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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

Interview: Barrington Sowden Author Of One Journey, Many Lives

You were left in the care of your grandparents at a very young age. How did this early separation shape your perception of family and identity?

Growing up, I had no real perception of a family unit, and certainly there wasn’t a model by which I could follow. I was raised in a bubble. My grandparents, although, were good to me and never left me for wanting, did not or could not show what I now know as real parental love and my parents were never mentioned. I don’t recall ever being hugged. My sister and I were encouraged to just continue to be the best that we can, always being told that we were special, always spoken to and never spoken at. As I was growing up in the UK, I knew I felt uncomfortable in a family gathering, but was unsure as to why, but now I realise that I would always do that which came natural, and that was to withdraw into myself where I felt safe, which didn’t always come across as a positive thing to others. It was only recently that I discovered that what I was experiencing was anxiety.

The Windrush generation faced many challenges upon arrival in the UK. How do you think your parents' experiences during this migration influenced your upbringing?

This is a good searching question. One of the things which is rather common amongst the Windrush era of West Indies descendents, is that there were never any discussion between parents and children on any such issues. The one thing that I can only theorise is that my father was an angry man. Was that due to the migration and all that was associated with it or was it because he could not express himself, that is something I’m unable to say for definite. Racial issues were never discussed in our household. I had no idea what my parents experiences were during migration or indeed how it affected them. All I know for a fact is that he took his anger out on myself and my siblings.

What was the most striking cultural difference you encountered when you moved from Jamaica to Manchester as a young boy?

I was brought up to be very adaptable, so for me there were no real cultural differences that I had to contend with when I arrived in the UK. Yes there were lots more white faces than I’d ever seen before, but to me they were just people. However the one thing I found difficult was been friendly with people of my own colour, I was not used to this, having lived such a segregated life in Jamaica. I also found it difficult at first to fully understand the dialect of West Indians, so usually I would remain silent because I did not want to stand out from the rest, again concealing my background, as my life would have been hell from my own people.

Your childhood was marked by unexpected events, especially the sudden death of your grandfather. How has this particular loss impacted your personal journey?

The death of my grandfather had a profound and lasting impact on my personal journey. It has affected my relationship with people, as I’ve always felt, and still do, that should I get close to anyone, they will leave as did my grandfather, my grandmother and my mother. I have always felt that I’m not good enough and would always question myself.

You found solace in Soul music during your teenage years. Can you share a particular song or artist that profoundly resonated with you during challenging times?

There were so many artists that I turned to, the likes of Otis Reading, Eddie Floyd – Knock on Wood, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Sam and Dave and of course Al Green. I could lose myself in these songs and the lyrics in the ballads would bring tears to my eyes, with all my emotions pouring out, and to this day they have the same effect on me. Their meanings are so deep within me, and it seems, not just the lyrics but also the music, which all seems to captivate me.

How did DJing in the Manchester club scene provide an escape or perhaps a platform for your voice amidst the turbulence of your personal life?

Being a DJ gave me the opportunity to be whoever I wanted to be, I could hide behind the decks as they were between myself and the crowd. I was making people happy which in turn made me happy. It was a great escape for me. At the time the drink culture was so prevalent in our group that any turbulences of my personal life were quickly forgotten or buried for a time, but unknown to me, these would only manifest itself in later life, because these things are never forgotten. I still to this day will suddenly develop anxious moments in the pit of my stomach for no apparent reason or triggers, but it’s all to do with the sub-conscious.

You faced both immense challenges and successes in the Navy, from wrongful imprisonment to captaining the field gun race. What motivated you to persevere, especially during the darkest times?

The Royal Navy was a great escape for me, having escaped from on my life during the aforementioned times. I have often questioned where this motivation came from, this desire not to let situations define me, this inner drive, the guides within me that made to make decisions that will be better for me coupled with my ability to accept my situation and make it the best I can. I had this in-built desire to strive for perfection, never looking back and certainly never feeling sorry for myself. But the one big plus is never showing those dark times, keep everything under wraps. Again one has learnt that this is not a healthy thing.

Can you shed light on a specific instance where you faced racial prejudice in the Navy, and how you handled it?

On my Physical Training Instructor’s course, on the very day when we were all lined up and introduced to our instructor and as he came down the line, he stopped and asked my name and after replying, he then said, ‘you do know that you have to work twice as hard to pass this course’. On another occasion, I was had cause to report a Petty Officer for the manner in which he addressed me. Unbeknown to me he was aware of this and went to seek advise from the Master at Arms (military police), who advised him to Troop me (charge me), which they did and was brought before the Captain of the establishment on direct disobedient charges. Before I was due to appear, I sought assistance from a Naval solicitor who advised me on how to defend myself which I did and the whole case was dropped. On the way out, the Master at Arms came up to me and said that he will be charging me for having an untidy room, to which I informed him that I did not reside on the camp. You had to learn how to play the game and which battles to fight as within the Navy, racial prejudice is very subtle.

