Andrew McLeod woke up on the morning of his 12th birthday feeling different. For a start it was still quite early, only just 6.30 on this Saturday morning. His parents had entertained friends the previous evening so he knew they would not be awake for at least two hours, maybe longer. Padding through to the kitchen he stood at the counter eating his Weetabix thinking about the weekend. Today would be quiet but the family were going to visit his grandmother in the afternoon the next day. She was his only remaining grandparent, his father’s mother, and there would probably be other family members there. He shrugged, of course he would go and see his grandmother but even if he didn’t want to go, it was not like his mother would listen to him. He thought about his family for a moment.
His mother was someone who was obsessed about appearances. She had a severe dose of ‘what will the neighbours think’ syndrome. She also always had to have the last word in any conversation, she seemed incapable of letting anything go, regardless of the triviality. Andrew had long since given up on her, he didn’t think she realised how disengaged he was from her, from the whole family. His father was? What was his father? Remote? Disinterested? He was both of those and more. What was most obvious was that he had a marked preference for Andrew’s little sister. And he made no attempt to hide it, most of all from his son. Andrew sighed. Rowan, his little sister by two and a half years, had been okay. At least until seven or eight. But the last two years she had become progressively more tiresome, as in her father’s eyes she could do no wrong. Fundamentally she had been a nice kid who had been, and was being, badly parented.
As Andrew, always Andrew never Andy, his mother was adamant about that, stood there he realised something had to change. Most of this year his parents had been fighting which on top of everything else about life at home had made Andrew miserable. The root of their fighting was money. Both of his parents were the first in each of their families to go to university. They had met while working for the civil service, married and then had their two children. But as a continuation of their educational advancement they now had both Andrew and Rowan in private school. And it was these school fees that were the root of a lot of the issues in the house. So that June morning Andrew McLeod figured that something had to change.
It was 1977, June 11th, and Andrew had two weeks of school left. As he stood that morning thinking about his life he started to plan. Returning to his bedroom he grabbed some scrap paper from his schoolbag and mapped out the weeks until the start of senior school. Eleven weeks in total, the last two weeks of primary school and then nine weeks of holiday. Andrew knew that his parents fought about money, and that trying to send two children to private school was tough, close to being unaffordable. Knowing that his father would defend Rowan, Andrew did not want to be the one sacrificed if two sets of fees became unaffordable. So he needed to start earning some money, not just for himself but also to ensure that he didn’t have to change schools.
That was all well and good but he was 12. What was he going to do? And how was he going to convince someone that they should give him a job? And pay him money to do it? Hmmm. Andrew was tall for his age but slender, if not downright skinny. As his father was always telling him, a good breeze would blow him away. Andrew was also a geek, innately clever rather than studious, and somewhat lazy, with no trace of any discernable athletic ability. Double hmmm. He sat back and looked around his room for inspiration. His camera bag was in the corner of his room as usual. His camera was his pride and joy. He had bugged his parents for a ‘proper’ camera all the previous year, even foregoing birthday presents the same time the previous year. Finally at Christmas he had received his Olympus OM-1 camera. His grandmother had organised the rest of the extended family to give him money and so his one Christmas present was from the whole family. And it had been worth the year of waiting. Looking at the camera bag got him thinking about trying to do something in a camera shop. None of the big chains would think about hiring a 12 year old. He had no idea what the age limits for working were, something he would have to check. His father was always going on about how he had started working at 13, and so in Andrew’s mind this was the age. But he would have to go to the library and look it up. Assuming his dad was right then he would have to see if an independent store was willing to bend the rules. And he had no idea how much he would be paid.
Andrew sat there doodling thinking about working in a camera shop. He heard his parents getting up but hadn’t realised that he had been engrossed for more than an hour. Wandering through he accepted the birthday wishes of his parents.
“Happy Birthday Andrew. 12 already.”
He gave her a big hug.
“Happy Birthday son.”
His father didn’t even try and fake excitement.
Hugs were not exchanged and Andrew wondered at the flash of resentment when he had responded to his father. Wow.
“I am going to cycle down to the library, I want to look up a couple of books about some photographic techniques.”
This was not an unusual request.
“Sure. Be back by noon, okay?”
It was only when he was cycling down the hill to the library that he realised that he received no presents and, more surprisingly, he hadn’t noticed or been bothered. 10 minutes later he padlocked his bike to the railings outside the library and headed inside. Andrew was not known by name but he was known by sight and both librarians nodded and said ‘good morning’ when he entered. After he had politely returned their greetings Andrew approached the desk, this was not an average visit.
“I wonder if you can help me please. I am looking for a book that will let me know the age when I can start working. I presume the government issues something. Does the library have any publications that explain that?”
The stocky 50-something librarian smiled at him.
“We do have a section from HMSO, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, they are the publishing part of the government. There are lots of books with advice and rules. Let me show you where they are all located.”
Andrew had not been down that particular aisle in the library and was amazed at the sheer number of government publications. He was sure the answer was here it was just finding it. In the end it was very comparatively easy. There was a small section from the Department of Employment and in the third book he checked he found the section on the employment of children. Annoyingly, his father was right, the age when children could start to work part-time was 13. And there was a limit of 25 hours a week for 13 and 14 year olds during the school holidays. At least he now knew for certain.
The library also had the large thick Yellow Pages for Edinburgh and so after getting a sheet of paper and a pen from the librarians, he was able to note the names and addresses of all the camera shops in the city. At first, he was surprised there were so many, 37 in all. But 15 were not real camera shops but just photo processing locations. That left 22 addresses, thinned down further to 14 after removing the large chain stores.
As he cycled back up the hill to his home Andrew’s mind was not on the road. He wondered how his parents would react if he told them he had got a job. Would the fact that he was only 12 register with them? He shook his head, he was already thinking ahead when he had no idea whether anyone would hire him.
Returning home the day got a whole lot better. His parent’s friends John and Brenda Cuttington were down to visit. Up until the last year they had always been Uncle John and Auntie Brenda in the way that unrelated friends of parents and grandparents are to small children. But last year John had started to encourage Andrew to drop the Uncle and just call him John. He was probably his father’s oldest and closest friend but he was friendly and supportive to Andrew, sometimes more than his own father. It was odd.
“Andrew, Happy Birthday.”
Andrew smiled and shook the proffered hand.
“John, I need to nip out to the off-licence and pick up some beer. Do you want to come? I’ll only be 10 minutes?”
Andrew’s father looked over.
“I think I will chat to the birthday boy Gavin, if you don’t mind.”
Andrew saw the momentary scowl.
“Sure. Like I said, I’ll only be a few minutes.”
John Cuttington steered Andrew out into the garden so that they could chat without being interrupted by either of the two women. Brenda was as bad as Andrew’s mother and they would never get a chance to chat if the two of them were listening.
“We will have a few minutes of peace and quiet, no interruptions, eh?”
Andrew tried not to smile too widely.
“How are you doing?”
“I am good John. I was at the library looking at the rules for getting a job. I have to be 13 apparently. I was thinking about trying to get a job this summer.”
“What brought this on?”
“I woke up this morning and things seemed to be clearer to me. Maybe I am getting older, more mature. If I got a job I think that would help around here. Reduce some of the.”
Andrew realised what he was letting slip and stopped suddenly.
“You don’t have to say it, I understand. Things still tense at times?”
“Then you are doing the right thing. Don’t be discouraged by the government’s rules. There are always places that are looking for hard-working people. I shouldn’t be encouraging you to break the law but you should see if you can pick up some part-time work for the summer.”
Andrew smiled at this encouragement.
“You know how I am interested in photography, so I thought I would start with the independent camera shops, the kinds where the proprietor owns them.”
“Exactly. That is a good idea. You are smart, still doing well at school? At science, yes?”
“Yes. I did well in the end of year exams.”
“Why don’t you read about developing film in a darkroom. I did that, hell it must have been more than 10 years ago. I remember there being a lot of chemistry, there are tons of chemicals in the process. It was also oddly like baking. Lots of accurate measuring and timing. If you learn the steps to the process then you could work doing that during the weekends or after school.”
“Thanks John. Is it difficult?”
“You should take in half a dozen rolls of your own film if you get the chance, and nothing that is important. There is a learning curve, as with all new things. But after five or six rolls you should have it down. You need a delicate touch, patience and being accurate with the chemicals. If you can do that then you should be sorted.”
Andrew nodded. He had lots of undeveloped film from the start of the year, from when he first got his new camera. He realised that John was staring at him.
“Is something wrong?”
John shook his head.
“One of the main reasons that I like spending time with you is that you remind me of myself when I was your age. Bookish, scrawny, happy in my own company. I had to go through National Service, it is where I met your dad. We were one of the last years that did it before it was abolished. We became friends because we both found it tough. Your dad is so much younger than his sisters and was sheltered by your grandmother. We didn’t know how to cope with some of the hard cases we met when we first got there.”
