LAST week, an old memory from my childhood came thundering back into my mind for the first time in years.

It’s weird when a memory, one that’s been sitting tucked away in a filing cabinet in some dark and forgotten corner of your brain, just resurfaces seemingly out of nowhere.

They say that smells can trigger old memories like this, that they cause synapses or whatever to flare up and old connections are re-ignited, firing up everything in your brain that is associated with that certain smell. I think it was the smell of a guy sitting across from me on the train. He was rolling a fag, the smell of his tobacco or the metal of the tin. Not the smell of the actual guy, obviously.

I’ve been struggling with a wee bit of writer’s block recently, and this, maybe mixed with the smell of the tobacco, instantly sent me back to being in Primary 1 and to a day I experienced a very different form of writer’s block.

I was sitting in the hard plastic chair holding one of my granda’s old tobacco tins that was filled with my ‘words’. Wee laminated inch-long scraps of paper with nouns and verbs written on them.

‘Use your words to make a sentence,’ my teacher instructed me. I emptied them all out in front of me and looked on, devoid of inspiration. In this moment, I was foreshadowing my future perhaps. Fast forward twenty odd years later and I’m regularly sitting on a different hard plastic seat, only this time the words are on a screen and I’m having to organise them not just into a sentence but a whole novel. And feeling every bit as frustrated as I did back then.

I also started to remember other things from my schooldays which perhaps were little nods to my future as a writer. Memories like when we had to write our ‘news’ every Monday morning. It had to be roughly an a4 page worth of stuff that we’d been up to that weekend. I’d always struggle to fill the page, being an incredibly boring wee guy. Could I write enough about the umpteenth consecutive weekend I’d spent either reading, playing football manager or taking the dug for a walk? Not enough to fill a page anyway, maybe half a page at most. So I’d write, in the biggest handwriting you’ve ever seen from a small child, AND THAT IS THE END OF MY NEWS.

After the second week of trying to exploit this loophole I’d discovered, the teacher cottoned on and told me to pack it in. One week, all I’d done that weekend was go to a cash and carry with my granda. So I wrote that and filled the rest of the page with incredibly detailed drawing of said cash and carry – car park, trollies, customers, everything. It’s crossed my mind more times than I care to admit to hand in my novel, massively under word count but in a huge font size or to just fill the blank pages with drawings.

I was also reminded of the brief period where ‘news’ was taken off the morning routine and a new segment was added to the Monday morning assembly, imaginatively called ‘news.’

‘I’d like to ask some of you to come up and share your news with the rest of the school,’ the head teacher addressed us on the debut of the new and improved news roundup. I looked around, expecting to a sea of raised hands, weans desperate to brag about what shenanigans they’d been up to. There were few takers. I was feeling bold so fired my hand up, a small smattering of others followed.

I was invited up and stood, hands behind my back, chest puffed out at the microphone ready to deliver my exciting news to a captive audience. Because that weekend, I had been up to something I could eulogise about.

‘I got a goldfish,’ I said, loudly. I was about to continue when the head teacher interjected.

‘Oh, excellent, Christopher. What did you call it? What’s the tank like?’ I was five years old and, in my head, I was now on a Saturday night primetime chat show.

‘Well, Mr. Boyd,’ I laughed. ‘His name is…’ I looked out to the crowd, who had of course only came to see me, ready to deliver this fantastic news. ‘… Stephen.’

The assembly hall burst out laughing.

‘A goldfish called Stephen,’ said Mr. Boyd, ‘that’s just great. Thanks, Christopher.’ He patted my back and sent me back to sit down with the rest of the school. My big debut and I had gotten some big laughs. What a thrill.

So when it was time for news next week, I got up and did the exact same routine again. This time the laughter quickly died away and Mr. Boyd didn’t laugh as hard as last time. When it got to the fourth consecutive week of me telling the same story, the laughs had completely stopped, and I was actively discouraged by my teacher not to go up. They never got a sniff of news off me ever again.