Sorting Her Act Out – Claire Anderson
Claire Anderson works for Hannell’s Estate Agent as a Sales Negotiator. She admires the ambition of the company and enjoys changing people’s lives by handing over the keys to a new home. It is a job with prospects and she knows that she’s a good prospect too.
I’ve got really good career progression. I mean, I’m one of those people – I’ll never stop! I always want that next promotion. They already know my goal is to be Branch Manager in four months; then Area Manager and they didn’t laugh so…
Home is a lovely little annexe in Sandiacre.
For the first time in her 30 years, she’s living alone with choices to make; meeting family in Borrowash for a pint and our Sunday dinner; forging a social network in Sandiacre, or simply shutting the door, kicking off her shoes and being just me, just Claire.
A strong urge is to settle down and stick at this career but Claire knows herself too well to presume upon certainties.
Over the past 10 years, she’s been a Tequila Girl in Tenerife, a student at The University of the West of England, a nightclub bouncer, a Branch Manager for a Debt Collection Agency, a provider of outreach services for street sex workers in Normanton, a small business owner and an Office Manager for HR Retail Directors in Australia.
On the one hand:
I’m 30, I’m single – I need to sort my act out …
But on the other:
What’s going to happen in the next ten years? Could be anything! Craziness! You just never know with me! My life’s just random!
Claire Anderson, born and bred in Borrowash and proud of it – has been known to walk on the wild side.
She was born in Cromwell House, at the bottom of Cole Lane; the youngest of Lyn and Ian Anderson’s four children.
The house was big, with a massive garden and Claire, sisters Leonie and Lydia and brother, Eddie were rarely short of company:
Lyn and Ian kept an open house:
Loads of people came to Sunday lunch; we had sack races in the garden, raised money and it went to the Vic’s football club.
As Claire grew up, school friends regularly stayed overnight, enjoying a liberal atmosphere in theAnderson household where drinking and smoking went on in the kitchen rather than behind the shed at the bottom of the garden.
Lyn and Ian who married in 1973, started their romance after meeting at a disco in Derby, and Claire readily admits that Ian was punching above his weight:
Mum was stunning – like a model! Knee high boots, mini skirts and a black bob. I look at the photos of Dad and I think – however did he get her?!
In fact, a slow dance at a disco was not the first time that the future Mrs Anderson had met her husband – to – be.
Claire describes her father (whom she readily admits wasn’t much in the looks department) as a Jack the Lad and when fourteen year old Lyn, standing in a field, called out to a group of youths
Does anybody have the time?
and was told
Only if you get your knickers down, love!
few could have blamed her if that was the first and last ‘conversation’ she had with Ian Anderson!
But Lyn was prepared to overlook a lamentable chat – up technique (plus 1970s side burns) and the two became a couple; living proof that for one woman at least, a man’s personality meant more than a handsome face.
Ian certainly didn’t lack confidence and it was the stunning Lyn (who could have had any man she wanted) who finished the relationship because of her boyfriend’s refusal to settle down.
However, her plans to emigrate to Australia were thwarted when Ian finally blurted out:
Well – I suppose we’d better get married then…
Ian and Lyn Anderson on their wedding.
As a proposal, it left much to be desired. Claire makes no mention of bended knees or passionate outpourings – but forty years and four children later, the Andersons have stood the test of time. Claire is the first to stick up for her father:
Granddad John and Ian Anderson
I’m a proper Daddy’s girl. Definitely. I know it sounds sad, but I can honestly say he is my best friend. Not ashamed to admit it.
The Anderson children attended Ashbrook Primary School and Claire recalls a happy time, at the midst of a close group of friends:
Claire, cheerful as always, in her baby bouncer..
I would say I was quite popular – we were always falling out, making up, going to each other’s houses. I was a bit of a naughty kid – no, not naughty – cheeky.
Claire in highchair at Anderson family party in Cromwell House, Cole Lane.
She expected to join her older siblings at West Park Secondary School, but Eddie’s experience there in the early 1990s, was unhappy, prompting Ian to enrol his younger children at the fee – paying Moravian School in Ockbrook.
My brother got into a lot of trouble. He was dyslexic and although Mum and Dad asked the school to help him, they either couldn’t or didn’t.
The Anderson kids: Gary, Claire, Lydia and Leonie
I’m dyslexic too and I’m very similar to my brother. Dad wanted me to go somewhere that was a bit more disciplined – but they sent Lydia there too which was good, so I didn’t feel like I was the only one who got sent to a different school…
Claire and her state school Ashbrook friends now travelled a different path, (although in later years, we actually got back in touch), and she looks back on Ockbrook Moravian School with mixed feelings.
Claire’s family, from left: Leonie (with long hair), Lydia with blond hair, Mum Lyn ANderson, Ian Anderson (Dad), Claire Anderson and brother Eddie
The school was very grades oriented rather than personality, but she coped, made some brilliant friends and excelled at sport, captaining the netball, rounders, hockey and athletics teams.
Ockbrook Moravian netball team: Claire is on the front row, second from the left.
She recalls that her overall school experience was not my cup of tea but did not allow a rigid regime to cramp her style.
