“There is no End Game – you are always evolving” is a quote from Nido Qubein, someone I came to know, respect and actively follow from July 2014. In fact I was able to spend a full day learning from this quiet, gentle and highly knowledgeable man in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2015. I was exposed to the wonders of ‘Coach Nido’, when I attended one of JT Foxx’s seminars in London, England. JT (branded the World’s No. 1 Wealth Coach) had an immediate impact on my life, as I was not only searching, but also open to soak up as much knowledge and information as possible, to take me to the next level of personal development and growth.
I began to follow (or stalk!!) them both on Twitter and Facebook, and watch videos on YouTube learning from them collectively and individually – like a student follows a teacher who is feeding them positive knowledge that they can’t get anywhere else.
Don’t misunderstand me in this regard because I also ‘mind feed’ from other greats such as; Oprah Winfrey, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyers, Anthony Robbins, Iyanla Vanzant, Les Brown, Lisa Nicols…to be honest my list is endless.
The difference that I found with Coach Nido and JT is that from them, I’ve gained significant and valuable financial and business education whereas the others I’ve named were (and continue to be) spiritual, emotional, motivational and mindset leaders or mentors for me. Just like a football (soccer) team, each player has a role on the pitch and on my pitch, I needed all my players – virtually or actually – and these individuals played an important and separate role in helping me to score the many goals on my ‘pitch’…needless to say, there were many times I’d shoot at the goal and miss completely but the key is to keep shooting.
Within these posts I’m taking time out to go back over my journey and look at the highs and some lows in terms of my life experiences. I’ve been trying to finish my book for ages but instead of trying to complete it (and never doing it), I thought I’ capture chunks of time and re-live them in this way.
Have a cuppa and join me on my journey from my birth in 1969 to my 50th Birthday on 28th April 2019, a day I didn’t always believe I would see.
Early 1970s - Nursery School
Day 50in the countdown to my 50th Birthday so I thought I’d share some images from my childhood.
It appears as if I’ve come full circle because I started with very little hair and I’ve got even less now.
The picture on the left (aged around 2 years old) is obviously with my Mum and Dad who are very much still with us and together (doubly blessed).
I really think Olivia (my daughter) looks like my Mum from this pic.
The 70s were amazing and I truly had the best childhood possible.
Whilst we didn’t have much, we had family, fun and food.
The other pic (aged around 3 or 4 years old) shows me and a friend (gutted I can’t recall her name) at the lovely Bloomsbury Nursery in Nechells. Fond memories on all counts.
Still in the 70s - Blues Parties
Day 48in the countdown to my 50th Birthday – Still in the 70s in Nechells and this pic was probably taken at a bokkle party (those who know, know). As children we grew up with music in our home. Mum had a record collection to die for and that’s how I developed my love of; soul and reggae.
Blues Parties were the norm with almost any excuse to move the furniture out of the living room and the bedroom and move in the huge speaker boxes, wired up to the small turntable with the 2p coin on top of the needle to weigh it down 🤣.
These were the days of drinking Baby Cham and eating curry goat (with yellow gravy – the oil) and white rice. Running free in the local area without a care in the world. Definitely the good ole days.
That’s my big brother Keith with his protective hand on my head…and at almost 50, he’s still very protective of me ❤️
I’ve still got no hair 🙈
Photos in Cannon Hill Park
Day 47in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and my memory today is based on trips to Cannon Hill Park.
Back in the 70s we didn’t have a car and money was always tight (although we didn’t know it as kids). Whilst Dad was probably in a pub somewhere with his friends/brothers, Mum would get us dressed in our Sunday best and we’d get the bus from Nechells to town, then town to Edgbaston. We’d walk around the park, have ice cream and take the obligatory pictures in front of the “pretty flower beds”.
I’m sure that’s where Mum learnt about flowers as her garden now ALWAYS has lovely flower beds (grown/planted by Dad of course).
It was our day out and I suspect for Mum, a way of spending time with us as kids because she worked nights during the week so barely got time to see us. Thanks Mum, you never let your situation define who you were and you showed us that where you are/live, doesn’t mean you can’t go where you want to at anytime.
Take an interest in everything and dream beyond yourself.
The Warmington Legacy
Day 46in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today’s memory is about Legacy.
The image on the left is my Granddad, Mr Charles Lionel Warmington. He was born in August 1917.
The man on the right was my Grandfather’s father known as Capatas (I have no idea if that was his real name or just what they called him…🙈). NB: Found out his name was Walter James Warmington. He was born in the 1800s….I’ll let that sink in a bit.
My Dad remembers his Grandfather well when he was growing up in Jamaica, much like I remember my Grandfather. My Grandfather was calm, had integrity and above all loved his family, both bloodline and inherited/adopted et al. My Dad is the same.
My Grandfather was the eldest of 9 siblings and my Dad is the oldest of 11 or 12 (🤷🏽♀️). My Dad has inherited many if not all of the qualities my Grandfather had in abundance, especially his dislike of injustice. Coming from a big family means I never got to spend much time alone with my Grandfather and as I got older I wished that I had taken more time to actively spend time with him…fortunately I was able to see him before he passed. For this reason, I try, despite my crazy life, to spend time with both my parents, but especially my Dad as Dads sometimes get forgotten so much.
The legacy, to my knowledge is that I live with the integrity, honesty and above all I love my family, unconditionally and without waiver.
Love and blessings one and all.
Fay and Joan Smith
Day 45in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today’s offering is Christmas in the 70s and 80s. These weren’t the same without Joan and Fay Smith. I know we’re Cousins but don’t ask me to explain the bloodline because I can’t but I know Joan can.
For as long as I can remember, every Christmas from my birth was spent going to visit “di ole people (my Grandparents at Durham Rd) then off to the West family on Gospel Lane. Boxing Day would be at our home in Nechells (and later in Acocks Green) then New Year’s Eve at Fordhouse Lane, Stirchley for the Smith family. That was 3 solid evenings/nights partying with Joan and Fay plus other times throughout the year.
I recall one particular Boxing Day (I think) when Mum had prepared a mountain of food and the traditional hard dough bread ready to be served with the fried fish 👀. There was a dog (called Shep) in the area that we as kids decided he might like some bread. By the time we got bored of feeding him Mum’s hard dough bread, there was very little left (imagine a duck bread almost gone 😱). Needless to say “….it nuh ave nuh owner” (meaning no one admitted to what had happened) we always stuck together as kids and if we got into scraps, Keith always had a plan to get us out of it.
The bond amongst us is still strong despite the span of almost 50 years and the lesson I take from this is ‘shelf life’.
Some people enter your life and last a day, a week, a month or a year- either way, they can be classified as perishable. Others, whether friends or family, can last for many years or decades, they are not perishable. They grow, change, develop but remain tied to you (and you to them) by invisible strings that bind and don’t break because of the journey you’ve shared or continue to share.
Joan and Fay, we’ve come a mighty long way – love you both for the very real memories and ongoing friendship ❤️❤️
Pic: l/r = Joan, Keith, Fay – taken in the garden at Fordhouse Lane or Gospel Lane (I can’t remember to be honest 🤔😜)
Keith and Nigel Warmington - My Big Brothers
Day 44in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today is about my Bros. Keith and Nigel have ALWAYS been right next to me…not just physically, but protecting, nurturing, caring and strengthening.
As boys they grew up sharing a room so they were always together but I was also included. Nige would let me crawl into his bed (bunk beds) especially when I had nightmares, even when Keith was annoyed because I was ‘a girl’. However, outside of the home, Keith was the one who always looked out for us and would do physical harm to anyone who messed with us.
I remember starting school (Hartfield Crescent) …first day, First Year (Year 7 nowadays) and a group of Fifth Years sort of cornered me in the playground at lunchtime….picking off the soft fruit I suspect.
They wanted my dinner money but before I could say anything, one lad walking past said “I’d leave her alone if I was you, that’s Warmington’s sister”.
The fear on their faces was priceless and of course my chest inflated with pride that my big brother was known in the school as someone not to be messed with. No change there, you still don’t mess with him 👍🏾.
To my bros, no matter what’s happened or is happening in my life, I feel your individual and collective protection around me. If I call, you jump to help, assist, support.
You are role models as fathers, husband/partners and friends, so I was easily able to recognise the qualities in my new relationship because they mirrored those I’ve seen in you both all my life.
I love the fact that we still laugh at and with each other. We know each other’s strengths and areas of “don’t ask me because I ain’t doing that” 😜
I LOVE YOU BOTH so much and I’m truly blessed to have not one but two of you consistently in my life.
The Late 70s - Childhood Friends
Day 43in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and at 49 years old now, this photo was taken 40 years ago on my 9th Birthday (Mum reckons I was 6 but I believe my memory is better than hers!!).
I remember clearly that my dress was handmade by my Mum and I loved the flowy fabric and the ‘belt’ was a brown strip of velvet that tied in the back. We had the usual kiddies party first with music and games plus loads of sweet things. However, by 6.00 pm I remember my Dad pulling Mum to one side to say “Gloria, di pickni dem fi go ome so we can set up di soun”.
As was the norm back then, having a child’s birthday party was an excuse to have a blues party that night. I didn’t mind at all because it was in our house so we’d get to stay up as late as we liked and I’d get to stay in the boys room because my room/bed was full of coats!!
I think this was the last Birthday party we had in Nechells for me because we moved to Acocks Green just before my 11th Birthday. I occasionally still drive down Vauxhall Grove just to look at where we used to live.
It’s changed a lot in 40 years (obviously) but my memories of that time are still very strong and happy. Playing Knock Door Run, Curby, Hopscotch, British Bulldog, Bashes, Follow the Leader etc etc, was a perfect way to while away the summer holidays.
Collecting waste wood for weeks to build bonfires that we were then not allowed to attend because Mum was scared we’d get burnt and having the baddest Mum in the area who would go toe to toe with anyone who stepped to her or her children (I can’t share the stories, she’d take me out before I get to 50 👀).
Thank you, Eron Francis, Gregory Francis, Tony Wilkins, Stephen Farrell, Sharon Griffiths, Nigel Griffiths, Lila Essack and everyone else I’ve failed to name 🙈, my childhood was amazing because of you all.
My life lesson today….don’t be afraid to occasionally look back to remember and remind yourself of how far you’ve travelled ❤️🙏🏾
My Fashion Icon
Day 42in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today I go back to circa 4 years old. The pic on the left is me at some Nursery School trip to a farm I think. Check out my swimming costume with the little white skirt attached.
As you can see, I still have that costume and I’m so glad that Mum kept it because outside of pictures, this is the only physical item I have from my childhood. Check out the picture below that I think was taken on arrival or collection, and my Mum was looking hot in her black/yellow platform shoes with bell bottom trousers and that Afro (wig).
My Mum was (still is) very stylish and I remember watching her get ready when she was going out for the evening with my Dad. She would start very early on by making sure dinner was cooked and the smell banished from the house before she had her bath. Her outfit was likely to be homemade as she was an excellent dressmaker and never wanted to wear the same thing other women were wearing.
She’d then sit and paint her long nails (admittedly not as long as mine are now, but long for someone in the 70s). They’d often be bright red, two coats. She’d take her time with her make up, sitting at her dressing table like the film stars we often watched in the black/white films.
