Please note: this piece contains strong language


The social worker’s name was Teresa. She had glasses, short blonde hair. She looked like a teacher except she was younger.

She’d be there every second Tuesday when me and Bex got hame fae school.

Me, Bex and Sarah would be on the sofa. Mam and Teresa would be at the table, talking, drinking coffee.

Aye, athing’s fine, said Mam. Apart fae this ane and his cursin and swearin.

Mam said it like it was just something funny but, Teresa didn’t take it that way.

Oh, she stood up. Andrew, have you been using bad language? She looked at Mam – Can you take the girls into the other room?

Bex and Sarah got off the sofa, went straight to the bedroom. I looked at my hands. Teresa sat down next to me, knees together.

Would you like to tell me some of these words you’ve been using?

I kept my head down. No, I said.

Why not? If you can say them in front of your mum, why not in front of me?

Dunno. I was shaking a bit. The words were going through my head. I bit my lip, clasped my hands.

Well, she said – If you won’t tell me these words you must be ashamed of them don’t you think?

I didn’t answer.

Tell you what, since you’re too ashamed to tell me these words, what if I give you a piece of paper? You can write a list of all the bad words you know. She got up, went to her briefcase.

Oh, that’s okay, said Mam. We’ve got plenty paper. And he’s got his pencils. Haven’t you?

I didn’t answer.

Well, time’s nearly up, said Teresa. You will write this list for me, won’t you Andrew? I can read it next time I visit. Then we can talk about it. That’s all I’m here for. Just to talk and help you. But remember, we need a list of all the bad words you know. All of them. Okay?


After supper Mam tore a few sheets out her notepad. I sat at the table, pencil in hand. I wrote slowly. My letters were big and clumsy. Some of the words I’d never seen written down but, some I’d seen on the toilet walls at school. I wrote the first ones that came to mind – shit, piss, bloody, bugger. I stopped. I couldn’t write the worst ones. Teresa would be shocked. I read the ones I’d done then wrote bastard, bum, willy.

Mam, I dunno how tae spell some ae them.

She looked up fae the telly. Fitch anes?

How d’ye spell arse? Is ass and arse the same word?

Uncle Robbie laughed, got the big red dictionary down off the shelf.

There ye go laddie, jist like hamework eh.

I opened the dictionary. The words were tiny. There were millions of them. I would never find the ones I needed. I looked over at Mam and Uncle Robbie then back at my sheet.

I’d never fill the sheet unless I wrote down everything. I wrote arse, ass, shite, pish, hell, fucking hell, fuck. I closed the dictionary. I didn’t know whether to spell c*** with a K or C, so I wrote it both ways. I wrote prick, c***, fud, fanny. I stopped worrying about the spelling. Ye could tell fit each word sounded like. I wrote bloody bastard, fucking shit, bloody hell . . . my page was nearly full. I couldn’t think of anymore. I didn’t want to write God, Jesus or Christ coz Dad had given me a row for saying Jesus in his house one Sunday. Every second Saturday he’d drive through to take me and my sisters to his house for the weekend. He took us to church on the Sunday, we had to say grace before dinner.

What if Dad saw the list?

I’d never said any of the other words in front of him, felt a bit sick at the thought but, God, Jesus and Christ were the only ones he’d told me never to use because they were offensive to God.

I thought to myself, how come fuck and c*** are the worst ones instead of God and Jesus when fuck and c*** are just dirty words that dinna mean anything. I asked Mam and that’s what she said – They’re jist dirty words, they dinna mean anything.



Is Dad gona see this list?

Dinna be daft.

Uncle Robbie laughed,

No, I don’t think that’d be a good idea.

I wrote God, Jesus, Christ then felt a bit guilty.

I read the ones I’d done, realised I’d missed out bitch. I realised I should’ve done it alphabetically. I turned the sheet over, wrote arse, ass, then stopped and thought – any more beginning with A? I couldn’t think of any. I wrote bastard, bitch, bloody, cock, c***, dick . . .

I’d missed out bugger.



Can I get another piece of paper?


I’ve missed oot some words.

Gie me a look.

I sat back while she read over the list. She looked at me, shook her head. This’ll be fine.

Aww Mam, it’s good practice for ma writing.

Uncle Robbie looked over –

Gie the loun some paper ye aul skinflint.

She tore some more sheets out her notepad.

I wrote ‘til bedtime. When I went through Bex was asleep. I put the lists under my pillow, got into bed.

The next night after supper I went out. The lists were in my jacket pocket. It was cold and windy. There was nobody about. I wandered around the caravan site kicking stones, jumping over pot holes. I put a list on the ground. It blew away. I ran and caught it, put a stone on top of it. I went all around the caravan site putting lists where I thought they’d be seen. I imagined folk reading them and laughed. They would be shocked. They wouldn’t know who’d done it.

childhood rebellion, swearing