A petition calling for the modernisation of a school uniform was hardly the work of a feminist revolutionary, but it was a step too far for a conventional girls’ school in Derbyshire.
I remember once starting a petition that we should be able to wear trousers. I thought it was a bit dated that, because we were girls , we had to wear skirts and then when Denise Bolland, the Head Teacher, found out about this petition, she was not happy, called in my Dad, and we had to sit down and have a meeting.
I did point out to Miss Bolland that I’d been appointed Head of the Year and I had every right to start such a petition!
My Dad still talks about that now!
In the event, it was a watershed. No doubt the honour of both camps was upheld, but after ‘Trouser gate’, Clare’s eventual move to study for her ‘A’ levels at Trent College, would have been greeted with dry eyes by the ladies of Ockbrook.
Meanwhile, village life revolved around family and football; specifically, Borrowash Victoria Football Club.
‘The Vics,’ founded in 1911 and subsequently lynchpins of various Northern and Midlands Leagues, have been part of Ian Anderson’s life for over forty years as player, manager and until 2012, Chairman.
Lyn had her hands full with four young children and saw an opportunity to offload at least one of them on Saturdays.
But it was four-year old Claire rather than her brother Eddie who followed their father to the ground, and apart from the football, (You know, my sisters and brother and Mum aren’t really interested in football — and it’s not as if I enjoy it), Saturday was the highlight of the week.
Claire and Ian went to matches with Committee member, Brian Gascoigne and his daughter, Donna; also aged four.
The girls became lifelong friends and found ways to have fun while their fathers were concentrating upon the game:
As we got older – Dad was so busy running the team – we’d get the bus and go into town and he wouldn’t even know that we’d been!
And we used to go to the away games – we’d sit at the back of the bus, trying to nick the footballers’ ‘Newcie Brown’ and playing cards. I really, really, enjoyed that!
Brian presided over the Refreshment Bar and recruited the girls as helpers, doing sausage cobs and hot drinks before Claire eventually ran it herself.
Later, she mucked in at Ando’s Sports Bar, (named after Ian) and has continued to support the club, despite acquiring no obvious passion for football.
I’m just there each Saturday; anything they need me to do, I’ll do it.
As long as I live in Borrowash and as long as my Dad’s part of that team, I’ll remain, because I’ve always seen it as mine and Dad’s thing. That’s the one thing I’ve got that’s just me and him. You know – we’re friends.
After calling time on Ockbrook Moravian, Claire was accepted by Trent College because of her sporting prowess, but once there:
I just dropped all the sports because I found boys and drinking instead and couldn’t commit to giving my Saturdays up to sport.
But the ‘Trent experience’ was altogether preferable to the traditional patterns of study at her previous school.
At Trent, the teachers were very into your personality and lessons were controversial and provocative.
I had a fantastic History teacher called Mr MacFarland and I’ll never forget how he taught me. For instance, when we learned about the War, you’d had it drilled into you that Hitler was this nasty man … well; Mr MacFarland taught us that he actually was a very good leader. He did atrocious things, but he promised Germany bread and water and they got it!
He just had a different way of opening your eyes. I struggled to concentrate at school, but even on a Saturday morning, when I’d be a bit hung over, I’d listen to him…
In free time, Claire continued to mix with her father’s friends in Borrowash and people of her own age for jaunts farther afield.
As ‘A’ levels loomed, some recreation was essential, and when friends suggested driving toNottingham to hunt out a new nightclub she jumped into the back seat with gusto.
Claire’s cousin Guy took the wheel, but the phantom club remained elusive – unlike a stretch of black ice that emerged from nowhere with nearly fatal consequences.
I heard this terrific sound of ice cracking; the car somersaulted; turned totally upside down and I was trapped in the back.
I had a horrendous pain in my leg – in fact, I didn’t even know if I still HAD a leg! I kept screaming ‘Is my leg still there?!!’
I had to get Guy to touch it to find out.
Claire had bounded into the car in high spirits; now getting out of it in possession of both legs was a bonus.
She was trapped in the back and was eventually winched out by a fire and rescue team.
Her leg injury persisted, necessitating keyhole surgery, and a stay in hospital. The ‘A’ level exams did not go well.
Nevertheless, school was over; there was a year to fill before starting university and it was her birthday.
Aged eighteen, Claire Anderson determined to make the most of the present from her parents: a flight ticket to Tenerife.
Déjà vu was the appropriate phrase, because she had been there before, with Ian, Lyn and best friend, Donna Gascoigne.
A great time was had by all – and in particular, two fourteen year olds with the safety net of indulgent adults back at base, ceding them the run of the resort’s discos and nightclubs.
Claire having fun
The idea of a triumphant return after ‘A’ levels was an exciting dream, but four years later,Donna ended up going to college so I just went on my own.
Now, without the cushion of parents, money, or even a roof over her head, Claire Anderson was alone in a country that was beginning to look very different from its glossy aspect in the pages of a travel catalogue.
She needed work, and experience gained at Ando’s Sports Bar in Borrowash, meant that there was certainly one job she could do.