I definitely recall her purple eyeshadow which came in a tube and every time I watched this routine, I’d think to myself “I want to be as beautiful as my Mum and when I get older I’m going to have long nails painted red”.
After putting us to bed and ensuring the babysitter (Sonia I think), was ok, Mum would slip into her outfit and leave the house with Dad, off to party somewhere….I can only imagine them in their 20s as Jamaican’s partying hard!! They must’ve looked like one of the hottest couples in town. The way I carry myself both past and present, stems from both of my parents.
I remember saying to my Dad quite recently when Mum was looking particularly good for an evening out…
Me: “Dad, aren’t you worried that someone might steal Mum away from you the way she’s looking good”?
Dad: “Well, if nobody wants her, mi nuh want ar eider” and he wasn’t joking either.
They still keep each other in check making sure they look good🤣.
Lesson learnt: You are a product of your environment so ensure your environment is as wholesome as possible 🙏🏾
10 September 1977 (I think) - Mum and Dad's Wedding
Day 41in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today’s memory is Mum and Dad’s wedding day…yep I was there (picture below as proof) 🤔 and it was on a Saturday morning in September IN THE BULLRING (St Martin’s Church)🤣.
I was 7 or 8 and as I loved new clothes and looking pretty, I was excited about being a ‘Flower Girl’. Of course Mum looked beautiful as a bride and Dad in his tailored suit (nothing off the peg for Pops).
In those days at weddings, there was an open bar and drinks were flowing. Playing with the other children at the wedding was great fun and when we got thirsty we’d just go to the bar and ask for a Snowball, Baby Cham or juice. On one occasion during the night the bartender said we couldn’t have anymore drinks and my reply “We can have what we want because my Mum’s the Bride”….yep I was feisty with it too 🙈. But we got our drinks. 😜
Happy Days then and now 🙏🏾
March 1980 - Moving House
Day 40 in the countdown to being 50 and the year is 1980….the location is Acocks Green and the picture is my junior school which I joined in March. Mum was a dominant force in our household….Dad was very much the man of the house but like many Jamaican parenting, the women made the major decisions and this one was to move us from Nechells for our own good.
My Mum could see that had she not done that, our lives as kids would have been very different. I was devastated that we left Nechells which had been the only home I’d known since birth. To be honest, I really didn’t fit in at this school as it was the middle of the spring term of the final year, so friendship groups had been well and truly set.
Everyone was nice enough but to a 10 year old, in a completely alien school, it was hard to settle. Mum would come and pick me up each day until I was comfortable enough to walk home myself. This area was to be my home for the next 8 years but it’s been Mum and Dad’s for the last forty 😱
Every time I drive past, very much like my school/home in Nechells I still feel a touch nostalgic ❤️
The Lesson: Change is not always pleasant and sometimes you can’t see the bigger picture until maturity and age kick in. 👍🏾
Day 39 in the countdown to my 50th birthday and the memories are still flooding in. I’m sure you can recall your first day of school….big school that is. First Year for those of a certain level of maturity, now commonly known as Year 7. Well despite leaving Nechells (dragged kicking and screaming, literally), and my short stint at Acocks Green Primary, I quickly found myself at Hartfield Crescent (now Ninestiles Academy) which in the early 80s was billed to be the largest school in the city.
As tradition dictates, there were several trips to C&A department store and Lewis’s for our school uniform and as usual for me, Mum would go to the Bullring Market to get fabric to make my skirts. I vividly remember my PE Skirt was homemade with pleats all the way around – it lasted the full 5 years because my size didn’t change much (I was a size 12/14 for most of my school life) and the fabric was of such good quality that it stood the constant washing and wearing.
Anyway, my first day I had this (pic) as my school bag….not this actual one but very similar. I’d got the Vanity Case with the smellies in it and used it to carry my stuff thinking it would be practical….I soon ditched it when I realised it wasn’t as ‘cool’ as I thought. It actually wasn’t until moving to Acocks Green and starting secondary school that I realised how financially poor we were.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a good life, food, shelter, clothing but cash rich or even cash availability, we were not so there were no luxury items. Mum and Dad were stretched having just bought their first home, and holidays were never on the horizon. Pocket money was 30p per week and from that I would buy my copy of Jackie, Blue jeans, Bunty, Beano, My Guy etc. It was during these school days that recognition of myself as a black child began to come to the forefront whether I was ready for it or not and let’s just say I had to quickly establish myself as someone you just don’t ‘step to’.
Not all memories or life experiences are good ones but they all play a part in crafting who you are today.
Pat Linford (The Pied Piper of Acocks Green)
Day 38in the countdown to my 50th birthday and I could not go any further without mentioning the one and only Pat Linford and her family. I think Pat came over on the first day when we moved in next door and there began a relationship/ friendship spanning the 40 years Mum and Dad have lived on Shirley Road.
Having a young family herself did not deter Pat from practically taking on each child in the neighbourhood in terms of keeping us properly engage in meaningful activities during the school holidays. Pat was like the Pied Piper of Shirley Road, we’d have bread/butter sarnies, a couple of litres of orange squash and off we’d go (Pat plus 10 kids usually), walking to the Park up the road which in reality was not always up the road.
Through Pat we learnt so much more about unity, tolerance, road safety and more importantly, nature and the world around us. Thank you Pat, I know as we got older, our outings lessoned (teenagers are not prone to long walks to the park) but it was because of you and your children, that made settling into Acocks Green a lot easier for me personally.
Having 2 ‘sisters’ to play with, Julia, Kathleen and Joanna all living within 3-4 doors of each other, made dealing with 2 older brothers much more bearable.
A Typical Saturday
Day 37 in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today is about my love of reading.
Despite my increasing friendships in the area in which we lived, I began to read a lot. Firstly comics and the usual childhood books by Judy Blume. My favourite day of the week was Saturday….I’d wake early to start my chores….dusting the house from top to bottom including all the trinkets and ornaments in and around the glass cabinet (the struggle was really real).
I’d hand wash my clothes as I disliked using the twin tub washing machine, and in the summer it was great as I could put my clothes on the line to dry. During the winter it was a trip to the laundry to dry them. Once I’d done EVERYTHING, my time was mine so from about 2.00pm onwards I’d head into Acocks Green village and straight into the library. I’d spend hours reading and carefully choosing the books I could check out (Max 4) which I would spend the rest of the week reading.
As I got older, I began to notice the books my brother Nige was reading, which were much thicker than my teenage books and one day he encouraged me to read a book by Jeffrey Archer…..Kane and Abel. OMG I fell in love with his writing and finished it in a week. I never looked backed.
Unfortunately, although I still love reading and have a library (mini) at home, time isn’t always possible to indulge my passion. Where possible I therefore listen to audio books and I think T D Jakes wins hands down in this arena although I also love listening to Bernie Mac on repeat. I’m so glad that my love of the written word was fully established in my early childhood because I know that that foundation is the reason people today pay me (reasonable ) sums of money to write for and about them. Sitting down and blasting through 5,000 words in one sitting isn’t unusual.
The book is still coming….I promise….time is the only thing holding me back but I will get there.
Day 36in the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today is about ‘sporty’ Sharon. I’d always excelled at sports from my very early childhood, winning races at Sports Day and being a young gymnast in Mr McKenzie’s gymnastic classes on a Saturday morning at Vauxhall Gardens Primary School.
Swimming was also one of my favourites until I got burnt and had a huge scar to deal with (that story is for another day I think). In secondary school, I was chosen for the Netball Team for my year group and I quickly began to get a reputation as a good shooter. For this reason I would often be asked to join the 5th year team if they had a match after school.
Remember the PE Skirt I told you about a few days ago that Mum made, well I more or less had it in my bag, constantly awaiting the inevitable note to the teacher of one of my lessons, from Miss Hughes or Mrs Palmer, “Can Sharon Warmington please go to the gym after school to take part in the Netball match”. Inside I was always happy about this, it meant I got to play a sport(s) I loved and developed friendships with older girls, black girls mainly, which was great as my older sisters were not around.
My love of sports extended to; rounders, netball, trampolining and running – 100 or 200 metres only though – I never had the stamina for long distance. It was great and despite being a ‘big’ girl (although I now know size 12/14 isn’t big at all compared to where I’m at now!!), this level of exercise kept me quite trim and laid a great foundation for many years to come.
Towards the end of my school days, I scaled back on some sports because being the child of Jamaican parents meant that I had to “study mi book” and for that I’m grateful.
Taking a Breather
Day 35on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward instead. Feeling good and loving all the support I’m getting from you for these memories. I’m sat at Mum’s as I type this, looking back at old photos and just crying tears over some of the images, they are so funny. I’ll share more soon. 🙏🏾
Joining Muntz Street NTCOG
Day 34 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and this week I’m focusing on years 12 to 18 so today it’s circa 1981 and I’m 12 years old.
We were well and truly settled into Acocks Green and Mum had started to attend Muntz Street New Testament Church of God in Small Heath. I really don’t recall how everything played out in terms of the lead up to it but clearly after decades of enjoying everything associated with life outside of the church, Mum started to change. As children were familiar with Muntz Street as we’d attended Sunday School as kids (yep I’ve experienced the Church Van!).
Anyway, Mum was getting baptised into the church and we as a family were all dressed up to witness and support this happening. As the event unfolded, I remember seeing my Dad raise his hand but I didn’t know why, nor did I have a chance to find out before he was whisked away behind a door that turned out to be the Pastor’s office. He came out moments later in a pair of my grandad’s trousers which looked funny on him because my grandad liked his trousers baggy (like Bro Hepburn for those who know). So here I was, Mum had just been baptised and my Dad was about to follow suit. In that moment, I felt that they were leaving me behind and I wasn’t having it. I raised my hand too and off I went to get changed into someone else’s clothes, white in colour, and a wrap on my head. I wasn’t 100% clear on what I was doing but it felt right to me and by the end of the night, 5 Warmington’s had been baptised and accepted into the church.
This single event would have a lasting impact on my life by building on the strong foundation by parents had laid since my birth. Although I’m no longer in the church, my belief system is still very much intact (and never faltered despite being judged for many of the decisions I have made). I live my life with integrity, honesty and high morale values which I’ve come to find isn’t always present in those that do attend church regularly (can I get an Amen!!!) Whilst my relationship with the church has lessened over the years, my relationship and closeness to God hasn’t wavered.
The struggles and challenges I’ve experienced and overcome in my life, would not have been possible without the unyielding faith and knowledge that I AM IN HIM AND HE IS IN ME.
Miss Donna Lawrence AKA Mrs Sharon Webley
Day 33 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today I pay tribute to Donna Lawrence aka Sharon Webley.
As I mentioned yesterday, we joined the church in the early 80s and it became isolating in some respects because we couldn’t do the normal teenage things with our friends in Acocks Green and we lived 2 bus rides away from our church friends so for years I personally felt in a sort of limbo. However, I did, what I always did, I kept reading books and this did not go unnoticed by Donna, a beautiful young black woman who I greatly admired and who was a member of our local church. Donna was extremely well spoken, poised, sophisticated and wore an array of head wraps which gave her a regal presence.
