Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The history boy - part 2

When I got back to my digs in Aberdeen I reached under the bed and pulled out the stash of unopened letters from my mother. Something she had said was preying on my mind. You took the money all right though, didn't you? Inside each envelope was a ten shilling note. There were ten letters. It was a lot of money. I was touched. There was no doubt she loved me dearly, as any mother would. She was proud of me too, I knew that. It wasn't her fault for being the way she was. In truth the faults weren't all on her side. A better son would have made things easier for her. I returned the opened letters to their hiding place unread.

That night I went out and got drunk on my mother's money. Very drunk. When I returned to my digs I walked straight into the glass door in the hallway and knocked myself out. Mrs Macdonald put me to bed. Mrs Macdonald had two grown-up daughters who had now left home. She had taken in two students for the first time that year because she and her husband felt lonely without the girls. Mrs Macdonald adored me. When I was at home she would bring me up a tray with coffee and chocolate biscuits. She fussed over me all the time. I guess I was the son she had always wanted. Although I had started drinking too much and going out with girls she forgave my every transgression, and there were more and more as term progressed. She was like a mother to me. Only better - I mean, not just better than MY mother. Better than ANY mother.

For a while the normalcy of academic life was comforting too. Dr Matthew McDiarmid was my Eng Lit tutor. A small, dapper figure in his early fifties he was formidably erudite. He specialised in 16th Century Scottish poets - the makars -and his three volume tome on Barbour's Bruce is still the standard scholarly edition. I worked hard for him, not just because I was scared of him (he had a withering wit) but because I didn't want to let him down. I couldn't compete in his speciality but nor could he beat me in mine - twentieth century American novelists. It's amazing how often you can slip Hemingway and Dos Passos into a discussion on Sir David Lindsay's Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis". Runyon, though, was a step too far for the good doctor.

Half way through term Dr McDiarmid invited some of his favourite students to sherry and biscuits at his rather grand house. I was honoured to be invited - I still have the written invitation. Later in the term he suggested I might like to accompany him to the pub to meet his friend Hugh MacDiarmid, one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. I'm afraid that I allowed the penniless poet to buy me a drink that night, a man I revered. I'll live with the shame of that mean act forever. Perhaps as a consequence the Gods took revenge upon me because my university career took a turn for the worse almost immediately afterwards.

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