photo by Kim Ayres www.kimayres.co.uk
photo by Kim Ayres www.kimayres.co.uk
Alan McClure is a writer and musician based in Galloway, south-west Scotland. His creative output is eclectic and prolific, encompassing oral storytelling, poetry, songs, novels, short stories and audio sketches. He is a founding member of Lost Wasp Records, singer and chief songwriter with The Razorbills, occasional member of The Wee Folk Storytellers and a solo performer of growing repute. He is also a primary school teacher, a job which provides constant inspiration and ample opportunity for explaining and discovering through stories and songs.
It’s aw Collie’s fault, this. Nae disrespect tae the gadge, he’s tryin tae be helpful, but jeez-oh, I wish he’d mind his ain business.
The Mannie McCaullie, or Collie tae us weans, seems tae think I’m some kind ae problem fur him tae solve. Reckons he’s spotted ma hidden potential.
Ken how? Cos he seen me reading Lord ae the Rings in the school library.
“Malky,” he says, “are you managing a big book like that? All by yourself?” I’m like, nah, I just like haudin big heavy books fur the good ae ma airms.
Nah, no really – I’m no daft. I goes, “Aye, Mr. McCaullie.”
“And are you enjoying it?”
“Aye, it’s beast,” I says, and I mean it an aw – bit ma tongue afore I could say, “It craps on the bloody films, onywey.” Lord ae the Rings, man – ye read it? It’s pure radge! Pure paints pictures in yer heid, so it does. But if I’d kent whit a fuss Collie wis gonny make, I’d’ve stuck wi the bloody Biff and Kipper, I’m tellin ye.
So he gets us tae read him a bit, just tae mak sure I’m no yankin his chain I suppose (which is fair enough really, when ye think aboot it), an I’m just at the bit where Gollum’s pure pawin at Frodo cos he wishes he hud a wee pal ae is ain, like Sam, ken – kindae a sad bit that. Then Sam spiles it aw by callin Gollum a sneak. An ken whit? That’s well believable, that bit – fowk ayewis think the worst ay ye, once ye get a bad name, like.
So here’s me, readin awa aw happy, like, and Collie’s getting this big doitit grin on is face. He points tae the P7 bookshelf. “Have you read any of these other books?” Well he’s kindae interrupted ma train ae thought there so I’m a wee bit snappy.
“Aw ae thum,” I tell im. An I’m no lyin, like.
See, you’re daein it tae – yir thinkin’, “Wee scrote like Malky – he couldny uv read aw they books by himself. Some kinna scam, nae doot.” Aye, well, ye can stick it – cos readin’s a piece o pish an I dinny ken whit aw the fuss is aboot. Fair dos, I dinny dae it in class like – but that’s just tae wind up the teachers.
“This is really remarkable, Malcolm,” Collie goes, an he’s lookin at me like I’m suddenly of interest – I’ll mibbe just mention that the last time he spoke tae us it wis tae tell me I wis ‘Just like my father’, which meant I was a lazy, lyin wee ratbag. Collie’s been here since the dawn ae time, taught ma da, probably taught ma Papa too but canny mind ae im. But ken whit? I’m quite happy tae be just like ma Da, and whit Collie disny ken is that Da’s a barry reader an aw – read me aw the James Bond books, yin eifter anither, when I wis aboot six. So stuff that in yer pipe and smoke it, Mr. McCaullie.
Next day he’s awa up tae the Mannie Hastings’ office tae spread the news that I’m no the brainless moron they’ve aw thought. I gets called in at break. (Hudny even et ma twix yet.)
“Well, now, Malcolm,” says the heidie, and I ken I’m supposed tae be awed by his majestic presence an that but I’ve seen him lose his rag too many times tae be overly impressed – serious like, once ye’ve seen spittle flyin fae a grown man’s gub as he screams at an eight-year old kid for pinchin someone’s banana, it’s hard tae be filled tae burstin wi respect fir the gadge. But he’s tryin tae be nice, fir once, even though he hates us, I ken he hates us an he kens I ken he hates us. “It seems you’ve got more to offer than you’ve been letting on!”
