…this is my story and who I think I am.  Others may say different but I’ll leave that for them to comment on.

I was born 37 years ago in Lincolnshire, England, and grew up in that county with my mum and dad, and later my little sister, until I was 11 years old.  The 70’s and early 80’s were a time of mass unemployment, and my dad suffered the indignity and anxiety of being made redundant several times.  It’s only when I look back that I realise how my parents must have struggled during my childhood, financially as well as emotionally.  My dad worked as an industrial chemist when the work was there and when it wasn’t he took jobs working on farms, so I grew up in towns and villages across Lincolnshire, and unlike most children in the UK today, was afforded a lot of freedom to play and explore.   This is actually something that I now address on a professional basis – I didn’t know I had such strong feelings about it!

As a child I was sent to Sunday School, which I recollect as loathing more and more as I got older.  I don’t know why I went; I guess my parents felt it was the right thing to do.  And perhaps a way of getting some peace and quiet on a Sunday morning…

I was a quiet and shy child.  I loved reading and drawing with equal passion.  I read everything I could, all the time, and was one of those children who frequently got in trouble for reading with a torch under the covers after lights out. 

I have always had a vivid and over-active imagination, and still remember many dreams I had as a child.  One recurring theme was less a dream that a sensory experience.  I would ‘see’ in my mind, when I was sleeping or drowsy, delicate long-limbed stick like figures that would wade gracefully through my imagination.  But the really odd thing about them was that, although they looked incredibly light and ethereal, I always had this overwhelming sense of weight.  Some years after I first started dreaming about these figures I saw a photo of the sculptures by Giacommetti, and it was like seeing static representations of my dreams.  A very peculiar sensation.  My own drawings of people were what my dad called “long thin streaks of misery”  (nice, I know) and it seems obvious now that the dreams and the drawings are just echoes of one another.

When I was about 10 or 11, my dad got the opportunity to work in the oil industry.  His job would be based at Sullom Voe oil terminal in the Shetland Islands.  This meant we were moving again, but for the first time out of reach of all of our family and friends.  I’m sure it was a difficult decision to make, but this job seemed to finally offer some security for our family.  My dad went up to Shetland first to look for a place for us to stay, and then a short while later we made the long drive up from Lincolnshire to Aberdeen, caught the St. Clair overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick and began a new life.  For the first few weeks we didn’t have a house, and stayed in a dodgy mobile home on a caravan site, but for my sister and myself it was all one huge adventure.

Shetland is a beautiful place and my memories of it are of green hills leading down to the ever-present voes (sea lochs), treeless expanses, and endless freedom to play.  But we had to travel 30 miles to buy more than basic food stuffs, and milk came in plastic bags that were frozen and stockpiled against the times the ferry didn’t arrive with fresh supplies.  It was great, but my mum hated it.  School was a mixed bag of trials and joys for me.  I went to two primary schools in the year we spent there.  The first, while we lived at the caravan sight near Hillswick, was made up of tables of 5 or 6 children for each class, and the second was a more typical primary school, populated by children from all over Britain who, like us, had landed on the island because of our parents’ work. 

After a year, my dad began to work offshore on an oil platform and we relocated again, to Aberdeen for a few months as we searched for a house in the surrounding region, and eventually to a town a little further north, where we finally settled down.

It was at this point that I began to wonder what on earth I was meant to be doing…literally.  As I entered early teens, as an introspective late developer, I got to wondering if my life would merely consist of getting up, going to school, coming home, reading/watching tv, going to bed, getting up, going to school etc, until one day it would change to getting up, going to work, coming home…and so on.  This empty and pointless future horrified me. 

It took me a couple of years to make close friends at school but by the time I was 14 I had a small circle of treasured friends who I spent a lot of time with.  It was through one of them I began to go to a little local church in the town, as I became increasingly intrigued by her faith and what I was learning about God.  My own interest in (cliche alert) the meaning of life meant that so many surrounding influences became very significant in my personal search.  Three of my school teachers had a profound effect on my understanding of God, and as months went by it all began to piece together.

Some weird/thoughtprovoking things happened which also influenced me:

  • One day while I was standing outside a classroom in our school science block, waiting for the bell to ring, someone (who I knew but can’t now remember) asked me why I was wearing a cross.  They didn’t really even stop for me to answer, but just carried on walking.  I was left thinking along the lines of “good question!” and it really got me thinking.  I’d been given it as a gift for my previous birthday, but now it seemed obvious to me that I liked wearing it for slightly more significant reasons.
  • Another day my friend Julie and I were walking home, and on the way were given some religious tracts by one of the many street preachers/evangelists which populated our town centre and streets in those days.  Being giggly teenagers, we took them then laughed and giggled about the contents as we walked home.  I then flippantly threw the tracts into a bin, stepped out into the road to cross the street and was almost run over by a car (missed me by inches).  Both of us were very sober and quiet for the remainder of our walk home.

