The Boy Upon The Stair Part 1
I was a boy upon the stair, I was a boy who was always there. I was the boy again today; I wish, I wish I would go away.
As a child, I spent countless hours sat upon the third stair. Every other Friday evening, just before 5 PM, I would sit there and wait. My bag on my back or by my side, I’d sit there as was my ritual.When 5 PM came and there wasn’t a toot outside, I would continue to wait. Sometimes until 6 PM. By that point I knew that I could gradually move backwards stair by stair until I reached the half-landing. Once I got there, I would slowly walk back to my bedroom and unpack my things.
Life in a ‘broken home’ is something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. The term wasn’t something I would become familiar with until much later in life. I was bullied because I only had my Mum. Which wasn’t strictly true; I mean, I had HIM. He was still around. Sadly.
My weekends would be an alternating pattern of going to my grandparents’ and then. the following week, going to HIS. I loved my grandparents and miss them dearly. I’d spend a lot of time outdoors in the allotment across the road helping my Grandpa plant seeds and dig up potatoes and what-not. I was a very outgoing, hands-on kid – I wasn’t afraid of getting my hands dirty. Besides helping my Grandpa, we would often go for long walks – they lived in a cottage near a farm (Kerchesters). It was a simple place – just a line of about 13 cottages punctuated with a ‘vennel’ between some of them to allow access to the rear area which was an expanse of grass where pigsties used to be and a row of coal houses. A little beyond that, there was a steep embankment leading into the woods where, over time, people ended up dumping old washing machines and so on. I never ventured down there. I wanted to, but it was so steep that it’d be impossible to get back up.
Our walks consisted of going up by the farm junction and down towards the old railway line. In the summer, there would be a line of haybales all along the old railway line and I would climb up them and run from one end to the other. I would pick up spent shotgun shells, cool looking stones, feathers and cracked open pheasant eggs. Those were good times and I wish for them again. I wish my kids could experience it first-hand. Perhaps I will delve into that side of my life more in a later post.
On the opposite rotation, I would wait for my dad to pick me up. This was before mobile phones (well, except for those insanely large war-like monstrosities) and there was many a time I would sit patiently on the third stair. Why the third stair? Because my toes could just touch the floor and I liked to kinda kick my feet as I waited. In my bag, I would have clean clothes, spare socks and pants (I wore Y-fronts back then – I call them ‘why’-fronts now, as in ‘why the fuck’). I’d have Ted, my Koala that my Auntie Kay had made for me when I was born (he now belongs to one of the kids) and I think hat was about it. On the occasions where he did pick me up, we would normally stop at the petrol station on Maxwellheugh where I recall frequently picking up firelighters, kindling or at a later stage, Calor Gas. I would pick up Wheat Crunchies (bacon) and some sweets.
Once we got to HIS house which, bizarrely enough, was on the exact same street as we once lived as a family (my Mum, brother, sister and HIM) in Town Yetholm (Woodbank Road) I remember having to chop logs for the fire, drag coal in and eventually I would get to sit down and watch Thunderbirds on TV while I let the Wheat Crunchies melt in my mouth. After Thunderbirds we would watch shows like Dad’s Army, Big Break, You Bet and other stuff. In the summers/lighter nights, I would go out and play. I had a good number of friends there; most of which lived further along Woodbank Road and they were the only reason I looked forward to going there. As I grew older we would make wooden swords and shields and ‘fight’ in the field at the opposite end of the street after all the bales had been made up. Amidst the swordfighting we would also launch crab apples and ‘stubble bombs’ (we would pluck the stubble from the ground which would have a load of soil attached giving a decent weight to be able to throw them with a hefty clout).
We would often head down to The Plough Inn, the local pub, and go in to get gobstoppers (the insane, proper sized ones). I remember I used to collect the cards that came with them – some for going on your bike spokes and others that were just regular collector cards. Sometimes we would grab some pickled eggs and fruit/tomato juice (in glass bottles) and we would sit on the bench/in the bus stop opposite and enjoy our well earned treats. To be fair, there were a lot of good things I gained from my time there. Building dens and going off on little adventures like a poor man’s Goonies.
It was this lifestyle that conditioned me into duality. I had two families. My family and HIM. I had two sets of friends that ne’er the two met until high school. Plus I’m a Gemini.
HE was a window cleaner and I generally went with him to various jobs. At times, that was quite enjoyable too. I got to meet lots of people and most of them were elderly and generous to the point they’d give me money or sweets. I remember a house near or in Morebattle where this elderly woman had quite a large house and garden. She had a dog who had three legs yet bound around the garden chasing me playfully as if the leg was just green-screened out. Not that I knew what a green screen was back then. Her garden had a lot of vegetables but the runner beans stick out in my mind as they were insanely long. I had accidentally snapped one when the dog and I were playing and I hid it to avoid getting a row.
Fear was something that underpinned a lot of my behaviour. Fear and shame is what took the outgoing, cheerful, sweet natured boy and turned him into a self conscious, anxious, self-hating mess.
There’d be times I would be left to just sit in the car/van while he worked and I would read or just gaze outside. I sometimes wonder how I was so patient and able to sit quietly and contentedly when it’s a struggle for my kids to sit still for 5 minutes let alone a few hours! But that was me – from a young age I’ve always been able to enjoy my own company. Being alone was, and still is, when I feel best.
Alone was where I was safe. There was no getting hit because I wasn’t listening. No getting hit because I got the wrong thing. No getting hit because, whilst play fighting, I’d hurt HIM. No getting hit because I didn’t want to go with him and couldn’t wait to go back home to Mum. After that, being alone was never as much fun as my mind changed. The thoughts changed. My head was no longer a safe haven. A world full of imagination and creation. In those early years, the Craig that I was meant to be died.