The way in which I would handle racial abuse was initially with violence after my incarceration. But after I became established as one who could handle himself, both in the RN and in the streets of Plymouth, I had very little racial issue to contend with. Another weapon that I had in my armour was the ability to speak which made me both physically and mentally strong.

How did becoming a husband and father influence your perspective on resilience and overcoming obstacles?

I had not planned on becoming a father and I had always maintained in my mind that I would not marry whilst I was in the Navy. Then as time went on I had this notion, again in my mind, that I would marry when I was 32. Why 32? I had no idea, but that number appeared again during one of my period of reflecting and worked out that my father was 32 when I was born. I had no time to think about being a father, I was enjoying life too much as a Sailor and all that came with that.

It was only when I became a husband that my resilience really started to take shape, consciously, as I was now surviving not just for myself, but for my family, something I had never done before, but with my past experiences of survival and all that I had been through, this was easier to accept and control.

From the Navy to a National Sports Officer, and then to business consulting, how have these varied roles shaped your worldview?

As I intimated earlier, the Navy was a godsend for me and basically saved my life. However after 14 years, I felt the Navy was now holding me back and I would not have been able to achieve the same in there as I could in civilian street, simply because of who I was and how I was viewed. So now married I had to develop a new mindset and suddenly this inner drive to be the best in all that I did ignited and I found myself striving for more and more knowledge. The move from National Sports Officer was out of more misfortune in my life. But whatever misfortune I have in my life, I always try to make something good from it. All the different jobs that I had had all contributed to making me the person I am with a plethora of life experiences.

What drew you back to Plymouth after your back decompression surgery, and how did your time in the Navy influence this decision?

I was at another low ebb of my life at the time just after my back decompression surgery. My marriage had dissolved and my then wife moved back to Plymouth with the children and my house was being re-possessed. It was through discussion with the her (wife),, that we both agreed that it would be in the best interest of the children if I moved back to Plymouth, remembering of course that I only had 3 sisters in London, and my beloved older sister, Beverley, was now housebound. I knew also that in terms of my mental health, it would be a lot better for me to be around my Naval family. And to this day, they have supported me like no other.

As a life coach and personal trainer for the elderly, what's the most rewarding aspect of your work, and how do you integrate the lessons from your life into your coaching sessions?

The most rewarding aspects of that part of my working life was seeing the improvement of my clients. When they realise that they still have a full life that they can live. The friendship that is cemented. In most cases, I would relate some of my life experience that they would resonate with and that in turn would form a bond, and above all, trust. It was all about connection.

In "One Journey, Many Lives," what is the primary message or lesson you hope readers take away from your story?

The message I hope that people will take from me putting my story out there, is that different parts of my story might resonate with a wide range of people, which is the feedback I have been receiving, and a feeling that they are not alone, we have all got a story. Another big aspect is the knowledge that no one is defined by their circumstances or environment, but rather due to their choices.

Barrington Sowden

Your life story is a testament to resilience. How do you define resilience, and what advice would you offer to others facing seemingly insurmountable challenges?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back into shape after a mishap/misfortune. If I was providing advice on how to bounce back, it would be to firstly look at the situation as temporary, don’t take it personally and do not blame. This is life, and there are people worst off than you. Life has a way of balancing itself out. By blaming, you are keeping the situation alive and this will hold you back. As an ex-boxer, having the ability to get up and dust oneself off, after being knocked down, with a determination to be even better. This can also apply to any disappointment in life. Not having the best situation, but seeing the best in your situation is the key.

Now that you've penned down your autobiography, what's next for Barrington Sowden? Are there other stories or projects on the horizon?

I have to keep reminding myself that I had not started out with the intentions of writing a book. There were things in my life that I felt were repeating themselves and experiences that I had endured that having told a few close friends, and seeking therapy, I was encouraged to write things down and later that there was a book lurking in the wings. The other point was that, as most West Indies did not pass on details of their lives to their children, I wanted to change that. However, since writing this book, I have had so many people asking me if I’m going to write a continuance. I’m at present organising a Charity Concert, featuring 3 choirs (8th September 2023) for a local charity (BASICS Devon) who came to my aid last year when I lost the use of my right leg and fell down the stairs and was awaiting an ambulance.

One thing is for certain, I will continue to do as much charity work as I can as that fulfils my soul.

You can purchase 'One Journey, Many Lives' by Barrington Sowden at Waterstones, Foyles, WHSmith, Amazon & Cranthorpe Millner

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