LETTING GO OF THE LONELINESS AND SELF-HATRED THAT COME FROM BEING BULLIED
A familiar experience for most redheads in the UK (especially for those growing up in the eighties and nineties), is that of being bullied.
My mother came to England to train as a nurse, as did many other Irish girls who had come of age and were keen to escape their strict regimental Catholic home lives. But I remember how the Irish were often seen as terrorists back in the eighties, much like Muslims are deemed today. And just like anyone else who was considered ‘diﬀerent’, we were ostracised and vilified.
‘NO DOGS, NO BLACKS, NO IRISH’ is what the signs on shop and pub doors would read. And so, the people who saw this type of message seemed to develop a genuine disliking, if not fear, of Irish people, and treated us with the disrespect and innate caution which was reserved for anybody considered different to the norm (white, English). The political climate at the time just made things worse; the English media were regularly reporting on the crimes of the IRA, which helped to tar the entire Irish population with the same brush. If you were Irish, they thought that you could be hiding a bomb in your bag.
A sure-ﬁre way to spot the Irish (or any Celt, for that matter) is by their flaming beacon of red hair. I had it and I hated it. My sister had it too. My father gave it to us, but he left when I was three months old, so I can only assume he hated it too. That was fine by me; I hated him for giving it to us — one of the only gifts he ever gave us.
Throughout my whole childhood, people commented on it. Daily jokes and jibes, most of them harmless, but many were nasty and of the ﬁnger-pointing nature. People actually seemed to believe that there was something wrong with you if you had red hair. Of course, verbal abuse can also turn to physical attacks, if you aren’t careful. I was careful. I was also a very good runner, so managed to escape would-be attackers more times than I can remember.
To add to this, my mother (ill, as she was) found refuge with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were a scary cult of brainwashed do-gooders, who really got their claws in when she was at her most vulnerable.
So now I am Irish, a Ginger and a bloody door-knocker!? It was a very embarrassing place to be as a child. Whilst other kids were celebrating their birthdays and Christmas, eating cake and sweets and dancing to music, the ginger loner and the other outsider, a black boy named Andre, were stuck outside and given a book to read whilst all the others had fun inside.
We had lots of black friends growing up, who we mainly met through either Mum’s work or through the Witnesses. Many nurses at that time were either from the West Indies or Ireland and, like I said before, were segregated from many public places together, so I guess they befriended each other through those avenues.
No dad, Ginger, Irish, a Jehovah’s Witness and, oh yeah…Mum was a manic depressive who kept attempting suicide all the time. This meant that we were often pulled out from school and placed into care/foster homes for up to a few weeks at a time. Social workers were often picking us up from school and it seemed they were the ones who made the decisions as to where me and my sister might end up that night, or week, or even month.
My ﬁrst ever school report. The ﬁrst line of page one reads: ” Darren is rather a loner and also a daydreamer.”
It seems clear that there are many factors to my childhood that would contribute to becoming lonely, isolated, withdrawn and…well, diﬀerent. Circumstances in my young life made me into an alien, of sorts, with a real need to escape and wander oﬀ into my imagination for a more pleasant place to dwell.
To this day, I have insecurities. I often find myself feeling judged by others, feeling like I don’t ﬁt in and I still daydream immensely. I enjoy my own company far too much.
Which brings me back (where I always end up) to art and music. With a burning need to express these mixed emotions of confusion, anger and isolation — painting and drawing drew me in right away. They were perfect outlets for my anxieties.
It is very therapeutic and when you don’t have the words for something…the creative arts usually are the best way to express yourself. I did it, I loved it. I was awarded certiﬁcates at school and won a few prizes in my community. This was also twinned with my love for poetry, which was another outlet for my creativity and one which has transformed over the years into daily lyric writing.
Art, on the other hand, seemed to cross over into my music, and so poetry and painting became song writing. This cross-over took around seven years to occur, but it was a steady and clear shift of my attentions.
We all need an outlet. It is when we feel trapped and stuck that we implode. All of us have to vent. Feelings of loneliness and alienation affect everyone at some point. I am not even angry about the events of my childhood anymore. Other people’s behaviour during my childhood (in particular, my ﬁrst ten formative years), should not dictate my future.
I realise now that music, the arts and culture are vital to human growth, expression and overcoming oppression. It is a revolution of the soul to free yourself through creative means.
So, when I say, ‘clearing out my emotional closet’, I am talking about the way in which I can now unload my troubles in a creative and non-destructive way. Feeling isolated can become a positive, if you use it to your advantage. Music creates good vibrations…literally.
As the son of an Englishman whom I never knew, fathered by a god I never believed in and raised by a single Irish Mother in a vicious and oppressed place full of spite and grit — it is time I ﬁnally forgave the incidental occurrences of my childhood.
It is time that I talked about them and become more open and honest with myself. Daydreaming and creating art were a great escape for me then (and a great therapy later on), but now music is my way to tell my story, to forgive my past and to move forward.
My album ‘IRISH BLOOD OF AN ENGLISH SON’ is just that. I am moving on, ﬁtting in.
I am loved, loving and laying the past to rest. As a second edition to my re-birth into the world as a musical artist, I hope you enjoy these songs and that they resonate with you. They only took 41 years to produce!