becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Kevin Murray

When I was in my early 20's I'd just moved from my home town into Edinburgh.  I'd moved away from a bad situation with no choices and lots of negative history into the big city.   I was still a bit withdrawn and caught up in my problems, not really sure what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.  I'm not even sure i was aware I could choose to change.  I found myself in a community art cafe called "The Forest Cafe" in the grassmarket, and it happened to be my birthday.  I was playing a game of chess with this old chap called Jack. He asked me what I'd been doing that day and I told him it was my birthday.  Out of nowhere this guy my age called Blue (his real name was Stuart) appeared and asked me "is it really your birthday today?".  I told him it was and he proceeded to do some weird magic tricks for me using string and bits of paper, and cups.  Just sort of clown magic, but it was honest and really special.  He was volunteering at the cafe and brought me some free cake with a single lit match as a joke candle.  We struck up a very quick and effortless friendship.  Over the next week we shared quite a few rather deep conversations about life, and what it meant to be a young man at this point in history etc.  I told him about my problems and why I'd left my home town.

A few weeks later he invited me to his cottage in the borders.  I stayed for a weekend and when I left I really was a changed person.  At no point during the visit did he say he was going to present me with situations where I would be allowed to experience another life, or ever offer to show me how to change.  We just did playful fun things that gave me the opportunity to explore and change myself, even just for an hour or so.  He taught me to play bongo drums and we made a fire in the woods and played together for a few hours.  He loaned me some of his weird hippy clothes so we could do work in his garden and also forage for food.  We went hunting with bows and arrows and chose "hunter" names for each other, even painting our faces.  Most of it was silly childish stuff, or it seemed so at the time.  What I know now was he was giving me the space and permission to be new people for a while.  I remember very clearly how fresh and new the sensation was of being presented with an activity, and having the choice to create or play a new part of myself inside it.  I have always been a very stubborn person, but because it was all fun and games I didn't resist.

I went home after a few days with new skills, a terrible new haircut and a mind full of possibilities.  I remained friends with him for a year or so, and then we drifted apart but I will always be grateful that he took the time to help me grow.