Andrew had no idea what John was trying to convey. Was there a message in this?
“If you are trying to tell me something John then I am missing the point. Sorry.”
John smiled and shook his head.
“I wasn’t being at all clear with my rambles. Challenge yourself Andrew. National Service was tough, I was bloody miserable half the time, but I learned from it. Work with, and get to know, people who are in different circumstances. You will be a better person for making that effort. I know they don’t have National Service any more but if you joined the Army, any of the services, then you are going to meet a whole bunch of different people.”
“John, you out here?”
John turned back to Andrew.
“Think about what I said. Here, say nothing to your parents.”
John slipped Andrew £20 and before he could protest, turned and walked back into the house. Andrew stayed in the garden thinking about what John said. He knew he was a nerd, school had never been difficult for him. He focused on one particular aspect of what John said, the comment about hard cases. There was no shortage of them in Edinburgh. It was one of his concerns about having to change school, how he would cope at a state school. Yet John was telling him to seek out these people, challenge himself. Hmmm.
As Andrew stood in the garden on that late spring afternoon he realised that the few minutes with John were more parenting than he had received from his own father in. He didn’t know how long he was originally going to say but as he thought about it Andrew realised that he had never had that kind of conversation with his father. It was his birthday but the day had been full of unsettling realisations.
Andrew was not in the mood for his parents and so spent the rest of the day in his room, the radio on quietly, and he tidied. How did you spend your 12th birthday? I tidied my bedroom. Andrew snorted as he realised he was the saddest 12 year old in the world. But he also came to realise that he was happy, pottering around in his room sorting stuff out. But as he tidied up, he kept coming back to the conversation with John in the garden. John had told him to challenge himself. A lot of that evening was thinking about what that meant.
He was awake at the same time the following morning, the early daylight of Scotland in the summer stopping him from rolling over and going back to bed. He was standing in the kitchen, same time, same place, as the day before. Holding the bottle of milk he stopped himself from pouring it over his Weetabix. Instead he returned to his bedroom changed into his runners and quietly stepped out into the street. He looked at his watch, 6.42 in the morning. He had no idea how far he should run the first time, or at what pace. Thinking that he would run for 15 minutes and then turn back to the house he set off. 12 minutes later he was panting leaning against a wall. He walked half way back and then was able to slowly jog the rest of the way back to the house. It was a lesson that needed to be learned.
But as he sat on the back patio eating his breakfast something about what John had said seemed to resonate within him. The only milestone associated with a 12th birthday is the step up to senior school. Seven years of primary school were over and the six years of secondary school loomed large. But that was all. 13 was a much more significant birthday. There was the whole becoming a teenager thing and as the previous day’s research had shown it was the age at which you were allowed to work. Yet the weekend felt profound in a way that Andrew was incapable of explaining. But the two words from John Cuttington were important. Challenge yourself.
The Cuttingtons had stayed for the weekend and given the booze consumed on the Saturday night there was no sign of stirring from anyone until 11.00. Rowan had reined in the brattiness since it was just the two of them and they had managed to spend 30 minutes at the breakfast table without annoying each other. Andrew had left her in front of the television and retreated to his room again. He didn’t know why he felt so restless but his own contemplations about his birthday and life in the house, together with the talk with John, had made an impression. So hanging around the house on a Sunday morning while everyone slept off their hangover was trying his patience.
To pass the time he thought once more about the two words John had thrown at his feet like a gauntlet from historic times. Challenge yourself. Easy for a 40-something to say to a boy that looked up to him but what did it mean. The easy option, at least notionally, would be to ask John. But when they visited there was almost no time when his parents were not around. That was part of the impact of the 10 minutes in the garden, it was so rare. But the other consideration was that Andrew wanted to figure this out on his own. Without having any idea whether it was true or not, Andrew was sure that part of the answer to the two words was not just being told the answer. The very first challenge was defining what the challenge or challenges were.
If Andrew had not spent time thinking about his life the previous day before John and Brenda arrived then this might have been a waste of time. But for whatever reason John had mentioned this after Andrew had spent the morning thinking about making some changes. The first part was easy, he was going to try and make some money. Help his parents. Andrew stopped and thought about that last sentence. He knew he wasn’t a disobedient boy, his marks were always good at school but that was all he could say. He didn’t moan about chores round the house but he always had to asked or told, and often several times. His parents were working hard to send him and his sister to private school and he was taking it all for granted, as if it was his due somehow. The other side of the same coin though was that he didn’t get on with his parents at all. His father’s indifference and preference for Rowan together with his ever judgemental mother meant that it was partly his way of maintaining his self-worth. He would help his parents but it could not, and would not, be his only motivation, even his main motivation. It would be good to have some money, to assert a little bit of independence. Whatever the reason, Andrew was looking forward to finding a way to work and get some money.
After this easy thinking he sat, once again staring out the window or looking around the room for any kind of inspiration. What else could he challenge himself with? Puberty was still over the distant horizon so anything to do with girls or young women never crossed his mind. Girls were like his annoying little sister and her friends. To be ignored. In years to come, Andrew would think about this day and laugh at the ignorance and naivety of youth. The two things that did come to mind were academics and fitness. The first would be a lot easier than the second. Andrew knew he was coasting at school, he did not find it difficult but he put little to no effort into it. So that was one area who could challenge himself. The second one, starting from a significantly lower base, was fitness. As he had demonstrated that morning there was plenty of work to do.
The fitness although it would take longer and would definitely be a struggle was also going to be easier in one important way. As he had showed that morning, fitness could be, and was going to be, a solitary endeavour. If Andrew put his mind to something then it happened. He was self-disciplined with a stubborn streak. With John’s words ringing in his ears Andrew knew that he could get fit. Now years of games, sports and kick arounds with his neighbours had demonstrated a spectacular lack of foot-eye and hand-eye coordination. He was not going to be the next Kenny Dalglish, or indeed any sportsman. But he would be happy being able to run for half an hour and maybe do some push-ups and sit-ups. Nothing earth shattering but a change from his previously easy sedentary life. He then thought about school.
George Heriot’s was, and is, a private, fee-paying school in the centre of Edinburgh. There was none of the extreme harassment and bullying prevalent in other schools. But this was school, wherever 1500 boys and young men gather together then there will be a significant proportion of dickheads. The bell curve never fails. Andrew was a geek, in a class full of geeks. Heriot’s made students take streaming exams at ages 10 and 12. The final two years of primary school were separated into three classes, with Andrew having been in the top class. The second set of streaming tests were in preparation for senior school when the year would be streamed into five classes. Just the previous week Andrew had brought home confirmation from the school that he would be in 1A, the class for those with the best academic marks, at the start of the following year. But one of the reasons that Andrew coasted was that he was uncomfortable standing out academically. He barely did any studying and he was in the top quarter to top third of the class. Andrew knew he was smart and most of his self-worth at school came from his academics. But he was comfortable hiding just below the top pupils. Even within his own class there were loudmouths and guys who were a complete pain in the arse. Challenging himself academically would be simultaneously easy and difficult. Andrew pondered this for some time but John’s words taunted him. He would try, he couldn’t just hide.
But then the earlier part of his chat with John came to mind. How John, and his father Gavin, had found National Service tough. It was one of the reasons that they became friends. John described the people they encountered as hard cases. Taking some minor verbal abuse from fellow nerds, or even other guys in his year, was hardly much of a challenge the way that John had talked about it. For a real challenge himself he needed exposure to kids who didn’t go to a fancy fee-paying school in the centre of Edinburgh, the school to the south of the Old Town and with a clear view of the Castle. How he was going to try and challenge himself, never mind rise to overcome it, he had no idea. There was no obvious solution.
The adults finally waking up let Andrew park all this until later. Without prompting he helped his mother set the table which got no thanks other than a raised eyebrow. Baby steps. When his father went to the toilet he approached John.
“Could you give me a copy of your address please John. I know how we drive to your place but I don’t know the actual address or the postcode. I would like to write to you, once a term maybe, to let you know how I am doing, maybe ask for some advice.”
John nodded quietly.
“Good idea Andrew. I will give it to you before we go. What prompted this?”
“Our chat yesterday. I was up early this morning and have done some thinking about what you said.”
As his father returned John just smiled and nodded, Andrew moving away. After lunch John and Brenda prepared to head north again, they lived south west of the city of Aberdeen in north east Scotland, a three hour drive away. As they left John passed Andrew the address discretely. Andrew and his family left at the same time as the Cuttingtons and went to visit Andrew’s grandmother. He was feted as the birthday boy, one of his aunt and uncles were there along with a cousin and her husband. The flat was struggling to cope with all the people and Andrew sat back and watched the dynamic of his extended family.
