Please read part 1 first – http://www.simonmacbeth.co/autobiography/simon-macbeth-an-early-memory-part-1-of-3/
It was a quiet sort of pub. People milled around whilst waiting to catch their train and there’d also be a few regulars in there. The Gladiators game named after the TV programme, which had been big hit a couple of years beforehand, was the most popular machine in the bar. It was always in view, taunting me with its lights. The jackpot on that machine was £6 and it paid out in credits, little metal tokens, which they don’t do anymore, thank God. If you won £3 or more, the machine paid out in these tokens, which we used to stick in the till to swap for real money, as if a customer had used them to buy drinks. We weren’t supposed to accept tokens in lieu of real money, but we used to play on this machine to alleviate the boredom of the shift and give us something to do.
Sometimes you’d win and it would be great. Sometimes you’d lose and it was never much of a problem, as it was just a few spare quid. I used to get tips as well and they’d always go into the machine. Eventually, over a period of time I played more regularly and for longer periods and began to go through quite a bit of money.
If I didn’t have any money on me, I would borrow a fiver out of the till and play with that. I always paid the money back. Before my shift ended, I’d nip over to the cash machine on the station or nip into the back and get some money out of my bag. It started getting to the point where I didn’t pay the money back and at the end of the shift the till would be down. I’d take some money, then some more, and before I knew it I’d lost track of how much I’d taken. My gambling was becoming a problem.
Sometimes when I put some money back in the till, I might not put in enough or sometimes like a fool I’d throw in too much. Over a period of weeks the till was always a few pounds up or down. I didn’t want to take it out just in five pound chunks because that soon adds up, so I’d take two here and three there and that made it harder to keep track of.
The only reason gambling there never got to be a major problem was because I got sacked when my till never balanced. The other lad who worked there seemed to leave around the same time too, due to similar discrepancies.
Dad hit me from as early as I can remember. Sometimes it would be a quick whack, other times it would be a full on assault of fists and kicks. He never used obscenities though. He was someone who retained an air of respectability, even when physically abusing his own son. He would maintain the pretence of dignity and politeness. I’d take one in the shoulder, another in the stomach, and as my body buckled and went down I’d get further retribution from his feet. I just thought things like that happened in everybody’s houses and that was what all Dads did.
When I was a child I always thought my Dad was an amazing man. He was everything I wanted to grow up and become. He was a superhero figure – big, strong, and mine. He could do anything and I worshipped him for it. When I was three years old, he gave me a picture of the Incredible Hulk that he’d drawn himself and I treasured that picture as one of my favourite possessions. My Dad had taken the time to create something special and he had done it for me. It had pride of place on my bedroom wall.
It may sound strange, but I’d prefer the violence to Dad’s other punishments. One night I was out with some friends at Halloween doing Trick or Treat. We walked around talking, mainly gossiping about school and Leeds United. We’d tease and get into tangles, but never anything horrendous or criminal. We were just like any other kids looking for stuff to keep us amused, making our own mischief when there was nothing else to do.
That night some of my group started lobbing eggs at a house. It was a childish prank and nothing else. It was hardly murder, just a bit of mayhem to keep the night alive. I threw one egg and my Dad grounded me for 18 months. For a year-and-a-half I wasn’t allowed out, unless it was with one or both of my parents.
From thereon it wasn’t worth making friends. The other kids would talk about meeting up outside school and doing exciting things together. None of the usual school chats about where you’d meet up later, arranging sleepovers, or football down the park ever involved me. There was no point in forming friendships when they couldn’t be developed. I felt isolated and stupid because none of my peers would ever understand what was happening to me.
I always felt that I had a happy childhood and I didn’t feel anger towards my Dad until I reached puberty, which was when our relationship began to fail completely. I realised that the picture my Dad had drawn for me of the Incredible Hulk might as well have been a self-portrait. He drew a line of acceptable behaviour. If I crossed it, I would be confronted by the Hulk. My problem was that the positioning of that line would constantly alter and at times I would cause unlimited aggravation by doing something quite inconsequential. He was a small nice man one moment, but could change into something terrifying without warning. His shirt didn’t tear open. He might not have gone green, but I had two Dads; one who was okay at times and the other who I hated intensely.
I cannot remember being unhappy as a child, but equally I know things weren’t that great at times. I guess if you laugh more than you cry and you’ve managed to get through those early years with things being no worse than okay, you have got off reasonably lightly. The trouble with telling others about your childhood is that you only have your own values and experiences to judge everything by. When it’s your family and it is all you’ve ever known, it becomes your own version of normality.
My parents were figures in my life, who meant more to me at some points than others. There were occasions where I would really hate them. There were times when I pitied them. I cannot recall ever loving them, which might be a reason why I’ve struggled to love others since. There was no guidance, no set of rules to translate any love I received into any meaningful relationships with other people. You don’t know all of that psychological malarkey when you’re young. You just get on with things like everyone else does.
In my adult life, I’ve undergone therapy to try and understand my own head and control problems I have identified within myself. I’d always felt that I would overcome what happened in my childhood. I analysed myself as everyone does and realised that experiences as a child can affect the adult you become. I’d lived for so long inside my own skin that I thought I’d built myself as a person and found the real me.