Today is the 22nd, so it’s one month until my birthday and 13 months until my 30th. Which I am looking forward to. And which people think is very odd. Apparently you shouldn’t look forward to turning 30, but I don’t see the point in dreading it. It’s an inevitability and it’s not as if I can stop it. I’ve never felt my age. When I was 16 I wasn’t hanging out in the park drinking booze from a bottle hidden in the bag whilst sitting on the tyre swing over the bark flooring. (How was that bark meant to be good to fall on? It got mouldy, it gave you splinters, it got stuck in your tights, it was rubbish, although granted better than falling on concrete. Ok, I’ll just carry on now…) At 16 I was in at least 6 choirs including Brackley Jubilee Choir and Bicester Choral and Operatic Society and I brought the average age of singers down to about 40ish. I went on holidays with my Mum’s Morris team, Owlswick Morris. They were great fun and yes, I am that cool, I’m a Morris baby and proud of it.
When I was about 18 I did do something a teenager is meant to do, I went to Gatecrasher Summer Sound System – it was an all night club with various tents pitched on Turweston Aerodrome. My Dad’s friend was running the security for the event and popped by to see if any of his kids would like to go, so my sister and I each said “Yes please!” and found ourselves being walking through the security office with 4 free passes. I took my friends Ben, Chris and Liam and we had a great time. The main things I remember are wearing combat trousers, a black vest top with a dragon on, my hair in two messy buns (yes, I was heavily influenced by the style of All Saints, I’m not going to apologise for that, it could have been worse) drinking Smirnoff Ice from plastic bottles, blue, pink and purple lights in the Happy Hardcore tent, water dripping on us from the ceiling from the condensation, a pretty rugby boy snogging me and walking home at 6 in the morning with the boys (probably mostly Ben and Liam) nicking the signs from the car park and throwing them in the hedge. If you were one of those people in 2002 who couldn’t find their car that quiet Sunday morning then I apologise, but it was really funny at the time.
I got home, got in the bath, slept in the bath for about twenty minutes and then got up to go to work for 7am at Burger King on Juntcion 10 of the M40. Sunday mornings were generally quite peaceful, we would open an hour later than the rest of the week, which meant more time for prep (chopping tomatoes, writing food labels and switching on machines). It was also good to have that extra hour to try and recover – not only had I been out all night, but I had worked 7-3 the day before and been to the cinema with my Dad in the afternoon. I wasn’t hung over, but I was shattered, so it’s good that we got an unlimited supply of fizzy drinks.
Sunday early shifts at BK (what the cool kids called it) were also good fun because you only normally had two people on at 7 and it tended to be me and my younger brother Richard. Others would want Radio 1 on in the morning, but Richard liked to have Classic FM, although peer pressure made us change the channel once more people got in. On that Sunday I wasn’t really keen on working, 20 minutes sleep in a bath in 24 hours isn’t the most restful and, as the shift manager, I was going to have to do the first hour on the tills whilst Richard made the food and whistled along to the radio. I’m not going to pretend it was a hard situation, I’d put myself in that position but as the day wore on, very slowly indeed, I started to recognise some of the people I was serving, mainly the ones with dayglo face paint and a weary look in their eyes. Some of them started to recognise me a little too and would give a respectful nod and grin after ordering their food and asking ‘Were you at…?’ I felt strangely proud that I’d been quite irresponsible and turned up very unfit for work, and yet managed to work the full shift without being sick. It was as if I’d become an adult and a teenager in one night.
At university I wasn’t the best typical student because I stopped drinking. For two years. The first two years of my degree.
Now you tell people that you don’t drink and automatically they think that you are either:
i) a freak or
ii) and alcoholic.
I can’t claim not to be the former (partially because I knew how to use former and latter when I was 8) I’ve never fully felt like I’ve fitted in anywhere, I’ve never really done all that was expected for my age, gender, locality or anything, but I can certainly state that I am not, and having lived with one and tried to support him I am never likely to be an alcoholic.
