The Boy with the Tortoiseshell Glasses

Dave’s story so far… thrills, spills and a massive amount of ordinariness.

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An extract from the book

Praise for The Boy With the Tortoiseshell Glasses –

‘It’s got pictures in it.’
Charles Dickens
‘Thank goodness it’s not as long as War & Peace.’
Leo Tolstoy
‘It’s like the phone directory. But with less romance and humour.’
Jane Austen
‘It might have been more appealing if it came with some free tortoiseshell glasses.’
Samuel Pepys
‘Everyone has one good book in them, I doubt it’s this one.’

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The Get-go

I heard recently that when we remember things what we're actually remembering is the last time we remembered them. So I guess the recollections in this book are all versions of what happened as I have remembered and revisited them over the years. Perhaps I have reimagined some of them. If so, I apologise. But mostly I hope you enjoy these flawed remembrances and find them helpful in some way.

I have wondered for a while about whether or not to write a kind of autobiographical book. However… there was the small matter of whether anyone would read it. After all I haven’t converted a small European country, or invented a cure for hiccups, or translated the Bible into Elvish. I don’t have any major triumphs to record. Things have been relatively small, and life has been fairly normal. Plus I wasn’t sure if I’d already written some of these small and normal recollections in some of my other books. Apologies if I have and you’ve come across them before.

I enjoyed Roald Dahl’s account of his early life in his book Boy, I liked his self-deprecating take and random memories, not trying too hard to document every bit of toast he ever ate or every trip to the restroom. I also enjoyed Matt Haig’s thoughts and recollections in his book Reasons to Stay Alive, using various styles to record his experiences. Plus, the classic Cup of Tea and a Sit Down spurred me on. It’s an odyssey about tea, cake and biscuits by Nicey and Wifey (yes, really.) Highly informative but full of unnecessary and entertaining meandering. So I wondered about attempting a kind of collection of musings, thoughts and misdemeanours. Hopefully not taking myself too seriously. When I do my film and faith sessions I sometimes post up this slide:

The views expressed in the following hour are not necessarily the views of (whichever establishment I am in at the time). Those attending should be aware that other filmic viewpoints are available and that at times Mr. David Michael Hopwood may well be
talking nonsense.

And all that rambling is merely to say I hope I don’t come across too straight-faced, and sound as if I consider myself in any way grand in this bunch of ragged recollections that you now hold in your hand. Also, apologies if I come across as opinionated at times. Oh, and apologies too if you picked up this book hoping for a mention, I’ve been very sparing on namechecks. Plus there’s no real dirt-dishing on encounters with the great and the good. Ooh, apart from once selling a theatre programme to Alvin Stardust. And I may have walked past Cliff in a department store in Woking. He was in a denim jacket I think.

So all the best with the book. Hope you get something from it and it doesn’t feel too much like hard work. Maybe it will help you reflect in some way on the autobiography of your own life. And I want to say a big thankyou to all those who have befriended and encouraged me over the years.

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In A Nutshell

I may well not go into too much detail at times as I blunder clumsily through the tales in this book, so here’s a kind of movie trailer of things:

