1) Watching 18s when you were definitely not 18!
‘This film contains strong language, violence, sexual content and drug abuse’.
That is definitely what my fragile, vulnerable, slowly developing 12 year old brain needs to be exposed to. I can’t see that having any lasting effects at all, for example, a teenage vocabulary littered with more obscenity than a Gordon Ramsay kitchen floor, a desire to act on your most basic of instincts with any girl whose playground perfume so much as wafts in your direction or resolve those frequent footballing fallouts with Martin Riggs style diplomacy…
I used to select ITV movie premiers based on the adult content teased in their Radio Times listing and choose VHS from my local and legendary (50p for Critters) Video Solent for dad’s rental based upon a combination of how graphic the sleeve was and what violence and sex the 18 certificate sticker promised. I doubt I was alone. For your pre-pubescent self this announcement was the best of Hollywood marketing tools:
So, thank you dearly-departed nan for buying me Lethal Weapon 2 at the tender age of twelve, even if it did involve asking mum to pass me the couch cushion when I got to know Patsy Kensit more intimately than your average Eastenders officianado ever imagined.
2) Why do you always bite the hand that feeds you?
Your youthful, eager eyes look down upon a sweet selection Willy Wonka would be proud of. Chocolate mice, strawberry laces and fried eggs, to name but a few, stretch out across your panorama.
And the crinkly old Newsagent has her back turned. Here’s your chance.
She turns back to you and looks down on the bulging, white paper bag you have crammed full with more E numbers than a Coke factory.
‘How much?’ she asks, knowingly, tauntingly, almost mockingly.
’20p’ your unbroken voice brazenly offers. As if it could be anything else, like, for example, £1.12; the true value of the flying saucers, Catherine Wheels and refreshers that sprout out from this sugary paradise.
The irony here is twofold. One; silver and copper jangling in your grass stained school trousers, you could actually afford the 5 and 10p sweets you choose not to pay for and two; on leaving your local newsagent, you will have to return soon. Return; to complete your paper round, stuffing your bag full of Sunday papers thicker than the original manuscript for War and Peace. All under the watchful eyes of the same newsagent you fleece daily.
The smile that breaks out across her lips as your childish frame clambers onto your Raleigh Outlander this freezing, Winter’s morning is pure evil.
Revenge is definitely a dish best served cold.
And you wondered why your paper round ended with that 3 mile mountain bike ride in the opposite direction of home (Mum…..?) Yep, they always found a way to win.
Opening up the News of the World, prising out the scratch cards and, with rain soaked hands, scratching away in the forlorn hope of winning millions was, on reflection, the hollowest of victories.
3) Stealing stuff
Ever wonder why Woolworths went under?
The rise of Internet shopping? No.
The shift to downloads? Nope.
The kleptomania of youth? Well, I doubt that helped.
Yep, we were young and we liked to steal. We liked to steal LOTS.
A transition so swift, so natural; from refreshers to Yorkie’s (raisin and biscuit, obviously) to the latest Appleton, Blatt and Lewis album, we weren’t all saints back then.
But why were we so devilish? The thrill of the chase? The excitement of revealing your Stallone and Schwarzenegger hoard to your friends? The delight in playing with the moral compass your parents instilled in you? Either way, blame rests at your door for why Woolworths no longer opens (‘get ya hands out of the Pick ‘n’ Mix!!!!’) I knew a few who should take the blame for HMV though… Oh, the folly of youth.
And so it was on the darkest of 1995 days that I found myself, friends’ words of encouragement (‘It’s easy stealing from HMV. We’ve nicked hundreds of stuff’) still warming my ears, heart and mind, unfortunately drifting into the vision of one eager eyed CCTV operator. Dilly dallying is not how you steal. I dilly dallyed. From the half hour spent ambling around, pretending to be a legitimate customer to the diversion next door to swipe a Woolworths bag to conceal the prize I would not win, this was hardly Ocean’s Eleven.
Yet, walking out of Southampton’s finest music and video store with a seminal Keanu Reeves action blockbuster under arm, I felt a rush of adrenaline, of excitement, of satisfaction.
That was until… The hand on my shoulder. I look up to see three security guards. At this point I need a bus prepared to go over 50…. sadly Sandra Bullock is tied up elsewhere. Speed is of the essence when stealing. And the essence of this theft was Speed; the £12.99 new release.
My piggy bank was never that full. ‘I haven’t got anything under my arm’ I naively offered them.
‘We’ve got you on CCTV’ came the regrettable response. ‘Well, I suppose there is’..,, offering them Dennis Hopper’s finest two hours since Easy Rider.
