Damn, has it finished? Two o my favourite TV programmes right now are Casualty and Holby City. I enjoy the dramatic escapism they offer. Unlike ‘Eastenders‘ or other soaps, with those I am not sitting there thinking to myself … “I so know how that feels … and they’ve got it easy!”
You see, with my life, were it the script of a soap it would be rejected by the producers as ‘too implausible‘.
Being surrounded by so many 16-17 year olds right now gets me thinking back to when I was that age, what was it really like? Yes, it is true, everything was in black and white and it was tough having to manage until electricity had been invented but we didn’t have long to wait and then there was the telephone and cars, yes, things were really happening when I was a mid-teen!
But seriously, I am ‘only’ 46. If you, dear reader, are 60+ then you will know that 30 years ago is a blink of the eye. If, as is probably the case, you are under 20, then you have no possible concept of 30 years so I ask, trust me on this one, you will some day look back 30 years and ask yourself … how the fuck did that happen?
When I was 16 it was 1979. The Conservative party had just started what was about to be over a decade of totally screwing the country up and changing the attitude of everyone, for the worse, quite possibly for ever. It was in 1979 that Margaret Thatcher declared that it is each for their own, there is no such thing as society … or words which meant the same thing. It was from 1979 onwards that the ‘chav‘ was created because responsibility towards others was discouraged by the government. It is when those on benefits became scroungers, the lowest of the low. When the working person became expendable and lost their working right to a secure position … but that’s the politics of the time.
What did 1979 mean to me? Well, clearly I could not have known what was in store from the politics, that was just the start of it … no, for me it was exam year at school. We didn’t have GCSE’s then, we had two separate exams depending on how clever we were deemed to be. There was the CSE for the less clever and then the ‘O’ level for those expected to go to college and university. It may have to understand the CSE if we have it explained that the ‘O’ stands for ‘ordinary’. So, if those attaining that qualification are ‘ordinary’ then it stands to reason what those getting CSE’s were, less than ordinary. What a horrible stigma to place on kids at such a terrible period in their life as adolescence. I got a whole bundle of CSE’s and two ‘O’ levels. I had greater ability, that much was certain but, my teachers always said, and they were right, “Could do better, cannot handle the pressure of exams”.
This was another difference too of course, these days, with your GCSE’s you have course work which counts for something. So, if you are one of those who is terrible at exams and just loses everything as soon as someone places paper in front of you, there is still a reasonable chance of getting an acceptable result, you have it so much easier. My course work alone would have got me some ‘O’ levels but, you know what happened to course work in 1979? It was chucked in the bin, it was useless as anything other than a self written text book.
Through those formative years of body change I was bullied horribly. So common was my experience it was everyday life for me. It was never something I could get used to or which got any easier, more it was like the diabetic who injects 4 times a day, it was just something which I had to endure. The bullying did not stop in the playground, it continued at home too. My sister was a horrible elder sister who relished, it seemed to me, nothing more than to see me upset. It was a small blessing when, in 1980, she left home. That just left my dad to continue the home bullying. Oh, he meant it for the best, to toughen me up, to try and make me grow up but, even so, the effect was the same. No one ever asked what the problem was, they probably didn‘t want to know. I remember mum, several years earlier did go up the school to try and resolve it but it was hopeless. ‘We don’t have bullying in this school’. would be the reply and there was no one else to turn to. Of course, this was the 1970’s and bullying was seen as a way to toughen a boy up, make a man of him. If he fought back then he’d finally reach enlightenment. Well, trust me on this one, that may work when a boy has a group of friends as is of average build. It does not apply to the loner who, because of the bullying, cannot relate to other boy and certainly doesn’t trust them. It most certainly doesn’t apply to the boy who is a good 6 inches shorter than all his attackers! Fighting back increased the justification and fun element of the bullies as did crying. All I was able to do, to preserve what sanity I had left, was to quietly take it. This strangely won me some respect amongst the bullies, not enough to stop them but it was just something …
I left school in 1979, a physical end of the school bully period but, in my head, the damage would last for at last the next 15 years or so.
What was I like at 16?
I still played with toys, I would sit at the top of the stairs for hours playing with my cars imagining a secret world of ‘ordinary’ where nothing dramatic happened, where there was no bullying, no pressure, where it was OK to be an ordinary imaginary person leading an ordinary unremarkable life. I had two friends, I had known both all my life. They both had other friends and I remember a tremendous feeling of rejection if they were busy or with someone else. Only one of those friends would last beyond the end of the decade as a close friend and, I am happy to say, I still talk to him to this day. Other friendships developed around this time with friends of friends, with me being part of the group of what must have seemed even back then as, the weirdos. All except one, I never understood why he hung around with us. He was very normal for the late 70’s. Blonde, long hair, around 5′ 11″, fit. He could have been with the other guys yet, he was with us. To be fair, we were drinking pals, it’s what we did. We were way too young of course but we’d still be down the pub every Saturday. As kids we got to know the pubs who had visual impairment when it came to the apparent age of their customers.
