What advice would I give to my younger self and this younger generation? There’s the French proverb,
Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait Meaning that it’s better to have an older head on younger shoulders, but life doesn’t work out that way; we learn wisdom by experience and looking back; I have a key point to offer my younger self and the youth of today:
Wait for the two marshmallows.
You probably have heard of the famous psychology experiment where children were offered a marshmallow now, but if they waited, they’d get two marshmallows. Well, in the course of time, the children who postponed self-gratification and waited for the two mallows fared better in life. Postponing pleasure for some greater purpose is helpful.
I never made it at school. I took the best part of the last year off and when I was there; the class was disruptive and not conducive to learning. 3G at St Gerard in Govan was my high school. Clydeside kids of working-class fathers who, for the most part, would never get their names up on the Dux board in the foyer. We would look at the names and say “Boffins” with a bit of contempt.
However, when I was nineteen, I began attending night school at Cardonald College studying English, Maths and Physics. To be honest, I struggled with maths and physics, but English caught my attention. I loved the books: Animal Farm, Brave new World and other books that were on the curriculum.
The idea of studying English literature got a grip on me. However, with average Standard Grades, the idea was slipping, and I continued with my night shift job at Safeway on Paisley Road West, Glasgow.
It was there that I would watch workmates reading during the lunch break. Jimmy was reading The Moon’s a Balloon and Marty was reading The Lord of the Rings for the third time. I admired their stick-to-itiveness and the pleasure they derived from reading. Additionally, we had some students in on a Friday evening. Some were studying architecture and similar subjects. But there was one workmate who was studying English literature and would often talk about the Thomas Hardy books he was reading. His enthusiasm was contagious; he was getting quite a kick out of this material.
In the course of events, I put any hope of studying at university level on the back burner. I got married and university was dipping over the horizon.
Later, though, I studied English literature, social science and creative writing part time at The Open University and eventually got a BA Creative Writing and English Literature.
When COVID struck, I thought, there’s nothing else for it, I’m not going to waste more time. I did the MA and in 2022; I got a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.
Now why do I mention this? Am I proud of the achievement? No, it only confirmed what I could have achieved in my youth if I had postponed self-gratification and waited for the two marshmallows.