Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Maggie & Me

This memoir by Scottish born, Brighton based, journalist Damian Barr is a fascinating read.  Barr grew up in a small town in Scotland not far from Glasgow during the Thatcher years.  One of his earliest memories is when his mother moved him and his younger sister from their father's house to the home of her new, scary boyfriend.  It coincided with the day Margaret Thatcher escaped unscathed from a bombing in a Brighton hotel.  He is mesmerized by her sphinx-like rise from the ashes and her practical comment that one must simply carry on.  And, despite the hatred for her in his working class town as she eliminates milk from schools, smashes unions and ultimately closes the steel works that have always employed his father, he can't help but admire her attitude.  And he adopts it - studying and working hard to escape his impoverished beginnings.  His young life is marred by terrible poverty, abuse at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, his mother's near death from a brain haemorrhage, their moving into the house of an uncle who makes his living from petty theft and his mother's descent into alcoholism and partying with yet another abusive boyfriend.  Perhaps hardest of all, is his effort to come to terms with being gay - which he realizes at a young age but has a hard time integrating into his otherwise Catholic beliefs.  He is mocked all through school for preferring books to sports, called "Gaymian" and worse.  He befriends another boy who is popular and athletic but also gay and they explore together - fearing they must have AIDS when news of the disease spreads - though they have never had intercourse.  In high school to protect his reputation he is shunned by this boy but befriends an equally studious and clumsy girl who pretends to be his girlfriend to help him avoid accusations of being gay and to help her avoid the equally embarrassing claims that she's a virgin.  With this girl he studies hard, and develops the confidence to eventually explore the gay scene in Glasgow (with a man he meets through a personal ad) and come out to his teachers and parents.  Ultimately he feels he's proof that Thatcher was right - hard work is all it takes to get ahead.

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