Grown Up in 1999
This is not in any way autobiographical. It just bears a striking resemblance to my life, and my thoughts on it. So there.
copyright © Tim Barton 1999
Have you ever been to Rural Suburbia?
It lies somewhere near the nice parts of the country, and nowhere near the exciting parts. I grew up there. We weren't Urban. No way. We lived near the mountains. We could go for nice walks at the weekend, go to the seaside, go sailing. But we couldn't do without our suburban niceties, the supermarkets and shopping centres and cinemas and caravans. No way. But we weren't Urban.
Have you ever been to the nineteen nineties? It's somewhere near the nice parts of the future, and nowhere near the exciting parts of the past. I grew up there. We weren't Yuppies. No way. We had our dishwashers, our microwaves, our PCs. We had three cars and two point four children. But, we weren't like everyone else. No way. We listened to Jazz. We went to Shakespeare and the ballet and to London for weekends away. And we visited the museum. But we weren't Yuppies. No way. We were just like everyone else. But different.
I started my education the village school. It was a nice village. Near the mountains, near the sea. It was a good school. Mum liked the headmaster. He was a "good manager". And the kids were so well presented. They never caused any trouble and were always polite when they bought sweets in the village shop. The school taught me how to spell and to add up and to play football. I loved football. Supported Man-U. Well, all my friends did. And they used to win a lot.
Winning was always important. True, we were all taught nice Liberal values. "It's not the winning that counts, it's the taking part". But it wasn't. What was the point in playing Tip if you were always on? Why bother playing football if your team always lost? True, if you lost you could always echo that favourite adage. But you never meant it. It hurt you. It always did, in your soul. You felt like a looser.
Until you won again. Then you could laugh at the other kids. Big Joey who won last time, you'd show him what for. You'd plant a hat-trick past him. Oh yes. That was how it worked, Rural Suburbia. You'd lose one day and win the next. You always did.
But we weren't Suburban. Not at all. We had the mountains. We could go for nice Sunday strolls in our Lowe Alpine kagools with our Gore-Tex boots and our Karrimor rucksacks. That was what we all loved, the Great Outdoors:
"Sorry Chris, we can't come up this weekend... No, there's no problem. It's just, well, we're going for a walk... In the mountains [we never called them hills]... Yes, it is nice isn't it... Sorry about that... Well, maybe next weekend, eh?". That's what we'd say. We'd never be so blatant as to point out that they had to travel for two hours to get to something that even resembled a hill, let alone a mountain. Much too nice for that, we were.
Meanwhile Chris, my Dad's brother, wasn't jealous. He live in Suburbia. Real Suburbia. Not like those snobs in the sticks. Oh no. He could go to the theatre without having to book a Travel Inn for the night. He could go to First Nights and see celebrities and film critics. He was friends with Naomi Campbell's brother-in-law from the first marriage.
Auntie Jean had had drinks with Chris Evans's former agent. Who needed hills when you had celebrities? Who'd want to tell Elle and Judith (the lesbians who lived across the way) that they'd climbed the highest hill in the, how do you say it, Karn-eth-eye. Not Chris and Jean, that's for sure.
When I was fourteen, my life changed. I fell in love and started listening to Nirvana. At about the same time. She was called Anna, he was called Kurt. The two went hand in hand. Sex, drugs, rock and roll. We did it all. I started wearing ripped jeans and hippie tops and Doc Martens, in purple. I'd sit in Anna's room and listen to Teen Spirit and Lithium and be rebellious. We'd stay out till ten, hanging out at the bus stop.
On Friday nights we were allowed out until eleven. We would give one of the older kids some money and get them to buy us some Omega from the village shop (you know, the twee one where the kids were all polite). We'd sit and smoke Lambert and Butler fags. It was great. We were so bad, so Grunge.
I bleached my hair. Mum went mad. It was worse than when I came home and spewed all over the lounge carpet. Drunk, of course. She really flipped. To her, the city kids with the bleached hair and the pierced anatomy were the worst. They raped small children and went joyriding and now I, her youngest son, was turning into one.
