My life has been very much defined by my love of two women; the first woman I ever loved, and my true love, my wife, mother of our child. Intertwined with these two loves, have been two nightmares, and one very vivid dream. These things drive my hopes and fears. They inspire me to be a better person. They prevent me from being a bad father, husband and friend. They are what drive me to try to understand the secrets of the Universe, through my work as a physicist. I don’t think I’ve got as far as I should with any of these things, especially my work, but at least I have tried. One day I hope that the dreams will finally conquer the nightmares. It has always seemed just within reach, yet elusive.
Severn Bridge, 6 February 1984
I didn’t know then, but it wouldn’t be the last time she saved me. We can’t have been going that fast – it was a coach – but it felt like we hit something. Or something hit us. We tipped over to the left, and on its side, the coach skid. I don’t know how far. I was sitting on the left, window seat, pinned to the cracked window, resting on the tarmac. My friend on top of me. Two boys who’d fallen from the right aisle – now up – on top of him. I couldn’t move and I was being crushed. Thirty eleven year old kids began to panic, screaming, shouting.
I found out later that she’d had the presence of mind to grab an emergency hammer and break a window on the right, now top side. The kids nearby could scramble out. She broke the other windows too, and pulled people out. But I was trapped and couldn’t move. And in intense pain. My leg was broken, I’d later find out. I didn’t know that. What I knew was that it hurt like hell and I couldn’t move it.
The fuel tank caught fire, and those of us who were stuck started to choke on the thick smoke. That’s when she grabbed my hand… From above she managed to pull me up. I could use my arms, and one leg, and working together, she got me out. Sara saved many lives that day, long before the emergency services arrived. It was the worst accident ever on the Severn Bridge.
I’d been looking forward to this trip for months. I was in love with her you see, and this year we weren’t in the same class, so this trip would maybe be a chance to spend some time with her again. I could never tell her of course. But just to be near her. I’d been in love with her for more than two years now – I was nine when I realized – and fancied her since we were seven. Looking back, it sounds crazy, but all I can say is that it was real. I came alive in her presence. And the first trip to Wales, the year before, spending the whole day with her, from breakfast to bedtime, had been the happiest week of my life. I so wanted that again. And now… She’d actually saved my life. I belonged to her. But the nightmare of the crash has been with me ever since.
We were both pretty smart. Perhaps the smartest in our school. We were both into science; I tended towards physics, she to biology. We ended up going to different secondary schools. I lost touch of who I was. Had all that nasty stuff going on with my father. Then our paths crossed again. I chased, too hard, and she wasn’t interested, and I was too much of a fool to take the friendship she was offering me. Still, in trying to be worthy of her, I found the strength I needed at the time, to save my family from my father, and inspiration which set me on a better path, and years later, after a few failed relationships, I was rewarded with the true love of my life, Laura.
Machu Picchu, 4 July 1999
I met Laura while travelling in Peru. On the bus up to the ruins of Machu Picchu, her friend warned her that I was looking at her with ‘ojos extranjeros’ – foreign eyes. She was – she is – very beautiful. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I was so lucky to be walking around with her, in this magnificent citadel built by her ancestors. Back in the town, we were staying in the same hotel, and got talking over dinner about all sorts of things, our hopes and dreams, and in that conversation a connection formed. I think it’s fair to say that by the time the train the next day had got us back to Cusco, we were in love.
The strangest thing that we found we had in common was a dream that we’d both had, around 1989, I think before the Berlin wall came down. In the dream, we’d both felt like we’d been blown up in an explosion. She’d associated it with fears of bombs by Shining Path, a terrorist group active in Peru at the time. I’d associated it with fear of nuclear war, which was a very real threat then, too. But the actual experience of the dream, while we’d had it, somehow wasn’t frightening at all. It wasn’t a nightmare. In fact, we’d both never felt more alive than when we’d felt our bodies disintegrate. I wondered aloud if that was what the Big Bang would have felt like, and she liked that idea. She wondered if we’d both had the dream at the same time, then she kissed me, and placed a beautiful polished black stone into my hand. It was one of a pair she’d bought for us in the market that morning, before we’d boarded the train. She’d clearly bought this gift for both of us in the hope that we’d connect, and we had, and ever since we’ve been bound together.
Unfortunately I had to return to London, and she to her home city, but we kept in touch and a few months later I came out to visit again. This time I met her family, who were lovely, very warm and welcoming. She then returned the visit in December. We watched the spectacular fireworks together in London as we saw the New Year in (the millennium didn’t really start until 2001!).
Marriage was the next step for us but I really wanted her to spend more time in the UK before committing. I didn’t want her to come all that way and commit to a life with me without her being sure. I knew that the relationship would be doomed if she had felt trapped.
Somehow I persuaded her parents to let her visit me in London for a full six months, so she could see if life here suited her – my work meant I had to stay in the UK. Luckily for me, she loved it and clicked with my family as I had with hers – and we were married within a year.
Another nightmare I am often plagued with is different – my death at the hands of my father. After declaring his divinity, he would plunge his knife into my chest as I lay sleeping. The source of this, too, is obvious: my father had been emotionally abusing my mother and my sister and I, and had been threatening to kill us all, as God had commanded him to. The dreams started before I knew exactly what was going on, and continued long after he’d been forced out of the house. Gradually as I rebuilt my life they began to subside, and by the time I met Laura… She had only had to deal with me waking up screaming a couple of times a year.