As a teenager growing up, I wanted to do all the things I wasn't supposed to do, such as swimming in the public swimming pool, going to speedway, attending football matches, watching TV through shop windows and going to the Odeon cinema.
When I was 24, my rebellion was found out and I had the dreaded visit from the two elders of our church. Their punishment was to ban me from the church meetings, ban my family and any church members from talking to me, and to send me away from home to stay in a bed and breakfast indefinitely. They also banned me from going into work as I was a partner in a business with my parents. Once a week they would pay me a visit to see if I had repented and whether it was suitable for me to return to the flock. After 7 long weeks I was allowed back, tail between my legs.
Under pressure to get married
I then acquired a house after begging and borrowing money from 10 different members of Brethren. I couldn't live in the house, but it gave me somewhere to kill the hours on Saturday and the evenings through the week.
Trouble was, now there was a lot of pressure to get married. Even worse, another rule was introduced, saying that we could only marry someone who was within five years of our age. Well, that left me three girls in my area and age group and I didn't physically like any of them, which made life difficult. I ended up proposing three times by letter to three girls who I didn't really know, but had spotted amongst 2000 church members at a large meeting and thought they looked the best of the bunch. Thank goodness that never came off!
Since I left, the Brethren introduced a new way of helping young men find suitable girls to marry. Each family would have a photo album of all the Brethren families in every town and city across the world. Each family photo would have the age and name of each child.
Any young man wanting to marry a young girl he liked the look of would wait until her 21st birthday and send a letter of proposal to her. If she decided amongst the numerous letters that there was somone she liked, she would then ask for permission from the relevant elders of her church. These elders would then arrange for the young couple to have time together, under supervision.
In my day, there were no public shows of affection, such as holding hands or kissing, until couples were married. Sadly honeymoons or holidays were not allowed, but you would always have your own home and lots of willing help for any practical alterations that may have needed to be made.
By the age of 26, I had gone back to filling the boredom by going to all the places I shouldn't with two friends. It was always without my parents knowing, meaning I led an almost double life and felt quite guilty most of the time.
On the 18th May 1985 at 10.20pm, the incessant ringing of the telephone shattered our Saturday evening. My father came into the sitting room and said, "That was the local elder. They are coming to see you tonight. What on earth have you been up to?"
I pleaded ignorance as I didn't want to upset them too much! But by 11.00pm the two elders shuffled in and sat down facing me in the sitting room, with my parents banned from the room whilst they interrogated me. They prompted and probed about my breaking of their rules. I was determined to give away as little as possible, so I agreed with what they knew. (I found out later that one of my friends had been on a guilt trip and had confessed to his father about what we had been up to, who had in turn then told the elders.)
After about 45 minutes of interrogation, the two elders said that I would be confined to my bedroom until they decided what to do with me, and that I would be "Shut Up". This meant that all my family and members of the Brethren church would now be banned from communicating with me. They also told my parents to stay at home, but to have no contact with me at all, until further notice.
So on the Sunday I was woken with a cup of tea and breakfast outside my bedroom door and likewise my dinner too. In the afternoon, as my parents hadn't been contacted, they called me down to confront me.
My father was very upset, asking how he had failed me, etc. My mother was very quiet. I apologised and tried to explain that I had tried very hard to be part of their beliefs, but I didn't have any conviction about them, and that I couldn't see why we were supposed to be different from everyone else.
I was then sent to my room to pack my suitcase, as by then we had been told that I was being sent to live in my empty house, which had no plumbing and little furniture. I said goodbye to my Mum, and my father dropped me off at my empty house. His last words as he kissed me were, "Don't make it too long, son."
Overcoming the shock
It started to sink in slowly. I wouldn't be able to go into work, as I wasn't allowed any contact with my parents. I realised I had better try to do some cooking and unwrap the contents of my "Bottom Drawer", which had utensils in it for when I was to be married.
I spent the next few days going backwards and forwards from the £1 shop buying utensils for the house, re-fitting pipe work so that I had water, and thinking a lot about the injustice of the whole situation. It seemed that, once again, I would have to go through a repeat of what happened two years earlier, with weekly visits from two serious looking elders, until they would decide that I was repentant enough to be taken back into the fold.
A week later, I was contacted by the two local elders who wanted to see me. I welcomed them into my rather sparse house and they sat with glum looks on their faces. I was hoping that they might say that they were missing my smiley face and little jokes, but sadly they didn't.
"We have been in touch with our world leader from America," they told me. "He says that this isn't your first time and that you are a bad influence on the younger members of our church. We have to Withdraw from you."
Being Withdrawn is a bit like being sent off in a football match. It's pretty permanent and all contact from anyone in the Brethren church is forbidden, even family.
One of them then said, "You know Peter, without us you will end up in prison." Really, I thought, and this from a guy who had been no angel!
Asking for help
I sat in stunned silence after they had gone, with the realisation that I hadn't been able to say goodbye to all my family and friends, that I no longer had a job as I had been in partnership with my parents, and that everything was gone.
I sat on a box in a half empty room and sent up a little prayer, "PLEASE, God, if you are there, you must have a reason for this. Where are you taking me? Please give me friends again and a job." And then I felt it! That old familiar tingling feeling all around me. I felt loved and supported by my unseen friends and I knew then that I was all right - and that I had to trust.
I quickly went to find my 'partner in crime', Paul, who lived down the road and was going through the same thing. We were both very positive and determined to make the most of our freedom. I felt like a HUGE weight had lifted from me. No more guilt or double life! Suddenly I realised that I was allowed to have my own opinion, not try to fit in with that of others. I wasn't going to be pressured to pop the question every night. I WAS FREE!
A few days later, I was visited again by Mr Sad and Mr Grumpy, who thrust papers in front of me to sign, which legal dissolved the business partnership with my parents. I then had 10 handwritten letters from the Brethren members who had lent me money to buy the house. All saying basically, "As you have turned your back on the church and Jesus Christ, we want our money back within three months." (Thanks, guys, for your compassion and love, I really, really couldn't wait to get back!)
A fresh start
So the house had to go up for sale and Paul and I tramped around all the banks asking for a mortgage, so that we could buy his house together. Nearly all the banks except one pushed us towards the nearest door, when they found out that we both had just started new jobs and had no stability in our lives.
Some months later, I had a knock on the door and a man I used to know asked if I would like a job as a service contractor on the army camps. I asked how he knew I needed work? He just smiled and said that he had heard that I had fallen out with my father (not really true) and could I start in one week's time?
In an attempt to make new friends, I joined up with the local 18+ group who met each week. Through that, I met my first ever girlfriend, who introduced me to the local Spiritualist church and her friend, who was a medium.
Things that go bump in the night!
I had vowed never to go to a church again in my life, but I was curious because some of the 18+ group were going and they seemed quite sensible people. So along I went to a clairvoyant evening, in a packed hall, with not a clue what to expect.
Well, the medium picked me out and proceeded to tell me a lot of things about my breakup with the family, about my loss of home and my job. He also told things that no one knew the outcome of until a few months later. I was astonished! From that point, I was hooked.
I went as often as I could after that. I also went on a healing course, sat in a physical circle, and whenever the medium said to me, "You have a Spirit close to you, Peter," I would always feel that same old tingly feeling that I had had since I was 11 years old.