Andrew thought his father was an odd man, not helped by the fact that he was much younger than his two sisters. One was 12 years older and the oldest was 15 years older than his father. Apparently, his grandfather had been 63 when his father was born and had died before his father had even finished school; Andrew’s mother had never met him. Andrew had done the maths and worked out that his grandfather had been born in 1874. His grandmother had celebrated her 70th birthday 18 months earlier which meant she was born in 1905. With an aunt born in 1922 Andrew had connected all the dots and established that his grandfather had been 48 years old and his grandmother only 17 years old when his aunt was born. He also knew that it was never talked about for reasons he could not fathom. Whenever he asked he was shushed immediately. It was several years later that the penny finally dropped about the ages and what they meant. What was even more scandalous was that both his grandparents were in service, his grandfather the butler and his grandmother a chambermaid. It was another of those moments when he would look back and laugh at his innocence.
All of that was still to unfold. On that afternoon his aunt was there with her daughter. He only had two cousins, each sister of his father had one daughter and his mother was an only child. One cousin lived in Australia and had done so for several years. This meant he only saw this one cousin, whose name was Shona. She was closer to his parents age than his own, so although she was perfectly pleasant he was not close to her. He had seen the TV show the Waltons and it was a different world. He had one little sister and a cousin, 20 years older than him.
School the following week was another example of a familiar part of Andrew’s life that seemed different somehow, as if being viewed through a slightly different lens. It was not one big thing it was just lots of little things that Andrew noticed. Classes were winding down so his goal of pushing himself academically would have to wait until the following year. During his classes, and especially during lunch, Andrew looked at his classmates and fellow pupils and tried to understand why he suddenly felt he was seeing them for the first time. He could not put into words why he felt this way. But rather than try to be included in the football as normal he stood back and watched rather than try and fit in as he usually did, even although he knew he was crap at footie. Everyone seemed to be trying too hard just as he had been the previous week. Being crap at sport had not stopped him trying to keep up with the ‘cool’ kids.
He had told his parents he was going to stop at the library on the way home, a very useful and acceptable place for him to be after school and neither of them had made any comment. But instead, armed with his list of camera shops Andrew set off to find a job. By the time he had left the third shop he had visited he started to feel how Wiley Coyote did when he ran face first into a wall. Being tongue-tied and in a school uniform did not help either but all three men were instantly dismissive. Suddenly challenging himself did not look so easy.
But here Andrew’s stubborn streak kicked in. Turning up in his school uniform was a non-starter so he decided to wait until the weekend, but he was going to continue. He packed his camera bag and would use that as a prop to demonstrate that he at least knew what he was talking about. But as he sat in his room that night it was tough not to feel down-heartened. Shrugging it off he changed and decided to try going for another jog. He was much more careful in his pace and managed to run for 15 minutes, rest for five and then return, although that took 17 minutes. The distance was of no concern, he was happy to have judged the pace much better.
The rest of the week passed without incident. Andrew did go to the main City Library after school each day and sat and read about developing film. By the Friday evening he was comfortable that he knew all the stages. But it was book knowledge, he needed to get the chance to put it into practice. On the Saturday morning he told his parents he would like to take some pictures in the city of some of the main tourist sights, the Castle and things like that. So carrying his camera bag and his list of shops Andrew once more charged head first at the wall. The first seven were the same as earlier in the week, he was more than halfway through his list and he had been given the knockback by everyone, often with dismissive laughter. But shop number 11 was his lucky number.
The store front was not wide but the store was deep. As he entered he immediately noticed that the store seemed to specialise in printing and developing. More than half the store displayed equipment and supplies for that. The displays of cameras were significantly smaller than the other stores he had been in. There was a thump and a clatter and a man came into view, awkwardly wielding a set of crutches.
Andrew didn’t think he was asking after his health, in fact the guy looked tired and sore.
“I am looking for a job. I wondered if you needed some part-time help.”
Some of the proprietors had not even let him finish these two sentences before sending him off. But this time he was looked at with suspicious interest.
“I see you have a camera, but you look too young.”
“I am only 12 but I want to work on my photography over the summer. Where better than in a camera shop? I am smart and reliable.”
Rather than prattle on Andrew stopped. This was further than he had managed so far.
“Tell me about your camera.”
“It is an Olympus OM-1, I got it six months ago for Christmas. I try and take photos every week, mainly at the weekend of course. And I have read a lot of reference books in the library about techniques. But looking at my photos, the ones I have got developed, I think I need to work on composition more than technique.”
The man had rested himself on a stool and look of pain eased on his face.
“I don’t suppose you develop your own prints?”
“No. Again I have read about the process, I know the theory but I haven’t had the chance to put it into practice.”
“If I decide to hire you, when would you be able to work. Not that I have agreed, mind.”
Andrew was struggling to contain his excitement.
“I have one more week of school, so I could do a couple of hours after school every day and then I am off for nine weeks. There is talk of a family holiday for two weeks but I don’t know the exact weeks yet.”
“Normally I would tell you to sling your hook, you are too young, but as you can see I got my ankle broken in a car crash and I am struggling. I have two part-timers normally, one that helps during the week and one at the weekend. But my weekend guy has up and quit on me and so I am short. Do you want to start today?”
“Sure. That would be fantastic.”
“Come and put your bag through the back and then I will explain everything. I am Tony Brown by the way.”
“Andrew McLeod, please to meet you.”
Tony smiled at the proffered hand but shook it anyway.
“Em Tony, can I ask how much I will be paid?”
“You want to be paid and all?”
He paused for a second and then smiled at Andrew’s flustered face.
“50pence an hour for today and any time next week. That will be your trial. If you pass then I may raise that. How long can you work for today?”
“Until 4.30. And I should be able to work 3.00 to 5.00 each day next week.”
“Okay then. A couple of quid today and a quid a day next week.”
The next four hours passed in a blur. Tony got his stool placed at the till and dealt with the customers when they came in. But in between customers he explained to Andrew about all the myriad different kinds of inventory he carried. Andrew in turn was Tony’s hands for the day, being directed to get the requested items. He picked it up pretty quickly and enjoyed learning about all the different aspects of photography. The pace quietened down after 4.00 and Tony got Andrew to walk through the different steps on developing, testing his theoretical knowledge.
“Okay, you know the theory, that is clear. Do you have film that you want to develop?”
“Okay I will let you try on your own film on Monday afternoon. You can use the chemicals and paper in lieu of pay that day, okay?”
“Definitely. I am keen to see if doing it in practice matches up to the theory.”
Tony handed Andrew a couple of pounds.
“Okay I will see you here around 3.00 on Monday.”
Andrew had no recollection of the bus journey home he was so happy about how the day had gone. That night he hung out with the neighbourhood kids, chatting away, nothing unusual. But he caught himself thinking a lot about the upcoming Monday.
Ever since he had woken early on his birthday Andrew was full of a restless energy and the following Sunday was no different. Before he went for his run he tried some push-ups and sit-ups managing a whole three of the former and 15 of the later. Digging through the clutter on his desk he found an empty notebook and wrote down the date and the amount of exercise he had managed, before heading out for a slow jog. This time he ran for 20 minutes before walking for five to catch his breath. His return took him 24 minutes but he was pleased that even after just a week of daily jogging or slow running he had shown some improvement. The rest of Sunday was quiet by comparison, Andrew sitting reading in his room for most of it although he went out on his bike in the afternoon with Charlie and Mike, two of his neighbours.
Andrew wanted to try to develop six rolls of film on the Monday afternoon, but it took much longer than he anticipated and he only ended completing two. The first roll was just okay, not unexpectedly. But the second film produced acceptable negatives. Tony did not hover over him but rather left him to sink or swim, although he did check the darkroom after each roll of film. He nodded when he saw the prints from the 2nd roll that Andrew had developed. After the negatives were dry Andrew had made prints of the first 12 to show Tony he could do that process too.
“Normally I would be either helping or supervising you when you do this but my ankle and the crutches make it tough to stand for very long. That second attempt was good, you have not rushed it but you also have not fucked about either. For the rest of the week I want you to work in here. But doing developing for me, not your own stuff. You have seen the shop, it is my niche, stocking stuff that people need for their own darkrooms. But I also do small scale developing as well, whatever pays. Normally this is what I do during the day while Stacey minds the shop. Since the accident I have been struggling to develop and print all the films and so you turning up is handy. I am a bit behind.”
“I am happy to work in here, thanks.”
Andrew cleaned up the darkroom before retrieving his blazer and bag. Tony and Stacey had been surprised when he turned up in a school uniform but after a few questions had let it go. The next day Andrew developed someone else’s film for the first time. He was nervous but didn’t muck anything up and once the negatives were dry he prepared a set of prints from the negatives. Film development had a strict set of times, there was no way to short-circuit the process and so Andrew got into the routine of developing the negatives before he then produced the prints. The time flew by and he was surprised that it was 5.00 so soon. Each afternoon things became a little more routine and by the Friday Andrew had improved his throughput significantly.