I’m thinkin, “the hell wid you ken aboot whit I’ve been letting oan? Yir nivver oot yer office, ye great eejit.” But sometimes ye’ve tae toe the line, aye? So I look aw proud an bashful an that, an he cairries oan.
“Do you know, young man, I believe we might make something of you yet!” Aw aye, I thinks, it’s aw down tae youse, aye? It’ll be because I’ve spent mair ay ma school life sittin in the corridor ootside your office than in class – that’ll be how I can read, aye? Yeah, cheers pal, good work.
“I hope so, sir,” I says, layin it oan thick. Tae be honest, I wis kinna intrigued tae see where this wis goin.
“Oh, yes indeed,” he cairries on. “Reading all the P7 books of your own volition?” He says it like the P7 bookshelf is some kinna linguistic paradise, like the blinkin National Library or something. Ken hou mony books are on it? Twelve. An hauf ae them are gash. But I keep schtum cos he’s lookin aw serious now.
“Malcolm, you’re a lucky young man, though you might not realise it. With a talent like this, you have opportunities that some of your schoolfellows will never have.” I’m noddin like, tryin tae keep im happy. I huv tae pretend that this is news tae me, like I’m too stupid tae ken I’m no stupid. “Thank you, sir,” I says.
“Don’t thank me, lad, thank Mr. McCaullie. He’s the one who’s spotted your potential.” Aye, just him. Good old Collie. Just him, me, my Ma, my Da, aw ma mates an embdy wha’s shown a bit ay interest in ma twelve short years on Earth.
“Now, Malcolm,” says the Mannie Hastings, “you may not be aware of it, but our school has been working on an exchange programme with our partner school in Malawi. Do you know where Malawi is, Malcolm?”
“Central Africa, sir,” ah goes, “in atween Zambia, Tanzania an Mozambique. I think.” Him an Collie look at each other like I’ve done some kinna magic trick – obviously no too familiar wi the wonderful world ae Google Earth. Plus the fact that they bang on aboot bloody Malawi at ivry assembly, but, well, ye wouldny expect a wee minker like me tae remember that, would ye?
“Very good, son, very good!” I’m like, ‘son?’ Serious like, he’s nivver cawed me ‘son’ in aw the sivvin years I’ve been here. Tae be honest, it feels pretty good, so I resist the temptation tae say, “Thanks, Daddy,” like the cheeky wee bam I am. Collie butts in.
“Malkie, we’ve been looking for a pupil who might benefit from seeing a bit of the world. Who might have his horizons broadened by experiencing, well, a different way of life. Sometimes, you know, those of us in Scotland who feel we don’t have very much – “ I interrupt him by coughing, but it’s only tae stop masel laughin – those of us? I’m thinkin. Wid that be you, drivin tae work in yir shiny Jeep Cherokee fae yir hoose in Kelvingrove? He cairries oan. “Those of us who feel we don’t have very much often don’t realise just how fortunate we are. We often put too much value in material things. But there’s more to life, Malcolm. Most people in the world don’t have half of the luxuries we have, but they can often be happier and more content than we are! What do you think of that?”
Well I canny really argue wi that, cos ye ken, see Scottie in ma class? He’s got an x-box 360 an a plasma screen telly in is bedroom, an he’s the radgiest wee bam yiv ivver met. So I’m like, “Aye, sir, that’s true.” That was the correct answer.
So, long story short, eifter ‘long deliberation’ it’s decided that it should be me, yours truly, the yin an only Malkie McPherson whae gets tae fly the Saltire in Bonnie Malawi fir the first three weeks ae the summer holidays!
Yir thinkin ‘Cool,’ aren’t ye? But I hud plans fir the summer – big plans. Thought ma da might pit the kybosh on the hale thing, but once he found oot it wis free, he wis aw, “Naw, son, it’s a great opportunity – it’ll be the makin’ o ye!” an aw this guff, which really meant, “Magic, me an yir ma will hae the hoose tae wirsels fir three weeks – pairty time!” Canny say I blame im, like, but ach – Malawi! Bet ye fifty quid there’s nae chance ay mobile reception in a backwater like that.