I was a Tequila Girl! And I was the best Tequila Girl!
Claire was employed at Bobby’s Club and formed a working partnership with a girl called Alex from Ilkeston.
Basically, I had a gun belt and a bottle of tequila and an Aftershock in the one hand and then, instead of bullets, I had little shot glasses. This is when it was pesetas; it wasn’t the Euro and I would go round to tourists and get them to buy a shot off me for 400 pesetas. Each one I sold, I used to get 100 pesetas back!
I loved it and a part of my job was to have shots as well and I had to try to get people to buy them for me.
All that tequila, imbibed in the course of duty, took its toll, and there were times when neither girl was in a fit state to know what had happened to the sales money:
I’d say – ‘Have you got the money?’ and she’d say ‘No – I thought you’d got it!’ and we’d be running round the bars saying ‘Has anyone handed in the money?’
I actually got sacked four times, but Spencer, the Manager had to keep taking me back because my sales were too high. But it was easy money. The people who were working behind the bar, they were earning about 40 quid a night, whereas me and Alex could earn about a hundred.
The club I worked for was the biggest club on the strip – but it got tougher as the season went on, when we got to winter. I started doing a bit of PR –ing and doing the shots.
Home was a four bed apartment:
Three blokes and three girls; we were young and reckless and didn’t have a care in the world. But we had great laughs – we were mates!
Two flatmates in Tennerife
The boys exploited the party atmosphere shamelessly, entertaining a relentless bevy of girlfriends while their female flatmates escaped to the balcony.
Outside the cocoon of the apartment a dangerous world lay in wait; characterised by drug dealing, gratuitous violence and numerous corrupt police officers who either turned a blind eye or actively participated in wrong-doing.
Every now and then, the police would do a raid on the dealers, but I’ve seen them knee-capping people – usually African people – simply because they felt like it.
They just watched when one of the club bouncers grabbed a man by his head and slammed a car door on it again and again and again.
Claire regularly witnessed local girls being slapped around in the clubs and people who out-stayed the tourist season in Tenerife were frequently on the run, including her flatmate, Lee who had escaped from Liverpool after someone put a gun to his head.
Lee, (moonlighting in Tenerife without a visa), was the victim of a vicious facial assault after becoming embroiled in a fight and he became totally dependent upon his flatmates:
His face was unrecognisable because his jaw was smashed to pieces. He couldn’t go to hospital because he didn’t have a visa so we had to feed him through a straw until he flew back to England to have his jaw re-wired.
Every now and again, the danger and insecurity overwhelmed Claire
(usually when I was drunk) and she would then make tearful late- night telephone calls to Ian and Lyn in Borrowash.
They were on the end of the phone, hearing me crying and screaming in another country and unable to do anything about it. And then I’d forget about the bad times and have fun – but they didn’t know that.
She had intended to stay in Tenerife for a year, but left after seven months. During that time, she received the news that despite some disappointing ‘A’ level grades, The University of the West of England in Bristol had offered her a place to read Sociology with Politics and Theatre Studies.
Once back in Borrowash, neither Claire nor her parents discussed her time in Tenerife:
It was sort of – what went on in Tenerife stays in Tenerife…
but she has no regrets.
Club life and street entertainment in Tenerife
I seriously grew up a lot. When I came back and went to university, I could really see a difference between myself and people who had gone straight there without having a year out. Most people when they take a year out do something more worthwhile than just selling tequila shots; they do things like helping people in Africa – but I lovedTenerife. I did learn a lot. And got a lot out of my system.
When I went to Bristol, I didn’t need to go out all the time and get absolutely off my face like some of them because they’d never lived away from home.
It was just a ticket for them to go mad. They would do every drug going; they’re sleeping around. I noticed a big difference between myself and people who hadn’t had a year out.
Probably the reason that I eventually left university without completing the course is because I felt I’d almost grown up.
The University of the West of England has its main campus in Frenchay, just outside Bristol and is the larger of the city’s two universities.
The former Bristol Polytechnic was granted university status in 1992 but there is little contact between its students and those attending Bristol University, traditionally considered (like Durham and Exeter), as a berth for ‘Oxbridge rejects.’
Bristol University, unlike UWE, does not have a campus and students tend to gravitate to the smart (and expensive) Clifton village.
Claire and her friends dubbed them the pashmina people and chose instead to socialise in other parts of the city including The Waterfront.
After a year, she dropped Theatre Studies as a prelude to abandoning her degree course altogether.
I had three jobs when I was there because it’s so expensive – I was never going to uni and it got to the point where I’d rather just work.
I was working at a club called Brannigan’s and then I worked on the doors and again, I do think I’m quite good at that. When I’m at a job, I find a way to make the most money out of that job – like being a Tequila Girl rather than bar staff.
In Brannigan’s, I was working behind the bar for £5.50 an hour, thinking – the door staff are getting £10 – £15 an hour. Well, I want a piece of that! I’m working the same hours and as I was going out with the head doorman, it was quite an easy transition.
Claire lived with Phil for about four years and they set up home together, first in Fishponds and then the St George’s area of Bristol.