We can have some more
Nature is a whore
Bruises on the fruit
Tender age in bloom
Of course, we missed Nirvana. Kurt was dead by the time I got my taped copy of Nevermind. Blew his brains out. How rock and roll. We tried to model ourselves on him. Of course, heroin was a no-no. A losers drug. Taken by junkies who lived in the slums in inner cities, and by pimps and whores. And rock stars. Not by respectable kids in Rural Suburbia. Kids whose parents were social workers and policemen and lawyers and general practitioners. But, we had to be Grunge. We needed to be chic, to be different, to be fashionable, to be rebellious. We weren't boring Suburban kids. We lived in the countryside.
We went camping and smoked weed. And we had sex in tents and ate magic mushrooms. My mates and I would go to the fields behind the council estate and set up our tents. Meanwhile Anna and her friends would all go and stay at Stacey's house, whose dad was cool. Then, around midnight (in case any parents phoned to check that little Haley was alright) they'd head up to the fields and share our tents, and our sleeping bags. I don't think Mum ever realised why we took one tent each on our little expeditions. I guess she put it down to puberty.
Nineteen ninety six. Dance music arrived in my life. So did Billy. I'd still listen to Nirvana and Green Day. I was being 'mature', I'd been told, listening to a variety of styles of music. It was something the posh kids in the private schools in the big cities didn't do until they were dead old, I was informed. But, dance music was my real love. I wasn't going out with Anna any more, either. She hadn't got pregnant.
It was Polly now. Billy and Polly. My two great loves. I would go out clubbing on a Friday night and kiss each of them in their different ways. They both sent me crazy. I became one of the Jilted Generation:
"Screw the Criminal Justice Act, nineteen ninety four. Fascist Tories. Nazis. Go back to Germany, John Major, little Hitler." I didn't see the contradiction. How could I. I was living it. We all were. Our rights, our human rights, were being contravened. We had the right to party. No one would stop us. Especially not the Tories.
I've got the poison
I've got the remedy
I've got the poison
The rhythmical remedy
But we'd missed it, again. The cultural revolution had passed us by. It hit the cities years before us, in nineteen ninety four. It spread from there into Suburbia. It had even infected the countryside, the true countryside, with its ecological anti-establishment message, long before it reached us. They were all holding raves and taking Ecstasy and flaunting the law before the letters CJA meant anything to us.
We jumped on the tail end, and almost fell off. For us, it only lasted about six months. By the time we got there the world had been saved. There was no room for a few lamers from Rural Suburbia trying to join in and save the planet. So we gave up, and passed our exams instead.
I did all right, a couple of A stars, a couple more As, a few Bs and a C. It was enough to get me onto my A level courses. My parents were well chuffed. They got out the bubbly and we went out for a meal. I had a good summer and saw lots of Billy and Polly. We went to Ibiza to do House music. Rave was dead. So was rock and roll. I got a job, working in the kitchens at the village pub. The pay was crap. So were the hours. And the people. But it was a nice village pub, and it was a 'good job'. So I worked lots, and got minted.
And then I went back to school. And started A levels. I stopped wearing Adidas. My Kappa got thrown out in big black binbags which went to the Oxfam shop. I started wearing Sonneti and Ben Sherman and Firetrap. I wore shoes. I was making a statement. I was grown up. I had passed into adulthood. I enjoyed drinking beer. Real beer. Cider was out. I left Polly behind in the world of Kappa. Billy came with me, but I now had Celeste along for the ride as well. She used to be into Nirvana, she liked The Prodigy. But we were now into a new scene. The local clubs were nothing. We went to London and Liverpool. We went The Ministry and to Cream. DJs were God. The new rock stars.
I'm just scared, you know
So here I stand. On the threshold. Ready to take a leap into the unknown. To leave my Rural Suburbia forever. To go to the City or the Country. I don't know yet, but my time has come. And, at this time of leaping, my generation finally has something of its own. The punk of the late nineteen nineties. Our very own Grunge. The chic we invented. And it's a great big roaring commercial success. Superclubs with turnovers of many millions of pounds a year. Our invention...
© Tom Barton, 1999
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