• Born in Stoke on Trent 24th December 1962
• 1962-1969 cooing, crying, toddlering and early schooling in Stoke
• 1969 moved to Cornwall
• 1969-1974 Illogan Junior school
• 1974-1976 Redruth Grammar School
• 1976-1977 Redruth Comprehensive School
• 1977 moved to Weston-Super-Mare
• 1977-1979 Broadoak Comprehensive School (I see it’s an Academy now)
• 1979 started work in National Westminster Bank in Oxford Street, W-S-M at the tender age of 16 (you could do that in those days)
• 1980-1981 experienced a kind of unusual 18 month conversion to Christianity
• 1981 saw a Christian mime artist, began doing Christian drama and helped start a local Youth For Christ organisation
• 1984 joined the Lee Abbey Christian community in Lynton, North Devon
• September-December 1988 left Lee Abbey and went to mime school in London
• 1989 worked freelance as a mime artist, drama writer and tutor
• 1990 formed Insight Theatre Company with four friends from Lee Abbey days
• 1992 left Insight, moved to Woking and worked solo again
• 1994 got married on the 1st September (phew! needed to remember that date correctly)
• 1996 started to fall apart
• 1997 gave up being a mime artist and drama tutor
• 1997-2001 tried to be a successful writer
• 2000 moved to a cottage in Derbyshire, still trying to be a writer, still falling apart
• 2001 returned to Lee Abbey for short bursts as summer then autumn workers
• 2002 returned to Lee Abbey as full-time community members
• 2002 Amy, our first daughter, was born
• 2002 I read a book called Praying the Movies, it was the beginning of something
• 2002-2011 wrote and directed summer, winter and Easter shows at Lee Abbey, started speaking and drawing on all kinds of contemporary media
• 2004-2005 wrote The Bloke’s Bible
• 2011 left Lee Abbey and started working as a Christian writer and speaker
• 2013 Lucy, our second daughter, was born
• 2020 wrote this book

That was a hefty nutshell really, but it’s there in case you need a timeline of sorts. I may well be a tad random in the pages that follow.

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I was born in Stoke on Trent, on 24th December h 1962. It was cold and snowy. So much so that my mum had a fire in her bedroom. I don’t mean burning the furniture or anything. My parents, I believe, had an open fireplace in those days in their bedroom. So my first gurgles took place to the sound of crackling wood and hissing coal. In the heart of the Potteries. And this means I am technically a Stokey though I have long since lost most of the accent. It’s still a ‘bath’ though and not a ‘baarrth’, for goodness sake.

Trains, Bikes and Lavatories

My grandparents on my mum’s side had an outside toilet and no fridge. (In the outside toilet or the house). So nipping to the loo of an evening meant a trek down the garden in the dark. I remember the warm cosy smell of toast under the gas grill at their house, and Saturday wrestling on the telly. Granddad's pipe and penknife and his tobacco tin kept handy on a shelf in the cupboard with the sliding door beside his chair, over by the window. The grey cardigan he always wore with the little pockets in. He had a quiet dignity and was very tall. Though I was very small when I knew him. Gran was shorter and busier and chattier. It was she who made the warm and cosy toast.

I never met my dad’s dad, he died before I was born, but I remember his mum, my grandma. Dad and I played cards at her home sometimes so my auntie Olive, who lived with Grandma, could go to church. On one visit her house was jammed with cousins and their families. No idea what the occasion was but I remember crowding around the telly to watch Land of the Giants. My dad worked in Minton China, as a factory foreman I think. So many of our wider family did, uncles and aunts. I heard stories of my aunt hand-painting the gold onto new cups. My dad started working there as a teenager, but when the chance came to move to a job in Cornwall he took it. He worked for a yarn factory at first, but when that closed he became a Ministry of Defence policeman.

I only have a few memories of life in Stoke, we moved to Cornwall when I was six and that seems to be around the time my little grey cells went into hyperdrive, and my ability to retain information kicked in proper. I do remember however, one Christmas Eve night in Stoke (I think I was about four) hearing footsteps on the stairs and being convinced it was the sound of Santa’s snow-covered boots as he dragged his huge and bursting sack up to my room. Even as I write this now I’m still convinced it was the sleigh rider really. All decked up in his bleached hipster beard and his big red maternity trousers. I mean, who else could it have possibly been in the deep dark hours of the night before Christmas?

I also recall having a large train set fixed to a board the size of my bed. I laid it out on top of my bed at least once (maybe lots of times), with the train travelling on it, whilst I lay underneath the bed studying the dust and listening to the train chugging around and around. There was something cosy and pleasing about the sound. The train set sadly didn’t make the move to Cornwall. Most likely went to another good Stokey home.

