(This piece of writing was created for the ‘Boyhood Memories’ project, a collection of true stories from various authors, collated by Peter Clothier.)
My mother’s boyfriend was an intimidating presence. A gruff Northerner who lived an isolated life in a log cabin. Half living space, and half storage space for a mountainous CD collection from times sourly missed. They met on an online dating website when computers barely existed; let alone smartphones, or Tinder. Gone now are the days of Guardian Soulmates and Friends Reunited. I probably know more about the dark ages of Internet dating than any other nineteen year old should, or would care to know.
This bald Shrek-like character, with a big belly, huge shoulders and a conclusive knowledge of 60’s hits would come round from the deep North at weekends. Then more and more regularly. He would never fail to scare me shitless. This was shortly after my Father (a small, quiet, South African artist) upped sticks and left, and I quickly decided that his replacement was not up to par. There existed a mutual disdain that pulsated between us, and the looks he used to give me when my Mother wasn’t present could kill a restless Bull. He preferred to verbally chastise me quietly, when we were alone together, and warn me not to tell Mum… So I would walk in her shadow in an effort to postpone the inevitable. I remember trying to follow her into the toilet one time because he was angry with me for some reason… and sure enough he took that opportunity to pounce. He was never physical, but I was a sensitive child and rarely ‘naughty’ anyway, so this new form of emotional discipline was rather alien to me.
At some point he found out I was good at writing and tried to inspire my creativity in the only way he knew how; to force me to write a short story or a poem every week for a couple of months on the trot. It was a carrot and stick type scenario. If I didn’t write a story every week I knew there would be hell to pay, and he would sternly remind me when my deadline was closely approaching. He insinuated with death stares and tone of voice alone that if I were to delay, my life would not be made pleasant. However, if I did manage a piece of verse or prose once a week for two months, he would buy me a ‘mighty beanz mega racetrack (TM)’ and by God I was desperate to have my very own ‘mighty beanz mega racetrack (TM)’. So put pen to paper I did.
One summer we were holidaying in a caravan in Wales. I was having a grand old time mincing around fields and tormenting cows from afar, but despite the fact that I was on holiday I was not afforded exemption from my writing duties. My deadline was looming and if I were to get that ‘mighty beanz mega racetrack (TM)’ I would have to get something scribbled down. This was a real weight on my young mind, which was furiously scrambling for excuses, loopholes and get out of jail free clauses. So when I saw a poem on a tea towel entitled ‘why worry?’ hung up on the wall of the B&B, I was both appropriately reassured and cunningly inspired. I read it through a few times, and with the sponge-like mind of a six year old, memorized the whole thing, and wrote it all down a couple of hours later.
It was hailed as my most brilliant work yet.
Shrek was elated that his plan to inspire a young Shakespeare had worked, and when the two months were up, he was proud to present me with my very own ‘mighty beanz mega racetrack (TM)’.
My grandmother, who was always my biggest fan, also found the poem inspired, and entered me into a local young poets competition. I came runner up. I had to stand on a makeshift stage in our local bookshop and read my beautifully insightful poem to a room full of people and proudly accept a book of poetry as my reward. In hindsight the experience taught me a lot about the downsides of living with a lie, and allowing it to snowball out of control and past the point of no return. But at the time I was smiling, saying thank you to the judges, prize in hand, thinking to myself something to the tune of ‘shit cock balls bollocks shit fuck bugger’, as I realised I had made a bit of a mistake somewhere along the line.
My deep dark secret was only discovered when we went back to the same B&B the following year. Shrek got a positive sighting of the same poem entitled ‘why worry?’ on the same tea towel, on the same wall. An awkward intervention style conversation was initiated that day, on a picnic blanket, in a field, in Wales. I was sat down and some stern words were said. I’m can’t remember exactly what they were, but I’m sure certain topics were addressed, explored and indulged. These included, but were not limited to:
‘The Consequences of Lies and Plagiarism.’
‘Trust – Building, Breaking and Rebuilding.’
‘The Importance of Formal Apologies.’
And of course:
‘Why You Should be Worried…’
My Mother stayed quiet. I found out later in life that she was actually quite impressed with my ability to memorise the thing, and my keeping it quiet for a year without cracking under the pressure. But Shrek was furious.
I didn’t even use that ‘mighty beanz mega racetrack (trademark)’ more than a few times anyway.