So over a period of about 18 months I found myself exploring the Christian faith in a haphazard kind of way, going to various meetings with schoolfriends who were Christians, attending church sometimes and ultimately making a very deliberate decision to become a Christian after a church service when I was 16.  It was actually one of my school teachers who prayed with me and another girl, as we made that decision and that commitment to Jesus. 

I still remember the walk home after that.  I was on my own but I was busy talking to God.  I walked along the beach front down in the bay, feeling like a literal weight had been lifted off my shoulders, like I was free of an enormous burden. 

The church I became a part of was great.  Small and loving, it was a house church that had outgrown people’s houses and now met in a local hall.  I was immediately welcomed, and immediately and unconditionally loved.  It had a very cross-community mix and the first year or two I spent there were just awesome, as our youth leaders nurtured my baby-faith and helped me to make sense of what it meant to be a Christian.  My sister started to come along too, and I remember being so excited to share this with her as we explored it together.

After a few months we were baptised along with some others.  This was the full immersion deal, and in the absence of our own building we hired the local swimming pool for the purpose.  It was a bitter-sweet experience though.  My parents didn’t get why we were going to be baptised.  We had been christened as babies, and in their view this had ‘done the job’.  They were slightly bemused by the whole ‘becoming a Christian’ thing as they felt christening and being brought up ‘in a Christian country’ ensured Christianity was stamped on us already.  I obviously didn’t feel the same, and felt very saddened that they didn’t come to share in this pivotal moment.

The year I did my Highers my dad began to look again at a job change, and it looked like we’d be moving back down to Lincolnshire.  I was faced with the choice of enrolling at the local 6th form college in our intended town (another 2 years at school to do A levels) or applying to university a year earlier than I’d anticipated.  I was pretty desperate to get out of school so opted for applying to uni, and chose to study History of Art & Russian at Edinburgh University. (Why those subjects…long story…) In my whole school year, only two of us left to go on to higher education at that stage.  I found myself sitting in an enormous shared room – my new bedroom – in a city I’d never been to before, feeling so far out of my depth I was drowning.  I have some good memories of those first days, but before long it became clear I was utterly out of my depth.  I was not mature enough to be away from home, and not ready to fend for myself.  I was so naive and innocent, I was a bit of a novelty for my fellow students.  I became sick after a few weeks and basically just dropped out.  I was given a deferred space for a year, after which time I would return to study English Literature (my other preferred option). 

Ironically enough, after all that, my dad’s job didn’t come through and they stayed where they were.  I could have stayed at school after all.  Given the mess I made over the coming year or two perhaps I should have gone back to school with my tail between my legs anyway…

So the next step was to get a job in the meantime.  I got a traineeship working for a technical graphics company in Aberdeen, an hour or so away from home.  It didn’t work out.  It was a miserable place, and I was still miserable from the whole dropping-out-of-uni/letting-my-parents-down thing.  I had been the first person in our extended family to ever go on to higher education and I’d blown it, so as you can imagine my parents were not impressed with how things were turning out.  This didn’t improve when it became obvious I wasn’t going to stick with the (frankly rubbish, but that wasn’t really the point) traineeship. 

So I muddled through the next few months, and then I met a boy.  We got very serious very very quickly and before I knew it I was engaged to him.  We were both very young, and in love as only teenagers really can be, and I have to say I think we both knew even as we made the commitment to each other that it was an enormous mistake.  The boy had just been through a really horrendous time with his family, and had come out of it fairly messed up.  This became more apparent the longer we were together.  Without going into too many details, it was a very damaging relationship for both of us.  Suffice to say, I didn’t take up my deferred place at Edinburgh Uni the following autumn, my parents became really hurt and worried about how things seemed to be turning out and my boyfriend and I found ourselves somehow locked in a relationship which we didn’t quite know how to extract ourselves from.  A year and a half later he solved the problem by leaving me for someone else, which left me broken. 

By this time I was coming up for my 20th birthday and, once the shock of what had happened died down, I realised it was time to take a look at my life again, which had to all intents and purposes been placed on hold for the last couple of years.  I was in a fairly menial job, and decided it was time to make some positive plans for the future.  In the last moments before the start of the academic year I managed to get a place studying for an HND in Graphic Design.  It wasn’t what I’d really wanted to do but I saw it as a start, and as it turned out, it was a great start for many reasons…

to be continued…

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