Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I was absentmindedly, for a fraction of a second, eating my rock n'roll sandwich yesterday at work. The 21st Of November. It was, for those of us who keep an eye on the dates and times and passing of years, a date of note for me and one other person in the world.
20 years ago, on the 21st November 1991, I started my first adult relationship. We lasted just a shade under 7 years. Started at 18, and finished at 25. I entered it a hurt and hopeful boy, and ended it far more of a man, with a career and a far stronger sense of myself than I had at the start.
We all products of our experiences, and to be honest, I was mostly well looked after by that girl as indeed, I did my best to be a good boyfriend for her. I wasn't perfect, and I made mistakes. Mistakes come with the territory of being young. You make mistakes, and then you find out that mistakes have consequences and hurt people. And then you either repeat your mistakes because you're a prat. Or you don't, and that's how people grow up.
(I have no recollection of this photograph)
I always thought she would make someone a wonderful wife : even if, at a certain point in our fourth year, I knew that maybe that someone wasn't me. I could've had far more turbulent starts to my adult life.
She sent me an email last night. Nothing too sentimental, just a “I can't believe it's 20 years! Hope all is good.” That's nice to see. Our lives have gone in very different ways since we seperated, and from the little I know, it seems everything has worked out well for her.
So many people go through horrific breakups. Not that 'World's Worst Breakup!” is a competition you ever want to win. I've never understood in my mind how you could go from loving someone to wanting to destroy them financially, or emotionally, or physically. In every breakup I've ever had I've always wanted to disentangle myself in a manner that is as quick and amicable as reasonably possible. How horrendously boring of me, but when couples seperate, you (well hopefully, never you, dear Reader, he said breaking the fourth wall, but the “Royal You”) are already facing the end of a relationship, the seperation of a life, the change of the dreams you have made together. All the dreams that you shared, the children unborn, the futures unlived, the guiding narrative of a life together that hasn't happened, all those no longer exist. I understand that it hurts : but hurting the one you loved doesn't make it easier. Assualting people, changing your number, giving some bullshit excuse, stealing loads of money, driving off when you're at work, those things don't work. They are cruel and broken actions of the immature and unformed prepared to ruin others for the fleeting moment of ease or some vague revenge they never see. Ex's of mine have exacted cruel, and unjustified revenge in seperations of on occasion, almost demonic cruelty. Which is why they are my Ex's, after all.
(Pretending to read "1984" in my bedroom at Number 21)
When JPL and I seperated, well... There were many times. We were always breaking up, though I admit it was almost always not my decision. The end of it though was, to all intents and purposes, signalled a long way off, even if both of us were not necessarily aware of it. Cracks appeared. Sometimes cracks do in the everyday course of our lives. Often, they slowly heal. Other times, relationships cannot survive the cracks.
We met at University. The first time I met here was in a pub, through mutual friends. There was a girl she lived with who liked Saint Etienne and seemed far too exciting to be bothered about boys. JPL, on the other hand, liked the bands I did, and was from Cardiff. In my incredible naievte, I asked if that was in Scotland. Because I had never actually been, and she had a weird accent. Lovely, sing songy. On the other hand, I had an accent too, being from BURMENGHAM, after all. And I thought her name was Karen, because I didn't dare ask when I met her, and hoped to pick up as I went along. The second or third time we met was in a pub, or a corridor, or the stairs in a lecture hall, or something. I remember thinking, being 18 and single, “I wish she was my girlfriend”.
The context was relatively straightforward. I was an 18 year old boy living on his own in a house without central heating in Leicester, paying the grand sum of £25 a week for a room. I was on one of the last years of a student grant, which was a paltry £690 three times a year, supplemented by a student loan – one I eventually repaid about ten years later. It was not, by any standards, an extravagant lifestyle. I walked everywhere, bought my small record collection second hand, went to clubs occasionally, read a lot and listened to the radio. I cooked my own food – absolutely appallingly. For the first week, having never cooked for myself, I ate fish and chips. I soon realised this wouldn't last. I went for Orange Squash, own brand supermarket biscuits, and wrestled the lost art of cooking. As a culinary autodiadact, I managed not to kill myself.
(On a scratchy sofa in 1994)
Though I admit, I would never let anyone eat my sausages. Twice I forgot to impregnate my sausages with a fork : it wasn't written on the packet of frozen food, after all. I learnt to cook by reading the back of bean cans and sausage wrappers. I grilled sausages so they were black on the outside and frozen on the inside. I had, for at least the first six months at University, a near permanent cold. My nose became a Niagra Falls of snotted dribble.