Another early memory is of having Lucozade when I was ill. Maybe in bed, maybe not. Oh and that’s just reminded me. I also recall trying to sleep on the sofa one night having had an upset stomach, and waking up just in time to throw up in a bucket. My dad was nearby and no doubt doing his best to make me feel better. I doubt if I was sipping Lucozade that night. I don’t think that had much to do with Christmas, but I was often feeling a bit on the dodgy side by the time Christmas was done and dusted, too much excitement with a birthday and a nativity to celebrate all in two days.

Bike riding! I have a picture in my head of my dad holding on to the saddle of my wee bike when he was teaching me to travel sans stabilisers. I struggled to get it and practically gave up. Then suddenly – maybe when I wasn’t trying too hard – a
moment of joy as I discovered I could do it! Sometimes the way, isn’t it.

We were living in Oakhill Avenue when a huge van pitched up to take us away. It was a consensual arrangement. My parents had paid for the thing so we could move to Cornwall. I was six and I vaguely recall looking out of my parents’ bedroom window in wonder at the size of this lorry. Everything was about to change. Our address, my school, the weather (apparently it was always warm in Cornwall), the decade and the price of everything. It was 1969. Sun, sand and the seventies here we come. Along with decimalisation.

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The Seventies

• Snake belts
• Chopper bikes
• Chunky flip-flops
• Space hoppers
• The Bay City Rollers
• Killer Queen
• Bohemian Rhapsody on Top of the Pops
• Bone handled sheath knives
• Ernie and his milk cart
• The Osmonds
• David Cassidy on my sister’s wall (a poster, not the man himself stapled up there)
• Performing King of the Swingers from The Jungle Book at school (ever the performer)
• Crackerjack
• Disney Time on bank holiday Mondays
• The Beach Boys’ 20 Golden Greats
• The Pillsbury Doughboy
• Feather cuts
• The Michelin Man
• The Wombles
• Cowboy films
• War films
• Black and white tellies
• Matching shirts and ties

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We Really Shouldn’t Have Survived

We lived in a quiet circular close of bungalows, and I soon befriended, and did my best to boss around, a gaggle of friends. We used to play games in the street, British Bulldog, stuck in the mud, tig, and when we weren’t doing that we’d stage whodunnit plays in the back gardens for our bemused parents. We’d kick a ball in the road and zoom about on our bikes. We’d form teams to hunt, chase or murder each other, and I’d frequently hide under that big oil tank in our back garden, with the damp soil smell and the weeds and the bugs and the darkness. I remember drinking water out of plant pots and not feeling too chipper afterwards, and picking raw beans and peas that my parents were growing on bamboo canes, then eating them for a kind of picnic. Come to think of it our garage held a steady supply of bamboo canes, they came in handy for us as makeshift weapons of course, spears and swords.

We used to clamber over a nearby wall into a wooded area we nicknamed ‘bush’ and drape our bodies over the thick winding branches there. I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy or sporty, but when I look at my own children and the ways of the world now I sometimes wonder if ours wasn’t the last generation for whom the great outdoors was so great. But then perhaps every generation thinks that.

I’m sure there are still lots of kids who continue to love playing outside, but for us the indoor options were limited. We had train sets and Scalextric sets and of course the telly. But as far as any onscreen pastimes went, the basic and pedestrian computer game of Pong was only just starting to sneak across our TV screens. And it was my neighbour who had one of those. Not me. I had a chemistry set and a Colditz game and shoeboxes full of cars and plastic Airfix soldiers. Which we often took outside and set in crevices in the garden rockery. Even as our parents were out there tidying the garden we were messing it up again. Later, as a teenager, a friend and I took pot shots at the larger soldiers with my air rifle. Crack! Ping! ‘Oi!’ from my dad as a ricocheting pellet sailed past his ear. Simpler times.

There were times when I did withdraw from the scrambling and scurrying and pretending to kill each other. I’d hide away and make attempts at writing stories in precious hardbacked notebooks of various colours and sizes, spidery writing done with my Papermate biro or school fountain pen. I started many tales over the years which I never finished...

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