For me, back then, the weekend always began at around four-thirty on a Friday night, the moment I stepped through my front door after college. Things generally followed a similar pattern every week, but at the same time, no weekend was quite like any other. You always knew that something interesting and ridiculous was going to happen.
By Sunday night, the weekend would seem like an epic journey that had taken about four years.
As soon as I got in on a Friday, I’d put some music on, do the dishes, and then cook myself some tea. Sometimes, if no-one was coming round for a while, or if a few people were all coming round together, I’d put the decks on and have a mix. Usually I’d try and eat something good, because I wouldn’t be able to get much down over the next couple of days.
There were almost always piles of pots to wash, because my housemate somehow managed to use every single item of cutlery and crockery we owned every time he ate a meal, but I didn’t mind too much. Sometimes doing the washing up can be strangely therapeutic, and I always liked the couple of hours I had to myself on a Friday night, between being at college and the craziness that followed.
If I’d been away for a few days, I’d always come home to find the house littered with empty pizza boxes and plastic tubs from the Chinese takeaway, despite there being plenty of food in – presumably the result of my housemate having run out of clean dishes. The takeaway remnants would also remain there until I tidied them up. I suppose maybe if I had left it to get completely out of hand, then he may eventually have felt forced into cleaning up after himself, but I doubt it.
I’d also load any glass bottles into the crates and the liberated shopping trolley in the backyard. We had quite a collection. Partly due to the fact that most people my age still lived with their parents, whereas I lived in a house share with a thirty year-old who liked to party, so my house became a bit of a hub for all my friends at sixth form.
After my dinner, I got showered and changed and then I had a mix and waited for my mate John to come round. He was meant to be calling for me at eight, but he was never on time for anything. That Friday, he turned up at twenty-five past – which was pretty good for him – and he’d brought a rucksack full of booze.
“Shall we crack open this wine, then?” John produced a bottle of some cheap red wine from his bag. “Or would you prefer some cheapo cider?”
“Oh, wine definitely” I decided. Then I undecided again. “Actually, no – the cheapo cider. I’ve not drunk horrible cider for about a billion years.”
“Nah, me either. I thought it would be funny.”
“It is. What cheapo cider is it?”
“It’s Crofters. Think it’s a bit like White Lighting. Maybe slightly classier” said John laughing. “I just found it in the fridge at my nan’s house. I think my sister left it there.”
“God, how did we use to drink this stuff all the time?”
“Fuck knows. Lack of choice. Lack of money I suppose… I kind of miss those days.”
“Yeah, me too sometimes. Although… I dunno…” I paused, thinking back to the old days of drinking cider on the park and in the streets. Even when we had no problem getting served in pubs any more, we’d still buy a couple of litres to drink al fresco before we went out properly. Then it just sort of stopped. I tried to think back to the exact point when this had happened, but I couldn’t. It hadn’t been a conscious decision, it had just sort of happened quietly on its own, the way things do sometimes.
“I kind of miss those days but I don’t.” I decided.
“I always wanted to be older” said John, “I couldn’t wait till I was older, but now I am, I’ve sort of realised that everything was shitloads better then.”
“Nah” I disagreed. “ You’re just doing what people do. People love to favour the past.”
“I dunno” he said. “I feel like it was.”
“Yeah, but if you think back to all the stuff you were doing then, would you really want to still be doing it now? Could you really imagine going and sitting on the park to get pissed right now?”
“Rob still does.”
“Yeah, but that’s Rob. He’s a wreckhead.”
“We’re wreckheads” said John.
“Yeah, but we know how to deal with the real world as well. We both go to work. I go to college. We remember things when we need to. And we know how to behave in a way that’s acceptable. I bet there’s a lot of people who think you’re a real nice lad.”
John chuckled. “Yeah, that’s true, actually.”
“Exactly. I mean, Rob’s a lovely lad, but he has absolutely no idea about normal social behaviour. You couldn’t take him anywhere that isn’t the sesh.”
“That’s what I mean” I said. “If you’re sat on the park with a bottle of Three Hammers and you’re, like, twelve or fourteen, that’s perfectly acceptable – well, I mean, I suppose it’s not at all, really, but you know what I mean – cos you’re, like, just a kid getting wrecked, but as you get older, it’s less and less acceptable and once you pass a certain age it’s just scruffy and you’re just some wino.”
He laughed. “Yeah. I suppose that’s true. Shall I tell Rob you called him a wino?”
“I’ve probably called him worse to his face.”
“Yeah, me too actually.”
“Anyway, Rob’s still relatively young, so people see him as a daft wreckhead kid and they find it funny, but in ten years he will just be some wino.”
“Maybe he’ll sort himself out.”
“Yeah, maybe” I said.
“I fucking doubt it, actually.”
“He’d need to stop taking drugs altogether for a long time, I think, before he could.”
“Yeah. I dunno. I mean, we take drugs.” said John.
“Yeah, but we’re not like that.”
“Yeah, exactly. So surely that means that drugs are just an excuse.”
“I don’t think that they are completely” I said, “But yeah, to an extent I guess they are.”