Now you really need to understand that singing was the most highly prized and praised talent in the church back then and I longed to be able to sing as beautifully as my fellow peers but unfortunately, that talent passed me by. Don’t get me wrong, I could get through a hymn or two with tons of music drowning me out and lip syncing next to those who sing like angels…however, I wanted it so badly and couldn’t understand why every other member of my family, yes my brothers too, could sing and sing very well, but I couldn’t.
Donna could sing and was a member of the local youth choir and the Highgate District Choir but given her passion for young people, she formed a small group of singers and called it Refreshing Rain – you know who you are! The average age of this group was 13 years old and although I joined the group, I accepted that signing was not my talent, which Donna and the other group members soon realised when I was given the lead part in a song and just couldn’t do it.
I managed to get out of singing any solo for the rest of my time in Refreshing Rain and I think Donna recognised my predicament and encouraged me to speak rather than sing. After working with Donna for a period of time on my tone, poise and delivery, I was quickly and repeatedly called upon to read scriptures and recite poems in church and various ‘Teen Talent’ events across the country.
When people ask me today, why I’m able to speak so freely and without nervousness or reservation in front of hundreds of people, “it’s because of Sharon Webley” I say proudly. I was a reader from a young age but she light the fire in me to become a speaker and for that I will always be grateful.
Thank you Sharon, your sincerity and integrity haven’t changed since I met you almost 40 years ago and very much in line with Ubuntu….I am because we are”.
Love and blessings.
Scarred for Life
Day 32 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday I wanted to trip back to my earlier childhood just for a moment and how something that happened then impacted my teenage years. As was the norm in our area of Nechells, immediately after the summer holidays, we, as children, would start to think about Bonfire Night. Whilst the evenings were still quite bright and once homework had been completed we could go out and play for a while.
During this ‘playtime’ if we came across bits of wood, we’d carry it back to our outside shed and store it towards building our bonfire. There were lots of children in the area but a group of 8-10 children, me included, were always together. The group was very diverse, black, white and Asian and we embraced our differences, sharing our cultures and food where possible. The area at the time wasn’t as built up as it is now and there were lots of wasteland places to source bits and pieces and spend lots of time playing made up games (no other choices really).
I think it was a Saturday that this happened but I can’t be 100% sure now. We were playing very close to the flat at the bottom of Vauxhall Grove and I believe I was around 6 years old. I recall that some of the older boys in the area had lit a fire in a metal drum and Tony (a much older boy), who lived at the top of the blocks of flats on Vauxhall Road, was holding a long stick with the inner tube of a bicycle wheel over the fire and I knew the rubber was melting and dripping into the metal drum. Whilst I was aware of what they were doing, I was involved in playing with my own friends not too far away. As I glanced behind me, I saw that Tony had now lifted the dripping rubber inner tube, out of the fire and started teasing those around him with it. I could see that parts of the inner tube had flames on it, whilst at the bottom it was dripping black tar looking droplets all over the ground. Tony continued to point the stick at the children around him and as he did, they would either dodge him or move out of the way to avoid being touched by the stick.
I became aware of the screams mingled with laughter but had my back to Tony and as I stood up from my squatting position (I must have been playing marbles or something), I felt this searing pain on the back of my right leg. As I looked down behind me, I could see black rubber stuck to the back of my leg just behind my knee and I ran screaming into our block and straight into our flat searching for my mum. Tony had simply poked ‘at me’ with the stick, maybe believing that I would run away but as I hadn’t seen him, I didn’t, and the rubber had touched me, stuck to my bare skin and was burning into my flesh. Dad was home too and I think I just screamed as the pain was so bad. I was laid across mum’s knees as Dad tried to peel the rubber off my leg.
It must have been horrific for both of them to see this and just not know what to do. By this time, news of what had happened had spread in the area (the child grapevine I suppose) and a friend of Dad’s who had a car, had arrived to take me to hospital (not sure why 999 wasn’t called). Mum was on the back seat of the bright green Ford Capri, with me across her legs face down and she was using a cold wet towel to try and soothe the burn. I couldn’t see or focus on anything except the pain but being a mother myself now, I can only imagine the pain mum was going through too.
I was taken to Birmingham Accident Hospital, which was world renowned for dealing with burn injuries and trauma cases, but for a young girl in the 70s it was a very Victorian type of place. For a full 13 days I was restricted to limited visiting hours by my mother and father only and none from my brothers, as children were not allowed. I was the only child on a Ward with both male and female patients and I cried every time my mother had to leave me there. I had to undergo a skin graft as the surgeon’s told mum that I’d walk with a limp if the burn wasn’t treated properly and therefore skin was taken from my upper right thigh and grafted onto my leg…I now had 2 major scars to deal with for the rest of my life.
So as as a young girl and then as a teenager, dresses and skirts had to go past my knees from then on because I was so conscious of the scars. I hated swimming lessons (which I’d previously loved) and dropped out of the swimming club for this reason. In the summer holidays I never went swimming with friends and changing for PE was a nightmare so i started to wear a knee support to hide my scar telling people it was to support my knee during games.n I was forever scarred and had no way of knowing how to deal with it so I just hid the external and internal scars from the world and became extremely shy when I was outside of my family environments or close friendship group.
The burn and skin graft healed but the mental scarring would last right through my adulthood. I’d gone from playing out all the time, to staying at home where possible, hiding away and if I did go out, then I had to be covered up just so that I didn’t have to answer any questions or have people staring at me. To this day I hate bonfires or anything remotely related to them and when my children were young, I hated it when their dad wanted to take them. My fear was very real but over time things got better.
The scars are still there on the outside but the internal ones healed a long time ago. I do look back sometimes and want to shout out to little Sharon Warmington….”watch out. Don’t step back. Be careful” just to save her from the physical and emotional pain she would experience but of course, that’s not possible.
Day 31 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today I’m back in school. It’s circa 1983/1984 and I’m in Third Year (Year 9). It’s time to take options for our CSE’s (no I didn’t miss the ‘G’ off, they were called CSE’s in my time). I enjoyed school and really thought I’d like to become a teacher. Off I went for my ‘appointment’ with the Careers Teacher and on reflection I’m really not sure what qualifications she had for that title because she was crap at it.
Teacher: “So Sharon, what is it you’d like to do when you leave school?”
Me: “I’d like to be a teacher Miss”
Teacher: (laughing) “I’m sorry Sharon but black people don’t become teachers. Why not focus on getting a good factory job?”
Me: …..no words…..gutted….dream crushed in a heartbeat!!
I didn’t hear much of what else she said in the remaining 5 mins of our careers advice and guidance session so once she stopped talking I just get up and leave. Everything began to make sense to me from that point on….I was in lower sets at school not because I was stupid or of a low ability but because I was pre-judged based on my skin colour.
Something needed to change and it wasn’t going to be my skin colour. I started to focus even more at school, visit the library more, I seriously began to devour knowledge. Whatever I was going to do, teacher or not, I was going to be the best version of myself that I could be. Watching Dallas one night on TV and being besotted with Bobby Ewing (come on, I’m not the only one so own it) I decided that I was going to become a secretary working for a wealthy guy, wearing nice clothes and ‘doing lunch’ as often as I could.
I’d learnt to type (self- taught) years earlier as my Mum had an Olivetti typewriter at home and she’d given it to me for my 11th Birthday. It was during my teenage years that I made a plan for my life, when I’d marry and have children and how much money I’d make. I knew I’d make it, I just didn’t know that the terrain would be as rough as it was or that it would take quite as long as it did.
The race is really not for the swift but for those who endure to the end.
Going to College
Day 30 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday so I’ve left school and it’s the summer of 1985. I had secured a place at Solihull College of Technology to do two years on a secretarial course but first it was time to earn some money.
My Cousin Joan and I joined ADM Training (I think that was the name), it was a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) and we got paid £25 per week to attend. I got a real taste for earning money and although I was going to college in September, I formulated another plan. As I’d already got my RSA Stage I in typing (I was a touch typist), I could sign up to temporary agencies and get work so in between my studies and during EVERY holiday, whilst my friends were enjoying the break, I was working in different companies across the city.
I knew that at the end of a two year course we’d all be leaving with more or less the same qualifications but I needed to set myself apart from the crowd and work experience would do that and it did. On joining college in the September, my Communications Teacher Mr Tandy quickly recognised that I was bright and asked me why I didn’t have an O Level in English….”because my teachers at school put me in the lower sets Sir” I replied. Well within 3 months of that conversation, I was the proud owner of an O Level in English Language with a Grade B…it makes a real difference when a Teacher believes in you and that situation encouraged me to ignore anyone who told me “I couldn’t do something”. Remember, it is only people beneath you (mentally) who can pull you down.
Those above you will always try to pull you up because they recognise that there is plenty of room at the top – it’s the bottom that’s crowded. By the time I’d left college in July 1987, I had an armful of qualifications, bags of experience and I was ready for the big world. I was 18 years old and full of life.
Moving to the Big Smoke
Day 29 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and I remember I started seriously dating for the first time in my life. I’d known him since childhood days and we reconnected when we (as a family) joined the church. By the time I got to 16/17 years old, the phone calls had started and this was decades before mobile phones so it was the house phone. I’d call him and he’d call back to avoid the constant arguments with Mum about the phone bill. I was very young and very green but I was also in love. I still had the plan for my life which had included getting my education and leaving to go and live in America with my Aunt, but plans change and so did I.
I was definitely ‘courted’ and as I was still working as a temp, I’d get assigned to different places and on my first day, a bunch of flowers would arrive from him to help me settle in. I was loving the attention but tried to remain focused on my plan. America was off the table because I now didn’t want to leave him but I still wanted to ‘test’ how serious he was about me so I decided to move to London.
Originally I was living with my boyfriend’s cousin in Battersea and on my first night in the big smoke, I cried…..no I bawled….had I made a mistake? I couldn’t be sure. I’d jumped and did so without a parachute so I started flapping my wings to see if I could actually fly, and fly I did.
Moving to London was the best thing I could’ve done as it caused me to step well outside of my comfort zone and I had some amazing experiences during my time there. I didn’t last long living in Battersea and Joan was eager to join me in London so we got a one-bed apartment together in Wandsworth, 211 Chalmers House (see I’ve even kept the Rent book!!).
We had some amazing days and nights there. Friends would visit from Birmingham (remember Patrick?) and we’d eat corned beef and rice when we constantly appeared to have more month than money!! Paying bills was an experience that we’d not had to deal with at home, so these 2 young women from Birmingham went through a major learning curve and it was literally the making of us.
Emmanuel (Mani) Frempong
Day 28 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and it’s another heartfelt tribute to my Ghanaian King….Emmanuel Frempong. I first met Mani during my early time in London circa 1988 when I got a job at Lordsvale Finance, I was a junior secretary and he was an accountant.
Born and bread in Birmingham, I really didn’t understand or know about diversity and culture until moving to London and having Mani take me under his wing to educate me. Often laughing out loud (with his deep bellowing laugh), Mani would explain the crazy errors I would make in my lack of knowledge of countries across the globe, and life in general.
I was fascinated by Mani’s wide vocabulary and would often pretend that I knew what he was talking about when it became obvious to him that I didn’t. One day Mani asked me point blank if I knew what ‘so and so meant’, after I’ve nodded my agreement to something. I was caught out. Embarrassed now! Mani calmly and clearly said that I should never pretend to understand something when I clearly didn’t – always seek clarification or explanation because you could be agreeing to/with something that you shouldn’t.
