Photograph by Peter Holcroft
Peter Ascot, Ed#480, March 2015
"I was born an only child in Yorkshire – my life began with a caesarean section whereupon the surgeon stuck the scalpel in my head. Some say, ‘That explains it!’
I went to a horrible secondary school but my metalwork teacher was a terrific old codger – he let me work on my Triumph Tiger Cub [bicycle] in the workshop, making my own racing foot pegs and clip-on handlebars.
I used to pick potatoes at the local farm with Mum for spending money, had the obligatory newspaper round and worked underage in a department store. Dad wanted me to work with him in British Steel, so I reluctantly became a diesel fitter. And then, after I won an Apprentice of the Year prize, I went to Germany on a three-month exchange program. I had my 18th birthday there – the party started on Friday after work and finished a few hours before work on Monday morning!
I soon got sick of working in Dante’s Inferno, so I went selling double glazing door-to-door for a while. It was good, but I was ready for a change, so I became a fulltime fireman. Worked in pubs, too.
After a very long love affair broke my heart I was ready for a new beginning, and saw an ad at my fire station for firemen required in British Honduras. I also considered emigrating to Canada or Australia. Basically, I went ‘eeny meeny miny moe…’ and Oz won! At 25, I was one of the last few 10-pound Poms. Later my mother and father followed me out; emigrated here, too. But both have died in the last five years.
I started at Garden Island [Navy base, Sydney] fixing radars et cetera on and off the ships and subs, and was offered a technical officer traineeship. But I ended up with a career with Johns Perry Lifts, working on projects such as QVB, MSB Towers, Parliament House Canberra and Darling Harbour.
During my 33-plus years here in the Land of Oz I have swum with the Coogee Huskies in winter, sailed with the RAN Sailing Association…and enjoyed riding motorbikes. In 1997, I married a Chickasaw [Native American] woman and moved to California. I used to drive to work down to Tijuana in my Chevy Camaro Z28 every day. When the marriage broke down I came back to Australia, completely dead inside. I wasn’t living.
My life was always busy, but I never attained any degree of contentment until, after returning from California, I fell into the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, which has a retreat centre in Leura. It is the non-worshipping religion of peace.
I met a local vendor, Trevor, at Katoomba and chatted to him, and I thought it sounded like a marvellous thing to do. I do Leura, Blackheath and Springwood, and sometimes Blaxland. I do three days a week for up to six hours, making sure all the regulars at those pitches are served.
I’ve always been obsessed with love and truth. Don’t worry if you think I’m barking mad. I’m just being me!"
Michael sells The Big Issue in the Blue Mountains, NSW.
>>Interview by Peter Ascot, The Big Issue's Vendor Profile Editor.
This article appeared in Ed#480 of The Big Issue magazine.