“How did you get so many negatives developed?”
Tony was looking in surprise at the strips of negatives drying.
“You have lots of developing equipment. I did three rolls at the same time. Once the film is on the spool and in the drum, it is just a case of getting all the chemicals prepared. I would do each of the three in sequence, developer, stop-bath and fixer before rinsing the film. It cuts down on the dead time while I wait between steps.”
“Is that okay?”
“Did all the steps get the appropriate time?”
“Definitely. That you had all the extra beakers was key. All the chemicals were mixed and ready in advance and when I drained the drum the next one was ready to go.”
Tony nodded, not saying anything but secretly impressed.
“Okay good. I am due you £4 for the last four days but here is a fiver, this is good. You will start the prints in the morning?”
“Yes I will. Thanks.”
Once Andrew tidied up he left and headed home. His parents had finally noticed that he had been in later all week.
“Where have you been?”
The slight interrogative tone bothered Andrew.
“I have been developing some film. One of the camera shops has a darkroom and I have been practicing developing film, making some prints. The guy has a busted ankle and so I move some stuff for him and in return he lets me use the darkroom for an hour.”
“Where is the shop?”
At least his mother was sounding interested.
“It is Brown’s Photo Supplies on Nicolson Square, five minutes from school. Mr. Brown is on crutches all summer so he has asked if I will help over the summer.”
Andrew shrugged and nervously waited to see if there would be any reaction.
“It will stop you lazing around all summer.”
Andrew was annoyed at his father’s tone but at the same time secretly happy that neither of his parents were bothered about him working. He figured there would be less hassle if he claimed it was a trade rather than he was getting paid. His father’s dismissive attitude to him worked to his advantage. The following morning when he got to the store it was not yet open. Tony Brown lived in the flat above the store but there was no obvious bell to ring to get his attention. Instead he slapped his palm against the glass making as much noise as possible. It was nearly 10 minutes later before Tony hobbled to the door to let him in.
“Too much beer and whisky last night. I need coffee. Mind the shop and call me if anyone wants to buy something.”
12 years old and in charge. Well not really but Andrew wandered round the shop generally tidying anything that needed it, not that there was much. Tony came downstairs, banging and hobbling with one hand on the rail supporting his ankle. He slumped onto the stool at the till with a sigh.
“Go upstairs, my coffee is on the kitchen table. The kitchen is to the left at the top of the stairs. There is bread in the toaster. I have left the butter and jam out. Make the toast for me, stick it on a plate and then bring the toast and coffee down here.”
All the doors other than the kitchen were closed when Andrew got to the top of the stairs. The kitchen was untidy but not a health hazard and 10 minutes later he carefully carried the toast down for Tony. He had already made one trip with the coffee, it was clear that his boss needed it.
“You’re a good lad. Alright you can go and get started in the darkroom. I will bang on the door every hour and when you are at a moment when you can come out I want you to do so. It will let me pee, stretch, and I may need you to move something for me. Okay?”
Andrew nodded and headed to the darkroom. When he opened the door he stopped. It looked like the place had been burgled.
Andrew hurried back to Tony.
“I think you may have been burgled, the darkroom is a mess.”
Tony, who had been moaning to himself half the morning, groaned aloud.
“No, there was no burglary.”
He stopped and looked at Andrew, thinking about what to say.
“I hold a camera club meeting in the studio on a Friday night. Once the session was over we started drinking, but I vaguely remember a couple of guys wanting to develop some film. I was too drunk to realise it would be pointless and a waste.”
He shook his head.
“Tidy up in there for me please and let me know how much stuff was wasted or is useless. I will get the money back off the pair of them.”
“You have a studio? I didn’t know.”
“No reason why you would. It is the door at the back of the stockroom. But that is not the main way into the studio. It is accessed from the courtyard behind the house. I rent it out to photographers to use during the day. I only go in at the end of the session and make sure nothing is missing or broken.”
“Cool. One day when it is empty would you show me please? I have never seen the inside of a studio before.”
“It is not being used on Monday morning. Remind me when you get here and I will show you around. No blabbing about it. Savvy?”
Andrew wasn’t sure why Tony was concerned about him blabbing but agreed reflexively. Heading back into the darkroom the first hour was spent cleaning up the mess. There were chemicals everywhere, it looked like whoever had been in the darkroom had developed some film but they had obviously taken the negatives with them as there was nothing hanging up beside the three that Andrew had done the previous day. Near the end of the hour Andrew discovered that the negatives had not been removed. They were still on the reel in the drum. He stood for several moments thinking about the situation. He had no idea what stage the development was at, and he doubted that the participants from the previous evening had any idea either. There had been traces of developer and fixer in the sink so he assumed that they had been developed properly just not retrieved for drying. He popped the outer lid and when he emptied the drum into the sink it was water. He retrieved the negatives, dried them and hung them to dry with those from the previous day. Finally he was ready to start.
“It looks like two bottles of each of the chemicals. It was more mess than waste.”
“Thanks, I will get the money back off them in two weeks. Mind the shop for me for five minutes.”
Although there were three customers in the shop they were browsing and by the time the first was ready to make a purchase Tony was back. He made Andrew watch him ring up the sale on the till so that Andrew could cover for him. The rest of the morning Andrew developed more film, rather than make prints. Other than loading the reels with the unexposed film and making sure it was light tight in the drum this part of the process could be done in the light. Once Andrew started making prints then it would be much more difficult, and wasteful, for him to leave the darkroom.
“Keep developing negatives this morning and then after lunch you can start making the prints. I should be sorted by then.”
Tony was the boss and Andrew did as he was told. He covered for Tony twice as he went upstairs and even recorded his first sale, although it was only a small box of film, hardly earth-shattering. Finally after lunch he locked the darkroom door, turned on the dim red light and set to work making prints. Making prints was an exercise in patience, lots of steps repeated, and the need to be careful with the chemicals. He did the three rolls of negatives from the previous day and, after they had dried, had the packet of prints and the negatives, carefully sheathed, ready for the customers. He had all the equipment out and so on the spur of the moment he printed out the roll of film he had retrieved and finished from the night before. At first, he didn’t even look at the prints, he was focused on the time per stage and just getting through them all but suddenly he looked at one of the prints. Rather than some holiday snap or pictures of a family, he was staring at a topless woman. He concentrated enough that he got the roll finished but when he hung the prints up to dry he could see they were a series of shots where the model undressed down to her knickers. Andrew started to realise why someone had tried to develop these on their own the night before. Cleaning everything up he finally opened the door and went to see Tony, blinking as his eyes adjusted to natural light again.
“I have completed the three films from yesterday. Two are in their packets ready for pick-up and the third will be ready Monday morning, it just needs another hour or so to dry.”
“Erm, when I was cleaning up I found that there was a roll of film in the drum. He or they forgot it last night. It had been developed so I hung it up this morning. The negatives were dry enough this afternoon that I printed them out for your friend since I had all the stuff out.”
Tony looked at Andrew closely.
“Did you look at the prints?”
“Normally I am just looking to make sure that I have exposed them correctly, not really caring about the subjects. But yes, this set did catch my eye.”
“I’ll bet they did. So what do you think?”
“About what was on the roll of film?”
“I don’t know what you mean? Sorry if I am being dense.”
“What do you think about women?”
“Er, I don’t think about women. I am 12 remember, women are shop assistants, librarians, teachers.”
Tony was failing to hide a smile.
“What do you think about younger women, girls?”
“I try to ignore them. My sister is 10 and she and her friends are just annoying. A couple of my friends have older sisters but they ignore us. The look at us as if we are something stuck to the bottom of their shoe. That’s if they acknowledge us at all. So annoying or dismissive.”
“I forget that you are 12. Oh well, you have lots to look forward to. Anyway, back to these prints. You know The Sun has a topless woman on page 3 every day?”
“A lot of photographers want to photograph women the same way. That is what most of the guys who book the studio are doing. Working with a model, normally clothed but sometimes not. That is also why I stock so much developing supplies. They can hardly drop off a roll of film like that at Boots, can they?”
Andrew thought about it. He could imagine collecting prints like these at Boots would be interesting, potentially embarrassing.
“Anyway, thanks for doing these. I will keep them for Angus until the next meeting.”
He passed Andrew another fiver.
“10.00 on Monday, see you then.”