I never blindly agreed again….to anything!
My first proper experience of clubbing was down to Mani. I was living in London and as an accountant by day, Mani was a bouncer by night (trust me he had the stature and the menacing look to go with it). This meant he could get into most, if not all of the clubs in the West End for free. He told me to be ready for 1.00 am and I thought he was joking because I knew in Brum, clubs closed at 2.00 am but this was London…the city never sleeps. I dressed in what I had, church (convention) clothes (I was a good girl remember) and was good to go. We went to Moonlighting first and when that finished around 4.00 am it was off to grab something to eat before touching down at All Nations. I rolled in at 7.30 am and slept like a baby. Oh my, those were the days…..nobody sees, nobody knows….lol.
Seriously though, Mani has been there for me even when he didn’t realise he was. His deep (and extremely velvety) voice would bring calm
ness to me during some of the most difficult times. His advice and guidance would always be there and even when it was cool to have 2 or 3 mobile phones back in the day, Mani always made sure I had each of his numbers so that I could get hold of him at any time, day or night.
Despite the 30+ years from then until now, our friendship is still strong. We’ve got 7 children between us (he’s been busier than me) and he’s Godfather to my beloved Son but when we speak to each other, it’s as if we had spoken just last week and it could actually be a year or two that has passed.
Emmanuel, I love and totally adore you. You’re an amazing father, husband and friend. It is truly my honour to know you. Thank you for all that you have done for me, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
God bless you always.
My Wedding Day
Day 27 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today is 6th July 1991, my Wedding Day. I married my ‘childhood sweetheart’ and was so excited about the day itself, I never really considered what marriage would actually entail. 🤔
We’d been dating since my teenage years and we’d got engaged when I was circa 20 or 21. I had a beautiful diamond and emerald engagement ring and was about to get a wedding band to match.
There were 400 guests arriving and for anyone who knows me, you know that day was planned to the very last napkin. My dress had been handmade with lace that I’d bought from France….because I just had to have that lace…how ludicrous🤷🏽♀️.
I’d prided myself on not going into debt for my big day and to avoid that very thing, I’d returned back to London to earn the money to pay for whatever I wanted.
I woke up on the morning of my big day to thunder and lightning but I was so calm. I knew my day would be perfect. Aunty Rose arrived to do my makeup and hair, Joan (my Chief Bridesmaid) was in a panic (as usual) and Mum was dealing with some crisis on the phone.
I went downstairs to get something to eat and catch up on the episode of ‘Wentworth H Block’ that I’d missed the night before!
The bridesmaids came, got dressed and left in the pre-ordered cars, Mum left and it was then just me and Dad. I came to the top of the stairs in my dress and I could see the pride on my Dad’s face as I descended the stairs to join him. We left the house and climbed into the vintage Bentley I’d ordered (that’s where I developed my life of those bad boys) and off we went.
Arriving at Oughton Road Church (Highgate), I remember gripping my Dad more tightly as we entered the church. Everyone stood up and I was waiting to hear Evadne’s voice singing the song we’d agreed (flesh of my flesh)….no words came, just the melody played by Martin Trotman. It wasn’t until later that day I was told that Eve had been held up on the motorway. 😱
As I entered the room, walking as we’d practiced, I saw Mani seated at the back and I remembered our endless conversations as he couldn’t believe or understand why at 22, I felt the need to get married. It was at that point that I realised….I was too young, I was in doubt but if not him, then who? If not now then when? I continued to walk and went on to have the best day of my life.
I don’t regret marrying the man I loved because I did what I wanted to do and I still live my life like that today. The fundamental key driver though is that when something is no longer working or serving you, you should change it and that’s what I did.
I gave my marriage well over 100% – 100% of the time but we were incompatible. Most people saw that well before I recognised it but if I’d not made the decision to continue down the aisle and exchange those vows, I wouldn’t be the proudest mother of the two most wonderful children I have.
Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn but live your life with NO REGRETS…..ever….life is far too short. ❤️
Day 26 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and shortly after getting married I found my perfect job. I’d been working in London (on and off) for the previous 4/5 years for places like Coopers and Lybrand (now PwC of course) and we’d been using the latest in technology which was Word Perfect! It was a software programme for word processing and it had a blue screen, not the black/green of Displaywrite that I’d been used to previously. Anyway, crazy as it sounds, I was looking for a forward thinking company in Brum that used this software because I wasn’t about to step back in time.
I saw the advert for a Personal Secretary at Birmingham TEC and I applied. As became the norm for me, the interview was actually one sided where I was almost interviewing them to see if they fit my ideal rather than the other way around. I got the job as Personal Secretary to the Finance Manager but within 3 months I was promoted to be PA to the Chief Executive and my fate was sealed.
The first time I met David was when we both arrived in our building and shared a lift. His office was on the 18th floor and I was located on the 17th floor of Metropolitan House. We never spoke to each other in the lift but when he came down to a meeting with my boss, the Finance Manager, he introduced himself as “the guy who pretends to run this place”. I instantly liked him. David’s manner was engaging and caring and as the years passed by I never understood why other members of staff were scared of him.
So it was January 1992 and I was now PA to a Chief Executive that had regional and national clout and I loved it. We moved from our offices in Edgbaston and relocated to China Town, Hurst Street. My skills, knowledge and experience continued to grow at a phenomenal rate and I regularly accompanied David at formal dinners and events.
I learnt how to communicate professionally, both in the written and spoken word and how to make small talk with men and women in very high-ranking positions. I also learnt how to order, eat and enjoy a variety of foods and wines, which I developed a taste for. Don’t misunderstand me, David and I were still partial to the odd bacon and egg toasted sandwich but should a new restaurant be opening in the city (BrindleyPlace usually), then a lunch or dinner would be on the cards.
For 10 years I worked with David…that’s with him not ‘for’ him, which is how he viewed it long before I embraced it. Through this professional partnership, I learnt how to lead others effectively and with compassion, not to mention learning how to write properly and speak publicly in a commercial setting.
David’s belief in me didn’t stop at what I could do for him as his PA, it extended far beyond that relationship and he became my mentor and friend, especially when I was going through the trauma of domestic violence – work became my safe haven, the place where I was in total control and felt needed and valued.
David was my Bobby Ewing (I loved Dallas) but it was time to move on, he’d carried my baton for many years but it was now time for me to take it myself and run my own race, right through to the finish. We cried (I bawled) and little did I know that it would be another 10 years before we reconnected, but his influence in my life has remained to this day and provided the foundation for me, to not only build upon but it was something so strong that when the walls of my life crumbled, the foundations remained strong so I could build again.
I became Unstoppable.
Olivia D Hinds (My Baby Girl)
Day 25 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and it’s the arrival of child number one. I. was on my first ever overseas trip ….to Greece with Joan and I felt sick. Joan was annoyed that I wasn’t in the party mood and I just thought I’d eaten something off.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I took a test at Joan’s and it was positive. I remember having to tell my boss I was pregnant and although I reassured him that I was coming back, the rules back then (1993) meant that I had to cease working approximately 12 weeks before my ‘date of confinement’….yes that’s what it was called.
It actually turned out that according to the policy (and my start date), I missed out on the full pay maternity cover and when David found out, he instructed the Personnel Manager to change the policy and get it ratified at the upcoming Board meeting so that I would be within the scheme….did I tell you how much my boss meant to me….priceless.
Olivia’s love of food started in the womb as she didn’t want to leave. She was a week overdue and after 30 hours of labour, she arrived….8lb exactly. Within 6. months she was not only off the breast, she was onto solid food….blended rice and peas with gravy. How I hear you ask, well Olivia was in her high chair one day
Within 9 months she was on her feet and although I don’t recall exactly when she started talking, I know she’s never stopped!! Olivia was always bright (and brite!!!) so she excelled at everything she put her mind too. What I hadn’t realised until she was much older, was how much she loved and protected her little brother during their early childhood. When the raised voices and subsequent police visits happened, she would put her arms around Theo and tell him everything was gonna be ok.
When Olivia couldn’t cope with living between two homes any longer, it was a shock to both of us as parents that she chose to live with me…I was a no nonsense mother who laid down the rules and didn’t waver but she thrived.
We created a strong bond and when I walked away from her in Mexico where she would live for 12 months as party her degree, it broke me. I was proud and devastated in equal measure.
Now as a 25 year old young woman, she has been the constant companion, friend and daughter I needed and wanted. Her beauty is inside out and her personality is just as crazy as mine. I used to call her my shadow but now, the roles have reversed and I’m honoured to stand in her shadow.
I often just spend time staring at her and wondering how, through all of the trauma of her young life, she was able to come through in such a positive and holistic way.
Olivia D Hinds, you truly are the joy of my life. I’m in awe of your beauty and intelligence (although basic common sense does pass you by sometimes). You have no idea how having the responsibility of being your mother dragged me through some difficult times and because of that, giving up or failing was not an option. I needed you more than you ever needed me and I love our many long talks, our laughs and most of all, our foodie similarities (we’ve actually just got back from a chocolate run).
You work extremely hard and there is no way I could be have another daughter because I hit the jackpot first time round.
Thank you Baby Girl…I love you.
Theo Hinds (TT)
Day 24 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and despite the increasing difficulties in my marriage I didn’t want Olivia to be an only child and I’ve told her many times that Theo was my gift to her.
I knew that my marriage was operating on borrowed time but I made a conscious decision to have another child with my husband because I didn’t want to have my children grow up the way I did…having to explain that even with different surnames, my brothers. we’re my brothers.
Although Theo was a week late in arriving (he loved his sister from the womb to the point of staying in as long as she did) but the labour was only 9 hours because I refused the epidural this time. It was hard though and when my son was born I lost a lot of blood and he didn’t cry. I was panicking as they tried to get me sorted and I heard the staff rushing around. “Please Lord, don’t take my baby” I said and then I heard the scream. Theo was just taking his own sweet time to get moving (and that’s how he still is today…he won’t be rushed!!!).
He slept through from about 2 weeks not because he was being good but because he just couldn’t be bothered to wake up for food….breast milk just wasn’t worth the hassle. One morning however, when he was about 7 months old, he woke up but was really floppy and lethargic. I was seriously concerned. He ate and drank as normal but something wasn’t right. However, within an hour or so he was back to normal and I thought nothing of it. When alcopops started to hit the scene, I used to drink something called 20/20. It came in all sorts of bright colours and I’d have a tipple in the evening…as. I reached for my glass I caught Theo doing the same from behind the sofa….my son had been dealing with a hangover that morning because he’d helped himself to my drink the night before thinking it was pop!
One if the hardest decisions I’ve ever made as a mother was to hand my son over to his father. The deal was in order to stabilise Theo’s environment, he would spend Monday to Thursday with his dad and alternate weekends with me. The court order was a 50/50 split but Theo wasn’t coping well with the arrangements and I couldn’t watch him suffer in that way. Little did I know that in a bid to give Theo more time with his dad, would lead me to living without seeing my son properly for almost 6 years. I was even arrested one day because I refused to leave the doorstep without seeing him. During those years I cried EVERY night, I functioned in the day and was a mother to my daughter but my son was not with me at all.
