The Interviews + Guest Posts

Postcards from the Early Years

2 Comments 12 July 2013

Can you guess which one I am?

Can you guess which one is me?

Michelle has very generously offered me this guest blog. In deference to her, and to you, her loyal readership, I’ve toned things down a bit. It’s not the in style you’ll normally find over on my blog, which you can find over at

That’s a bit of a swashbuckler, all manner of swaggery nonsense. How to survive attacks by zombies, polar bears, pirates, aliens, vampires, alligators. The perils of buying second-hand books. Why tequila is bad for you. Why water is really interesting stuff. How to sell Florence Cathedral. How to be reincarnated as a Portuguese Man-o-War. A Raymond Chandler pastiche based on my experience as a Tesco home delivery driver. Why economists need to look closely at lending practices in a local pub. Six things you never knew about peacocks. That kind of thing.

I also use it as a sounding board for some of my other projects, and I happened to post a few early bits and pieces of a memoir/autobiography I’m working on. Michelle and another friend seized on this like a pack of wolves, particularly my post ‘The Early Years’ and have been nagging me mercilessly to keep on with it.

Michelle and I have one thing in common. We don’t leave well alone. So she challenged me to write some Postcards From Before as she did here on her blog recently, based on my life but following the format she instigated.

Because I’m a sucker for a challenge, I accepted. Here are some of the Postcards from before I went to university, about my early childhood, adolescence, my first heartbreak. My mum.

Sometimes I can do serious.

Postcards from Before

It’s late at night. The room is dark except for a fire burning low in the grate. A kettle steams to make the air moist. I’m wrapped in an eiderdown, fighting for every breath. I’m alone though my parents are there, comforting me. I’m afraid.

I am six. My favourite teacher is leaving the school. I am inconsolable.

‘What’s this, Aunty?’ ‘It’s called sweetcorn.’ ‘Oh. But what is it?’ ‘It’s a vegetable.’ Vegetables are green like peas, or orange like carrots. Not yellow. I’m suspicious. After the meal, Aunty Kath gives me a cup of COFFEE! I feel very grown up.

It’s Christmas! I asked for a book I wanted, and I got FIVE! Five new books! And a selection box. But I always get one of those.

Grammar school is big and full of big boys. I’ll be all right though. My brother will still be here for another year. I’ll be all right.

‘When will dad be home, mum?’ ‘Duncan, sit down a minute. I have to tell you something. He won’t be home. He’s gone.’ ‘How did he die mum? How did he die?’ Tears. ‘He’s not dead. He just left.’ More tears. Hers this time.

I’m riding my bike as fast as I can, legs pumping through the dark rainy streets. I slide to a halt, dump my bike, run up the garden path. Bang hard on the door. My legs feel rubbery, my lungs are on fire, but I’m still jumping up and down. The door opens, light spills out. ‘NANA! It’s a GIRL! Heather had a little girl, called Joanna!’ My big sister made me an uncle at 14.

I’m choosing the universities I want to apply for. They have two things in common. They all offer the course I want to do. They’re all a long way from home. I don’t want to be someone who takes his washing home every weekend. And much as I love my mum, I don’t want her to be popping down to see me.

I just finished with my girlfriend of nearly a year. I’ve fallen in love with an Other. I’m not in with a chance, but I can’t carry on seeing my girlfriend when I feel like this about someone else. Can I? The timing is bad. A levels looming. I can’t afford the distraction. I’m distracted.

My results aren’t brilliant, but they’re good. The university I wanted to get into has accepted me. Just as well. My second choice would have had me in the same town as the Other. That would have been a catastrophe.

Last night before I go away. My mum has waited up for me. ‘I don’t care if you get your degree. I hope you will, but I don’t care. What I want you to do is go away and have the best three years of your life. Enjoy yourself. Be happy.’ I know that at least in part she’s talking about the devastating effect that the Other had on me. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that.

* * *

What about you, readers? Any postcards from your early years you’d like to share?


Your Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. I’ve not seen this ‘postcard’ style before, but I really like it. The clips that Duncan has shared from his life are very touching and make a great read.

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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