I leaned a lot as they steered me to the CCTV suite to watch my inept attempt back, like a virgin being forced to relive their first fruitful foray. The horror. Over the next few hours, I’d enjoy the delights of a trip next door to be banged up sans shoe laces (‘It’s in case you commit suicide’ said the sergeant. ‘Jesus, I thought. It’s not *Speed 2’), fingerprinting and a tape recorded interview with my dad.
The free way is not the best way; a lesson was learned.
The hardest of lessons as when my dad escorted me out of clink. a grounding would await, but first I caught sight of my mum weeping in the back of our car.
Reflecting though on our pilfering past, I guess us kids of the 90s can console ourselves with one fact – the kids of the noughties weren’t any morally superior. They just got to steal films and music with a broadband connection rather than a Woolworths bag.
*I know that joke only really works in the future but just run with it.
4) Paying a passerby to buy you fags
Who was this man? Where did he come from? Why was he always perfectly placed outside Alldays in your time of nicotine need?
You’d stroll up to your local 7-11, debate about who’s buying the fags just about resolved.
Responsibility fell on the shoulders of your more hirsute (fellas) or buxom (girls) friend. And then, as you approach the doors, there he is…that man, that nameless man.
The man you salute, the man you adore, all fears about not being served 20 B&H allayed.
‘Excuse me, can you buy us some fags please?’ your voice trembles.
You are in the presence of greatness. You are in awe of his cancer stick acquiring ability.
His hand extends.
You place the pounds in there.
Later, huddled together in the local park you’ll two toke pass your way into a nicotine nirvana. But now, as the shiny gold packet hits your hand, you look up to thank this mysterious man but he’s gone…. in a puff of smoke.
5) Riding in the boot on a night out
6 people. 5 seats. 1 question: ‘Who’s going in the boot?’
‘Not fucking me’ comes the answer, in a harmony Brian Wilson would be proud of. There’s only one way this impasse will be resolved – free beers.
So in you step/clamber/crawl. Your ‘mates’ kindly close the boot.
Then… the engine starts… ‘Oh, dear God, no’.
The giddy pre-drinks mix of Fosters and Vodka can’t summon so much as an ounce of Dutch courage as fear takes hold of you. You are about to be driven into town by your 17 year old mate, the ink barely dry on his license.
Sweat pricks your forehead as your body, all contorted like a Francis Bacon portrait, trembles.
The motorway awaits. Your life is in his hands.
Not the police ones you feared or God turning the lights on in heaven but…streetlight.
You roll out of the boot, aided in the most half-hearted way by your pals. Regaining some semblance of human form despite the spare wheel print on your jacket, you console yourself with the money saved on the taxi to town, your beating heart and the knowledge you get a seat on the 3am trip back to sleepy suburbia.
Some other drunk fool’s going in the boot then.
6) Fake ID
‘Hmmm…. I’ve got a problem here’, you think. You’re 16 and you’ve got a taste for it. That IT being alcohol. The problem being you’re 16. The solution?
At college you get word…there’s a boy….a boy with special skills, very special skills. Showing Sugar-esque entrepreneurial endeavour, he’s only gone and bought himself a rudimentary yet surprisingly effective fake ID making machine.
Where? Don’t ask.
Just slip him the fiver and the gates to a neon paradise await (if you’re prepared for the occasional spare wheel print). Oh, and you’re local offy.
The guile, skill and love with which he crafts these golden tickets is admirable and a lesson to us all; hard work does pay.
And so it is this Thursday night in the early Blair years that you find yourself in your best Ben Sherman, or YSL if you had a touch more class, eyes trying to avoid catching the burly bouncer’s at the top of the club queue.
Trust him. Just trust hm. Have faith.
The five pound came with a promise, a guarantee of success; ENTRY NEVER REFUSED.
You tiptoe your way to this hulk of a man, all shaved head and muscle.
‘ID’ Cool. Calm. Collected; ‘I’m 18 mate’.
The swagger in your voice isn’t impressing anyone. ‘Eyeeee……Deeeeee’
You reach into your wallet, peel it out and pass it over. Your night rests on this moment.
His eyes dart down, then to you, then down again.
‘Date of birth’
You’ve practised this. Remember the formula; ACTUAL DOB-2 YEARS = THE LIE BEFORE HIS EYE
A synapse in your brain snaps.
Words form. Next, they are in his ears. It’s a match.
You’re in…but wait, no, not quite yet…
His sausage shaped fingers caress the college emblem in the ID, raised, like the real one.
A beautiful touch. The crowning glory of this illegality.
He looks up, passes you it back, you take a confident step forward, to the music, to the life, to the party.
Across town, a smile cracks out across the face of someone who can afford more expensive aftershave than you.