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Short Story

June 26, 2012

I’ve enjoyed writing since I can remember being able how to do it, but I’ve never been any good at creating stories, instead I’m best at writing about things I’ve done, seen, heard or read. This lead to the sporadic but consistent documentation of my adolescence via a series of journals and logically progressed to becoming a journalist.

When I saw a call for short story submissions by a new community website for the area of Edinburgh I’m from – Comiston in Morningside – I thought it might be fun to give it a go. But again, not being able to properly harness my imagination or get over my lack of story-writing self-confidence, I plumped for a tale of personal experience. For whatever reason, my piece hasn’t been published yet, so seeing as I put several evening’s of writing and editing into it, I thought I’d use my blog to give it a first publication. I’m not planning on giving up the day job, but let me know what you think about either the prose or the subject matter.

Unfortunately I don’t have any digital photos from that far back, but this one from Creamfields shows the remnants of the schemie look

My parents moved to Edinburgh from the south of England in the 70s and bought a house on Comiston Drive, where I grew up. I enjoyed a relatively incident-free seven years at South Morningside Primary School under the fine tutelage of Misses D’Agostino and Gaffney, before making my way up Bruntsfield to Boroughmuir High School, where I was to get my first real taste of life outside Morningside.

The school’s south Edinburgh catchment area meant that alongside new recruits from nearby Buckstone and Newington, every class had one or two kids from the Dumbiedykes housing scheme. In my registration group I was joined by none of my old friends, so perhaps keen to reinvent myself in a new setting, I made a conscious decision to aim for the upper hierarchy of popularity that was immediately dominated by the schemies from Southside (we called them schemies, i.e. from a housing scheme, rather than NEDS; or Non-Educated Delinquents to the uninitiated).

An impressionable teenager, I admired their brazen defiance of authority, apparent physical superiority and perceived coolness. Within a few weeks the dozen Southsiders had amassed a dedicated group of hangers-on, who copied their talking during lessons, scrawling on desks, skipping class and generally misbehaving. Some innate reticence to cause a scene stopped me short of ever actually getting suspended, but by second year I was on a behaviour sheet and falling behind academically; my desire to become a schemie now evident to my family.

After school and at weekends we would usually host our new-found friends further south in Comiston or Buckstone, with our young team terrorising the locale in pleasingly anarchic fashion. Morningside Park was the scene of much underage drinking, smoking, fumbling and vandalising; acting as a headquarters for us to plot the next miscreant plan. I desperately wanted to be one of the gang, but time and time again my middle-class upbringing and general ineptitude let me down in attempts to ingratiate myself.

During a first go at tagging I stood Tipp-ex in hand, being egged on to write something before someone came, but the first thing I could think of was ‘hello’. Obviously this wasn’t nearly rebellious enough, so I was instructed to add a kicker, coming up with ‘bastards’. Not regarded by the council as being incendiary enough to paint over, it remained round the corner from Margiotta’s until relatively recently; made all the more embarrassing by my friend’s addition ‘PW is gay’.

Ding-dong-dashes were a staple of a night on the prowl, but even the simple act of ringing and running was fraught with problems. Sporting a fresh pair of Nike Airs – the result of a tireless campaign of persuasion – laces barely tied up as was the fashion, I chose a house, did the deed and made my exit down the drive; sprinting past the owner as he closed his car door and gave chase. I hadn’t accounted for the critically slowing effect of my untied shoes and made the logical decision to whip them off. Unfortunately, this was followed by the utterly illogical decision to throw them in the nearest hedge. As I rounded the next corner I could hear his steps fading, but only as I slumped panting behind a wall did I realise my folly. When I finally went, tail firmly between legs, to collect my shoes later on, I couldn’t help notice a smirk breaking out across his face as he shut the door after a royal bollocking.

I desperately tried to adopt a proper Edinburgh accent a la Trainspotting, but to be honest the insistence of my inherited intonation probably saved me on a few occasions. Certainly when sitting in the HMV security manager’s office after being caught with the latest Bonkers compilation tape up my jumper, my best whimpering apology must have been more pathetically convincing and assured my eventual release without charge.

At school the Southside contingent gradually dwindled as the year’s progressed and more extreme behaviour led to inevitable expulsions. Sometimes I wonder what became of them. There were a couple of times when for one reason or another I had one of my NED friends to stay over, and the funny thing was, once you removed them from the pressurised pack mentality they turned from posturing hard men to complete kittens; happy to take high tea and play board games. As the end of third year loomed, the remaining rebels were keen to take the first opportunity to drop out of school as they turned sixteen, so those left scraping into fourth year took it upon themselves to keep up the bad work.

Me and a couple of others followed the YSS (Young Southside; shortened from YSSR ((Young Southside Rebels)) at a surprisingly democratic meeting a year earlier) by forming our own team; Young Mental Morningside. I think we all knew YMM was a farce though, given that we had no hardman to lead us into battles, so we kept it local and low-level. We did some fairly regrettable things round Morningside, and for me the last straw came when I was overruled on a decision to take our next urban camping trip to the thin strip of land in-between Greenbank Drive and the elongated back gardens on Comiston Drive.

We did all the usual nonsense – drank, smoked, built a fire, threw stupid stuff in the fire, made lots of obnoxious noise – so it’s surprising none of the gentile locals objected during the night; but then the gardens do have a steep incline and stream running through them (I was always raging we lived on the other side of the street). So it was only early the next morning that the smouldering remains of our pyro-pyre aroused the suspicions of an elderly gentleman, who braved our offensive indifference to shoo us off his private land. Of course, such was the neighbourhood watch-ness of my area, that the incident worked its way up that side of the street to where my auntie and uncle lived, and my hangover was rudely interrupted by their passing it on to my parents.

Maybe it was because of their liberal parenting that I wanted to, and was able to, rebel to such an extent. But during the ensuing row, my Mum and Dad’s insistence in calmly pointing out the ideological inconsistencies and social repercussions of my actions, rather resorting to verbal or physical violence, finally brought home the futility of my railing against their authority.

I’m not sure there’s any specific moral to this story, but a decade on and I think I turned out alright. Thankfully some of my teachers saw some unfulfilled potential and I was allowed to continue my studies, while the real friends I had spurned three years earlier also forgave my wayward tendencies. As an adult it’s easy to criticise and condemn the nippy little shit being loud up the back of the bus, but having been there and done that, I have to temper my irritation with recognition and shrug it off. I’m not trying to condone wilfully anti-social behaviour, it’s just that we’ve all been through that rebellious phase – some with more collateral damage than others – and the majority come out the other end with a lasting appreciation of how stupid it all was. So next time you see them swaggering up the high street, think back to your own embarrassing teens and give a knowing laugh.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin Lancaster permalink
    June 26, 2012 8:24 pm

    great read, honest, unashamed and refreshing. Think this will bring back memories to many!

  2. Mr Ennis permalink
    June 26, 2012 8:56 pm

    Haha class Peter ! And the Creamfiellds pic,(the one where you are about to put the fag out in the photographers lens) well….coincidentally, i was there, and im pretty sure that is exactly where and when i had my moment of clarity, that finally removed me from the clutches of all sceme! Amazing x

    • June 26, 2012 9:24 pm

      yeah, between Creamfields and T in the Park, that was my ‘summer of love’ as well

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