Cheltenham has two meanings. In the original Greek it means ‘place where posh people live’ and in the original Hebrew it means ‘place where kids get abused’. I am standing outside the house where I was born at 173 Brooklyn Road. There is no Civic Reception, no brass band, and no one here to help me process the grief I feel. I should pray and feel thankful that I was born, that I live, that I’ve had a life, a family, an on-going international ministry. Instead I weep uncontrolably. I’ve had three wonderful counselors (Ian, Jane, Craig) who each in turn help me forgive, and come to terms with the dysfunction and abuse I suffer growing up in this barren city, but today I realise it counts for little. I was born here and in the space of a few short years live in Bath and Poole before we emigrate to New Zealand. I have my 4th birthday on the boat (SS Morten Bay), in Port Said, Egypt. We settle in the semi-rural town of Masterton where I indeed have a blessed and happy childhood, with wonderful boyhood friends, and an outdoor life in a mild climate. At age 11, my parents make the hasty and somewhat suspect decision to return to England. New Zealanders are uncouth they say. England is the Promised Land they say, heaven on earth (with descriptions of green rolling hills and thatched cottages, the cradle of civilisation). It isn’t heaven, it is a wretched hell. It breaks my heart. It tears me to shreds emotionally. We live in Bournemouth (519A Boscombe Road) then move back to Cheltenham (22 Victoria Terrace), which has a posh side and a poor side. We live on the poor side. Go to a wretched low socio-economic school (Naunton Park Secondary Modern) with overcrowded classes and vindictive teachers. I am verbally, physically, emotionally and systematically abused over a three year period by teachers and pupils. Ostracised, alienated, marginalised, ridiculed, and endlessly mocked. I have one coping mechanism: withdrawal. And I spend the remainder of my life coming to terms with this, but never really have. All my ‘issues’ (and in particular shame, anger, depression) stem from this relentless abuse. Today is the mid-point and low-point of the tour when I realise not how far I’ve come, but how much further I have to go.
There is a verse in the bible: All things work together for good for those who love God and are called in his plan. Romans 8.28 During my entire high school years I make only one friend (Ross Chamberlain). I am completely nerd-like and socially inept. I have no social life, but I do become a jogger as an alternative and to this day I jog, and I’m better for it. I also teach myself guitar and learn every Bob Dylan song I can lay my hands on. It becomes an obsession, an alternative universe, the driving force in my cosmos. So when I come to faith age 26 through my Christian girlfriend Ann Fenton, God takes this obsession and moulds it into something else. Here I am today, an abused and obsessed man singing his way to glory.