As Andrew stood waiting on his bus he thought about the last week. Just the previous weekend he had been visiting all the independent camera shops in Edinburgh trying to get a part-time or summer job. How things had changed in a week. Before he got carried away he thought about the previous Saturday. It was all but certain that if Tony had not bust his ankle and was hobbling around on crutches then he would have got the same answer as the previous seven stores that day. But he had shown Tony that he was not an idiot and he had £10 in his pocket to show for it. From chatting to guys at school, and in the neighbourhood, he knew that summer jobs didn’t pay much, 30p to 50p an hour normally. That he was getting at the top end of that range was good plus he had received a bit of a bonus as well.
Sitting in his room later he thought about the coming week, the rest of the summer, and this new sense of drive since his birthday. His parents had been vaguely interested in what he had been up to, but there was no obvious attitude of questioning whether he should be working so much, or even at all. For once their passive parenting suited him. Working at the shop that week had been playing catch-up for Tony. His limited mobility and inability to stand for any length of time meant that there was lots to do. But even in the 20 hours he had worked that week Andrew had helped sort a lot of things out. If he worked Monday to Saturday all day that would be 48 hours of work. Thinking back to the shop Andrew was suddenly unsure if there was enough work to keep him busy.
He had done good work in the darkroom but there was not an endless amount of films waiting to be developed. There was a bit of a backlog but he would get caught up within a couple of weeks. Most people had switched from black and white film, the kind he was developing, to using colour film. Andrew himself shot three times as much in colour as in black and white. From reading photography magazines he knew that colour film developing was difficult, complicated and required some kind of large machine. There were very few discussions or descriptions of the chemistry of colour developing. Andrew’s excitement at potentially making £200 over the summer was squashed flat as he realised that there was not nearly enough work to keep him there that long. He hoped to get some work, but it seemed unlikely to be the whole summer.
Andrew had kept at his exercises all week but it was started to be a struggle. Other than cycling with the other kids in the neighbourhood he previously had done no exercise. Push-ups were still a struggle, he was stuck at a mighty three, and sit-ups were not much better. But he persisted, knowing that he had to expect gradual improvement.
His interactions with his parents were both the same as usual yet he was seeing them in a different light. He had dinner with his parents, was polite and pleasant, but felt detached from the scene. All three of them, his parents or Rowan, said or did things that four weeks earlier would have led him to saying something and voices would have been raised. But now instead of reacting to the comments, he rather tuned them out, watched and listened rather than engaging. He was helpful round the house, did his chores without having to be reminded, often without even having to be prompted at all.
As he was sitting on the bus on the Monday morning Andrew was still surprised that his parents were so blasé about him disappearing off all day. Living on the outskirts of the city with the school in the centre meant that they were used to him leaving early in the morning. But school was finished and he thought there would be more parental resistance to him being away all day during the summer as well. That they were not was both pleasing and disappointing at the same time. When he got to the shop Tony seemed to be in a mood so Andrew happily disappeared to the darkroom and worked away. He was happy to be working on his own but figured he would ask if he could play a radio or listen to cassettes to help pass the time. Tony wasn’t bothered waving Andrew away with a ‘sure’.
The next two weeks passed quickly. Life at home was quiet, Andrew recognising that fighting with his parents, especially his father, was pointless. He didn’t suddenly turn into some perfect child but realising that most of the drama was around chores and helping around the house, he did his share without complaint and ever more without prompting. Home life was calmer as a result. He was out every evening, kicking a ball or riding his bike with Mike and Charlie. Mike was a year older and Charlie was two years younger and really, they didn’t have a lot in common. Other than annoying sisters. It was their three sisters that were the common bond. So the three of them hung out. Andrew had told them he was doing ‘some photography stuff’ which had quelled any interest in where he was during the day.
The two weeks at the shop also were without incident. The one thing of note had been during the first week. Tony had heard him listening to Radio One and had questioned his choice.
“Why are you listening to that crap?”
Not the most eloquent of replies.
“There is nothing else.”
Which was true.
“Come with me.”
Andrew followed Tony up to his flat and then carried a small case back down to the darkroom. Tony took one of the stools, moved it to the corner and sat the case on top. After a further trip upstairs he came back with five or six LPs.
“There you go. Don’t play it too loud. I have tons of LPs upstairs, so try these and see what you think.”
With that he stepped back through to the shop. Andrew fiddled with the lid and opened the carrying case to find a small record player with a built in speaker. Leafing through the records he didn’t recognise any of the bands or people.
“Thanks for this. I have not heard of any of these bands or seen any of these records.”
And over the next 10 days Andrew worked his way through roughly a quarter of Tony’s extensive record collection. And his eyes, and ears, were opened to a whole new world. Tony loved rock music and had a treasure trove of albums going back more than 15 years. Andrew had never heard any Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Yes or Genesis And yet in those wonderful initial days he heard hours of their music. And was hooked. At 12 years and a month old a scrawny kid became a rocker. At first Tony was surprised at how many albums Andrew listened to but quickly became pleased at the bands that he concentrated on. He pointed Andrew in the direction of the Greyfriar’s Market where there was a good second-hand record store, Ezy Ryder. Other than enjoying listening to rock music for the first time the two weeks passed quickly. But nearing the end of the second full week Andrew was all caught up on the backlog of black and white film. He wondered what Tony would offer him in terms of hours. Would it just be back to Saturday? He didn’t know.
All this became moot that Friday afternoon. He was finishing up in the darkroom, the door was ajar so he could hear if Tony called him, and Andrew was cleaning up the chemicals, washing all the trays, jugs and beakers. When he heard the men in the shop he stopped and eavesdropped.
“It’s a fucking disaster Tony.”
“Stop being a drama queen, ya big girl’s blouse. What’s happened?”
“Kenny got caught processing our films.”
“Yeah, okay that’s not good.”
“Management had started to get suspicious, all the extra chemicals and paper being used. So last weekend they pretended to leave but then snuck back in. They watched Kenny get everything set up and when he opened the bag with all the rolls of film they swooped in.”
“Did they not wait until he had processed them?”
“Nah. No chance. They knew what was on the films. He was fired but they let him leave with the bag. Think about it. Every big processing plant probably has to deal with this. Kenny should have been more careful. But they didn’t call plod, they don’t want the publicity. You know, developing smut at their plant.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Exactly. I was getting pissed off at how much Kenny was making us pay and was trying to think if there was another way, or an alternative. But there isn’t. The plant at Dalkeith covers all the way down to the border. There must be a plant in Glasgow but I don’t know where, and obviously don’t know anyone who works there.”
“What about developing them ourselves?”
“You know all the chat. It is supposed to be really tough. Extra stages, the chemicals are stronger. Do you know anyone who develops their own?”
“Has the process even been published?”
“Donny mentioned a couple of months ago he had seen the process talked about in an American camera mag. Friend of a friend had a copy, though I have no idea where he got it and even if it is true. We’ll ask him tonight.”
“So we better shoot in black and white tonight, and maybe for the next month while we try and sort this out.”
“It feels like a real step back after colour. Who is it tonight?”
“Oh well, at least she has a couple of things to distract us.”
Laughter rang out in the shop and Andrew realised that he had stood listening for several minutes. He returned to cleaning up, none too soon as Tony walked in less than 30 seconds later.
“Right you messy fuckers. See how tidy this place is? If you come in here, make sure it is this clean at the end of the night. Malc, Angus, you owe me for all the chemicals and paper you wasted two weeks ago. It took Andrew here more than an hour to clean up after you two drunken fucks.”
One of the aforementioned Malcolm or Angus, Andrew was not sure which, ignored the demand and focused on Andrew instead.
“Who’s the kid Tony?”
“Schoolkid that came round asking for a job. With my ankle I can’t work in here so I hired him to help me with the backlog. He has caught up in three weeks, I thought it would take him all summer. Kid knows his stuff.”
With a smile on his face Tony opened a drawer and threw a packet of photos to one of the men.
“I think you left these Angus.”
Angus opened the packet, smiled for a second and then looked up, first at Tony and then at Andrew.
“Yeah, the kid finished them for you. You had managed to develop them, I have no idea how since you were off your head, but had left them in the drum. He rinsed them, dried them and then printed them out for you. As you can imagine he was pretty surprised at the subject.”
Angus’ face had broken into a smile.
“I bet he was. Thanks for doing this kid. I didn’t even realise that I had left a roll here.”
Malcolm and Tony rolled their eyes.
“Alright Andrew, best head off. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Andrew nodded, grabbed his bag and headed for the shop door.
“Tony? You in here. The studio is locked.”
Andrew stopped and stared. Now the woman in Angus’ pictures had been topless and although he had stared for a moment or two it had not affected him. But standing in the shop was. Words failed him. That she was a woman was not in doubt. Good lord.
“Stop staring at me tits, you little perv.”
Andrew blushed like every blood vessel in his body had burst. He heard the laughter of Tony and the other two behind him.
“He’s only 12 Monica. I don’t think he can help it.”
“So what’s your excuse?”
“Why is the studio still locked?”