The best day of my life was when Theo turned 18. He was an adult in his own right and from the age of 16 we’d started to rebuild our relationship. Whilst he wasn’t living with me, he was just down the road and had a key to my house so he could go and come at anytime.
Theo Hinds, your quiet nature and strong sense of loyalty is what makes you who you are. You are the centrality of our family unit. From my grandfather, through my dad and straight to you, you have the Warmington gene that dictates ‘family first’. Everyone loves you because you are you. What you see is what you get.
My pride overflows when I see you…your hugs are the best and you have grown into an. amazing young man. Whilst you’ll always be my Prince, you are truly a King.
Thank you TT, I love and adore you.
Day 23 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and it’s the 1990s, I’m in my 20s and as I reflect on this part of my life, I recognise and acknowledge the part I played in the failure of my marriage which started with the fact that I didn’t listen to my mother and followed the fantasy for fear of being ‘left on the shelf’…how mad was I to think that, after all, I’m gorgeous ;-).
At 22 I was married to a man who didn’t have much by way of qualifications or prospects but being someone who doesn’t judge an individual’s status, I tried my best to make it work. What I didn’t realise though, was that as I continued to educate myself and grow professionally as well as personally, his resentment towards me was growing at the same rate that I was.
We were both still in the church and therefore, there were things you just didn’t talk about. Who could I talk to about what I was feeling? No-one, so I just carried on regardless. My career was growing stronger under David’s leadership but the extra work hours were met with negativity from my husband, which I hid from everyone. I was so unhappy at home that I even started to go into the office on Saturdays just to get away from the tension at home. I just felt unloved, unwanted and definitely not sexy at all.
During the time I was pregnant with Theo, I was studying at night school so for 2 nights per week, I’d finish work slightly earlier, collect Olivia from the Child Minder and drop her off at Mum’s. My classes were held at a local College and when I finished at 9.00 pm, I’d go back to mum’s to collect Olivia before making the journey home. For the entire duration of my study, my husband never once offered to collect Olivia on the days I was attending Night School and at weekends, when I needed to do my assignments, I still did all the housework and shopping. I sat my exams in the July, heavily pregnant and Theo was born in the September.
Our marriage became a mechanical arrangement and I experienced a level of meanness that I never thought possible. I remember coming home one day and seeing the household bills laid out on the dining room table where my husband had used a highlighter pen on the phone bill of all the calls I’d made with a total cost and he had the utility bills for a full 2 years to compare how it had increased. He didn’t care that we were now a family of 4 when he accused me of “washing clothes too often”. Of course, I took clean clothes out of the wardrobes just for the sheer pleasure of washing….NOT!!
I solved the phone bill issue by getting myself a mobile phone but things didn’t stop there as he now resented not knowing whom I was calling and when. Another time when we went shopping together as a family, I grabbed a trolley and so did he which I thought was strange. I used to do most of the shopping on my own but that day he wanted to come along. I started picking up the things we needed according to my list ie food, washing powder, etc and he picked up the things he wanted and nothing for our home. When we’d finished, I joined a queue for the cashier and expected him to join behind me but he went to another cashier, paid for his items and left me to foot the bill for the household goods. This was on top of the fact that I was paying the mortgage, insurances and the lease agreement on the car. I earned more than he did but the division of finances was unfair and I was left with very little money at the end of each month so I lived off my credit cards, store cards and overdrafts – I had poor financial management and he knew it and cursed me for it.
I was in a hole and couldn’t get out.
Day 22 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and for those who’ve never been abused, it may be difficult for you to understand what I’m going to say in this post but abuse starts psychologically in the first instance. To the world I was strong, focused and very confident but at home I was forever trying to make my husband happy by playing the dutiful wife and mother; cooking, cleaning, working hard at my job and of course ensuring that I looked after myself physically to keep his attention. Nothing worked. I felt as if I wasn’t good enough and things came to a head physically just a few days after my son’s christening although the mental abuse was much much worse.
It was 19th November 1996 and I was on maternity leave from work having had Theo in the September of that year. We awoke to heavy snow and I was concerned with the fact that Olivia (aged about 3 at this time) didn’t have a winter coat sufficient for the weather. I asked my husband for the Child Benefit book so that I could buy one for her that day whilst he was at work. He controlled this money, and his own, whilst almost all of my salary (as I said before) paid the mortgage, insurances, food bills and the loan on the extra car that he insisted we needed.
I recall the day as if it were yesterday…we argued (nothing new really) and things escalated. I swore at him as I came up the stairs towards him. He was coming from our bedroom and I knew Theo was in his cot (he was just weeks old having been christened just yesterday! I’d left Olivia downstairs in the lounge to play whilst mummy and daddy were ‘talking’ and I came up the stairs as I knew my husband was in our bedroom. As I got to the top of the stairs he was already there and as usual, I was becoming more frustrated as he systemically and menacingly continued to push my buttons to cause a reaction. It’s really scary when I look back and see how much control I allowed him to have over me!
Our stairs went straight up and then had 2 extra steps on the bend before the upstairs landing and he’d come down these two steps as I reached the one beneath him. My frustration and hysterics reached an ultimate high and I swore at him because I couldn’t believe how difficult he was being in terms of letting me have access to the child benefit when in fact I knew deep down it was because he didn’t want me to know that he’d been using it despite us agreeing that we wouldn’t.
I’d had enough and decided to ‘walk away’ and just as I did, I heard him say “I’m going to mash you up mentally, physically and financially and no one will believe you because they know me, I’m Ricky, everyone loves Ricky”, it was low, almost a whisper but I’d heard it. When I turned back to face him, he came down to join me on the step I was on and of course there wasn’t room enough for both of us. Using his chest he pushed against me and I fell, I remember thinking on the way down that I should try not to hit my head on the wall heater located at the bottom of the stairs and also being grateful that Olivia was not in the hallway to see what was happening, as she’d be frightened.
I landed, awkwardly but seemingly intact and I was aware of my husband rushing down the stairs as I scrambled to my feet, but instead of helping me to get up or checking that I was ok, shocked by what he’d done, he literally grabbed me by my throat as I was still stabilising myself. By this time I was no longer shouting or screaming and as he pressed my back against the front door and came in very close with his face barely millimetres away, he spat these words at me “just give me the excuse and I’ll take you out”. I said nothing, knowing that he meant every word. I couldn’t speak even if I’d wanted to because of his grip on my throat, which by now was significantly reducing my ability to breath freely.
We remained like that for what seemed like a long time and it took some time for him to release his grip, I was very conscious that my daughter was now watching the whole thing and my 6-week-old son was sleeping upstairs. It was clear that I was not only not going to get the money to buy Olivia’s winter coat, I had been warned not to challenge him again.
Surprisingly, my husband continued on to work without another word – I still had no money to buy Olivia’s coat, and he returned home that evening again without saying a word and acting as if nothing had happened. By the following day I had several bruises on my legs where I had in fact hit the wall heater and of course around my neck where he’d held me. They were a myriad of yellows and purples against my light brown skin so much so that I was pleased that I didn’t have to leave the house or accept visitors so I could hide away without suspicion. Having said that, I’d previously learnt how to artistically apply my foundation to hide the odd bruise or so but there were too many this time. This non-communication, outside of one word answers from him, went on for a few days and I began to question myself in terms of whether the event had actually happened or not. When I raised it with him, he struggled his shoulders and basically said I was making a big deal about nothing – I remained quiet and decided to ignore it too….for a while at least.
A Change Gonna Come
Day 21 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and a further two years have passed by with many more verbal and physical altercations and police visits to our home which became the norm for me. I knew my marriage was over but I’d found some kind of middle ground and double existence where I was growing and developing professionally and building a strong reputation but increasingly fearful for my life behind closed doors. By this stage, I’d seriously considered ending my life (sorry mum and dad, I was too ashamed to tell you this) and I did actually have the pills in my hand a few times. Fortunately, God had other plans for my life and brought my angel to talk to me in the form of my friend Mani.
It was late one Friday night and I was sitting with my children (approximately 5 and 3 years respectively at that time) crying silent tears as I watched them play together in their bedroom. I had been worn down so much mentally and emotionally that I believed (as I’d been told) they’d be better off without me. I’d gone through times when even David was ringing me at home every night just to check I was ‘ok’ as by this time he was aware of what was happening and constantly implored me to leave.
My distress only seemed to dissipate when I could crawl into the shower cubicle and allow the hot water to cascade over my head and body washing away my pain and tears silently. It was the only place I could find sanctuary and peace and where my children would not see me cry.
This particular night when my phone rang, it was Mani. I had not long before, gone into the bathroom, leaving the children playing in their room, and believing they’d be better off without me, I sank to the floor and tipped the sleeping pills into my hand realising that I didn’t have a glass with me to catch the water needed to swallow them.
The phone ringing jolted me slightly as I didn’t realise it was in my hand too. I was shocked because it was an odd day and time for Mani to be calling me so I instinctively felt something was wrong. There was. As I listened to him talk to me about being on his way to hospital because his mum had been taken ill – he hadn’t even seen her at that stage but had called to tell me – I was aware of myself tipping each little white pill into the toilet bowl. This I viewed as God telling me, through my friend, that my life was precious and I had no right to bring it to an end, not for any reason at all. As I wished Mani and his mum well, I knew I had to end this nightmare that had so easily become my life.
Wanting to leave a relationship, whether married or not and knowing you must leave it for your own safety and sanity is very different to actually doing it, especially when, to the outside world, there is seemingly nothing wrong. By 1999 my parents were aware of what was happening and begged me to leave him, David the same and although the physical violence was seemingly less regular, the psychological and emotional torture was much worse.
There were lots more ‘events’ after this one before I finally left the family home because quite frankly I believe he would have killed. My husband even tried to get full custody of our children only because he knew that whoever had the children, got the house. I reasoned to myself that with the amount of other houses available, I would just let him have that one and didn’t put up much of a fight. I left with the clothes on my back and very little else but I was alive and although I didn’t take the children with me (I had a lot of personal ‘repair’ to do), I rested in the knowledge that with my families support and my own self-belief, I would not just survive, I would thrive and thrive I did…big time.
BBC Dragons Den
Day 20 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and after living back at Mum and Dad’s again, then renting a house for a short period of time, my small divorce settlement came through and I was able to go house hunting. It was circa 2000 and the millennium year had brought a new found happiness for me even with the remnants of my previous life still hovering like a dark cloud over me.
I found a lovely little semi in Kingstanding which was on sale by two elderly sisters (so you can imagine it wasn’t at all modern) and it was perfect for what I needed. We’d gone to court with regards to the children and although he had asked for full custody, I agreed to split their time 50/50.
Many people had told me to “take the children away from him” but I couldn’t do that. We’d divorced but as far as I was concerned, we became parents at exactly the SAME TIME at the point of conception so I had no right to deny my children access to their father or deny him access to his children.
The pattern was two days with me, two days with him and then alternate weekends. For me this meant I could plan my work around the children and start to rebuild my life. Money was tight and despite earning good money, my single income stretched me to the limit.
To supplement my income I’d taken in freelance work in the form of providing administrative and secretarial services to small businesses and sole trade
rs. It turned out to be quite lucrative and I enjoyed it.