I am thinking now, what was going through my head at the time, when I was out with those guys. Certainly there were the gay thoughts, there was most certainly nothing wrong with my sex drive, I was a horny little bugger all right … shame it’d be another 4 years before I would get to enjoy sex with someone else. At 16 I didn’t have the bottle to ask someone out, no way another boy and, remember, none of this stuff that you kids out there have today of no one seemingly caring who you start having sex with at 14! For me, at 16, gay sex would be most definitely illegal for another 5 years. I could be arrested for so much as suggesting it to another boy, and yes, boys were locked up for it, put in the care system. Being gay was NOT an option any other way than in my fantasies. So, leaving the sexual thoughts to one side … I enjoyed those drinking sessions. I remember strong feelings of not belonging, that I simply didn’t have anything interesting to say. Well, back to the sex again, the other lads had been having sex, or so they said, for quite some time. They had opinions of tits and fannies, things I could not share. I sat there, and I smiled and laughed, contributed virtually nothing that I can remember, I have no memory of anything other than the occasional utterance. It was fun but lonely.
At my best friends house I was able to be me, slightly mad but as near to a ‘normal’ teenager as I ever got.
I started work that year as well, on July 2nd. I travelled over 10 miles to work in London from where I lived at that time. Those journeys were mostly alone. Occasionally I’d bash into someone I knew from school and we’d have that awkward chat that people who realise they know nothing about each other have. All made so much worse because, at that age, we really didn’t understand or have enough experience of anything interesting to talk about. Think about this … we had TV with 3 channels, yes 3! Only two of those ever had anything for younger people on. For the latest music we had the BBC doing ‘Top of the Pops’ which, as the name suggests, did chart stuff and it was truly dire as a programme. Just about every artist on the show mimed and most made no attempt to cover the fact. For ‘alternative’ music there was a very late night programme called ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ but this was very late night and was ‘very’ alternative. At the time, punk was alternative and there was also heavy metal, hard rock and a few others, none of them got air time. To hear that sort of thing a person would need to listen to the radio … this is before ‘FM’ even. Yes, it existed and there were shows broadcast in it but what we really had was ‘AM’ through tinny little transistor radios, as they were called which ate batteries. It was all ‘mono’ of course. Only the commercial stations played anything other than chart stuff. Even the illegal pirate radio was hardly cutting edge. It didn’t much matter anyhow. My opinion was something I considered so lowly as to be of no interest to anyone else. Girls liked bands because the boys in them were cute. Boys had to like what other boys liked which generally meant, I chose not to show an interest in the stuff performed by cute boys yet was incapable of showing an interest in the crap many of the boys were listening to. Let’s think who that may have been … Thin Lizzy, Status Quo, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, The Police … to name but a few. There was another dilemma, much of what I liked guys my age didn’t like. Who would not have loved Aerosmith (except just about every other 16 year old boy). Queen were amazing but, no one I worked with would have thought so. I tried mentioning it but it was obvious I was rather weird for liking them. You see, intelligent, university types liked that sort of music. Guys my age at work were obviously not that type of person else we’d be at college and uni so I was stuck with air heads. To dare mention what I really liked I had to seek out older people, not easy at 16 to get intelligent older people to talk and, especially for me who was painfully shy and insecure.
It is totally, 100% fair to say that when I was 16-17 I didn’t have anyone to open up to, anyone with whom I could be myself and relax. I was scared, I knew I knew so little and yet, I was expected to fit in with everyone else and get things right. It was scary doing just about anything because, unlike now when I can just about tell the various likely outcomes of my actions, back then I didn’t have a clue. All I could do was know what I thought my outcome could be and use the very limited tools I had to try and achieve it. More often than not I’d screw it up, look like a total arse and do damage, mainly to myself, it’d take me an age to recover from because, again, I didn’t have the tools to deal with it. Dad, as dads did at this time, expected me to just tough it out and work things out for myself. I don’t know if he never noticed or chose not to notice how much of an emotional mess I was. I think mum may have known something was not right but, if she did, she never said anything as I can recall. As an added disadvantage, it would be another two years, when I was 18, before someone would confess to me at the hospital that I really should have been wearing a hearing aid for most of my life but even then, the NHS only provided one when the hearing loss was equal in both ears. It would not be until my mid 20’s before I’d have the ability hear in both ears restored in the way that the technology of the time was capable of doing.
I had no adult to turn to for advice, to guide me through what must be a difficult time for any teen. That realisation that we just don’t know enough to deal with every situation is dead scary. It’s when many get the advice from someone older, quite often, not amazing advice seeing as they probably don’t know shit either but it’s a start, a burden shared. Bringing it up to 2009 for a moment, maybe that is why have this need to not give up on young guys particularly, because there was no one there for me, I just want to help their passage into adulthood as much as I can. Of one thing I am absolutely certain, it isn’t sexual. Helping others and seeing results is helping that scared little boy from 1979-80. He’s still there within me, he will probably never go away, the memories are too strong and too painful. With age I learnt the tools I needed to deal with life. I come across often as controlling. I’m not, what I am is determined. If I see someone about to screw up I find it near impossible to let them. I don’t want someone else feeling as I still do.
I’m happy enough, most of the time, but life has been a bitch at times. For every amazing event there has been several crap events to more than compensate, to keep my feet firmly planted in this reality which is my life which, were it a soap, would remain, totally implausible.