All Growed Up is Tony Macauley’s third book on his growing up from a twelve year old Paperboy to a mid teens Breadboy and, in this volume, to a University going All Growed Up boy! I have to admit I worried that perhaps a third installment might contrive it a little too far. The opening pages made me wonder had Macauley pushed his growing up off the Portstewart Prom. In the end though I declare All Growed Up my favourite book of the three. The words flew off the eye. I laughed out loud at regular intervals.
What is Macauley’s secret? This is the memoir of a guy who was just a year or two ahead of me at University. He didn’t do anything spectacular and actually if anything he underplays himself. Macauley portrays himself as a sheltered, naive and vulnerable young man coming of age and trying to juggle 1980’s New Romantic fashion, socialism and a Christian faith. Around this he falls in love, gets exposed to Russian literature that is so dark it is almost Nietzschean and all of this in the backdrop of the Troubles.
So, let me ask again, what is his secret. Why is Macauley’s story more interesting than mine. Well actually, why this one is more interesting for me is that I could relate more to his University days than growing up on the Shankhill. The references brought immediate laughter; Christian Unions full charismatics, fundamentalists and Heathers from Portadown, Joyce Huggett’s book on romance but no sex, Morrissey’s protruding tree branch; leg warmers and big scarves!
Underneath the seemingly light surface Macauley reflects on the serious coming of age issues. It would actually be a good how to text book to give to an eighteen year old going off to University even if, after 15 years as a University Chaplain, I would see significant differences between a student now and a student in the early 80s. Macauley deals well with how to take your 18 year old self, with narrow life experience into an intellectual world and start to wrestle with life’s bigger and wider questions in your head, in your soul and in your identity.
He also deals with the death of a grandparent and thus his first experience of loss. Then there is the first serious romance where again Macauley, known as a pretty cool dude in those days, comes across as the insecure partner worried that his girl will run off with a farmer from Broughshane who owns an XR3. The dealing with this girlfriend’s family opens up class differences. This girl, Lesley, is a from much better off family in the mid Ulster countryside and that brings with it all kinds of challenges and learning. That Lesley is now his wife adds to his ability to be honest and brings even more smiles to the faces of those who know them thirty years on
What I love most is Macauley’s openness about his Christian faith. He doesn’t belittle it or knock it in any too cool for Church kind of way. Yet, neither is he frightened to honestly critique it, make fun of it and then apply it to his thinking, love life and vocation. It is as balanced a perspective on evangelical Christianity in Northern Ireland as I have read; it is refreshingly without baggage!
So, I hear you ask, what is the secret? His ability to remember. His ability to laugh at what he remembers no matter how serious the issue and, after that, the ability to somehow not lose the seriousness under the laugh out loud. His ability to make the remembering objective about us all as well as being subjective about one likeable wee fella. Tony Macauley has an original and wonderful way with words, so he has.