It is December in 1991.
I am on my way to East Grinstead.
I’m not a Scientologist.
I am a Mormon.
Both organisations have important buildings in that particular town.
The reason I am heading their is because that is the location of the MTC.
Missionary Training Centre.
I have reached the age of 18 and now it is my duty to go and preach the Gospel.
That is the choice I have made.
Although when you consider that I have been singing this song since I was about four I am not sure how freely I have made the choice…
My mother and father had converted to Mormonism when I was about two years old. It was all I knew. I liked it. Like all religions it has its darker corners and stranger beliefs but, for the most part, it was, well, nice. There was lots of focus on the importance of the family…a core belief of the Mormon church is the idea that the family is an eternal unit; no “’til death we part” for them. There was regular discussion of principles like kindness, love, hope and charity. There were even ample opportunities to put those principles into action.
I went to Church every Sunday.
From 10:30 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon.
Then on Mondays I would spend the evening with my family. The Church had set aside that night for “Family Home Evening” where we were encouraged to share some time reading scriptures, playing games and just being together.
When I turned twelve I spent every Tuesday evening at Church for young mens. This was the Church youth program. Basically the half dozen or so boys in my unit would get together and play football in the hall or non-stop cricket. The girls would be off doing their own thing.
Most Fridays or Saturdays there would be some larger activity at the regional headquarters…in my case this was Dundee. All of the youth from that particular region would gather together for some activity or another…usually culminating in a disco where I could try to get close to whichever girl wasn’t repulsed by me.
Here is the thing though.
Despite all of that I wasn’t sure that I actually…believed.
Mormons are encouraged to gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the Church and its teachings through reading the scriptures and praying to God to confirm the truth of things.
I had done that.
Not to worry…that just meant I needed to pray more sincerely or listen more carefully for the answer.
(Me in the Missionary Training Centre, third row from the front, third from the right)
As my 18th birthday loomed ever closer I filled in the paperwork to become a full time missionary…without really thinking about what that actually meant.
Here is what it means.
Two years away from home.
Living with a series of “companions” who you are only allowed to call by their Church title of “Elder”…not by their second name, not by any nicknames and certainly not by their actual, you know, name.
No contact with home save for Christmas day and mother’s day.
Waking up at 6:30 and going to bed at 10:30.
Knocking on the doors of strangers who are quietly watching television, or eating, or spending time with their family…to try and tell them about God and Jesus and the good news. Every day.
Stopping strangers in the street to do all of the above but without the inconvenience of a door for them to shut in your face.
24 hours a day with that companion.
No “me” time.
The only time you are alone is when you are on the toilet or in the shower.
A suit, white shirt and tie…every day.
For two years.
I knew within about fifteen minutes of meeting my first companion…a Californian called Gavin Grow…that I hated him, hated being on a mission and hated myself for not just packing my bag and heading for home immediately.
I had been sent to England to serve my mission.
My first area was Bury St. Edmunds.
A nice enough little town with lots of very nice people.
I was miserable.
It was two weeks before Christmas and I wanted to be at home with my friends and my family. Instead I was stalking the streets of a town I didn’t know knocking on strangers doors to try and tell them something they didn’t want to hear. It was awful.
The rules of a mission are laid out in a little white book…everything from your clothes to your language is governed by the rules of that little white book. Tucked away in its pages though was a short paragraph that would have a more devastating impact on my ability to cope with the reality of what I had signed up for than anything else…
MUSIC Listen only to music that is consistent with the sacred spirit of your calling. Music should invite the Spirit, help you focus on the work, and direct your thoughts and feelings to the Savior. Do not listen to music that pulls your thoughts away from your work, merely entertains, has romantic lyrics or overtones, or dulls your spiritual sensitivity by its tempo, beat, loudness, lyrics, or intensity.
(Missionary Handbook, p25)
This basically meant you could listen to classical music or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
I was in Hell.
Before I had left on my mission I had invested in a small dictaphone and had asked friends, family and my girlfriend to record messages onto a C90 cassette for me. I used to lie and listen to those familiar voices in bed at night. Over and over again I listened to my dad telling me how much he loved me and how badly he was going to miss me, at the end of his message he had said “So, wherever you are, however tough things might be, remember that your dad loves you and it won’t be long until we are walking down Gorgie Road together again heading to a match. Your dad loves you son.” The tears would start and keep going until sleep took over.
We had people who were interested in what we had to say of course and we would try to spend as much time with them as possible, mainly because we were keen to see them become members of the Church but also because, and this may just have been me, it meant I wasn’t knocking on doors or getting soaked in the rain.
One of the families we were teaching about the Church lived on some housing estate in a rough part of town. I can remember sitting in their living room when a local popped over to ask if anyone needed anything next time he went shopping. A long list of desired items was shouted out…everything from clothes to cleaning products. “That’s very nice of him” I had said. Loud laughter greeted that and it was explained to me that he was a shoplifter. Like Twiggy in the Royle Family.
That family fed us once a week.
It was the highlight of the week.
My then girlfriend had sent me a letter telling me that there was to be a television show celebrating the 30th anniversary of Amnesty International…Morrissey was to be one of the guests and he would be performing a new single. I was in agony as I read about this. There are no televisions in a Mormon missionary flat. I had to find a way to see this.
Through sub-rosa messages I managed to ensure that our next appointment for dinner would coincide with the Amnesty show. The family had promised that the television would be on ready for me to see Morrissey. They were true to their word, and so it came to pass that shortly after Christmas of 1991 I was hunched in front of the television in the home of a family of strangers with a dictaphone recording Morrissey performing “We Hate it When our Friends Become Successful”.
It was bliss.
Three minutes of the life I had left behind.
Music that directed my thoughts and feelings away from my mission and back to my family, my friends and the girl I was in love with.
Music that had certain romantic over and under tones.
Music with intensity.
Music that was loud.
Elder Grow was not happy.
I’ll go further…he was unhappy.
I didn’t care.
I hadn’t felt anything since I had arrived.
Other than cold…and achingly lonely.
I was a poor, freezingly cold soul.
But now I felt something else, something that made me feel, Heavens, happy.
It was magnificent.
Same as it ever was.
Music is the thing that will always, always, help me to feel.
I wonder whatever happened to Gavin Grow?