“Got caught up in here. Come through. Andrew, see you tomorrow.”
Andrew scuttled off but as he got to the door he looked back to find that Monica was still watching him. She winked at him, he blushed again and rushed off with laughter ringing in his ears.
By the time he got to the bus stop his face had finally cooled. Waiting for the bus, and again on the journey home, he thought about the last hour. He had processed the one roll of film left in the drum 13 days previously, and although it showed a woman stripping down to her knickers it had left him oddly unmoved. He had stared at the picture but it had been his first week, he was still worrying about the process and not mucking up, rather than looking at the photos themselves. From listening to the chat in the store when the three men arrived it was clear that most of the group shot in colour and that it was processed on the sly by one of their group. Or it had been. Now they were hooped. But that conversation, interesting though it had been, was swamped by meeting Monica, the model. He felt himself starting to blush just thinking about her. Dark brown hair, a little too much make-up, yet dressed in an oddly nondescript way. And her tits.
Suddenly he hoped that Angus would get drunk again that night and leave a roll of film to be developed. Thinking about Monica and her attributes Andrew was aware of a stirring in his trousers. Monica the model had kick-started puberty for him.
Andrew should have had a better night’s sleep, as the excitement of getting to the shop dissipated within minutes. There was no drunken mess of two weeks earlier, everything was as he had left it. After checking the darkroom he came back through into the shop, chagrined at his boyish enthusiasm.
“I kept them out of there last night. Once Monica left we locked up and went round the corner to the pub, trying to figure out what to do.”
Tony shrugged, summing up the conversation in one gesture.
“Anyway, we need to chat. You have ploughed through the backlog much quicker than I thought. There won’t be anything for you to do next week.”
Andrew nodded, this was hardly unexpected.
“I want you to work the next two Saturdays but then Stacey is off for two weeks and I want you to work full time for those two weeks. I’ll see how my ankle is in a month, okay?”
Andrew knew there was nothing else to say.
“I am not going to hire somebody for Saturday unless you tell me you are going to quit. You able to work here during term time on the Saturday?”
Andrew perked up, a steady job.
“Yes, if there is a family event then I will let you know. I should be good seven weeks out of eight without a fuss.”
“I can live with that, especially when I get off these bloody crutches.”
“If any of your friends need summer help, will you let them know please? The next two weeks, and later in the summer if you don’t need me here.”
Tony looked at him.
“Kid, you are good in the darkroom, that is why I have kept you on. But you are underage to be working, I doubt anyone else is going to take the chance with someone so young.”
Andrew nodded, he just had to be patient.
“Still, there are too many lazy fucks about these days. It is good to see someone prepared to work hard. I doubt there is much but I’ll let you know if there is anything.”
Saturdays were busier in the shop and time didn’t drag, even although Andrew wasn’t in the darkroom. At the end of the day Tony paid him for the week. Over the six days Andrew had done 50 hours, the same as the previous week. Tony paid him another £30 and when Andrew got home he put it with the rest of his money. He had nearly £70, a veritable fortune, especially for a 12 year old.
That night his parents were having friends over for dinner, just the usual two or three couples that they saw regularly. Often Andrew and Rowan were shipped off to their grandmother but that night they were told to stay in their rooms and be quiet. It was no different than any other night as far as Andrew was concerned and he shut the world out. Other than using the toilet he stayed put. He used the time to start his first letter to John Cuttington. John’s words about challenging himself had kept intruding on Andrew’s thoughts for the last month. While parts of it had been easy such as working at the camera shop, others had been more of a struggle. His exercises were a daily attack on his patience. He had continued running, nothing more scientific than running for 15 minutes then turning round and returning. He had no idea how far he was running, how fast he was running a mile, anything like that. But he was continuing to run every day and getting into the habit of it. The push-ups and sit-ups were much more of a chore. The improvement was glacial but was happening. He was able to do five push-ups and 20 sit-ups, more than when he started, but he had to force himself to do them every day. Still he had only missed one day of exercise since John had visited.
The last thing that Andrew thought about that night was the thing that concerned him but yet he was insulated from. Dealing with ‘hard cases’. There were no hard cases at his school, they tended not to go to expensive private schools. And Andrew had no interest in getting into any situations where he had to deal with such people. He was a skinny 12 year old that went to private school. It would end in tears; his.
But thinking about all these things also spoke to the underlying issue. John Cuttington had parented him, acted as a father figure, in a way that his own father had no interest in doing. Andrew was slavishly following John’s exhortations because John had shown an interest in him. Gavin McLeod, his own father, did not show that interest. He favoured his daughter and was blatant about it. It was the bit that Andrew didn’t get, why the marked preference. And it was not as if it was compensated for by his mother. Vera McLeod was a snob, obsessed about what the neighbours would think. Andrew was of the opinion that the neighbours were living their own lives and not worrying about the McLeods but wisely kept that to himself. His mother also had the very annoying habit of always wanting the last word, on everything. It was a source of a lot of his parents’ arguments, his mother never letting something go. So Andrew sat there thinking about all this, some of it obvious and some of more a sense rather than anything explicit. He heard his parents and their friends returning to the living room after dinner and took the chance to go through and see if there was anything to eat. He pottered around the kitchen cleaning plates and tidying up as he snaffled some leftovers. He returned to his room full of unanswered questions and thoughts.
He didn’t know whether his need to pee or his parents raised voices woke him, some combination of both probably.
“Give it a rest Gav. How many times do I have to tell you? He is your son.”
“Easy for you to say. But he is nothing like me.”
“How would you know? You never spend any time with him.”
“Enough Vera. I know what you did just before we got married!”
“Shut up, you hypocritical tosser. It wasn’t just me Gavin McLeod. I am surprised you didn’t get the clap.”
Andrew heard a door slam. There was another 20 minutes of more muted noises before the house was finally silent. Andrew finally raced to the bathroom and it felt like he peed for hours. Returning to his room he sat on his bed trying to comprehend the overheard conversation. He had no idea what ‘the clap’ was although it didn’t sound good. What did rock him to his core was the first part that he had overheard. His mother trying to convince his father that Andrew was their son. And especially that he, Gavin, was the father. He didn’t really understand all the nuances of the shouting match but this part rang like a bell inside his head. It explained his father’s behaviour. Gavin McLeod, the man Andrew knew as his father, did not think that Andrew was his son. Andrew’s cheeks blew out. Six months ago, even a month ago, he would have been upset and devastated. But suddenly it all made sense. The way that his father tried to ignore his existence. The lack of concern about being away all day during the school holidays. Part of Andrew was upset but another part was relieved, his life now made a bit more sense. Lying back down on his bed thinking he would take forever to fall asleep instead he quickly nodded off.
Andrew made no mention of the overheard conversation, how could he even begin to start? Instead he kept to himself. His father was a teacher and so was also on holiday but his mother was working. During the day Andrew came and went as he pleased, ‘I am off to the library’ or ‘I am off to see Charlie’ being his only words. Sitting in the library one day he thought about colour film developing and went to see if there were any books detailing the process. He could not find the details, there were lots of references to it being very difficult with exacting requirements but no mention of these requirements. The answer was found at the newsagents. After browsing through lots of different magazines he finally found an answer. It was in a letter to the editor where a hobbyist and amateur photographer talked about his difficulties in developing colour film. What was interesting was he was honest and confessed to it not working for him. But he talked about the steps needed and particularly the insane sensitivity of the temperature to the process. Not only were there different chemicals used, but to develop the film properly they needed to be at an exact temperature for the process to work. The writer confessed that he got a few good negatives but had never managed a whole roll. His parting comment was that it was as if the process had been designed to stop amateurs and ensure they had to use the large film processors who got their equipment and chemicals from Kodak.
Andrew ended up buying the magazine, hoping to chat to Tony about it on the Saturday. He didn’t get the chance when he first got there as they were busy but in the late morning lull he pulled the magazine from his camera bag and showed Tony the letter. He silently read it several times while Andrew dealt with a couple of customers.
“This is good kid. First time I have seen it laid out like this. The chemicals are easy to get, we have three of the four in stock right now. But his point about the temperature is bonkers. It has to be 38.8° or it doesn’t work. It must be easy to get temperature to just about there but how do you keep it there. You must need a second person constantly topping the hot water up to keep the right temperature. That must be a big part of the processing machine, separate heaters keeping all the chemicals and water at this temperature.”
Tony shook his head.
“How much was this? I will buy it off you so I can show the guys in the club next week. Someone might want to try doing this.”
“Sure. Although there is a photocopier at the central library, I can go at lunchtime and make a bunch of copies of the page, so that the guys can take it home and think about it.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. Well done.”
Andrew basked in the appreciation for most of the rest of the day. Another of Tony’s mates turned up near the end of the day and Andrew left them to chat while he restocked the shelves from the storeroom.