Claire and live-in boyfriend, Phil from Bristol days
It was a serious relationship, soured by the strain of Phil’s protracted legal battle to gain access to his child.
But there were other difficulties.
Claire had left the club for a job as a debt collector with Welcome Finance but Phil was happy with the status quo.
He’d talk about being a fireman but he never stopped being a bouncer. He’d got no ambition.
Welcome Finance had an opening in their Derby branch and Claire decided that
I might as well go back where most of my friends and family are.
Phil chose to stay in Bristol which meant the end of the relationship, but there were no hard feelings.
On my last night, we had a takeaway, drank some wine and watched TV. Then he waved me off the next day and that was that.
It was back to Borrowash.
Claire impressed her employers in Derby and was quickly promoted to the post of Manager of theCoventry branch of Welcome Finance.
A company BMW car was a perk of the job, and with money in her pocket, she bought a house inVictoria Avenue, and settled back into village life, picking up old friendships and making new ones.
This lady, Liz – I used to park my car outside her house. I used to call her The Floating Head because when I parked up, she was always outside, having a cigarette; she’d be by the wall and you could just see this head!
We’d have cups of tea, and then tea turned into me going round on Friday night and we’d have some drinks.
The friendliness compensated for the downside of village life:
Everyone having an opinion on you – and most people having an opinion when they don’t even know you
but change was afoot, via redundancy from Welcome. Claire’s next job gave the pub gossips plenty of scope.
I remember going into The Nag’s and just talking about some of the people we looked after – and there was one person who said ‘Ah, pond life, pond life!’
And I was just like ‘You don’t know them! You don’t know why they’re there. I just think – it’s easy for you and it’s easy for me. I had a lovely upbringing. I’ve got people to turn to whenever I’m in trouble.
Claire Anderson; formerly of Ockbrook Moravian School and Trent College, was now running a project called Women’s Work and its remit was to look after the street sex workers in the Normanton area of Derby.
In practical terms, the Centre aimed to address the chaotic lifestyles of the street women by building trust and starting with the basics:
We used to do an outreach session where we’d drive around; ten until midnight, handing out condom packs, information on sexual health and a hot chocolate. Just something as simple as that – keep them warm and then try to get them to come into the Centre.
Crossing the threshold of the Centre and thereby signalling a need for help was an enormous hurdle and the first goal. Then, the work would begin to address a complex range of issues including reducing drug and alcohol use and offering advice on sexual health. It was always important to maintain a cap on expectations
People say ‘Oh right, so your job is to get them to completely clean their life? and I’m like ‘No, the success to me is someone who has gone from spending £60 on heroin a day to £30 a day.
Funding for the project was courtesy of the National Lottery but its continuance was necessarily dependant upon ticking boxes and reaching paper targets; a process both frustrating and a contradiction in terms:
I don’t believe I like the whole red tape thing. We had to get the targets and then prove how we’ve done it. Every time we did a referral into a drug treatment centre, obviously that would count as a target – but then some of the targets could be almost manipulated, because if we got someone to exit street sex work, that would go towards it.
If a lady got sent to prison for sex work, then that still went down as exiting.
The job’s demands were fluid, depending upon the individual circumstances of the women; some simply wanting a coffee and a friendly chat, others very needy – I’d literally have to take them for an appointment every day.
For the vast majority of street sex workers, the predominant issue was low self esteem, contingent upon years of abuse:
I knew some women who’d had really bad domestic violence and they didn’t even see it as domestic violence – that’s just what their life was.
Individual routes to prostitution varied, but the women all shared one problem; they had lost control of their own lives.
Claire describes a predictable but relentless pattern:
They’d start doing drugs and then they usually get in situations where they get onto harder drugs; there usually is a boyfriend involved and, in my eyes it was a pimp; in their eyes it was a boyfriend. And then the use goes up and then they start going out working. I’d say probably 90% of the time, it’s to pay for his addiction as well.
I mean, I had one woman who I used to see in outreach every time I did outreach and I’d say ‘How much do you need to get?’ and it would be £70 – £100 and she’d be out all night.
It just becomes a massive vicious circle and they’re always behind because they’re using drugs the next day that aren’t paid for, so they have to go out that night as well.
Heroin is so addictive and all the other drugs that go with it. And then, you know, the diseases they get – it’s just such a minefield.
Balancing the need to be professional with the human instinct to offer comfort was difficult:
They would see me as human and I would talk to them and, you know, they would become fond of you. And some I’m still in touch with now, even though I don’t work there any more. You can’t become too close obviously.
Sometimes I’d get home and Donna would be like ‘Oh, how was your day?’ and I would say ‘I just need half an hour, Donna,’ and go into the kitchen.
But then you have to let it go, otherwise you’d drive yourself insane.
Claire believes that there is a case to be made for legalising drugs and an equally urgent need for dispelling the sanctimonious myths about prostitution. She thinks that prejudice is born out of a refusal on behalf of society to take any responsibility for the problem.
She describes the antagonistic atmosphere at a community meeting in Normanton:
I once went to a Neighbourhood Watch meeting in Normanton – there were a lot of complaints because these girls were on the streets and it would create noise and they’d often be drunk and on drugs. The police asked me to go to give the meeting a bit of background on why the women are here and one gentleman was really nasty to me – you know sneering and talking about ‘These women’.