There were two main reasons for giving up alcohol:
i) growing up as a Morris baby
ii) the Marty McFly effect.
I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this before, and to be honest, I really can’t be bothered to scan my previous posts, internet through a dongle is sketchy, so I’ll just crack on. When you are three and your mother joins a Morris team you find yourself amongst a wonderful aray of characters. Well, at least I did. I was dressed up in whites, bells and an orange and yellow baldrick and sent off around the crowd to sell badges. I went to ceilidhs, ales and Morris in the Forest. We went to Scarborough, where I believe the building we were in set on fire. We went to Towersey Village Festival, which I loved and have been to most years since I turned 16. We went to France, Hungary, Ireland (where I developed my first crush, but that’s for another day) and Appletreewick. There were Mummer’s Plays, dances, songs, tunes, laughter, interesting scrap books and pubs. Lots of pubs. When I was in primary school I had probably been in more pubs up and down the country than most of the teachers combined. Morris dancers do it because they enjoy the dancing but they enjoy the socialising in the pub afterwards even more. I got used to the smell of ales and ciders, but I could never get used to the taste. I asked Mum if I could have a drink of her lemonade once when I was about 10 and she gave me it – Gin and tonic – I spat it out. Can’t drink gin now unless it’s sloe gin with lemonade. I think being in so many pubs just made me a bit immune to wanting to drink. I saw other people enyoing it but always felt like it wasn’t really my thing. I never found a drink I like the taste of, but could just about stomach vodka if it was hidden away in something like Coke. Which brings me to point two, the Marty McFly effect….
On my 19th birthday (oh, that’s almost 10 years ago) we didn’t have a lot of options of places to go to celebrate. There were the 13 or so pubs in Brackley or The Sound Exchange in Banbury. We opted for The Sound Exchange as it was slightly more exotic and had a Wetherspoons below it.
We began in the Wetherspoons with a few pitchers of cocktails – I could drink them because the alcohol taste was disguised – and the pitchers, as now, were stupidly cheap and so I think I had about a pint and a half. I managed to avoid the tradition that had developed amongst our circle of friends which invloved everyone putting in a pound and then buying the birthday person as many shots as they can. Plus a dirty pint. Can’t do shots, they make me go all Hulk. And vomit. It’s not what I want from a birthday.
So after spending some time in the pub and realising we’d not eaten, my friend Clare and I thought it would be a really good idea to get a KFC and head into the club. Popcorn chicken had been invented and was both quick to eat and easy to hide in a handbag.
The Sound Exchange had a policy of £10 entry ffor all you could drink, you just had to show your hand stamp or give back your glass or something like that. I don’t remember the full details, I was not a big drinker and I’d already had all those cocktails. I do remember, however, that the floor was dank and sticky, one bar was to the left as you went through the doors with circular mirrors on them, that there were booths with zebra print material against dark red walls. There was an area of dancefloor with metal wavy fences around it and a small platform that very brave, or very drunk, people could dance on. I remember that the bathroom was where people talked very loudly in the stalls because the music was loud in the club and everyone knows you can’t hear a conversation through the toilet door. I remember Jessica laughing because she’d laddered her tights and my eyeliner was smudged. I remember the group of us, Clare, Amy, Jess, Fizz, chatting in those toilets about how great we thought each of the others were. I remember thinking I was a little bit drunk and perhaps I should have a coke on it’s own after each vodka and coke. A good plan. Yes, that’s what I’d do. So I did.