From time to time, I would pack up my life into a bag, and travel all over the country to see bands. Middlesborough, Sheffield, Birmingham, London, Cardiff, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Rugby, and yes, Leicester, towns big and small, all over Britain I went.
I arrived at Leicester through clearing. Originally I had an offer for English Literature from Sheffield. I needed 24 points in a certain configuration ; I forget exactly what. As it stood, being heartbroken through finding someone I trusted balls deep buried in my first girlfriend, I sat my exams with stinking hangovers and a justified sense of absolute rage. I got 24 points, which, in the circumstances was practically superheroic.
(Christmas 1996 - on the rocks)
Sheffield however, didn't want me. Which actually, when analysing the male:female ratio ( 3 males;1 female), the existence of Def Leppard, and the enormous amount of engineering students at Sheffield made me overall, not heartbroken. I still had Morrissey, after all.
Leicester on the other hand, was a Polytechnic. Technically, that was a disadvantage. But I could live with having “Polytechnic” on my degree course instead of “University”. I wasn't going to waste a year of my life trying again and waiting to get accepted by a “University”. I took Leicester. And, with its male: female ratio of 2:3 (that is, 2 males for 3 females), given the large number of arty types there, I reasoned that by probability, I wasn't going to spend the next three years of my life masturbating furiously and cursing charming Engineering students with big blonde hair and Poodle Rock t-shirts for stealing girls from sensitive indie boys like me. I stood a halfway decent chance of meeting someone at some point.
These are decisions of major importance, after all.Especially at 18.
(with another girlfriend in 1997)
And thus, the first few weeks were a case of very much, being buried in the deep end. University taught me far more about life than I thought it might. It taught me about love, indie discos, dull Sundays, and paying Gas bills. The whole getting-a-degree business seemed absolutely incidental. I joined am-dram socities, saw bands in pubs, went to clubs.
I walked the streets of an autumn Midlands town, hoping for love. I found good friends. We bonded over Morrissey t-shirts. We would wander in shops and occasionally buy second hand music or books. We would sit in cheap pubs in grotty coats – my long black, thin, trenchcoat, my bright blue denim jeans and band t-shirt – and what has changed since then? We would sit in living rooms, eating toast and drinking pop and watching television or horror films on video. I would scribble furiously and relentlessly bad poetry. I would crawl to bed late and cold, and wash my clothes in a spin dryer that stank and ate socks like a hungry ghost. I rang my mum from a phone box.
I would scour shops for bargains, new music. I would buy the NME and Melody Maker every Wednesday. I would read books, and iron, and count my days out in 12” vinyl slabs. I would go without lunch to survive the stretched bank account. Every other day, my brother would send me a letter in his scrawl, telling me the records he had bought for me, and the ones for himself.
(May 1993, my brother came down to see New Model Army)
We got to the point of Agenda Letters, so we could have dozens of simultaneous conversations at once. It would read like the minutes to an angry, long distance Open University debate on indie trivia. I would think nothing of walking for miles in sub zero temperatures because there were no buses, and if there were, I didn't have the 50p to get it.
The biggest crisis of my life was when they put the price of stamps up.
That, and when the girl behind the counter of Rock-A-Boom mentioned a boyfriend. How dare she.
Perhaps, of course, the most shocking thing, is that I met this girl, and she let me kiss her, when I had an ill-advised bout of bum-length hair. As is expected, this time of your life generally involves experimentation with various things, including hair, and thus, I tried that for a while.
(in London, 1997)
In June 1992, around the 20th June, I had my hair cut off, without sentiment, or regret. I was fed up of carrying the mane and the weight of it for the past two years, and thought time to set myself free of it. So I did. I hated waking up most mornings on my back, and having to flip my whole body over so I didn't endure the excruiating sharp sting of hair trapped under my back being pulled hard within seconds of consciousness.
Those first weeks at University were a blur. I flirted fearlessly like the terrified boy I was. I kissed a lot of girls and slept with a few. They were wonderful people, but in all probability, just as insecure and silly as I. For whatever reason, our lives joined briefly, then went seperate ways. Some of them I only met once. Others I had short relationships with ; a week or two at most. I can't remember most of their names now, and they were never anything more than dabbles or mild amusements. I wish them all well. No doubt they are also, like me, almost all, in long term, stable loving relationships, with children and jobs. We become who we thought we never would with small steps. You don't have to grow up, but you do have to grow old.
And in this, I found JPL. We had seven wonderful years, but it couldn't last. But without her, those years would have been awful.
What happened in those seven years, is a different, longer story. My life changed for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, but most of all, my life changed in me. Twenty years is a long time. But I won't be reissuing the album, or reforming the band, anytime soon, or ever, on that chapter of my life. History is for the books, after all.
(On Holiday 1998)