“Kid, come here.”
Tony never bothered calling him anything other than ‘kid’.
“You serious about trying to find other work during the week?”
Tony was talking but Archie, a large unfriendly looking man, was giving him the once over at the same time.
“He’s a fucking toothpick.”
Andrew knew he was not wrong but still.
“The kid works hard. But he ain’t your size, and probably never will be.”
Turning back to Andrew Tony continued.
“Archie has a moving company, three crews. He is short of people due to holidays.”
That was the extent of the introduction.
“You ever help anybody move before?”
Andrew shook his head.
“No. I packed my own room when we moved a couple of years ago, that’s it.”
“Fuck it, I need the help. I’ll try you on Monday and see if you work out. If you don’t fuck up then it will be 10 hour days all week. Fiver cash in hand each day, no questions asked. Okay?”
Andrew took a deep breath and nodded.
“The yard is at the back of Tynecastle. Be outside the stadium on Gorgie Road at 7.30. The vans will say McGuire’s Moving Company.”
With a nod at Tony he left, Andrew standing staring at him as walked away.
“Try not to fuck up kid. Moving is a hard business, both heavy and yet at the same time real finicky. I have helped him out a couple of times, when there was no one else. Just hope there isn’t a piano.”
As Andrew walked to the bus to head home he remembered the movers moaning about the piano in his own home from the move two years previously. The week working for the moving firm was miserable but satisfying all at the same time. The two blokes he worked with, both called Dave helpfully enough, berated him endlessly about, well pretty much everything. To small, not strong enough, going to private school, even the sandwiches he made for his lunch. But at the same time he heard them acknowledging to Archie that he ‘wasn’t completely fucking useless’. Damned by faint praise.
What made him even moderately useful was wrapping and protecting furniture. He watched as the other two filled the van like some three dimensional jigsaw, sliding different pieces into spaces so that the space was used efficiently but also so there was as little movement as possible to stop breakages. The older Dave took pride in loading the van to protect the furniture while stacking everything to fill the space. Andrew was soundly mocked for being unable to lift some of the heavier items but he endlessly trudged back and forth with boxes and the lighter pieces. In between all that he wrapped dressers and tables, mirrors and pictures so that they too could end up in the van. At no point was he standing around doing nothing.
Archie was waiting when they returned to the yard at the end of the first day and Andrew was soundly abused by the other two. He knew that it had been a struggle and so was resigned to being told he was no longer needed. He was very surprised when he was told he would be working all week.
“So do you want to keep him? It sounds like he hasn’t been pulling his weight.”
“Well he doesn’t have any weight, scrawny runt. We’ll keep him, I suppose.”
Archie nodded, handed Andrew a fiver and wandered off.
“Don’t be late in the morning.”
Andrew looked at the money, shrugged and headed off for the bus. Neither of the Daves were aggressive but they had spent most of the day belittling him. Andrew realised that he had already started to tune them out. In a move there was enough lighter stuff and items needing to be carefully wrapped that he could function as part of the team. He was 12 and skinny, there was nothing he could do about that. But he hadn’t stopped, hadn’t fucked up and other than seven pieces of furniture had been able to do anything asked of him. Mind you his arms felt rubbery and he was seriously hungry. What amazed him that night was how easily he lied to his parents.
“I have been helping move some stuff in the storeroom, I am not used to the hard work.”
His father responded automatically.
“If you weren’t so lazy.”
Andrew managed to hide his smirk. He no longer got upset about these digs and jibes. He finished his dinner and left his mother still moaning at his father, what he had been doing all day long forgotten. His pace that night on his run was more of a jog, his arms and stomach ached and there was no way he could do any other exercise, but he enjoyed the summer evening.
The level of verbal abuse died down over the course of the week. Andrew didn’t fight back and just kept working and the other two just got bored. The second day had been the worst in terms of aching muscles but they had eased over the remaining days. On the Friday night Archie was waiting in the yard as usual.
“Here you go. Are you able to work next week?”
Andrew shook his head.
“Tony has me working at the shop for the next two weeks, same as here, covering a holiday.”
“Shit. You there tomorrow?”
“I’ll come and talk to him tonight, see if I can work something out.”
As Andrew headed home he realised that what he wanted to do was irrelevant as far as Archie was concerned. He told Tony the conversation the following morning.
“Things are pretty quiet. If I wasn’t on the crutches then I would be alright on my own. What do you want to do?”
“You are both paying the same and there is no work in the darkroom, or very little, is there?”
“Everybody is changing to colour film. Let’s leave that for a moment. If I am stocked up then I should be okay all day. I will put the ‘back in 5’ card up when I need to pee. I suggested we split the week. Here Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and he got Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Greedy bastard wanted all week but agreed to that. He looked ahead and can use you for the next month. So two weeks of on and off and then two weeks with him. You talked about going on holiday, no news?”
“Seems to be quiet, money’s tight. I should be okay.”
“Archie is coming in later so you can confirm. As you can imagine there was a lot of chat last night about our situation. Kenny was charging us a fiver a roll for our special films and was doing at least 10 rolls every two weeks. When we stopped and added it up the bastard was making more than a grand off us. So a few of us are going to try and do some colour developing. It was helpful that the guy writing the letter was so honest, telling us that he hadn’t managed a whole roll. It will keep our expectations down.”
“Let me know how it goes. If you can make it work then maybe you can teach me. Right now I just drop mine off at Boots and get them back five days later.”
“Yeah, but what we are shooting can’t be processed through Boots, can it?”
Andrew smiled in turn.
The following two weeks were shit. The two Daves had been mouthy with Andrew but had calmed down over the week he had worked with them. When Andrew turned up on the Monday morning the lead man on the crew, Grant, took an instant dislike to him. Nothing he did was good enough, he was called ‘a pointless cunt’ the entire time, and even the fact that he was only there three days was another mark against him. The stupidest thing that Andrew did was confess that he supported Celtic. Now they were a football team in Glasgow and he had never been to a match there in his life. He had never been to any football match in fact. He supported them because they were the most successful team in the country during the first half of the 1970s. He was a classic schoolboy bandwagon fan, no big deal. Grant was a Hearts season ticket holder and when Andrew naively announced he supported Celtic he thought for a second Grant was going to punch him. It was also his first exposure to religious bigotry. He was upgraded from ‘pointless cunt’ to ‘Fenian cunt’, which lost some of its vitriolic impact when he had to ask what a Fenian was. Johnny, the other guy on the crew, explained when Grant was taking a dump.
“Fenians are Catholics and all Celtic supporters are Catholics.”
“Er, I am not a Catholic, we don’t go to church much but it is to the Church of Scotland.”
“Why the fuck are you supporting Celtic?”
“They won the league all the time. What does it matter?”
Johnny laughed, mirthlessly.
“To a lot of people it is hugely important. Your old man not tell you any of this?”
Andrew shook his head.
“He has no interest in football, any sport come to think of it.”
“For a lot of guys it is passed down from father to son. Grant’s dad is worse than him.”
The second three days as part of the crew were as bad as the first. But he survived it. It was not fun in the slightest and he hardly spoke as anything he said just aggravated Grant. He took his money from Archie and escaped at the end of each day.
The intervening time at the camera shop was an oasis of peace and quiet in comparison. Tony played records all day, keeping the player just out sight in the back of the shop. It wasn’t as easy to hear as when Andrew was working in the darkroom but it was a welcome change to the alternate days. It was the second Tuesday when Tony talked to him about his first attempt at colour film developing.
“That bloke in the magazine knew what he was talking about.”
“What do you mean?”
“Seems impossible. The actual chemical processing is four stages rather than just three but it is the bloody temperature thing that is the fucking pain. Even with someone else trying to keep the chemicals at the right temperature it was impossible. Just finding an accurate thermometer was a miracle.”
Tony shook his head.
“I have been in the business for 10 years, more. I have not met one serious amateur that has made this work. Because you don’t have to be a photographer. It is.”
“What is it? Chemistry? Chemical Engineering? Those big photo processing plants are not run by photographers, it is all engineering. Anyway, my first two attempts were crap. Two other guys have tried it as well, although they tried on their own, and had no luck. It was just a waste of film.”
Andrew got to the end of his second week with Grant and Johnny. He had survived, and that was all he could say about it. Archie had already told him that he would be with the third moving crew for the next two weeks. He considered not carrying on but the money was ticking up. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the money but it was important to him. By the end of the summer he would have earned £225 or thereabouts. So he had agreed to work two more weeks, full time, with the third crew, Al and Pete.