Claire did not mince her words:
I did have to point out that they were here because this was where the money is! So as a Neighbourhood Watch, you’d better face the fact that it’s your community that is actually frequenting to see the girls – and if there weren’t any punters in Normanton – work it out!!
I’m not saying that all the punters are from Normanton! Some did drive from here there and everywhere, but at the end of the day, the girls are going go where the business is. I pretty much had to leave the meeting after that!
She does not think that affluent areas are miraculously inoculated against sex work – it just takes a different form:
People from places such as Borrowash are more likely to go to strip clubs and massage parlours than to actually go to a street sex worker. Which is an area that I did want to get into. I did want to get into the parlours because a lot of girls start out there; get onto drugs and end up on the streets – that’s another sort of downward spiral.
Working for the project has convinced Claire that
So many people I’ve spoken to don’t understand about sex workers. They really do think that some of the women are doing it as a job choice! Believe me, there is not one person I have met doing that job who’s ever done it as a job!
There are mental health issues, drugs and serious health risks from injecting like deep vein thrombosis.
Hepatitis C was really common and then I couldn’t get them into treatment; they just weren’t well enough and they were still drinking and using drugs. And I think about the people they have transferred it on to and it’s horrific.
But they don’t do it as a choice. They do it because they can’t afford to live.
Desperation forced the women to take risks and keep quiet about violence and abuse from clients:
There was an awful lot of rape and we used to have a ‘dodgy punters book’. They wouldn’t dare ring the police because they’d have to confess what they’d been doing, so they came to us.
And we can’t tell the police, because what we’re doing is confidential. So we had this scheme where they’d tell us the details and we’d put it in a book. So then, the other sex workers would come to the drop in and have a description of the car and the person and then they’d know not to go with that person.
After three years, the National Lottery cut the funding for the project, leaving one job instead of two. Claire left the remaining job for her co – worker Lindsey because she was fantastic at the support side whereas I was very good with the numbers.
But she was strengthened by the experience:
I did get a sense of doing something really useful. I would have done it for the rest of my life. If I was to win the lottery I would set up my own project without a doubt.
Claire’s next venture; establishing her own business, was familiar terrain for a member of theAnderson family.
Ian had left school at fourteen, but became an extremely successful and highly respected businessman in the electrical parts field who could afford to give his family an enviable lifestyle because he had worked for it.
Of all the children, Claire has always had a burning desire to live up to my Dad and setting up a business in her twenties was a good way of doing it.
A run-down café in Ashbourne Road beckoned.
Like Ian, Claire was not afraid of hard work and for an ex Tequila Girl, her experience in the hospitality trade seemed an ideal fit.
Girls gotta have fun: Claire and friend
I did all the catering for the Vics and the catering for Spondon Cricket Club.
But despite providing a good service, and winning some valuable work contracts, the café was a disastrous mistake and Claire, who had managed the Coventry branch of Welcome Finance, came close to drowning in a sea of unpaid bills.
Initially, prospects were bright, but she fell foul of her own naivety and a stubborn streak that prevented her turning to the one person who could have given her expert advice – her father.
Her business partner left and every day was a struggle:
I’ll hold my hands up. I made bad business decisions. I didn’t realise just how much went into it all.
Someone would say ‘Oh, we can get you an advert here’, so I’d be ‘Yeah – that sounds brilliant!’ – but what’s one grand spread over four years? What custom did it actually bring in?
Soon, the very person who had knocked at clients’ doors, demanding repayment on behalf of Welcome Finance, was hiding behind her own curtains, binning unopened letters from the bank; staying at home drinking and leaving the telephone off the hook.
At the same time, a personal relationship came to a grisly conclusion and with her self esteem at rock bottom; Claire visited the doctor.
She was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed medication for the rest of her life.
Her fears that she had let her father down (Dad’s old school and old fashioned – he didn’t want to face up to the fact that people can have depression) were assuaged by some straight talking from Lyn:
Mum’s very grounded. She thinks that people have got every right to get help. And I’m not ashamed of it either. The medication is a way of coping with it and I’d advise anyone else to go to the doctor.
Clinical depression is a type of chemical imbalance. I’ve got that; I’ve probably had it for years and now I know what it is I can take steps ( like keeping up my medication) to deal with it.
Having braved the doctor, it was now time to take stock of the rest of her life.
All my friends were looking like settling down, getting married, talking children. I just couldn’t see where I was going from there on in.
With hindsight, I think I was probably running away from things when I moved toAustralia. But I didn’t realise that at the time….
Just as he had supported the idea of Claire’s stint in Tenerife, Ian now understood her desire to go to Australia.
He knew that I had to go for me.
But this time, plans would be made in advance and first there was the matter of the debt.
Claire took out an Involuntary Debt Agreement and obtained a Court Order to pay a fixed monthly sum to creditors. After six years, under this national scheme, the debt is written off.
Having addressed an immediate financial crisis, Claire set about convincing family, friends – and herself, that her decision to emigrate was based on sound reasoning.
