief system that had traditional rules of morality. Instead of the "choose the rules that suit you the best" style of new-age mysticism (and most of modern culture).
Also around that time, my health collapsed. It was largely a combination of stress from overwork (by that time I was a freelance internet programmer), stress from my failing relationship, and health issues from drinking. I passed out at the computer late one night, and began my descent into a world of chronic illness. By the time I broke up with my sex-blog ex I could only just walk... Sometimes I couldn't walk.
Even sitting was quite difficult and painful, and I ate most of my meals standing up for two years. I didn't drive for three years, in case my back locked up and I got stuck somewhere, or I passed out at the wheel. I lost so much weight that I looked like a skeleton. I spent much of my time slowly pacing around and around, which was often the least painful physical position and it seemed to help my back lock up less often. Clutching my long walking stick, and usually wearing a hood (because my head was always cold). Kind of like the grim reaper.
From that low point, which included the demise of my programming business, and bankruptcy, I began a gradual recovery — thanks largely (or entirely) to Jesus. The story of which will follow sometime later...
To finish this page, I'll add a few random facts about myself:
When I first got my 24-hour zinc tested it was not only far below the normal range, but so low that the test couldn't detect any zinc at all. That is, the results came back saying "less than" whatever the threshold of detection was.
As a child I tried to run away from home a few times, but I never got very far.
Because I was over the cutoff age of 30, I had to sadly decline when the producers of Beauty and the Geek once contacted me about auditioning for the show. As a geek, not as a beauty. The show wasn't really a shining example of Christian moral values so, thinking about it now, perhaps it's for the better that I missed out on being in it.
I've been chased by a car trying to run me off the road while riding my bicycle. The car followed me for quite a while (Mount Riverview shops to East Blaxland), and I lost them and then they found me again a couple of times. It was very much like the car chases you normally only see in movies. At times the car drove up onto the footpath where I was riding, with two wheels on the footpath, and two on the road. With the driver screaming at me insanely through the open front-passenger-side window. Each time there was a telegraph pole, the car swerved back onto the road, and then back onto the footpath towards me after driving past the pole.
Eventually I gave them the slip by quickly ducking into Blaxland Uniting Church, and then riding along some narrow footpaths that linked local back streets, where a car couldn't follow. So I guess, indirectly, and even as a non-Christian, Jesus helped to save me on that day.
People usually think I'm younger than I am, and a few times people have assumed Mum was my grandmother.
Once ever I've had a gun pointed at me in anger, but no shots were fired. It was during an armed hold up. I was a staff member being held up, not one of the burglars. In one sense it's actually quite a funny story, but this page is already too long. So it will have to wait for another time...
I've Done All the Dumb Things
I've done many dumb things, but if I had to pick an overall winner, it's probably this: Climbing forwards from the open back tray of a medium-sized truck, over the roof, while travelling fast — fast enough that the truck was sliding/skidding over all four lanes of the highway (two lanes each way, before it had a median strip) — being driven by someone extremely drunk, who I'd only known for an hour or two, in the middle of the night, in the rain, with my legs lying horizontal over the cabin roof and the rest of me upside down, hanging vertically over the windscreen, being held by my feet (by my brother who was in the truck's rear tray along with a couple of friends) to stop me falling forwards over the front of the cab and being run over, looking upside down through the windscreen, waving and laughing to the people inside, and (in my drunken state) very much enjoying their reaction and the whole experience.
Immediately after that, we ended up at a party where they were riding motorcycles inside the house, and pulling weatherboards and other parts of the house off and throwing them on a bonfire. It was a rented house and they were having some kind of "eviction party". I didn't know anyone apart from my brother and a couple of friends (who didn't know anyone else either). My brother and friends were more sober (and sane) than I and wisely decided to leave. I really wanted to get back on the truck (because it was so fun). They talked me out of that. I ended up walking home. During the two-hour walk, a new day was dawning, and I'd sobered up enough to realise that if I didn't change my lifestyle I wasn't going to be alive much longer.
In a way it feels quite strange re-telling these old stories now. It was another lifetime ago — but also in a sense, those days (and their consequences) are still part of me. Much more than I would like. Especially the long-term effects on my health. I could have just walked away from so many of those situations, or better still, not even been there at all to begin with. What was driving me? When I was much younger than that, I was diligent and studious, and everyone hated me (or so it felt). When I acted wild, crazy, and rebellious, people seemed to like me. Yet over that stage of my life, a darkness settled deep into my being. A spiritual darkness. I'm still not sure to what extent my wild lifestyle was the cause of that darkness, or my attempt at escaping from it. I think it was both. One thing I do know for sure is that after decades of searching, the only real, lasting, antidote I've found is Jesus Christ.
As I'm typing this sentence right now and completing the final major addition to this web page (this "Random Facts" section), it's 6 am on a Sunday morning, the second-last day of 2018 — and a new day is dawning.
Cover photo: I really loved that scooter, and I still love the smell of Wisteria (the purple flowers). My cousins were a lot older, so I was often dressed in hand-me-down clothes from the previous generation. People noticed me.