11 years of age, all pimples, bashful gazes and awkwardness.
Mr B was my teacher for English studies, a realm of Jane Eyre and Dickens. He quit his teaching job some years later to ride a motorbike and sidecar from Exeter to Moscow. I always imagined him gunning the motorbike throwing Orwell novels out behind him, laughing maniacally.
Anyway I digress, one day he highlighted to the rest of the class how enamored he was with my battered NHS glasses (the ones held together with a plaster in the middle and sellotape on one arm). Apparently someone called ‘the Mozzer’ would be in awe he announced to my dispassionate peers. My face flushed as red as the crimson jumpers we were forced to wear and I retreated/fled to the boy’s toilets to gain solace by picking zits and bemoaning the life I had.
Normal kid, all isolation and disgusting hygiene practices.
The next day, as the bell rang and as my peers turned into a collective frenzy intent on escape Mr B gesticulated with a curled finger for me to come over to his desk. He reached into his brown battered leather bag and retrieved from its depths a book.
The title was The Catcher in the Rye, by somebody called Salinger. He handed the book over. Uncertain what to do I opened the book. Inside written in blue ink was one line.
well that would be telling.
‘You’ll love it, trust me, it’s so real, so fucking vivid.’
We were sat in our local bar, all dark wood and dark beers. Grey clouds drifting over the assembled patrons, the sound of the Manic Street Preachers on the jukebox filling in the spaces between conversations.
‘What’s it about like?’
‘This junkie, goes cold turkey like, fucks a school girl, his mate dies and he flees to London pursued by this psycho.’
She pushes the book through damp circles and cigarette ash. From a sea of orange stares back a silver skull.
‘It’s amazing, all proper Scottish and everyfin, promise me you’ll give it a try.’
I took the book.
I was eight, sat on the green patterned carpet in our front room. The one that was just different shades of green, as if a wild forest had grown on a miniature scale. Afternoon sunlight streamed in the window, glinting off of the plastic covers that covered the sofa and armchair. I was currently involved in a deeply volatile political situation between red plastic cowboys and yellow plastic Indians who were disputing ownership over the medieval wooden castle my father had built me the year before.
My mother was in the kitchen burning water, so I was the first to hear my father’s keys in the lock of our front door. He walked in, shoulders slumped and eyes tired. Giving me a small wave, he put down his tool bag and walked over the plastic strip that connected the front door to the hallway.
I returned to the art of genocide, this time the Indians were winning due to their bribing of a giant Action-Man to wreck havoc on the cowboy defensive structure. Sadly for the Indians the imminent arrival of an unseen Millennium Falcon was going to tip the battle firmly the other way.
As plastic clattered plastic, as culture destroyed culture, I could hear raised voices from the kitchen. Words I didn’t quite understand were being discussed loudly.
After a while the voices quietened, and all I could hear was my mother and father sobbing,
I was soon distracted by Chewbacca who was laying waste to everyone in a surprise coup for dictatorial control.
My father walked in, his hands smelling of soap, his tired eyes raw and red. He pulled out of his tool bag a comic.
‘Be something other than me son.’ He handed the comic over and retreated back over the plastic strip to the kitchen.
On the cover of the comic was a man, clad in a dark uniform, big boots, holding a gun. His face hidden behind a strange mask of steel and glass. The title of the comic was 2000ad.
I was never the same after that.