I went to high school in the Scottish seaside town of Ayr. In the five years I spent at Ayr Academy from 1966-1970 I got mostly traditional classes of English, Mathematics, French, History, Geography, Physics Chemistry and Biology along with music, art, physical education and even some basic ballroom dancing. At the end of every summer term we either performed a Shakespeare play or a Gilbert and Sullivan opera (on alternative years). We also produced a yearbook containing photographs and achievements but also some poems, articles, cartoons, and short stories written by students. Here are the covers for the Ayr Academy yearbooks for 1967-1970.
The subjects that I stuck to were mostly mathematics and science since I hoped to go to university to study medicine, but I did take some creative writing classes after school when I was about 14.
We were encouraged to create poetry using our imagination and to let go of the traditional concepts of cadence and rhyming. In fact poets like ee cummings were all the rage back then so that you didn’t even need to use upper case letters or any punctuation of grammar! It was very freeing! However, I was fond of the rhythm and cadence of song lyrics and had an interest in the glamor of the USA so I wrote my poem using a cadence that (to me, at least) sounded like the confident loping stride of a fox as it ambled towards the hen house to steal its dinner. I even tried to use American slang. I also seemed to have an adolescent fascination with death. Apparently it was considered good enough to include on the 1969 yearbook:
I was more interested in writing prose so I attempted a short story that year, too. I lived in a quiet, suburban “conservative” neighborhood and felt a bit suffocated by my community. I was being forced into a very traditional future and part of me wanted to rebel against it. This sad little story reflects my continued fascination with death! As I look back fifty years on I cringe at the clumsy mistakes I made with words and grammar but this, too, made the cut for the 1969 yearbook. One of my friends drew the artwork that accompanied it:
Here is the text written out to make it a bit easier to read:
A BIT OF A CLICHÉ
The front door clicked softly shut. Rather like a rifle being cocked, he mused. As he walked down the path, under the arch, and out onto the wet pavement, he could still hear her voice, whining our all manner of orders and complaints. It wouldn’t matter now…….
He paused at the top of the hill. Looking back at ‘suburbia’ gave him no feeling of nostalgia. The twinkling lights, of all shades of orange and green. The red ‘Coke’ sign flashed monotonously on and off. Occasionally he would see the upstairs window of a house light momentarily and then flick out. Yet he felt no regret – no fits of remorse. The whole scene to him was an absolute cliché. ‘The darkness excused the lewd night-life of a typical dormitory town.’ His gaze shifted slowly across the scene, his bulging eyes resting on his own, small, typical house. He forced back the tears. What had he done for himself? Forty five, and he was so typical; he ought to have had a stamp on his forehead:- FAIRLY SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MAN, MARRIED. NO FAMILY. ONE CAR:- He tossed his head cynically, turned, and moved off…….
“Oh dear! I wonder why Albert was so sullen tonight. He isn’t usually. Not on a Thursday – that’s his ‘fish’ – night. He always likes his little bit of haddock on a Thursday – good for his duodenum, I think…. But I do wish he wouldn’t shout, so. Off he goes, out the door, at that time of night. It’s gone half eleven – way past his bed-time. I suppose it’d be silly to ‘phone the police – and then him turn up as they arrived. Oh I don’t know…..”
The sea looked quiet, tonight. Unruffled by life. One or two sleepy seagulls broke the monotony of the scene. The rain was getting heavier. Better put up an umbrella. As he did so, he suddenly halted. It hit him right in the middle of his typical red, shiny, middle-aged, beery, nose! What was he doing? He was putting up a typically black umbrella – to protect his typical bowler hat, covering his typically bald (‘just receding dear’) head. A great lump welled up in his throat, and he began to shiver with cold and anger. He hurled the umbrella over the edge, turned, and stumped off into the blackness of the night.
“This rain’s getting awful. I can hardly see. Better put the wipers on… I do hope he won’t be angry with me when he gets home. Perhaps it is stupid getting worried about him like this… but he does have that Nuffield thing, with the board, tomorrow. He needs his sleep, you know. Oh I wish he’d let me know what was worrying him…”
He was walking, and walking, and walking. It didn’t matter where, or for how long. He just walked and thought. What an insipid, insignificant little man he seemed, in his own eyes. He had plucked up courage all day, in his little office… he had planned what little there was to plan… no need for a will – nothing to leave – no-one to leave the nothing to! No! It had all seemed simple enough. He would go out for his usual walk, at the usual time, go up to the cliff and then just!…. Yes! That had been the flaw. He didn’t have any guts. The very faults which had driven him to so much despair, were now stopping him from ending it all. Ironically, useless…..
He stopped for a moment, to look at himself. Utterly drenched to the skin. He has lost his hat somewhere back along his train of thoughts. A freshly starched shirt tail, bumfled out from below his silk waistcoat, revealing four or five lewd square inches of fat, on that hairy, beery (‘nicely plump dear’) paunch. One of his laces was undone, and he had mud splattered half way up his leg. His mouth tasted salty!… he was blubbering like a child! Anger and self pity choked in his fat throat.
Turning once more to escape from himself, he began to run, shutting his eyes like clams – petrified of himself – turning a blind eye to his faults? Panting and heaving, tripping and falling he ran, goaded on by the spitting lashing rain, on and on and…..
“… why doesn’t he tell me things… why can’t he let me share in his problems. I do my little best!.. what more does he expect? Well, I’m not going on! I’ll turn at this next bend and go home. He can just get wet for once! Can’t expect me to go out in this fog. I can hardly see a thing. You’d almost think that was someone on the… Oh my God! No!”
A blaring noise in his left ear brought him back to reality. Two blazing angry eyes – squeals and screetches… of laughter? Uplifted by his own emotions – dashed to destruction by his refusal to see – crumpled and broken beneath the weight of unseen hope… the red blood of time oozed over his eyes and congealed…..
I am sharing this, (typos, bad grammar and punctuation and all) not because I think it is particularly good, but to encourage anyone reading this to consider writing their own stories. It just takes the confidence to start writing down the ideas in your head and to trust that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it if it gives you pleasure and joy to create something new for yourself.