I went there to completely start again. What a lot of people do is to go to Australia to travel. I wasn’t going there to travel – I was going there to live.
A family friend, Fraser Watson, the Chairman of ‘The Vics’ made calls to work contacts in Australia and Claire boarded the plane clutching a suitcase of office clothes and little else.
She had accepted a job as Office Retail Manager for a Melbourne firm called ‘HR Retail Directors’ and had arranged to be met at the airport.
In retrospect, her aspirations:
I’d have my own little place. I knew I wasn’t going to be on much money, but I’d have my own little place; I’d make some great friends and I’d live pretty much the life I live here in England , but over in Australia, where it would be sunny and .. relaxed
are as fanciful as the pipe dreams of the eternal student and as ephemeral as the legendary ‘don a rucksack; doss down on the beach’ cliché.
Soon, she would be licking her wounds back in Borrowash, and speaking with a rueful self-knowledge:
What went wrong were the reasons I probably went. I think I was probably running away from things when I went to Australia, but I didn’t realise that at the time.
It was to start again – to leave all the past behind me – and you can’t do that. I think you’ve got to face things.
Claire stayed in Australia for just three months and her ‘dream’ was to become a nightmare.
Apart from the sun, Australia ( like Tenerife) did not behave as it should.
Tired and jet-lagged, Claire languished at Melbourne airport – and waited. Nobody came to collect her and she spent her first night in a hostel:
I had all these feelings of excitement, anxiety – and people kept on coming in and out, although I’d paid to have a room to myself.
Laura, (a friend from Bristol, now living in Melbourne), responded to her desperate Facebook plea:
I need somewhere to live
by giving some practical advice about housing. Claire left the hostel, equipped with telephone numbers to ring. Time was of the essence, and she plunged into another doomed experiment in communal living; joining a house-share with nine strangers. As an ideal home, it had palpable shortcomings:
I remember going to look around it that second day in Australia and there was just rubbish everywhere. The bins were overflowing – all the sinks – the dishes but I was desperate and I just went ‘I’ll take it.’
And then it was ‘Right, it’s not that bad…’
On first acquaintance, everyone seemed absolutely fine; not a problem…
but there was little ground for optimism the next morning:
I woke up and I’d been bitten by bed bugs literally from top to toe – I’ve still got some scars now. And the landlord just didn’t care and eventually, I moved into one of my friend’s rooms – a girl called Kelly.
The arrangement suited Kelly who was glad to pay less rent, but a student-style room share at the age of 29 wasn’t quite what Claire had signed up for.
Kelly was to become an ally, but some of the other housemates did not improve upon acquaintance:
A guy from America lived above us, so we had hip-hop on all night, every night, and if you asked him to turn it off, he would just kick off.
He had some major drug issues, which he was proud of – he used to enjoy telling us. Eduardo, an Italian guy we lived with, once turned off the power and that resulted in him coming out with a baseball bat, threatening to beat us all up – and I just thought ‘This isn’t ‘the dream’, you know!
Claire had left friends and family in Borrowash to live in squalor amidst petty criminals:
I feel a bit teary now just remembering it – even though I’m so far away from it.
Most of the people I lived with didn’t work; they were all on to Crystal Meth and there were just parties all the time but I’m not eighteen! I don’t want to be partying till four in the morning. You know, I had an office job I had to get up for!
People’s purses would get stolen. I mean, I couldn’t even go to the toilet!
We all shared one toilet and, believe me – that wasn’t the nicest experience! And if you went to the toilet, you’d literally have to lock your bag in the bedroom — just those feelings of not trusting people and not being trusted. You know, they had no reason to believe that I wasn’t the person stealing stuff… and a lot of stuff did go.
It was a culture of finger-pointing.
‘Who’s had my last bit of bread? Who’s eaten this?
When Claire returned to England, she was greeted with incredulity when she expressed her reservations about Australia:
So many people just said ‘How could you not like Australia? It’s brilliant!’
I just thought ‘Well, it might have been a brilliant experience for you, or you might have heard brilliant things, but it wasn’t brilliant for me.’
Aged eighteen, she had enjoyed sharing an apartment in Tenerife with friendly flatmates who looked out for each other, but communal living in Australia was the opposite of ‘give and take’.
Garth from New Zealand – he was like a wannabe criminal! And he just wasn’t a very nice man. He was 26 and his girlfriend Lily was only 19 and he treated her appallingly.
Even watching the television was a chance for Garth to exert his control and Claire found herself submitting to an intolerable regime characterised by psychological abuse.
We had one telly and there was only one programme that I liked to watch; ‘The Mentalist’. Me and my best friend Donna – we loved that programme, and it was just a little connection to me and Donna. And I would have to ask his permission if I could watch it! And do you know, when you just think ‘Oh my God! When did this happen? When did I become someone who asks permission to watch something?
He knew he had power in that house. He used to call it ‘Garth’s House’! It was on a place called Halstead Street and he called it ‘Hellstead Street’ because he created this atmosphere!
He decided if people came and went from that house and I didn’t like the power he had over me, because I’m a grown woman, for Christ’s sake!
