If only you could hear me saying this. If only I’d had the courage to say it before I left. And I have gone; I’m standing here talking to myself, imagining your reactions when you find the note I left on the kitchen table; Dad saying ‘Jist an ungrateful good-for-nothing,’ Mum going on about how I’d got too big for my boots since I’d started at Uni and she’ll never live it down and why wasn’t Braeknowe good enough for me if it was good enough for her and Dad, all the family? Jim, of course, will just ask, ‘Can I have his room?’ Well, take it, wee brother, it’s yours; I won’t be back.
I need to work out, in my own mind, why I did leave. It’s all very tangled, but I know I’m fed up getting something with chips every Tuesday, tatties and mince every Wednesday, chips and breaded whiting every Friday, stewed steak and pork links every Sunday. If I mentioned the monotony of it all, took home a carry-out or tried to cook something myself Mum would yell ‘Ye’ll eat the same as the rest of us—and stay oot o my kitchen!’
Nor can I cope with any more dark evenings in our living-room, the TV flickering in the corner, the family gathered round it like stupefied worshippers, and Dad giving a running commentary on some inane imported drama, ‘The guy wi the gun’ll be waitin for him—see! Ah telt ye!’ If I switch on the light to read, it’s ‘Get that light aff! Get upstairs if ye’re gonnae read. The telly’s better wi the light aff.’
I’m escaping from our estate, from the town we live in and its people, from the slobbery old women who stopped us when we went into town for the messages (every Saturday morning, the same shopping list every week) saying, ‘Och, he’s fair shooting up! He’ll be as big as his faither soon!’ I hate the fact that everyone knows me, knows what I do; they know my father, how he married old thingway’s daughter, that they live in one of the newer houses up Braeknowe, and aye there’s a younger boy, James, much cheerier than that soor-faced elder yin. Everywhere I go in this town I feel eyes on me, knowing eyes, judging eyes, disapproving eyes set in shaking heads with pinched, sour faces.
Most of all I’m running away from my relatives. Sheer dread of the next family gathering would keep me away even if everything else was perfect. Perhaps it’ll be a funeral, the wedding of Auntie Ellen’s next prematurely-pregnant daughter, or Uncle Sammy coming home from Australia to tell us how well he’s doing. Whatever it is the atmosphere will be the same. None of us like each other, we live separate lives, but we’re family so we have to endure each other’s grisly company. I nod approvingly when Aunt Maggie tells me how well her ghastly middle son Gordon is doing ‘at the college’ before I’m asked if I’m still ‘at the college,’ too. In fact he’s doing a woodwork evening class to pass the time after being chucked out of his joinery apprenticeship for being blind drunk. At 10 a.m. Driving the van.
Our family traditionally get maudlin and sentimental when drunk, so, as the grim ritual continues into the small hours, Uncle Allan shoves his sweaty arm around me (interrupting Aunt Sylvia’s attempts to marry me off to promiscuous, vacuous cousin Cheryl) and tells me I’m a good boy and he’s always liked me. An hour before he was lecturing me about careers; ‘Whit the hell good is it gonnae dae ye tae spend aa that time on yer arse at the college? Ye waant tae get oot an get a real job, a man’s job, nane o this sittin in classrooms an talkin like a jessie.’
Aye, an egregious family; I suppose a patronising middle-class writer would regard us as a collection of fascinating and picturesque characters. Take cousin Red Billy, for instance. I imagine he’ll call me a class traitor. Let him. I can’t live any more with the emptiness and quiet resignation. I can’t share that fierce pride in our own stubbornness, our unwillingness to take risks and explore ways of enriching our lives, our fear of the new, the challenging, the disruptive.
When I was fourteen I had my career path sorted out. Get an arts degree, spend a few years in the voluntary sector working with the unemployed, then straight into politics, try to get a local candidacy, and become a much-loved, fighting, advocate-of-the-dispossessed Labour MP. Well, my ambitions have changed; the future is misty and confusing, but I know it won’t look anything like that. And, anyway, Thatcher looks like she’s in office for life. I’ve tried to be true to my roots and my ideals, but I’ve also tried to be an individual, to be me; as a result, people have regarded me as a deviant, an oddball. I don’t want to be their advocate anymore.
Yes, the future is a muddle. This step is a real split and I’m suffering through our inherited lack of experience in this kind of thing. Even now there is a strong desire to go back, to switch on the telly, look forward to tomorrow’s mince and tatties—tomorrow being Wednesday.
But it’s done. I want to live somewhere I can be me without being laughed at, somewhere I’m judged on myself, not on my genealogy. I don’t know where I’ll find this, and I suspect that wherever it is, I won’t belong there. I haven’t moved from Braeknowe to somewhere else: instead I’ve taken the first step on a lifetime of seeking a home, and never finding one.
I may write once things seem a little more stable, but then again I may not. Believe me I wish better things for you, newness and change, than you wish for yourselves.
David McVey lectures in Communication at New College Lanarkshire in Scotland. He has published over 100 short stories and a great deal of non-fiction that focuses on history and the outdoors. He enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, watching TV, and supporting his home-town football (soccer) team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC. Email: dumgoyne1402[at]hotmail.com