Coming Of Age – Still Here #4
“Still Here” is a reference to Steve McQueen’s portrayal of the titular character in the film “Papillon”, particularly the scenes where, despite all of the ordeals he faces throughout the film, he looks defiantly up at the heavens and says “I’m still here, you bastards!!”
I may not have been through as many horrifying ordeals as Steve, but I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs, and I’m still here. This could loosely be called a collection of my memoirs.
Ah, the 18th birthday. An occasion that’s meant to be something you remember for the rest of your life, right?? Well, I won’t forget mine. And here’s why…
I remember my birthday happened to fall on a Friday, which was handy for many reasons. At 18 I’d still never had a girlfriend. I’d just left my first proper job at London Air Travel and had briefly been working at another travel agency up the city – some place called Arrowguide. That was a shit job if ever I had one.
It was a small place, besides me there were just two other guys and the owner, a Sri Lankan guy who must have been pushing 70. He was a proper arse. A wizened fellow with horrible beady eyes and a sinister voice which sounded like he’d been imprisoned in a lamp for the last 2,000 years, which wouldn’t have surprised me one bit. Other than the suits he wore (for which I have to give him credit, he was always immaculately dressed), everything about him was old fashioned. And not in a good way like pick and mix.
Employee rights were not so much a concern for him but an inconvenience. He begrudgingly gave us the minimum legal requirement half an hour for lunch, and would reprimand us if we were even one minute late. He wouldn’t scream and shout, but at some point in a condescending tone he’d casually mention it in front of the rest of us.
“Chris, you were one minute late back from lunch.”
And Chris would have to give some kind of explanation, because he would stare at you until you did. He never said anything after the explanation though, no matter what it was. He’d just go back to whatever he’d been doing. If Chris had just had both of his legs hacked off by a psychopath, I doubt he would have raised an eyelid.
The guy once even had a go at me for stapling something the wrong way. I didn’t know there was a wrong way to staple something. I mean, fair enough if you smashed your fist down really hard onto the top and tore the corner off of whatever you were stapling, breaking the stapler in the process, I guess that would be the wrong way. Or maybe if you inserted the end of the stapler into your anus, held the document between the two protruding bits and then clenched your buttcheeks, thereby slamming the thing shut, that probably wouldn’t appear in the Correct Stapler Usage handbook either. But I didn’t do either of these. No, my crime was far worse.
I’m not joking. He actually had a go at me for this. He didn’t just point it out, either. Apparently it was ‘unprofessional’, and ‘somebody might cut their hand on it’. Needless to say we all hated him, and needless to say I didn’t work there for long. In fact on the morning of my birthday I went back to pick up a cheque for the few weeks or so I’d worked there (which he’d tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid paying me for). As I was leaving their office, my phone rang. It was the agency I’d signed up with the day before, and they had an assignment for me starting on Monday. Sweet, I thought. Out of one job and into another. Now I could focus on enjoying my birthday.
I mentioned earlier that I’d never had a girlfriend up until this point. Well that changed on my 18th. There was a girl called Heather who I had been talking to for quite some time up until this point, however she lived up in Newcastle. She was a wonderful warm person with a feisty, passionate side to her, which I loved. She had told me she was coming down to London for my 18th. Now there literally hadn’t been a day over the last 3 or 4 months where hadn’t spoken online, or over the phone. But still I was nervous to finally meet her for the first time. There used to be a kind of stigma attached to meeting people online, sort of along the lines of that it was only for people who couldn’t meet people in ‘real life’. Of course, that sounds now as ridiculous as saying that cars were invented only for people who couldn’t walk ‘in real life’. But anyway, I met Heather when her train arrived at Kings Cross, and it felt right, as I thought it would.
Down in the tube, a train was pulling in just as we got onto the platform. As I got on, the doors shut behind me and left Heather on the platform, bewildered. What a great start, I thought to myself. I motioned to her to wait at the platform and crossed over at the next station to get the train back and get her. The poor girl had only been in London for five minutes and already she was lost on the Underground. Still we overcame that minor hiccup and went to Pizza Hut and then for a drink in the Old Explorer, which was the only pub I really knew in the area. I was surprised at how well she could put it away. She was drinking Malibu & Coke, which to this day still reminds me of alcoholic cola cubes.
We had arranged to meet up with a few of my friends later that evening. Laura, my friend from school, had just turned 18 the day before, and we were planning to go to Benjy’s for a sort-of joint birthday celebration. Benjy’s, later known as Purple E3, was the sort of place everyone went to because you knew you could get in. Looking back, none of us probably would have gone there out of choice. Still it was local, and it wasn’t the worst nightclub on Earth, although it was definitely in the bottom 5. So we got the tube over to Borough to meet up with Laura, Jodie, Selena, Laura’s boyfriend Brian, and a couple of their friends. On the tube neither of us said much, but there was a definite chemistry between the two of us. We met the guys at the cafe Laura was working in and then had a quick drink at a bar nearby before getting the tube over to Mile End. (It was in that bar that me and Heather had our first kiss).
Purple E3, “Back In The Day”.
I remember how I used to get so nervous lining up outside nightclubs, because if for whatever reason you didn’t get in then that was your night over. Nowadays I couldn’t give two shiny fucks. But I was extra nervous that night because I didn’t want Heather to think I was that guy who never got in. Somebody was passing around a bottle of blue aftershock in the queue, so I had some of that which helped. (Blue aftershock, did I really used to drink that??) And luckily Dennis was on the door that night and he recognised me as I had been there before and he knew my cousin Sam.
On the dancefloor it became evident that there was more than just chemistry between me and Heather. Now I’ve never been much of a dancer so it can’t have been the shapes I was throwing that did it. Still, we partied away into the night and ended up in a cab together back to a hotel on the Island.Where I became a man.
So there you have it. For some people it happens in the spur of the moment, in their bedroom when their parents pop out for ten minutes, or on top of a pile of coats at a house party. For some people it happens on their honeymoon. And for me it happened in a room at a Travelodge in East London. I suppose it could have been in worse settings than that. By the way if you ever do go to a house party like that, never put your jacket on top.
So that’s why I will never forget my 18th, as it was the start of a new chapter in my life. A chapter that would take me to and from Newcastle over the next year or so, and would be full of amazing and sad times alike, but plenty of fond memories. Me and Heather broke up about nine months after that, it turned out I wasn’t her type. As a matter of fact it turned out that boys weren’t her type.
As I write this it’s now 11.43pm, on the 24th of April 2013, and I turn 28 tomorrow. Well, to be more precise I turn 28 in about seventeen minutes.
Ten years on, maybe this will be the start of the next chapter in my life, who knows. For now I’m just going to concentrate on staying alive for another seventeen minutes so that I don’t join the 27 club.