I’d starting working with Peter, a local businessman who I’d known previously through my ex-husband and after providing 2 years notice (yes you read that right), I left David and the job I’d loved for 10 years.
Focused on the strategic growth and business development of a new sports training aid, as I was sat watching the first episode of the first series of BBC Dragons Den, I thought “We could do that”. As is often my mindset, I think about it for a few minutes and then just get on with it.
Needless to say I, alongside my business partner were on the second series of BBC Dragons Den to pitch our business for global domination!! It was brutal and we didn’t get the money but learnt some valuable lessons. The best lesson I learnt was that just because someone else doesn’t believe in what you are doing, does not mean you shouldn’t be doing it or that you won’t succeed.
Take out of every situation the lessons that will help you to move forward and discard the ones that will hold you back.
Dragons Den said ‘No’ but AC Milan FC said ‘Yes’ and that’s the day I had breakfast in France, Lunch in Switzerland and dinner in Italy….one
of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I had the bug of being self employed and no disappointment was going to deter me from becoming all that I could be.
Day 19 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and today I go back to circa 1995 when I truly understood the importance of health and how fragile this gift of life really is. Mum had ALWAYS been the backbone of our family. She worked very hard and loved having quality things, a trait I’ve clearly inherited. 👀
I can’t recall the exact date but I know Mum was diagnosed with renal failure either just before or just after I had my second child. In truth I didn’t know what it really meant and it was well before google was even a thought in the mind of its creators, so I couldn’t look it up.
What I do remember is a series of hospital appointments to see doctors and specialists about it and where I could, I would spend time reading leaflets and the documentation they gave to Mum about diet and procedures. I was determined to be there for Mum in whatever capacity she needed.
When the doctors described the fact that Mum needed to have a fistula in her wrist to create the mechanism for the dialysis to start, she wasn’t accommodating and the doctors reply was simple….”Mrs Warmington, you’ve been ill for so long that you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be well. This process will make you feel a lot better”.
I think Mum was just frightened to be honest, frightened of being tied to a machine for at least 4 hours each time, 3 times per week, EVERY week, EVERY m
onth and EVERY year for the rest of her life….I didn’t blame her for being frightened….I was!
I was still working for David at this time and I didn’t hesitate in offering one of my kidneys to Mum as a living donor. They gave me the talk and included the complications of the procedure and I read as much more as I could about organ donation as a living person. What if my remaining kidney failed, what if Mum rejected it? There were so many things that could go wrong but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
I’d had my bloods taken as the first step to confirm compatibility and I was at work when I got the call on my office phone (no mobiles remember). David was in his office and came rushing out when he heard me bawling, loud and uncontrollably. He ushered me into his office, shut the door behind him and sat down next to me. He didn’t say a word, he just held my hand and waited. I remember thinking how soft his hands were and how much of a mess I must’ve looked, but I just couldn’t stop crying.
“I can’t give Mum one of my kidneys”, I managed to say between sobs “we’re not compatible” and the crying started again.
He knew how much it meant to me to be able to do this for my Mum because at that time I’d read that (a) long term dialysis is not a good place to be and (b) donors are few and far between and the waiting list has very specific criteria.
With the average life expectancy being 5-10 years on dialysis, it’s well over 20 years now for Mum. We came very close to losing her 4 years ago and during that time I changed my life again to accommodate the weekly trips to the hospital to pick Mum up, take her home and make her something to eat because she couldn’t hold a spoon or fork to feed herself.
But this women, my mother fought back as she always does and treated herself to a new car a few weeks ago despite being 73 years old (this year)!! 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾
When people ask me how come what I’ve been through hasn’t broken me, I look to my mother because with everything she’s been through for me, for us as a family, I have no right to hold my head down, so I hold it up…as high as I can because quite simply I AM THE DAUGHTER OF MRS GLORIA WARMINGTON a true woman of substance.
A Very Close Call
Day 18 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and I’m in my early 30’s, settling into a good routine with the new childcare arrangements and my new found entrepreneurial exploits. My business partner and I secure a demo of the TDR (sports training aid) with a German company in Frankfurt (or Munich, I forget).
Having been on BBC Dragons Den, we were getting traction in some areas although the UK football clubs were still unimpressed by the benefits of the product – this was of course understandable because why would they want to improve their football training techniques when they were doing so well in major tournaments and on the world stage in, the World Cup every 4 years!!!
Anyway the Germans wanted to see it and we were happy to show it to them so we put the equipment, weighing half a tonne, in the back of our sign written company van (a Mercedes Sprinter long wheelbase) and off we went.
It was a long drive to Dover from Brum after a long day at work, but we made it and crossed on the late ferry that same night.
Money was tight given it was a relatively new business with overheads to meet and no investment so when we got to France, we parked up and slept in the van. It wasn’t an unpleasant experience because we were excited about the potential customers in Germany and the equipment, if sold, would be a £5k sale!
As morning broke we found the nearest service station and freshened up (black people stylie of course). As this was circa 2004/5 we were using a very early version of the sat nav which appeared to be leading us in the right direction. Given that my sister-in-law is German born, she’d given us detailed written instructions of the journey as it was the first time we’d taken this trip.
The roads were beautiful and we admired the many bridges, stopping off for rest and refreshments every few hours as it was a long way. We were heading for Baden Baden and needed to drive into the Black Forest. It was late afternoon by now and the sun was disappearing. As we continued to drive upwards, following the sat nav, snow began to fall and it created a beautiful white snow scene in front of us. We continued up the mountain and the snow got heavier but within what seemed like minutes, the snow was thick and heavy and our visibility was almost zero.
My business partner slowed down because of the snow and despite being a skilled driver, we started to slide….backwards down the mountain with half a tonne of kit in the back of the van. Everything was happening so quickly, I was crying as I had images of sliding off the side of the mountain and crashing to my death in the ravine below. We wouldn’t be found for weeks as no-one would know what had happened, but I was jolted back to reality when Peter shouted at me “We ain’t gonna die today” he said and I heard him loud and clear.
We’d come to a standstill on the mountain and other cars were whizzing past us and we couldn’t understand why they were managing to get through the bad weather. We needed help, fast and we dialled the equivalent of 999 but they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak German….but I knew someone who did. I called my sister-in-law who lived in Birmingham, UK, and explained our situation as calmly as I knew how. She then called her parents who lived in Germany and they called the emergency services to rescue us.
By this time, a lovely couple had stopped to help us and actually laughed at the tyres we had on the van – ‘summer tyres’, whilst everyone else had ‘winter tyres’ so they were able to manoeuvre in the snow.
This was one of the scariest moments of my life and it taught me never to part with anyone on bad terms because you never know if today will be your last day to see them. In my moment of panic on the mountain I couldn’t decide if I should call my children or my parents to say goodbye because I really thought I was going to die – I still can’t drive in the snow (ask anyone who knows me) and I actually have panic attacks if I’m caught out in it.
PS: We sold the TDR to the German company and two days later when we were on our way back down the mountain, the weather was beautiful and the journey home was perfect.
Day 17 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and having a house to myself was my safety zone, it was important to me given where I was coming from.
My little semi-detached house was 3 bedroomed but the bathroom was downstairs. At first this bothered me but I quickly got used to making the trip downstairs in the middle of the night to the loo and even managed to do it without waking myself up to much😉
The children were well into the routine of 2 days with me, 2 days with their dad and then alternate weekends. The school runs happened and I was grateful that being self-employed meant that I could spend time with the children before and after school.
On the weekends that I had the children, Joan would come over with her son Tyge, my Godson, so that the children could play together, whilst we would catch up on things.
During this time and despite being fully divorced and trying to build a business, I was still having to deal with my ex husband. The late night phone calls would happen regularly with no-one speaking on the other end to the point where I wouldn’t answer the phone. I couldn’t change my number because I needed to be contacted if anything happened to the children whilst they were not with me.
One day there was a knock at the door and I opened it to find 2 police officers standing there. My heart raced immediately but I was extra concerned because the children were with me and playing upstairs. The police came in and sat down and told me that my ex had had a break in at home and they were visiting me to see if I had anything to do with it…..seriously!!🤷🏽♀️
I almost laughed out loud. I was still paying for the loan that I’d taken out in my name (whilst still being married), to pay for the double glazing on HIS house. I was managing my own mortgage and living with someone else’s furniture because I couldn’t yet afford to buy my own stuff. I’d left my home with the clothes on my back as he threw me out and called me ‘rubbish’ yet here were the police asking if I’d arranged to break into his house.
“Look around” I said, “take a good look at everything I have here. I’m barely surviving and the less I see that man the better”.
That night I got another ‘anonymous call’ but this time he spoke so I pressed record on my phone in the hope of finally getting a voice recording of the enduring threats and viciousness he would throw at me.
“Why did you lie to the police about the break-in?” “I didn’t lie” I replied, “I’ve got nothing to hide, why don’t you just leave me alone?” “I told you, I’m gonna mash you up financially, physically and mentally”, I’m gonna get a gun and blow your head off”
I was totally shocked but I was no longer scared.
“Do what you have to do” I said, “I’m not going anywhere but I’ve just recorded you saying that so now if anything happens to me, the police will know exactly where to look”.
I reported this to the police but was told that unless he did something, then there was nothing they could do. 😔 by this time I’d had restraining orders, I’d left with no fighting over material things and I was still not free.
It was Rev John Grey who had said to me years earlier that the abuse (mentally/physically) wouldn’t stop until he found someone else to abuse or found someone that wouldn’t tolerate his obsession with me….scarily, I prayed that he found someone else just so I could have peace.
I decided to keep moving forward but I began to distance myself from friends and to some extent family too. I was focused on work and trying to build the business so that I could pull myself and my children out of the situation we were in. Debts were piling up as I didn’t have a regular income and I was juggling big time but the worst was yet to come…
Order for Possession
Day 16 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and its 2006. My daughter had secured her place in a grammar school last year and had settled well despite the turmoil of her life. She was now living with me permanently having made the decision that she needed stability. My son was still on the rota of 2 days on, 2 days off and alternate weekends.
This revised arrangement hadn’t gone through the courts and although I loved having my daughter with me, I hated the fact that my children were growing apart. I never had any experience of living in two separate homes because to this very day, my parents are still together (in their 70s).
I tried to ensure that my son didn’t feel left out or that my daughter and I didn’t do things together without him. It became increasingly difficult to manage this as there would be days when I’d go to collect my son from school and he wasn’t there, he’d been picked up by his dad on a day that wasn’t his. I didn’t fight because I didn’t want my son to see that.
I was struggling financially, being self-employed and trying to build a business meant that every spare penny went into it. I began missing mortgage payments and the inevitable happened. One spring day I opened a letter with an Order for Possession. It gave a date and time of when I needed to be in court to face the mortgage company who wanted to take my house, the home that I’d taken the time to scrap and save to get and do up, slowly.
My bedroom had been part of one of those TV Makeover programmes so it was lovely and modern and fresh looking. I’d worked my way through the rest of the house doing Olivia’s room all purple and lilac and Theo had a hand drawn almost life size Spider-Man on the wall. Downstairs my kitchen was huge with all white cupboards, a black work surface and floor.
I started to cry, real tears as this letter in my hand said that I was going to lose my home and today was my 37th birthday!
