My lowly position in the hierarchy of cultural luminaries and a lack of celebrity status, dictates that this biography is in fact an autobiography. Not that I’m complaining, on the contrary. Within anonymity lies the seed of contentment. However; I will endeavour not to eulogise too much, or judge by inference those I’ve met along the way.
The Early Years
Life began on the 12th of July 1962, in St. Lukes hospital, Huddersfield. The second child, and only son, of Donald and Glenys. Donald was a humble lathe operator working for one of the town’s largest employers, David Brown Tractors of Meltham. A routine telephone call from the hospital to the engineering works informed Donald of my arrival. The birth of my sister, Julie, three years earlier, was a joy and the arrival of a son would make the family complete. Donald could groom his lad for sporting success, impart a lifetime of knowledge onto his young protégé, and relish in his son’s athleticism. Unfortunately, his aspirations would never be realised. Young Craig was not a ‘normal’ lad. He’d been born with congenital feet deformities. I cannot imagine a crueller phone call.
My first birthday brought a gift that would change my life forever. Not a cuddly toy from Mum and Dad, or a silver-plated trinket from friends or relatives. No, this life-changing gift was a marvel of modern manufacturing, produced by J. E. Hanger and Co. of London. This bespoke product gave me what the Vespa gave the youth of the 50s, freedom and independence. My very first shoe. It wasn’t quite as stylish as the Italian built scooter but from that point on, Master Briggs was on the move and nothing would hold him back.
Over the next five years, by my childhood hero Doctor Annan, completed a series of surgical procedures which changed the way I moved. Thankfully, early recollections are few and far between but I’m sure these infant experiences influenced my future. In the 1960s bedside NHS visits were restricted to one person for one hour per day. The anguish of a young mother listening to the tortured screams of her young son, begging her to stay must have been horrific, and it wasn’t much fun for me either.
When the time came, Mum walked me to school like all the other proud mothers and Dad gave me his first, and only piece of worldly advice. ‘If anyone hits you, hit ’em back’. With one exception, my mind proved sharper than my boxing prowess. Kids can be cruel, particularly to those who stand out from the crowd, but as a child I remember only once breaking down in tears and asking, ‘Why, why me?’ It’s a question I sometimes ask myself today, but for very different reasons. School life and education didn’t really do it for me. I found it difficult to concentrate on anything that didn’t interest me.
My peers and I were government guinea pigs for a radically new system of comprehensive education. We sat an eleven plus exam like generations before us but the prize was no longer educational segregation. The elitist institution of high schools was abandoned in favour of a one school fits all system. It came as a great surprise to everyone, including me, that my exam result placed me in the top tier of this new system, but not for long. By the end of the first year my lazy attitude saw me banished to a lower tier and separated from all my friends. For the first ever, education grabbed my attention. I spent the next three months dedicating myself to reversing that decision. By Christmas, my determination and single-mindedness saw me re-join my mates in the top tier. That was the first, and final time I excelled in academia.
I left comprehensive school with a mediocre haul of four O’ levels and drifted aimlessly into a college A’ level course. At the time, it seemed preferable to starting work. Aged seventeen I jumped at the chance to go on holiday with my best friend Mark to the Greek isle of Corfu. Back in the day, that was quite an exotic holiday destination. The warm weather and relaxed lifestyle left quite an impression, so much so that late one night, while sitting alone on a beach, my dream of one day living abroad was born.
If my O’ level tally was disappointing, my A’ level results were pitiful; due in part to a perforated appendix two months before my final exams, but if truth be known, I’d had my fill of education.
In May 1980, I left college and entered the employment market. Thatcher was busy dismantling British industry and unemployment was running at a record post-war high. I signed on the dole and spent the summer lounging around the house watching the Wimbledon finals on telly. Parental pressure to find work intensified over the summer. In September, during one of my many visits to the job centre, a notice caught my eye, ‘Wanted trainee retail managers’. The idea of becoming a manager sounded appealing, so I applied.
Five hundred and sixty applicants chased six positions. I pleaded my case and became one of the lucky half a dozen. After a two-week training course, in the seaside town of Southport, I passed with honours and the rank of assistant manager. When asked where I’d like to ply my new-found retail skills, I opted for London. A city paved with gold.
I left Huddersfield a naïve child and returned three and a half years later a wiser and more mature young man. A brief period of letting my hair down followed, catching up for lost time and lost youth. During these wild and hedonistic months, I won the greatest prize in life, love. After weeks of persistent pestering, I persuaded the barmaid at my local pub finally to accompany on a date that would change my life for ever. That beautiful young barmaid was Melanie.
My career in retail spanned six and a half years and five different companies. Each organisation expanded my experience and with it my knowledge but to realise my dream I knew I’d have to go it alone. Not long after my twenty-sixth birthday I felt the time was right and handed in my notice. I saw my future in leather jackets. Unfortunately, no one shared my vision. I’d conducted my research and found suitable premises in Huddersfield’s town centre and negotiated deals with clothing suppliers in London. I’d even employed the services of an accountant to produce a plausible business plan but all to no avail. Not one bank was prepared to take a punt on my idea and lend me the cash. My aspirations had fallen at the first hurdle.
The prospect of returning to the retail trade loomed but having made the break I was determined to pursue a challenge of my own making. I reached a compromise, self-employment under the umbrella of a large insurance company.
The job title was financial consultants which sounds a whole lot better than desperate insurance salesmen. Life was hard and the insurance industry was ruthless. Trying to sell a product that nobody really wants and for which the policy holder will never see the benefits, is not easy. Unlike most, I managed to survive and picked up some hard but valuable lessons along the way.
My, ‘Big Break’ came two years into my life as a death insurance salesman. Two of my clients had quit their jobs to start a printing business. At the end of their first year, they’d managed to lose more than they’d made in sales. They needed financial support and asked if I’d be interested in joining them. Against all professional advice, I jumped at the chance, re-mortgaged the house and bought an equal share. Surprisingly, they managed to persuade another acquaintance to do the same.
Finally, I’d found my true vocation in life. The business losing money hand over fist and the bank had taken a second charge on the houses of all four partners as security against a tiny overdraft. The funds raised by the new partners was instantly swallowed up in a black hole of debt. Could things get any worse? Weeks later the bank called in the overdraft. Whilst others worried about our impending doom, I applied myself to resolving the problem. The expression, ‘ducking and diving’ springs to mind. We weathered the storm but casualties were high. After thirteen years of blood, sweat, and holding back the tears, I ended up owning and running a modestly successful little business. Later that year a chance remark to the company accountant led to discussions about a buyout, the opportunity to realise my dream had finally presented itself.
Journey to a Dream
On the 6th of May 2002, with the car laden to capacity, we set off for Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain. The contrast between our lives in England and our new life there couldn’t have been greater. We’d taken a leap into the unknown and in our wildest dreams could not have imagined the rewards. Our new life wasn’t without its challenges but we met them together and gradually settled in to our new surroundings.
This is not the end of my story. Every day brings a new beginning. My height remains the same but I am growing every day.