INTERVIEW: Aidan Martin on growing up in Livingston and thoughts about how to change things for the better (Part Two)

In the first part of our interview with Aidan Martin, author of the incredible memoir, Euphoric Recall, he spoke about becoming a published writer with no experience behind him and what he’s going to do next. 

In this second part, he shares more about growing up in Livingston and this thoughts about how to create a better future, and what changes we need to make in society to enable that to happen. 

…the older you got, as a lad, the more violent it became…

There was nothing to do in Livingston when I was growing up. The town was only 20 years old when I was born in 1986, it was remote and isolated. There was no football team, no big shopping centre, if you wanted to go to a restaurant you had to go through to Edinburgh. There was only one chippy in the whole town and maybe one or two hairdressers.

‘It’s changed a lot since back then. 

‘There were pros and cons to growing up here. I focused a lot on the cons in the book because it was part of my experience with the violence and social deprivation. But there were good things about living there, people could pick not only the street they wanted to live on, but the house, because the council wanted people to come and live here. So you’d end up with a lot of families living next to each other, uncles, aunties, grannies and neighbours becoming part of that family as well. I wish I’d spent more time talking about that in my book, and I will in future books. 

‘But that doesn’t change the fact there was still nothing to do. And it was still very territorial, not too different from what you get in The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong. You could end up getting stabbed to death for standing on the wrong corner.

‘We grew up with that as the social norm. There would be guys in the community notorious for petrol-bombing houses or well-known rapists…it was such an extreme way to live. 

‘I can only talk from a male perspective, and it was probably the same all over, but back then you had to all dress a certain way and look a certain way. You had to have the right jeans, Rockports, hoodies, chains, the hair, and a gold earring – but if you wore it in the right ear that meant you were soft or gay. 

‘It was the most bizarre way to grow up. 

‘In high school, me and my best friend both had NHS braces to fix our teeth but we snapped them because you’d get beat up at school for having them. 

‘There was this idea that if you did anything to improve yourself or move away from what everyone else was doing, it was a threat. The older you got, as a lad, the more violent it became.’

…there’s more to life than fighting and aw that…

‘On the one hand things have gotten better since then, but on the other they’ve gotten worse.

‘Mental health issues are much worse, they’re through the roof. There’s still massive problems with deprivation and addiction.

‘But there’s more to do now, more culture. There’s musicians, artists and writers: people doing all these things that make you see there’s more to life than fighting and aw that. 

‘We don’t have any real industry for people. We eradicated a lot of the industries that gave people a sense of social cohesion and community and that was replaced with a lot of substances.

‘I think there’s a lot of things that need to be done with ongoing problems, we need access to mental health services, rehabs and therapies to deal with he problems that we have right now. 

Going forward we need something to prevent people getting to that stage. 

‘I think people need to have something to aspire to. They need to have something that makes them feel like they’re worth something. Someone said to me, and I agree, is that the most attractive quality is self esteem. When I’m lacking self esteem, that’s when I want to feed the worst part of me with something that’s not good for me.

‘No-one at my high school noticed that I liked to write. Teachers didn’t spot it, no-one nurtured it. I think the system is wrong, you’re getting force-fed things that you’re just not into rather than getting nurtured for the things that could give you a future. I could have been writing for 15 years by now. I wrote for myself but never with the thought of doing anything with it. 

‘My book came out in October and I’ve already been asked to write articles for psychology journals, all this other stuff, all these people wanting collaborate. It’s taken until now to realise that I’m a writer. Who knew!? I didn’t know that! I only discovered in my 30s because I was writing my pain, and realised I’m quite good at it. That makes me feel more excited than drugs ever did.

…the behaviours that people call toxic masculinity are a reaction to something…

I don’t particularly like the phrase toxic masculinity. I understand where it comes from but I feel like, for a lot of the men who grew up at the same time as me, when we were young lads, we didn’t know any different. It was just survival. What people call “toxic masculinity” was a survival mechanism.

‘Looking at all the lads I grew up with…one of them became a police officer and I’m doing what I’m doing, the rest are all stuck in addiction, in institutions or incarcerated. None of them are bad people. They’ve got good hearts: they’re intelligent, creative and never intended to live this way. A lot of it is being a product of your environment. 

‘I was asked to talk to a young lad, he’s 22, and he was saying all of the same things I’m saying. Him and his pals grew up in the same sort of scheme that I grew up in, there’s not much for them to aspire to, and none of them do anything.

‘There’s social exclusion if you’re not part of the drink/drug culture. That brings a sense of no purpose, no direction, and with it that sense of suicidal tendencies. 

‘What it came down to for this young lad is that he just doesn’t feel good enough inside. He doesn’t feel good enough. For me, that’s the root cause of a lot of mental health problems and addiction: the feeling of not being enough. That no matter how well we do, even if we get to such a level, we’re still striving for a perfection that doesn’t exist. 

‘I don’t even think that’s toxic masculinity. The behaviours that people call toxic masculinity are a reaction to something, and I think it’s a sense of hopelessness, powerlessness and just not feeling good enough.

‘There’s something wrong with the culture. The culture breeds this inferiority complex and this idea that you can only ever get so far.’

You can buy Euphoric Recall from the publisher. Find Part One of this interview here.

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