There is more than a little incongruity to go to An Evening with Ruby Wax talking about Mindfulness in aid of Action for Happiness and then to come home and find out that an old friend, who you’ve been wondering what happened to for such a very long time, actually hanged himself 10 years ago in the woods in Worcestershire.
I hadn’t seen Ollie in probably 20 years. None of us had. Yet we’d all been so close as teenagers but we grew up and grew apart. I knew of Ollie but didn’t meet him until I was 17. He was a free spirit even then. He left school or was expelled at 16 – probably the latter. He ran off to Spain and sold dope on the beach for a few months and then I guess it got colder so he came back. He was an integral part of the gang, alongside Phil, Pike, Wend, Maureen, Penny, Skel et al. No matter what was going on, he was always smiling, always chirpy, always a hug for us, always flirting with the girls, always sociable. He made you want to look after him. And yeah, he liked to drop acid and smoke dope. Lots of my friends did. As I didn’t partake, there was more than one occasion when I spent hours with Ollie seeing him through a trip, holding his hand and keeping him calm. And there other times when it was hilarious fun to hear about what he could see and what he was experiencing. There is a particularly surreal occasion when he turned up for tea with Phil and they’d just seen an eskimo in Britannia Square. As you do. The boys were in hysterics whilst I was busy trying to cover up that they were tripping to my Mum who made us tea and cake.
Ollie didn’t live at home most of the time. He shared a rented room with his brother Simon in a dodgy part of town. There were two single beds in the room and that was about it. I guess there must have been a shared kitchen and bathroom but I never saw them. Simon was a lot older than us and had blown his mind on acid and heroin in the 70s. It was clear to me he was strange. He spooked me out more than a little bit. I bunked off school one afternoon with Maureen to go and see Ollie in his room. I remember Ollie worrying about the couple in the next room as they were hopeless glue addicts and then his brother proceeded to snort speed off the carpet because he’s dropped a bit. It was a filthy carpet. I’m sure there were more bugs that he hoovered up than active narcotic. Not pleasant. Enough to put you off drugs for life.
We all used to hang out in Poppins after school and Ollie would meet us there or we would find him up the High Street and bring him along with us. Admittedly we were probably the worst customers in the world and would routinely take over a whole section of the cafe and share a cup of tea between 5 and if the cafe were lucky, we might also buy a toasted teacake and share that around too. But they were pretty good to us and we rarely got thrown out. And then we noticed that we’d keep seeing the same guy coming into Poppins at the same time as us. And then I’d notice him behind me in the High Street or as I was walking home. Turns out he was a policeman and Ollie got done for possession. It went to magistrates court. Maureen and I went along (unasked) to support him and I think he got away with a caution as he wasn’t found with much. The story goes, he hid most of it in his ear and the cops didn’t find that.
Then there was the time I went to his parents house. His Mum was a jewellery maker and his father was a sculptor if I remember rightly. I never met them. Ollie had gone back to theirs for a bit to live. I guess he ran out of housing benefit or dole money or something. They lived in the countryside. It was pretty idyllic. Ollie wanted to make us a cup of tea while we were there but there was absolutely nothing in the cupboards. Nothing. Not a can of food, not a teabag, not a packet of cereal. It was bizarre. So we drank water and went outside into the fields and found some haystacks to sit on until it got too cold and we had to go home.I remember feeling terribly sad that there was no food there and that Ollie was alone in that house with nothing.
Another time, Ollie turned up at my house one Sunday afternoon, out of the blue. The rain was absolutely pouring down and he was wearing some jeans and a fake fur jacket and he was soaked to the skin. He looked like a drowned rat. I took him in and my Mum came downstairs to see who was there. And even though she didn’t like him (she knew he took drugs, wasn’t at school, was walking on the wild side as it were and was a ‘bad influence’), she was moved to try and look after him. She fed him a proper meal and tried to talk to him to help him sort himself out. But he wasn’t listening or didn’t want to listen or wasn’t ready to hear.
There were lots of good times with him of course. Lots of parties. Lots of talking all night about nothing. Lots of listening to music that was terribly meaningful to us at the time. He lived at my house for a month in the summer of 1985. There were a few of us living at my house that summer. My parents went on holiday for a month and left on the day of my last A level. They left me in charge of the house. Quite a large house in the centre of town. Phil, Ollie, Penny and Maureen more or less moved in. Mark, Wendy (aka Duncan), Skel, Pike, Karen and others were regular guests. We lived on fresh air, laughter, music, the ready meals Mum had left me in the freezer and Maureen’s weekly wage from working in her summer job at Russell & Dorrell. We had a roof over our heads and a hi-fi and each other. Ollie used to wash up with shampoo as he couldn’t find the washing up liquid and he’d routinely borrow stuff from me – he pierced his ear with one of my earrings and he borrowed clothes off me. We were all family. Oh yeah, and Live Aid was right in the middle of it. That was a good night! That’s all we needed then. I’m amazed we didn’t get complaints from the neighbours, but somehow, we got away with it. They were very happy times and Ollie was a big part of that. It wouldn’t have been the same without him. We wouldn’t have been the same without him.
And then the summer of 1985 drew to a close. Phil and Wendy went off to France together. Skel sold his motorbike and went to Thailand. Penny went back to school to do her A Levels (she was younger than the rest of us). I scraped enough grades to go to University in London (although I dropped out 6 months later and went back to Worcester). Maureen went to tech to retake her A levels and well, I just don’t know what happened to Ollie. He drifted in and out of my life for a year or two and then I moved to London and lost touch. There were rumours that he had a girlfriend who was HIV+ and there were rumours about heroin – her heroin addiction rather than his. I heard he’d done a nude photo shoot for a gay magazine and was the centrefold because he needed the money. But there were just rumours, none were ever substantiated. I remember bumping into him in Worcester when I was home for a weekend. I must have been in my early twenties. Ollie didn’t recognise me so I walked on by. And then never saw him again. There were more tales that he’d ended up in a mental institution in Worcester and that he thought he was an orange. And that was the last I heard of him. Until yesterday.
Phil was Ollie’s best friend back then and he and I had always managed to keep in touch. When we got together, we always talked about Ollie and wondered what he was up to and made some attempts to located him but no-one had heard anything. We always hoped we’d see him again. And I suppose, I hoped that it would be like it was back then, in our own Summer of Love of 1985. Of course, it was never going to be, but you can dream and you can be nostalgic.But it was never to be.
I don’t know what happened to Ollie. To get to the place where hanging yourself is the only option is very hard to imagine. To be alone at that point, having been so loved and cherished along the way is hard to understand too. I’ve no idea if he’d been through a terrible tragedy or was suffering from depression or had some kind of breakdown. I don’t know if he was in trouble financially or otherwise. But there you have it. It happened. It does happen. Suicide is the biggest cause of death amongst young men. Ollie is now part of that statistic. He’d have been 35 when he died.
I think the cards were probably stacked against him from an early age. Despite going to a good school and having good friends, he didn’t have the stability the rest of us had. He always had a bit of the little boy lost about him. He was beautiful and he was charming and lovable. And thinking about some of the things Ruby was explaining last night about how the brain works, he’d probably hard-wired his brain very early on and never managed to break the patterns of his youth and move on from those negative patterns. And the drug-taking won’t have helped any either. But we’ll never know. What I do know is that he meant a lot to me. I’ve missed him all these years. And I’ll never forget him. Maybe I’m lucky, as the Ollie I will remember is the one who brought me joy and happiness and was part of my Summer of Love 85.
RIP Oliver Poole. I hope you have found the peace you were looking for.