I didn’t tell anyone anything. I got the children sorted for school and I carried on about my business hoping that a miracle would happen before the court date 4 weeks later….no miracle calm. On the morning of the court date, I had to get the bus to court and I sat and waited for my name to be called.
It’s really all a blur now because it was over relatively fast. I had no representation to make and no offer to give to save my home so the judgement was made.
I needed to get home. I needed to get back to my safe zone. I was holding on tight to the tears which were desperate to flow but I needed to get home first.
As soon as I closed the door behind me and sunk to the floor right there my phone rang. “Please God not my children, I couldn’t take anymore bad news today”, I said and as I grabbed my phone from my bag I saw ‘Mum’ on the display…..I’m not sure if this was better or worse.
Well I couldn’t lie to my mother and so everything poured out of me like a river bursting its banks. I was done. After the years of holding things together, losing my home was the final straw and I really had hit rock bottom with a desperate feeling of no hope.
After I’d told Mum everything and I braced myself for the ‘I told you so’ judgement, Mum totally surprised me and said, “Don’t worry Sharon, here’s what you’re going to do”.
Day 15 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and it’s the day after the night before. I’d listened carefully to what Mum had said to me and I was now sat in the local Estate Agents office, Dixons. It was the same agent I’d bought the house through in the first place and here I was putting my house on the market.
Mum had spoken with such clarity and purpose as she explained to me how to take back control of the situation. Rather than have the house repossessed, she said I should put it on the market and clear the mortgage, at least that way I’d be left with whatever small amount of equity was in it. After putting it on the market, first thing Monday morning I was to contact the council for re-housing.
My lovely little house that I had turned into a home sold within 3 days of it going on the market which was of no surprise to me. It was early May 2006 now and having explained my situation to the housing department I was pleased when they came back to me with an address for me to move but…
“I can’t move to Frankley Beeches”, I said on the phone to the housing representative after reading the letter and finding out exactly where Frankley Beeches was. “It would mean my daughter would have to get 3 buses to school setting off at 6.30 am every morning and she’s only 12 years old”.
“You only get one offer so you can’t refuse it. Your daughter will just have to change schools”.
I wasn’t refusing the house, I hadn’t even seen it, I was rejecting the location due to distance and there was no way on God’s green earth I pulling her out of a grammar school because of decisions that I’d made. That was not going to happen.
There were a lot of phone calls and letters but I still refused to accept that I only had one offer and I would not go to see that property. The day of the exchange of contracts came and I had to move out of the house….with nowhere to go!
My furniture went into storage and I dropped the children off to school with no idea of where we’d be sleeping that night. I went straight down to my local Housing Office and waited there all day until finally they found temporary accommodation for us.
I was given the address and immediately went to pick the children up from my brother. I was given clear instructions that although it was temporary, I had to sleep there every night from 10.00 pm until 7.00 am.
I still had my car, a black BMW 2 door sports no less 👀and I was familiar with the area but did not recall seeing a hotel on that road before. How naive was I?? The Rugby House Hotel had always been there on Slade Road in Erdington, I’d just never registered its existence until that day.
I pulled into the car park and we got out and made our way to reception. The ‘rules’ were explained to us as we were shown to our room and as the door opened we were greeted by an awful sight….beer cans on the chest of drawers, unmade beds and the smell was making me feel sick.
Olivia looked at me and said “Mum, is this where we’re staying?”. I gave her the ‘Mum’ looking meaning keep your mouth shut but my heart was breaking for them.
The hotel staff asked us to wait a few moments whilst they ‘tidied’ the room and I knew exactly what that meant – no clean sheets! I reconfirmed the time I had to be in my room and decided to leave immediately.
I bundled the children back into the car and took them and our luggage to my brother’s house. You see I had to register as homeless in order to obtain a property, it’s not that my family couldn’t help it was just that if they did, I wouldn’t be treated as an emergency case and I was.
The children stayed at my brother’s house and every day I would leave that place, go to Keith’s to wake the children for school, get them ready and drop them off. I’d then get on with my day (I was building a business remember) and then go do the school run, get them fed and stay with them until bedtime. Once they were safely tucked up, I’d wrap myself up in joggers and a sweatshirt ready to sleep in that place. I borrowed my brother’s sleeping bag as there was no way from day one, that I was sleeping in that bed. I slept fully clothed with a coat on within the sleeping bag on top of that bed. I never washed there I never even used the toilet whilst I was there, nothing. I would wake up and be ready at the door to sign out (proof that I’d stayed) and leave.
I honestly can’t remember how long I was there, a week or so I think, but it was exhausting because to the world I was still Sharon Warmington, I was a Governor at a grammar school, I was attending meetings and delivering training sessions for clients all whilst being homeless.
I was down but I was not out. I had my children looking to me for reassurance that everything was going to be ok. I had to be ok for them. I had to survive for them. I had to fight back for them. They became my total focus. My children were my life, they were my oxygen and when they were not with me I just cried all the tears I needed to release that I couldn’t when they were with me.
My daily routine continued until I finally got the call (it was actually a fax direct to the hotel) that I’d been allocated another (longer term) temporary accommodation. I was excited as it was a 3 bedroomed house in Perry Barr which meant we could at least sleep in the same house…hopefully 🤞🏾
Day 14 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday, it’s still 2006 and after moving to temporary accommodation on The Broadway I literally got on my knees and not for the first time. I asked God to ensure the permanent accommodation they were finding for me would be located on a bus route to get my daughter to school easily on one bus – that was my only request. 🙏🏾
It was during this time that I ‘lost’ my son.We’d relocated so many times over a short space of time that at 9 years old, he was done. I remember going into his room to get him up for school and he woke up with fear in his eyes “Where am I Mum?” he said physically shaking.
He didn’t recognise the room he was in and no wonder, it wasn’t the room at his dad’s and it wasn’t the beautiful room with the life sized Spider-Man on the wall that I’d created for him. It was a dark and dreary room with mildew on the walls, dirty carpets on the floor and that smell the permeated everything.
That evening when I picked him up from school I sat him down and tried to explain to him how much I loved him but how I thought he’d be happier staying at his dad’s from Monday to Thursday and then with me alternate weekends. I was so scared that he’d think I didn’t love him or that I loved his sister more but I didn’t. I was putting his needs above mine. It broke my heart as with both cried but I knew he needed the stability. My daughter was older and in secondary school so she dealt with the upheaval easier. 😔
Little did I know that the decision to put my son first would result in me not having access to him again for years!
The offer for a permanent move came and this time I would not reject it…after months of living without my own furniture, in a house that constantly smelt of depr
ivation and poverty, I was free. There was a bus stop across the road that would take my daughter from home to her school in 15 mins, almost door to door.
I signed for the keys and was excited to open up the front door and take a look at what would become our home. There was no central heating, no double glazing, no carpets and no shower….the bathroom was downstairs and they’d even taken the bulbs out (I ain’t lying) 👀. However, I’d learnt to look beyond what was there in front of me in order to visualise what I could create and who I could become. I had to dream, it was the only way out.
As the years passed by, I started to make changes and turn this house into a home. Being a council tenant, I couldn’t do what I wanted but I did push the boundaries a bit (see pic). I knew I could create a home for myself and my children. I knew that no matter what more was thrown at me I would overcome it…..I thought I’d already hit rock bottom but little did I know that rock bottom was was yet to come. For now I was ok…skint but ok…
Day 13 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and despite all that was going on in my personal life, my business and professional life was going from strength to strength. My business partner and I had moved on from the Sports Training Aid (TDR) to a new product in the green energy sector.
It was 2006/2007 when things really started to take off. Leaf Log was a biofuel made from naturally fallen tree leaves that would otherwise go into landfill. We collected the leaves and through a unique process, we created solid fuel logs that could be used instead of wood or coal. It was carbon neutral and we’d cracked it but we needed money….investment…. funding, and lots of it.
Whilst Peter’s focus was on the innovation, mine was solely on finding the money to take those ideas from concept to commercialisation whilst creating the infrastructure. We did the usual stint around the big banks and had to jump through hoops with the answer being “no” most of the time. However after seeing how hard we worked to make things work, and the amount of obstacles and rejection we faced, Mum and Dad decided to support our dream.
Remember that these are people who started with nothing in this country and had raised their family and owned their home outright! They were agreeing to remortgage to make logs! It was a genuine and sincere commitment that just blew me away. The loan was tied to the business and repayments were made through that route so everything was fine.
During this time I was full throttle in securing additional funds as bringing a product to market was no mean feat….ask Dyson!!🤔
I got in touch with a Secret Millionaire that I’d seen on TV and pitched to him (unbeknownst to my business partner). He ultimate invested in us. Another multi millionaire that lives in the Bahamas and to this very day I’ve never met, invested a whopping £90k – he would only communicate with me and not even any of the other investors that came on board.😜
We were supplying products to B&Q, supermarkets and direct customers across the UK and Europe with the likes of Drax Power taking an interest in the product for their £50m biomass plant being built in Yorkshire.
We were getting paid. 👍🏾👍🏾
We employed about 20 people and life was hectic but good. We even won a £40k cash award from Shell Oil UK and other industry awards for innovation.
But guess what happened in 2008 and had a ripple effect for across the globe?
The bottom fell out of my world….AGAIN.
The stock market crashed and the world went into debt almost overnight. Our investors pulled out and we had to make the entire workforce redundant at CHRISTMAS.😭
This was bad, very bad but worse was to come when my business partner, not long after this disaster, literally walked away from the debt against my parents house.
We’d spent about a year after the collapse of the business trying to get back on our feet with various ideas/projects but meeting the repayments was hard and the bank had no mercy.
This person had been in our lives for over a decade. He was part of our family, loved by my parents and treated like a son but still he turned his back on us having to deal with a debt in excess of £100k 😔
That was rock bottom, right there in that moment I knew I’d gone as far as I could go and the beauty about rock bottom? The only way is up and this beautiful black woman of substance was down (again) but not out.
She was going to rise. 🙏🏾
Day 12 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and this is Ardyss International day!
Before he left, my business partner had again presented a business idea to me that I agreed to ‘try’ but this one was different…at least for me. When he left he took the consultancy business that we’d created and left me with Ardyss which he believed was a fair split….joker!
Ardyss International and in particular the Body Magic became my life for the next few years. It was a multi-level marketing structure and whilst I’m aware that people have their own personal opinions, I have no problem with MLM structures and believe to this day they are a great training ground for many.
Some people mistakenly believe that MLM’s are pyramid schemes and whilst some may be, there’s no bigger pyramid scheme than a job….someone at the top dictating how much everyone else gets paid, that’s why a job was not on my agenda.
I needed to earn money every day. There was a lot of ‘month’ which always lasted longer than the money and being in an MLM allowed me to at least survive from day to day and it showed me how I could literally control how much I earned in any given week.
I worked closely with my up-line and began to sell as hard as I could, it wasn’t even about building the business for me, it was about survival and the profit I could make off the products I sold because I needed to eat and pay the bills.
I was showcasing across Birmingham and the surrounding regions and some weeks I’d have a showcase every evening plus 3 or 4 at the weekends. I became a product of the product and my hourglass figure was super enhanced by the reshaping garments, to the point where people would stop me in the supermarket or walking along the road, to comment on how I looked. I’d offer them a demo and then go to their home to fit them in a garment and the sale was guaranteed. People would even refuse to take my sample garment off and would pull the cash out to pay for it, that’s how much they wanted to look and feel good. I liked it because they worked, the products were great.
