I remember when Rock and Roll was invented, when Everest was first climbed, and when my father came home from the Second World War.
I remember England when we "had never had it so good", when the sun always shone in the summer and murders were rarely committed. Then came Teddy Boys, Mods and Rockers, Purple Hearts and Beatles.
When I took my degree in London in the early 60's there was an innocence abroad that could still be scandalized by such goings-on as the Profumo Affair. I was studying Greek near Baker Street when I heard that Kennedy had been shot. But that was then and now is now. I am the father of two wonderful kids who live in the UK. In 1999 I married the lovely Autumn Browne.
Until the summer of 2003 I worked in Southern California as a software engineer, when I decided to take a what I will call early retirement. Now I write plays, research my family history, drive a midnight blue Mitsubishi, own my own house and walk the dog daily.
Now I have the beginning of wisdom and still just enough time left in which to enjoy what remains of health and vitality.
I keep meeting so many old friends from the past who all want to know what happened to me that I decided it might be convenient to write this mini-autobiography.
When I was christened in November 1941 and elderly clerical gentleman leaned over my pram and exclaimed, “He’ll either be a bishop or a comedian!”
After my father was demobbed at the end of the war we moved to Nottingham where I started my schooling, and then to Derby in 1952 when he got a job as a sales representative with Walls Ice Cream. We moved into a new house on Mackworth Estate and I was placed in Ashgate Boys School for a couple of years in the care of such teachers as Mr. Blood and Mr. Savage. Although suffering a severe bout of asthma and hay fever on the day I took my scholarship I passed well enough to get into Derby Central School for Boys – though I confess some disappointment at not having made it to Bemrose or Derby School. Hey, anything was better than going to Secondary Mod (like Sturgess or Rykneld).
September of 1953 saw me nervously walking down a long winding driveway to the ivy covered school where older boys still called the new kids ‘fags’ and maintained an ancient privilege of bullying! We were the victims of acorn fights and, when the snow came, of snowball fights.
The years at Central School were filled with the finding of new friends and laying an academic groundwork for life for which I am profoundly grateful. I became a Boy Scout – where our headmaster was also the scout leader. Drama figured strongly; I did as well at the arts as the sciences and only blew history because I so disliked the history master.
I was in the very last group of boys to take our “O” levels at Central School before we were all merged with an intake of girls into the newly built premises of Henry Cavendish School at Breadsall. I quit after just one year in the Sixth because life as home was so bad. I wanted to get out, earning my own living and have my independence.
In the next three years I worked for two years at Derby and District College of Technology as a laboratory steward – where I took and passed my ‘A’ levels in Zoology, Botany and Chemistry. A six week summer stint on a building site made me the strongest I ever became in my whole life. Then I worked for a year as a clerk in the Borough Surveyor’s Department to rack up a full three years at work before going to London Bible College in the fall of 1992.
This rather unusual step followed logically for me from a teenage conversion which took me into the Methodist Church (where I became a lay preacher) and introduced me to leading evangelicals in Derby. Others of my friends were feeling ‘led’ to be missionaries and that challenged me to figure out where my place should be in advancing the Christian faith.
After four years at LBC – where I acquired an Associate Diploma and a Bachelor’s degree from London University – I entered the ministry as pastor of a Baptist church in north London (in 1966). Newly married to Jill Preston (of Darley Abbey and also a graduate from LBC) we sought to lead this church for eight years. Our two children (Alison and Jonathan) were born during this time. Cash was often in short supply and so I supplemented our income by teaching R.E. at a local comprehensive school, then lecturing at a nearby college, and finally being a joint editor of a national Christian monthly newspaper (The Evangelical Time) for three years.
After eight years in London it was time to move on and we accepted an invitation to Hull, East Yorkshire, where I became the pastor of Kingston Reformed Church. The kids had to learn new accents and the pace of life slowed. The time in Hull proved to be an unhappy experience in many ways. The church became the scene of deep discord and I became desperate to leave. I had my mid-life crisis! I began to develop doubts about several areas of Christian belief, and my marriage suffered several significant jolts. Fortunately, in some senses, we were able to partner with friends of ours to set up and run a successful medical supplies company which provided the financial independence we needed to quit the church and live in the countryside in a lovely old farmhouse.
At this time I thought my new role would be as a free lance preacher and transform our farm house into a retreat for missionaries and beat-up pastors. All this ended when I was invited to pastor one of the larger churches in the UK – Lansdowne Baptist Church, Bournemouth. The opportunity was so remarkable that we sold the farmhouse and the business and moved south in 1982.
Had I simply settled into the ministry there I would have been set for life! In fact this was where my marriage finally broke, I saw through the emptiness of Christian theology and so-called Christian experience, and knew the end had come. In October 1986 – exactly 20 years after entering the ministry – I left it. It was a very tough and painful time both mentally and emotionally. The bishop segment of my life was over. And what a relief.
For a while I made a living running my own small construction company. The kids grew up and left home, and my marriage finally ended in 1989.
By now I had moved to Shaftesbury, Dorset and joined a theatre company. What joy! I got retrained, through a Government sponsored scheme, to become a systems analyst/computer programmer and found employment in Trowbridge at Wiltshire County Council. I had wound up the construction company and started a whole new career. As a single man I was able to do some ‘catching up’ on what I had missed in the past (hint)! I continued to act, sing and direct in Shaftesbury where I formed many enduring friendships but moved house to Warminster with my border collie, Jude. By now the comedic side of the old cleric’s prophecy was coming into effect.
In 1995, now as an experienced Senior Analyst/Programmer, I accepted an offer to go to the States where people with my skill set were in hot demand. People said I would never come back, that I’d find a new woman and settle down. And they proved right. Yes, I miss my family enormously, but the States gave me the chance to make up for all I lost through the divorce, etc., and to build a new live. My work was successful and the climate in Southern California was so amiable (compared to England), that I applied for a Green Card. I turned my dramatic instincts to playwriting (though I often still act) and in the course of working with others in drama met Autumn Browne – whom I married in 1999. She is a drama teacher and stage director and has happily become an extra grandmother to Ali’s kids, Gemma and Stephen.
I finally retired from the computer world in 2003 and took up substitute teaching – thereby giving myself more time to focus on writing and the other things I really want to do in life. I must add that the teaching is a trip! I mostly teach Junior High students, with regular forays into nearby high schools. I love doing this, and the students seems to love hearing the English accent up close and personal.
We now live in a large home in Orange County with our cats and our dog, Shandy. I maintain several websites and have recently provided an internet ‘presence’ for my old school, Derby Central School for Boys. This much-loved school lost its identity into a larger, newer school in 1958. The old boys of those nostalgic days, when Darley Park was our playground and an old Georgian mansion our school, are an ever diminishing bunch of old fogeys! So I am working with a few others to rescue history, memories and photos before they are all gone.
Michael C. Buss
Ten years have passed sine I wrote this. OMG!! Time for a major update."