The sense of disconnect and neglect at home had grown over the summer. He had been out the house working five weeks out of the last six and his parents seemed unconcerned. Even more confusingly, they seemed unaware. What Andrew had not realised was that he was up and away before his mother awoke when he was working with the movers and he left after she did when he was at the camera shop. He knew to stay out of his mother’s way in the morning as she was always rushing around. He didn’t realise that she didn’t know that her son was either already away or about to leave, she was in her own little world. His father, as a teacher, also had the summer off but Andrew was always away before he ever rose. Andrew fell through the cracks of his mother’s morning rush and his father’s indifference. And the last two weeks helping the removals men were more of the same. Al and Pete were more like the two Daves, they gave him a dose of shit on the first morning but after three weeks working Andrew knew more. Less had to be explained to him, he got more things right the first time, and even just three weeks of constantly lugging boxes and furniture around had made him stronger. That he was a scrawny 12 year old who went to private school was mocked but Andrew got on with the job and they let him be before the end of the first day.
Andrew had also learned to say very little. He gave nothing away as anything he said seemed to be turned into ammo. When Pete asked what team he supported he said he was a rugby fan and didn’t follow football. This got him 20 seconds of shit but was then dropped, as opposed to two weeks of abuse. He was learning. What had pleasantly surprised Andrew had been that his exercises were easier. He had done 10 push-ups easily at the weekend together with 20 sit-ups. And he probably could have done more if he pushed himself. And so the final two weeks of his five helping Archie went by with little incident. He worked hard all day, kept to himself and took his money at the end of the night. Archie even thanked him at the end.
“Here is your last day’s pay. Al tells me you were a good man all week. Other than the very heaviest stuff you pulled your weight. I thought you would last one day so you did alright kid. Give me a call next summer, I always need extra bodies to cover the holidays.”
“I will do, thanks.”
Andrew kept it short and sweet. He had no idea if he wanted to do this next summer, but there was a couple of hundred quid in his drawer at home so there was no harm in being polite. When he got to the camera shop Tony was in a foul mood, and it was pretty easy to understand why.
“I tried again, several times. Two more times last night. We all kept off the sauce and four of us worked on it together, which is hardly a solution anyway.”
Tony shook his head, his face a picture of frustration.
“We just can’t get it to work. I don’t know what we are doing wrong. We thought Kenny was being a greedy bastard charging us a fiver but maybe he was letting us off light. Most of us have more than 10 rolls of film waiting to be developed.”
Andrew pondered how to ask the question.
“There must be lots of photographers across the country taking the same kind of pictures. Are most of them doing the same thing as you were with Kenny?”
Tony looked at him, his eyes narrowing in thought.
“I have no idea. I suspect a lot are, but some of them must have mastered this bastard process. Anyway, summer’s almost over. Are you still going to work on a Saturday during the school year?”
“I would like to.”
“Good. I doubt there will be any work after school but I can do with the help at the weekend.”
“When do you get the cast off?”
“This is the third cast. The bone is not healing well. When I was at the hospital the last time they were talking about having to break it again so that it will heal properly. Scared the crap out of me.”
“Yeah, exactly. This is on for three more weeks and then they are going to check again. If they have to break it then I will be on crutches ‘til Christmas. If it is starting to get better then I will be down to one crutch for a couple of weeks and then a stick. I will look like some old geezer. Stop smirking you little shit.”
Andrew goofed around the last week of his holidays, helped by the fact his father had returned to his school in preparation for the new school year. But it was a week of doing very little, hanging out with Mike and Charlie, playing a bit of footie, just being a normal kid. Mike, being a year older and already in high school, tried to lord it over the other two. Andrew had always found him to be tiresome but had put up with it, everyone playing their assigned roles. But after two weeks of Grant, and to a lesser extent the other men he had worked with, he just tuned out Mike’s posturing. A couple of times he just cycled off, leaving the pair of them. Even three months ago such behaviour would have been unthinkable. He wasn’t looking forward to school, he wasn’t dreading it either, rather it was just something that was there. It was not much of a challenge academically but the social interactions, the time in the playground at lunch and break, they were more problematic. Andrew idly wondered if he would cope better after a summer of working. He didn’t know.
As Heriot’s was a private school they had a school uniform so Andrew met his mother in the city centre after she finished work and was bought a new blazer and several new shirts. He had not shown any sign of a growth spurt yet so the trousers and shoes would last another term at least. It was a rare time when he spent time on his own with his mother. Over the summer Andrew had figured out his father, the lack of relationship, the preference for Rowan. But he was no further forward with his mother. She was the driving force behind his attending private school but often it seemed like it was for her own benefit as much as his. Andrew found himself silently observing her, something he was doing in ever more situations, and there was a lot of snobbery in his mother. He didn’t know if it was a good thing or bad thing, it just was. But he survived the evening without incident and was ready for the new school year.
George Heriot’s covered all 13 years of school education so although Andrew was moving to the senior school, physically he was going to the same campus, just the classrooms differed. So there were no first day jitters. As with all children moving to high school, the biggest difference was moving between classrooms for the different subjects rather than being in the same classroom with one teacher all day. The one thing that was different was that Andrew stopped trying so hard, trying to fit in, putting up with shit just to hang out with the ‘cool kids’. He didn’t even realise that he took a step back, withdrew from contact. All the posturing, the snide remarks, even the threats from 12 year olds, they just didn’t faze him anymore. The previous term he had endured it. Now when some mouthy guy in his year or the year above was posturing Andrew thought about Grant and had to stop himself laughing. After working for two weeks with him and five weeks in total with older working class men, all this stuff was just moronic. There was no physical bullying or hassling at Heriot’s. It was a collection of middle-class kids whose parents were overwhelmingly professionals. So for the first time in his life Andrew stood up to some of the people in his class and his year. He didn’t make a fuss but he was no longer a doormat. Things had changed.
He thought about it a lot when he was out running. He ran most days except Saturday when he was working. Spending five weeks working with the removal men had been tough, both mentally and physically but he had learned a lot. As part of a team of three there was nowhere to hide, and so he had toughened up. He hadn’t got into any kind of altercation but he had definitely taken more than his share of shit.
One consequence of this new attitude was that he spent more time alone. He still hung out with Charlie some of the time but Mike was getting to be a bore, and he avoided him more and more. It was the same at school, he drifted away from the group of guys in his class that he used to hang out with. Now he was on the fringes of the group and had often been picked on so it was not much of a loss. It was at this time that he discovered the school library and so several days each week he would finish his lunch and then spend the last 30 minutes sitting reading quietly. John Cuttington had given Andrew several books over the last couple of years from the classic action adventure authors. Andrew had books by Alastair McLean, Jack Higgins, Robert Ludlum and the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. All perfect for a 12 year old boy, good guys and bad guys with the good guys ultimately prevailing. This was his refuge for the first month of term.
Classes for Andrew were straightforward, he found most subjects easy. But his thoughts of three months earlier of making more of an effort in class? They had faded away, he was happy to hide in class. At the end of primary school he had selected Latin as his language, for reasons that already were vague and fuzzy. Within a month he was regretting this choice but it was too late to change. Tony had rudimentary French and it had helped with some of the tourists in the shop over the summer. Andrew saw the practical benefit but he had already selected Latin. It wasn’t yet October and he was silently berating himself. The rest of his classes were, for the most part, interesting. The one that changed the year for him was Chemistry. His teacher was an émigré South African with a strong accent who was obsessed with safety. Maybe all 1st year Chemistry teachers are the same but Mr. Edwards was relentless and vigilant. So Andrew learned about safety precautions, ventilation, eye protection, and also gloves at times. Even while he was in the class Andrew was thinking about the work in the darkroom. He had seen the warning labels on the bottles of the various chemicals but it was only now that he realised their import. The darkroom had an extractor fan which Andrew never used because it rattled over the music he had been listening to. In the third week of term they started the first experiments and got to use the equipment, finally. It was a nothing experiment, it was more to teach the scientific method than anything else. But one of the parts was to check temperatures. You heated a liquid to a certain temperature but not higher. And right there in his first year chemistry classroom were lots of scientific thermometers. Once the experiment was over Andrew was washing the equipment and left the thermometer in a glass jar while he washed the other equipment. When he went to grab it he yanked his hand away, the water was very hot. Looking down at the scale he saw that the temperature was nearly 50°, well in excess of what was needed for colour film developing. He finished packing up but his mind was elsewhere.
The insanely tight temperature range for the chemicals seemed to be the biggest issue with developing colour film. He had just, inadvertently, shown himself that hot water from the tap was sufficiently hot for the process. Tony had said he had bought a thermometer so what was the problem? Something to ask about on Saturday.
“Can I talk to you about the colour film developing?”
“Sure. Make my day more miserable why don’t you. What?”
“You said you had bought a thermometer, yes?”
“Aye, for all the good it did me.”
“Can I see it please?”
“Sure, it is in one of the drawers in the darkroom.”
Andrew retrieved the thermometer which although more basic than the one he had used at school, was still sufficiently accurate to measure the temperature needed for the developing.