I’ve come here to start a new life and I’m being told by a 26 year old boy what I can and can’t watch!
Garth’s bullying was not restricted to the issue of television viewing and on one occasion; Claire was confined to the house because she had lent him money which he failed to return:
I lent him some money and he promised I was going to get it back.
I didn’t have many things to do, because I didn’t know enough people. But I had actually been invited to a party and I was so excited to get a chance to meet new people – and I couldn’t go because he owed me money and I never got it back.
Work and the opportunity to put money aside with the goal of moving to more congenial surroundings might have been a life-saver – but once again, it wasn’t sunny skies.
I’d got this job and they said they were going to sponsor me, so that’s all fine. Then I found out when I got there that they weren’t going to sponsor me. So I had to look for another job, because of my visa. I could only work there for six months.
The general economic downturn in Australia was not auspicious for a visitor:
I was applying for jobs where twenty Australians were applying for the same job. Why would they hire me with the added expense of having to sponsor me and the risk that I couldn’t be sponsored?
‘HR Retail Directors’ supplied till systems:
It was high tech stuff – technology – I haven’t a clue!
The salary on offer sounded extremely attractive at a distance, but in practice:
It’s in dollars and then when I found out the cost of living, I realised that I’m actually on a lot less than the Minimum Wage!
I was struggling to live.
I would go for days without eating and I sometimes had to pick, you know what I mean?
I was like ‘Agh – I really need a cigarette. Do I buy a packet of fags, or do I buy food?
And I know to some people that’s absurd, but you know, I would choose fags over getting food.
Sometimes, money was so tight that the price of a tram ticket was a luxury too far:
If it was getting close to payday, I’d have to just get the tram and not pay for it and risk it and pray I don’t get caught, because otherwise, I couldn’t afford to get to work.
Dodging fares was an art in itself – and not always successful:
You have a card that you top up ; you swipe the card but then they have people there to check and I did get caught twice, and it was a two hundred dollar fine. So I’d try to save myself five dollars, just so I can have something to eat and it would end up costing me two hundred.
The bullying culture at home was matched by unpleasantness at work. The company directors were unfriendly and Claire’s immediate boss (a woman called Yong), was particularly unpleasant:
It didn’t matter what I did, it was wrong. If I updated an account, it wasn’t in the way she wanted it to be updated. So I’d do it the way she wanted and then this other man, Peter, would tell me ‘That’s wrong, you ought to update it this way’
So who do I listen to?
Yong’s behaviour was designed to undermine:
She really shouted at me. Yong once said to me at a dinner break – I gave an opinion on something and this is what she actually said:
‘You can’t have an opinion, you’re single’, and I was like, ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
She said, ‘You’re English and single you can’t have an opinion!’
You’re never going to get on with everyone, but just to go to work and not be very happy and then get home and not be thinking ‘Is there going to be a party?’ but ‘Is there going to be a fight?’ or ‘Has somebody stolen my last egg?’
The bed bugs were a constant annoyance and Claire’s description of them is graphic:
They never went away – and one day, I was sitting on the tram and I saw my skin just moving! They get under your flesh and lay their eggs and then pus just oozes out of your skin.
It was bad enough being English and single, but turning up for work covered with bed bug sores made Claire an obvious target and her tormentors did not spare her feelings:
I was literally covered from head to toe and then when I got into work covered, and I’d just literally got spots all over me, my boss just went ‘My God – you look a mess’. And there’s just no sympathy whatsoever – and I’m itching. I couldn’t afford the cream until I got paid, so I just had to itch and scratch.
Amidst all the misery, Claire retains one pleasant memory of her time in Australia; visiting Kelly’s father who had a house right up in this mountain. It was like proper outbacky type … it really felt Australian whereas Melbourne didn’t feel Australian, except for the Australians!
The overnight stay was like as glimpse of paradise amidst the inferno of day to day living and Claire enjoyed talking to Kelly’s father who reminded me of being with my Dad.
They cooked meat on a barbecue, drank loads of wine, ate loads of cheese and then the next day, me and Kelly climbed the mountain!
Climbing was exhausting but exciting:
We had sticks because of the snakes – and these are actually poisonous ones! I really felt like I was in Australia then.
Kelly’s Dad had Huntsmen spiders in his house which are poisonous, but bloody massive and they’re there to kill other spiders. And we climbed this mountain – and it’s tough because I’m not the fittest of people. Then we got there and we sat at the top of this bench and then just looked at the views.
It was the only real Australian experience I had. We even had the hats on with the corks. And that was just a brilliant weekend. If I’d had more of them, you know – it just felt like Australia – whereas being in that shared house again…
The toxic cocktail of work and home had now become unbearable and Claire was forced to admit defeat after breaking down at work:
I was crying; I felt sick and I literally got sent home. I bought four cans of beer, it’s all I could afford; this German stuff – and ten fags and waited to get paid. And I was at my friend’s laptop, just waiting for that money to hit. And as soon as I saw I’d got paid, I put on Facebook ‘I’m going home’.
I didn’t need to think about it – I just got to the airport and I went ‘Next ticket toEngland!’
