“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment. Then gradually time awakened again and moved sluggishly on.”
― John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
“Mum, I need all the books now, we’re supposed tae hiv them for the start ae the year.
“Don’t be stupid, will get them as ye need them.” Said, my mum. Grimly aware that every penny was a prisoner. It was the summer of 1982, and I was getting ready to start second year at Hutchesons’ Grammar School. My fees were paid via bursary, but books etc had to be bought out of a relatively meagre household income. The average spend for mum and dad, for books and materials was around £300.
This was the 80’s. We were an Easterhouse family. That was crazy money that we just did not have, so it was no wonder my mum was trying to spread the burden across the year. The problem was, I was right and within a couple of months, the issues over the particular book we had talked about would raise again. For me, it had life-defining results.
This moment hovered, waiting to find its mark.
I remember that day, a few months later. A Friday morning in Mr Strang’s English class. 35 years later I still vividly recall the deep panic that arose within me as I heard, “Next week bring in your copy of “Of Mice and Men” as we are going to start looking at it.
It’s hard to get across why it made me panic. I was a, supposedly, bright 12-year-old, beginning second year in one of the best schools in Glasgow. I had done pretty well in first year. Although my social awkwardness and even “shame” of where I came from had taken its toll.
This was it, though. I could not dare tell my mum I needed the book right away. There was no Amazon in those days, as hard as that seems to believe now. There was no money even if there had been. So I had two of the most dominant people in my life, my mum who did everything humanly possible to get her kids through life, and Mr Strang – a force of nature as a teacher. A real man’s man. Fantastic teacher that we all loved, but we also feared. There was no messing about in his class. On the other side of all this, though, was the fact that I actually loved English. It was my favourite subject. And all of a sudden that moment from the summer came hovering back into view. Sound stopped and movement stopped as my heart took in what my brain tried to kick out.
What on earth was I going to do? How the heck could this be solved?
The sense of foreboding as I made my way home that day. The dread that locked my lips and clenched my fists. I sat on the bus, not even daring to breathe as my fear carried me across the city. I had spent the full journey going through various conversations in my head, (in hindsight, not the best idea since my head was already a fortress of insecurity and fear).
Foot off the bus at Aberdalgie, creeping along Duntarvie, caught up in my own prison of nightmare proportions, and eventually almost crawling up the two flights of steep tenement steps to our top floor flat.
As I pushed my way very slowly in the door, it was obvious that something was already going on. The atmosphere of argument hung thick in the air, and like the cold blast before a storm kicks in, I felt it.
Dad had been drinking. You did not need to hear him, never mind see him to know this. It was like he carried his own storm clouds around with him. A malevolent force of nature that made anyone that knew him take precautions. Mum and dad had been arguing over, you guessed it, money. Big Paddy had gone straight to the Brig after work, not an unusual happening, but this was one of those times when my mum had had enough. There was very little money in the house.It was very rare that my mom got much from him anyway but that was one of those days she had decided to face him down over it.
My dad and his drinking in those days is another story. But on this day, every bit of courage I had spent an eternity travelling through Glasgow building up to enable me to just come in and blurt out that I needed the book and I needed it now was blown away in the hurricane that was going on.
How on earth could I ask for that book when my mum was so skint and so fed up that she had chosen to face him down over it?
I went to my room, closed the door and cried.
The following Friday as I entered Glasgow Central Station to get the train to school, I saw the pay phones. In an instant, I knew what to do. I called the school, pretended to be my dad and said I would not be in as I was ill. Hutchesons’ had probably never had to deal with this before so there was no suspicion and no questions asked.
The next six Fridays the same pattern repeated.
The moment had settled and was now oh so much more than a moment. It had altered the course of my entire life.
But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft alley,
A’ Lea’s us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee;
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an fear!
Excerpt from “To a mouse” Robert Burns
NB Please note that I am very proud of Easterhouse and all who have lived there, it is, without doubt, one of the best communities on earth. At the age of 12, I compared my private life to others’ public and was very aware I seemed to have a lot less.
This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.
If you would like to know more about the Christian response to addiction, or just need hope please click on one of the links below.
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Bethany Christian Trust
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church