When I was a child, I lived in Cranhill in the East End of Glasgow. To some, a scheme, to me it was my own little world. Everyone knew everyone. The neighbourhood was a circle of friendliness. There was a warmth then that will never be captured again.
I went through the school system, a harsh regime in the good old days. You weren’t allowed to question what you were told and individual thought was met with a belt across the hands. A painful reminder of who was in charge. An oppressive Catholic curriculum designed strictly for blind obedience. Catholics and Protestants were segregated in their own prisons designed as schools. Sectarianism begins at school and that makes me wonder why they separated us. I mean, we’re all Scottish.
I quickly lost interest in school as the people and the streets were far friendlier. The weekends were the best when we got broken biscuits out of Henry Healy’s, candyfloss from the wee man in the white coat at the Barras. C&A and all the big shops were the ones our mothers dragged us into. We were blackmailed with the promise of a sweetie out of Woolworths if we behaved ourselves whilst mum looked at the women’s clothes. She’d drag us all over the women’s departments of Lewis’s, Arnotts and Simpsons, Marks and Spencers, Littlewoods and Goldberg’s.
Then we’d dream of what we’d be when we grew up. We wanted to be football players, pilots, doctors and soldiers. Life was grand; we’d not a care in the world. Then we reached puberty and left the wee circles of childhood bliss and entered that uncertain circle of girls. We noticed their mysterious lumps under their jumpers that we had to figure out by trial and error as our hormones jumped, our voices deepened and we became young men. We yearned to get out and see the world. We persevered at school with dreams of growing up.
For most of us, we left school as quickly as we could, headed straight into Giros or low paid jobs, joining the vicious circle alleviated by carryouts and Embassy Regal. Some of us started our own careers- children’s homes, approved schools, Borstal, Young Offenders- leaving our dreams behind us. With those dreams we left broken hearts, families and children we didn’t have the maturity to deal with.
Coming out of prison you were given a week’s dole money and a bus ticket back to all your misdemeanours. You tried to start afresh, knowing full well that we’d never aspire to being pilots or doctors. Our criminal records forbade us entry into that inner circle. I’m fifty now, at least when I got out of the past I was left alone. Now it’s a license we’re on and the sole purpose is to prohibit us from being ourselves. Throughout my life I have fathered five children who I carry in my heart wherever I go. I’ve found for the first time in my life, love for a woman. She’s the real McCoy, not what has gone on before. She’s my wee circle. While everything decreases, together we constantly strive to better ourselves.
When we were young we couldn’t wait to grow up. We were known as people then- now we’re labelled with names such as thieves, robbers, junkies and alkies. I’m just me, passing through. They can keep their tellies and scented toilet paper, I’ve my own dream to go out to. Some aren’t as fortunate. My hope is that one day we’ll be ourselves out there, back to our ever-decreasing circles.