So why the Marty McFly effect? Well, do you remember in Back to the Future Marty is doing really well until someone calls him chicken? I was doing really well with my one drink on, one drink off plan until Jessica picked up my drink and realised there was no vodka. She called me a wuss. I shouldn’t have been bothered by that, but I was 19 now and had not been a proper teenager and so couldn’t be called a wuss and anyway it was my birthday why not…
And so by the time we stumbled into the taxi for the 12 mile drive home I had consumed that evening a box of popcorn chicken, some chips, a pint and a half of cocktails and 15 vodkas. Frankly, looking back, I’m surprised and a little impressed that I wasn’t getting my stomach pumped, but insteas I was in the back right hand seat of a taxi that insisted on hitting every pothole on the road whilst driving on the right for most of the journey.
Nine miles in I started to feel a bit queasy. I wound down the window. Clare and Jess were chatting to the driver. He asked if I was ok as I started vommiting out of the car window. “She’s fine, she’s getting some air!” Clare or Jess said. “She better not be being sick.” “No, no of course not.” I think we dropped Clare off first, then I gave directions to my house, but got out 2 houses early so that he wouldn’t know where I lived. Safety conscious at all times.
When I got home, I was sick in the downstairs loo. I couldn’t get upstairs, they kept moving too much, so I slept on the sofa until…. 7 am when I had to get up to go to work at Burger King and I found a piece of popcorn chicken in my hair. That’s right, I sounded like a gross out teen movie and I had another shift, 3 years after I started working there. Alan the manager took one look at me and banished me to the kitchen. It wasn’t my best day, I will admit. I was a bit ill. And for ill, please read ‘was sick in the bins twice (but it’s ok I wans’t in the kitchen and that Burger King has since burned down, completely unrelated incident)’. At the end of the shift Alan presented my with a card and box of Roses (bought from the site shop) and told me he’d never seen anyone come in to work in such a state and make it through the day. I’ll admit a little bit of pride there, but also I had poisoned myself against the only alcohol I could really drink. Even ten years later I can’t smell or taste vodka without wanting to hurl.
So my first two years at university were spent sober. If I could drive I would have been a great designated driver. I enjoyed being there and had some great friends and flatmates. But as I have disccussed before the 20s haven’t been the best for me. Why not be optimistic about what is coming in my 30s? Soon I’ll be inheriting some money, not an enormous lifechanging amount, but enough to allow me to travel for a little while, pay off some debts and get myself settled somewhere.
In my 30s I am going to be a parent. I may not have my own biological children but I would like to start fostering at some point in the next ten years and luckily my job, once I’m back in England, is one that will allow me to do that. I am going to move back to England. I am going to visit my friends in Australia and go to some music festivals there. I am going to go to Broadway, the Appalacian Mountians and New Orleans. I am going to make sure that I make myself happy and don’t keep falling into patterns and relationships that depress me because being depressed is a waste of my life.
I’ve been doubting whether I should be here recently, in Tanzania, in teaching, but I have to accept that I’m never going to fully enjoy a job whilst I’m doing it. Burger King has given me some entertaining memories, but was mindnumbing at times. The cinema was brilliant for the people I worked with and the free tickets, but ruined a good many films for me (seeing the ending 19 times without seeing the rest sucks, frankly). The arts centre was amazing, I saw brilliant gigs, learned lots, was given many opportunities but politics let me down. The homeless hostel was an eye opener and let me see what I was capable of but also let me see what other people could be capable of. The youth advice was brilliant when it lasted, entertaining, thought provoking, deeply saddening at times but then politics stepped in again, this time from the government and limited what we were allowed to help with. Targets were set that I feel were not in the best interests of those we were trying to help. It was a relief and a sadness when I took this job. A relief because I could in a way escape to what I had wanted to do so for so long, but a sadness to leave the fantastic friends I had made along the way. And so did I come here expecting more than it could give? Perhaps. I’m not sure. I don’t know that I’m going to teach forever, but I am glad that I’ve been given the opportunity and despite the setbacks that I’ve had recently I’m going to try to make the most of it.
I suppose I’m growing up. I suppose that’s what you should be doing when you are 13 months from 30.
Although, you probably should be able to write a more consistent blog post than the higgledy piggledy mish-mash that has come out tonight!