I never lived up to my dad’s standards.
One time, when I was about sixteen, I had a fight with a gang from the estate, an entire street gang versus me, I was a desperate fucked-up teen back then, and I came home all battered and bleeding, with my girl Ellen Wiley holding me up long enough to get me inside the front door. My old man looked disappointed and muttered something about how I should have been able to take care of myself and went back into the living room and shut the door. And all he said was I’d better clean up before my mam came home.
I went to the bathroom, stripped off and threw my clothes into the bath, ran cold water and poured a load of salt into the water, hoping the bloodstains would come out of my jeans and t-shirt. They didn’t. I held my face in a sink of ice-cold water as long as I could hold my breath, cos my eyes were swollen and I’d a broken nose. That night, lying in bed, I think I felt more pain in my body than any other time in my life. Every part of me hurt, my bones and my flesh were on fire.
Looking back, I wish I’d impressed my old man, it would have been worth the pain, but I was never a fighter like him. But then I remember too the gang I fought: I took four of them down, one by one, four in a row, I beat them down, but when the rest of the gang arrived it was more than I could cope with. So I lost.
And I want to get on the phone and call him and say: Remember that night when I came home all battered dad? I took four down dad, one at a time dad. I forgot to tell you back then but I remember now – I took out four of them. You would have been impressed. I’m not tough and I never liked fighting but I fought and won, and sometimes I fought and lost, and it was all to impress you dad.
But I never will tell him.
And I never did impress him.
Around that time I started writing, and writing very badly if I’m honest, and drinking and acting stupid and doing foolish things like lots of young men do. And maybe ten years later I was writing a little better. And I stopped acting stupid cos I realised I wasn’t very good at it: I was better at reading, and was getting better at writing too.
So in the end, words saved me, stories saved me, where my fists could not. But my old man taught me to write. Because he put the need in me.