By this time I’d started to allow my nails to grow as previously I couldn’t because I was either humping around the TDR or running a manufacturing company where I’d have to go onto the factory floor to wrap and pack Leaf Logs when orders had to go out.
I remember once going to ‘fit’ a lady in a garment at her home. I arrived and she was sceptical about how this seemingly small compression garment would envelope her size 22 body. I turned the garment inside out as per the training and asked her to put one foot then the other inside.
She would then pull up from the front whilst I was behind her pulling from the back. I got her to wiggle down as we both pulled up and it was heavy going because compression is just that…compression.
Once we’d got the garment on, the task was then to do the hooks up at the front so I asked her to lie down on her settee so it would flatten her ‘tissue’ through gravity and I’d get to work on doing up each hook without breaking a nail.
Now imagine this black women with 2 inch fingernails literally straddling a white women on the settee in her own home that I have no romantic connection too….needless to say we were in fits of laughter by the time I’d finished and that was half the fun.
I loved fitting women in a garment that would make them feel much better about themselves and because I loved my business and lived my business, I kept going.
I became really busy but more importantly, my confidence was growing in that I could work alone. When you spend a decade of your life working with someone else where you always had to accommodate someone else’s opinions and having to split the profits (not evenly either), it was strange to work alone.
It was through Ardyss that I got to know, work with and befriend; Helene, Katrina, Jenny and Clayton, plus all of the fabulous individuals in my downline. It was through MLM that I became aware of the infamous Les Brown and what self motivation and self belief really meant.
I was on my way back and fed off the words of Les Brown when he says “If you fall, make sure you land on your back, because if you are on your back you can look up, and if you can look up, you can get up, and if you can get up you can move forward towards success”.
I was still very much on my back but I was looking up and I was planning. It was circa 2011 and my plans were coming together, it was time to re-educate, reinvent and reposition myself for success.
Why I’ll Never Eat in a Toby Restaurant Again!!
Day 11 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and I think I’ll talk about dating today.
After getting divorced I was really careful about who I brought into my space given that I had young children, plus it was just hard sometimes to even meet someone because of all the stuff going on.
Sure I had dates (not to be confused with relationships) and some were just good fun whilst others left me running for the hills. There’s one in particular that I remember which is a story I often tell because although I did run for the hills, it does explain why I rarely dated.
It was a summer’s day and I was standing in a local takeaway (dumplin shop) and as is the norm, I get a comment from a random stranger about my long nails and how I can’t possibly knead dumplings 🤔
“Wow, are they real?” this good looking guy says as his opening gambit. “Yes they are” I reply showing no interest whatsoever. “I have a nail shop in Handsworth, where do you get them done?”
Well that’s new I think and look more closely at this dark skinned well dressed man. I tell him where I get my nails done and we continue to talk whilst our respective orders are being filled. It turns out that we had met previously but I was a teenager and he was selling insurance to my parents. He explains that he has two businesses, one as a Financial Adviser and the other as a nail shop owner.
To be fair, it’s not the businesses that impress me…hell I know from first hand experience that being in business doesn’t mean you’ve got money as many times you’re often fluctuating between self-employment and unemployment. 🤨
I’m genuinely not interested in dating anyone but this guy had something about him and so we exchanged business cards….yuppie style.
So phone calls commence back and forth and offers of dinner etc but I keep saying no, not because I’m playing hard to get but because I really don’t want to give him the impression that I’m looking for anything and I explain this repeatedly.
He says he understands and just wants to take me out so after 3 or 4 weeks of asking, I finally agree and we arrange to go out one Friday night.
“Do you mind if we go out of town?” he asks during our phone conversation. “I’m cool with that….what’s the dress code?” I ask to ensure I don’t embarrass either of us on the night. “Dress” he replies and when a black man tells you to ‘dress’ you DRESS!!💃🏾💅🏾👠
I never reveal my home address to anyone (there are some strange people out there) so we arrange to meet in town and I arrive, park and wait for him to arrive.
I don’t judge him for the Fiesta he pulls up in because when he gets out he’s wearing a beautiful pinstripe suit with a suitably matching shirt and quality shoes to top off his look. I mentally pat myself on the back for choosing to wear a little black dress, fishnet tights, high heels and my versace coat.
I lock the door to my black BMW and get into his car…I was now looking forward to the evening because whatever happened, we were clearly heading for a nice little place in the country….out of town remember!
As we hit the M5 out of Birmingham and I start to see signs for Bromsgrove, my mind starts to visualise a boutique hotel with a Michelin starred chef preparing exquisite meals for us to consume and I ignore the nonsensical ramblings of this guy beside me. I really couldn’t follow what he was saying but I did realise he was talking about his businesses and how much money he made etc which are all things that put me off BIG TIME.
We pull off the motorway and within 2 minutes we’re sitting in the car park of a Toby Restaurant. 🙊I couldn’t move whilst I was processing what was happening. My date was getting out of the car.
“Er, is this where we’re eating?” I asked, hoping, praying that it was just a stop off for a drink on the way to the REAL restaurant. “Yes, what’s the problem?” he responded. “Aren’t we overdressed?” I challenged again as I watched people in jeans and t-shirts enter the restaurant ahead of us….Why on earth would anyone get dressed up to go to a Toby!
“I’m comfortable with what I’m wearing” he stated and shut the car door making his way to the entrance of the restaurant.
Now you need to understand that I have older brothers and a number of male friends, all of whom often talk about how women can be really harsh with how they speak to black men so with all that going on in my head, I ‘hold it down’ and decide to play the cards I’d been dealt.
I have no problem with eating anywhere and if the date had been to Nandos for Maccies, it would’ve been cool because I’d have dressed for those locations but I was not suitably dressed for this one.
I don’t do carvery’s and I don’t do all you can eat either so this was a challenge for me. We sat, ate, drank and chatted all the while I knew that this was the first and last encounter for me.
People were staring at us…not because we were two black people in a pub full of white people but because we were OVERDRESSED black people in a pub of white people!! The crazy thing is that HE KNEW where we were going, I was just the passenger.
So the bill comes and its £30 and change…. TOTAL, and I go for my purse and pull out my card. At the same time he’s tapping his chest and pulls out several cards from his top pocket and spreads them down on the table in front of him. He stares at them and says nothing.
“We can go dutch, I’m not fussed” I offer to break the silence. “No it’s not that” he says “I went to the cashpoint earlier and I can’t remember where I put the cash”.
The waitress comes over with the machine to take the payment and he’s still tapping his pockets etc and I offer my card to the waitress EXPECTING my date who invited to take me out, to say…’No Sharon, this is on me’.
Instead, he watched me pay for the meal….it was £30 for goodness sake….even if he’d put a fiver on each of the cards he’d displayed in front of me, he could have covered thirty quid.
We return to the car (not before time) and he lifts up the cushion he’d been sitting on and sure enough there is the £50 he’d been looking for. Does he offer it to me? HELL NO, he replaces the cushion and sits his ass down on my money.😡
I’ve then got the excruciating journey back with his continued ramblings about nothing and all the time I’m wondering how, ’respectfully’I can tell this man not to call me again.
When we get back to my car, I jump in and disappear before he thinks he can lean in for a goodnight anything. I’m fuming and he’s blissfully ignorant.
I get the expected text message from him the following day about how lovely I am and what a great evening we had the night before….when can we do it again…blah…blah…blah…and little did he know that I already had my response prepared. This is what women do….we draft stuff. We proofread and edit stuff….rarely is anything off the cuff.
I’d drafted the message when I got home that evening and proofread/edited it the following day awaiting his contact…
Dear [name withheld to protect the idiot],😜
“You pursued me and asked me to get dressed up to go out of town with you for dinner and then you take me to a Toby Carvery where we were clearly overdressed. You then watched me pay the £30 bill after displaying your various debit/credit cards to impress me in some way.
On returning to the car you have the audacity of showing me the money you’d been looking for then sat your ass down on it without offering to refund the money I’d just spent on the meal you’d invited me out to.
I know you like football so you’ll understand this….clearly you have no business operating in the Premier League so I suggest you stick to the Fourth Division. Please delete my number from your phone and don’t ever contact me again.”
Drops mic and leaves.
Relaying the story to my Dad some days later he told me I should’ve taken the £30 and got a taxi home 🤣🤣
Day 10 on the countdown to my 50th Birthday and we’re getting closer to the big day so let’s talk about re-education. You may recall from my previous postings that although I loved school, I didn’t have the opportunity to fully explore my academic abilities, despite going to college.
Since entering the world of work I was driven by the need to be the best version of myself and after having children, I wanted to be a role model for them.
I sat down one day in early 2012 and was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post pop up in my feed about a Degree in ‘Leadership for Change and Growth’. This was so on point and the degree title just resonated with where I was at that time.
I met with the Course Director for an interview and she explained that it was a 4 year course condensed into 2 years. We’d have a full day once per month on a Saturday in the City Centre and ALL the course work would be done in our own time which required discipline and self-motivation. The course started the following week so the timing was perfect.👍🏾
This was right up my street and it was hard. The degree itself wasn’t hard but conforming to the academic mindset of others was hard. Whilst they wanted me to reference; Zigarmi, D. Blanchard, K. O’Connor, M. and Edeburn, C et al, I was referencing; Richard Branson, Oprah, TD Jakes, Iyanla etc. That was my world and I had to find a way to blend the two in order to satisfy the needs/wants of the ‘markers’ and my own authentic voice.
It was during this period that I was able to get back into reading different kinds of literature and more specifically the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ written by Dr Spencer Johnson. This book is based on 4 characters represented by mice and little people who search for cheese. One day, the cheese they’d all been enjoying disappeared and some characters moved on to find new opportunities whilst others remained static and waited for the cheese to come back.
This book reminded me of who I was….I never ever relied on the ‘cheese’ lasting forever and when it ran out, I went hunting for more. I particularly like the quote “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese” which to me means we have to continually search for new opportunities etc because nothing is fixed forever.
At the end of the two years I was ready to submit my 10,000 word dissertation (I ended up doing about 12,000 words though….I was always an overachiever!!) and decided on the title, ‘Black Women Leaders in the UK’ A study into what impact black women leaders have had on young black women in the UK and if/how they are influenced by black women leaders in today’s society?
When my results came in I was disappointed, not only with the grade (Merit) but also a comment from the first marker “A good piece of work but it would have been helpful if you had explored the matriarchal characteristics found in women of slavery” or something very similar to that. 😡WTH
You can imagine my reaction….I was stomping all over the house cussing this person who thought it ok to write a critique like that.
Shortly afterwards, my final official mark came through and on 25th July 2014, I strutted across the stage of the Birmingham Town Hall, to shake hands with the Vice Chancellor of Aston University and receive my Degree with DISTINCTION. 😜
A year later I designed a training programme focussed on How to get a Degree with Distinction when you’re over 40 and whilst I deliver this programme for the NHS, I’m now in the process of digitising it for a global market.
The journey wasn’t always easy but it will always be worth it so just keep going 🙏🏾