They were like ‘Where?’
‘Anywhere! Get me to England!’
Anywhere tuned out to be Birmingham, where Claire’s older sister Lydia worked.
They met at the airport and it was an emotional reunion:
I just literally ran up to her and hugged her. I was shaking; crying – and I just knew. And we went for a pint with each other and I came home, came here and Mum and Dad and I just stood in the kitchen in Borrowash and drank some wine with each other and … it was home!
I just knew I was home! I don’t think Australia would ever have been home!
Back with her parents again in Borrowash, it was time for Claire to assess her situation; which was that she had gone to Australia with a suitcase and had now come back with a suitcase andabsolutely no money. I mean, my Mum had to lend me underwear – I just had nothing.
She would have to find a job, somewhere to live – and some way to make sense of her experience.
There would be no escape from prying eyes and pub gossip:
I tried – I could have come back after about two weeks, and I just kept on battling – but there were a few raised eyebrows when I came back. You know – locals.
Almost like a ‘Oh God – you just swan off and then you come back. And I don’t think they realised how hard it actually was. They almost had the reaction of ‘Oh, spoilt girl. You’ve gone to Australia and then it’s ‘Oh – I don’t like it’, so you’ve come home.
They don’t realise how tough it was – and I don’t think there’s many people could have stuck actually what I went through. It was just not this dream you know.
Life in Borrowash wasn’t a dream either; indeed, Claire felt she had run headlong into a brick wall. It was a relief to be home, but living with her parents could never be a long term option.
It didn’t seem fair, so I went to stay with my good friend Fiona who lives in West Bridgeford while I planned my next move.
The economic situation in Australia had made finding work difficult and it soon became apparent that the English job market was little better.
When I first came back from Australia, I was looking for work in the support field, that’s what I wanted to get back into, like drink, drugs counselling, that sort of thing. But I couldn’t get a job and I was applying all day, every day. And then I reduced my expectations and just started applying for any old job.
Claire was back in England with her family close at hand, but only marginally happier than she had been in Australia.
I got offered a job selling vending machines. I hated it. I mean – my job literally was to drive around and just knock on businesses’ doors and get a compliments slip! I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I was just miserable. I was getting home on Friday night and would be dreading Monday mornings.
Life at thirty was at a crossroads in more ways than one.
Claire took a frank look at her CV and decided that on paper at least, she was not the ideal candidate:
Every job I’ve had I’ve shown real commitment, but don’t think it did look great.
I’m thinking – ‘Would I have looked at my CV as an employer?’ because it’s not just the fact of going to Australia which isn’t even on my CV, there’s clearly a gap – but also just the randomness of my jobs.
So – I was a Branch Manager for a finance company; then a Project Worker for a charity, then a caterer and café owner.
If I was an employer, I would be looking and thinking ‘Do you actually know what you want to do?’ and maybe I didn’t…
Relationships of all types were also in dire need an overhaul.
Claire’s close bond with her family – (especially her father) is extremely important to her, but partners had not been well-chosen:
I’ve always gone for older men – and a lot of the time, I’ve been on the receiving end of some of the really abusive behaviour that , certainly when I was working for the project, I’d counselled the girls to steer clear from.
My girlfriends say that I’m we’re watching the telly and a really hard-looking guy comes on with a shaven head and lots of tattoos, then that’s the one they know I’ll go for! And it’s true and it never works
Being Ian Anderson’s daughter can also have a downside:
In Borrowash, everyone know my Dad so I’m always Ando’s daughter , or you know, because he’s done well for himself, I’ll get ‘Oh – so that’s how you got your business – it was down to your Dad.
And it’s not fair on him, because Dad’s got a really strong work ethic. He didn’t spoil us – neither did my Mum. We had to work at home and earn our pocket money by helping round the house as kids.
Sister act: Claire, Leonie and Lydia
Claire’s soul –searching was turning up patterns in her behaviour and reasons for her life-choices but no way forward, until a friend told her that Hannell’s were recruiting and I was thinking ‘Just get a job.’
So far, it has turned out to be an inspired choice and the move to Sandiacre has brought with it a new group of friends who know me for me.
She hopes that future will hold children (I’m going to put myself on the Adoption Register – I’d rather do that than IVF) but not necessarily a partner:
I can’t see myself getting married.
What Claire does know is that there will be no more escapades to Australia or Tenerife:
I just want to settle down now. I’m happy just to stick at this career, because I’m thirty now and I’ve had all my craziness, I’ve had all my heartbreak.
I’ve had my moving away; I’ve had my coming back and I do feel like I’m starting again.
Whatever happens next, Claire Anderson, who has lived more in her thirty years than many people twice her age, will embrace it with open arms and as usual, give it her very best shot.
She has walked on the wild side, but slippers and cocoa will not be beckoning any time soon.
I’m starting again. I really am building my life from absolute scratch. And I can’t wait to see what the next ten years are going to bring.
The residents of Borrowash who want a ring side seat would be advised to fasten their seat belts because, in the words of Hollywood legend, Bette Davies, the life and times of Claire Anderson will no doubt continue to be:
A very bumpy ride.