“Yeah, so what difference would it make?” he asked.
“Quite a lot, I reckon.”
“How?” asked John. “I bet you wake up every morning and think God, as if I have to get up! and you wish you could just stay in bed till two and then get up and get wrecked.”
“Yeah. I imagine most people do. Or something along those lines, anyway, but the point is I don’t. I get up.”
“Exactly. People who don’t are just lazy or fucked up. Drugs are just an excuse. They’re a scapegoat!”
“I guess so, to an extent, yeah” I said, “But if you have those sort of tendencies they won’t help. They’ll make you a lot worse.”
“Yeah. Mmm. Yeah, but you’d still have those tendencies.”
“Yeah, but you’d be a bit less likely to act on them. He would at least have some vague idea about reality if he didn’t take drugs.”
“Haha yeah… I dunno” said John.” Maybe it’s good to have no sense of reality. You don’t have to worry about anything, then.”
That made me laugh. “Yeah, but you do have to really, you just happen to not” I said. “You’re not actually, like, free of all responsibility, are you?”
“Nah, I guess not” John replied. Then he paused and said: “I think that’s maybe what’s better about being really, really young. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
That made me think, because I wondered what John, who still lived at home and didn’t really have any outgoings aside of his costly social life and debts – which in any worst case scenario he knew he could be bailed out of by his parents – really had to worry about now that he didn’t back then.
John was a weird one, though, because he certainly wasn’t spoilt. Since he was fourteen and he got a job washing up at one of the pizza places on the seafront for about two quid an hour, he’s almost always worked, often two or three jobs at once. His situation was kind of weird as well. I mean, he probably wouldn’t move out till he got to thirty, but he did everything for himself and his family weren’t the kind of people who’d sit down for meals together every night or anything. Quite often I’d ask after one of them and he’d be like: ‘Oh, I haven’t seen her since the Tuesday before last.’ Similarly John’s mum rarely knew where he was, but she knew better than to think he’d been murdered or something if he hadn’t been home in a few days.
When he was fourteen, he spent the first week of the Easter holidays in Sheffield after getting drunk and spontaneously deciding to visit his mate who was at uni there, and he’d been away two days before he thought to ring his mum, and she hadn’t even wondered where he was. I was telling my mate Lisa, who had a two year-old son, about this, and she said that considering that John had only been fourteen at the time, it was appalling that his mum didn’t even question his whereabouts, and that when her son was that age she’d make sure she’d notice if he disappeared off somewhere for that long. I could see her point, but personally all I thought about it was that John was capable of looking after himself and his mother realised that.
And she did worry about him. Once, she put me in a really awkward situation, because she was giving me a lift into town and she started pouring her heart out to me about how odd she found the way he went about his life. I was in complete agreement with her on that one, because considering how intelligent he was, John was one of the least motivated people I knew. He could be very enthusiastic about daft little things, but when it came to his life as a whole, he didn’t really seem to have much idea where he was going, and he didn’t seem particularly bothered about it either. His old boss said he was a ‘lost soul’.
His mum did actually say that she appreciated how hard-working he was when it came to his jobs, but that she knew he could do so much better in life and couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to want to. She said that she didn’t bother saying too much to him because it was his choice and she couldn’t really make him do anything.
I completely agreed with her there. To an extent, you can influence people, but you can never really tell a person what to do, because if someone doesn’t want to do something, even you force them to do it and they go along with you for a while, in the end they’ll probably go back to doing whatever it was they wanted to do all along, and even if you’re right, people have to come to realise things for themselves. You can advise people, but ultimately you can’t change or fix anybody. Only they can do that.
Anyway, the point where the conversation got really awkward was when she started going on about how she didn’t understand his moods or why he behaved so oddly at times. She just went on and on about it and she seemed really upset and I just kept thinking ‘It’s because he’s doing too many drugs!’ but obviously I couldn’t say that to her because he was my best mate and you can’t grass people up.
It was awful – I wished I could jump out of the car, because she was so involved in the conversation and it was such a serious one that I couldn’t just change the subject without sounding like I either had something to hide or I was an ignorant twat.
What I also found funny was that she really seemed to not have a clue about any of it. To this day, I honestly don’t know if she did or not. I mean, she was married to John’s dad who was ten times worse than John was, so she surely must have had some idea.
John’s parents were one of those ex-couples where you really can’t imagine how on earth they could have ever been together. For years, I couldn’t even figure out how they could have possibly met each other in the first place, but then one day I was thinking about John’s taste in women and the kind of girls he tended to go after, and I understood completely – John usually went for really straight-headed women thinking they’d ‘keep him in line’, but all that ever happened was that he carried on behaving like he always did, and then they dumped him.
John’s dad knew about everything John got up to because he came out with us and did it all himself, but John’s mum would probably have had a heart attack if she knew the full extent of everything – or at the very least, if she did know, John would probably have a heart attack himself if he knew that she knew.
Stuff like that is funny. Kids always rage at their parents for not understanding them, but most of them, if they gave it any real thought, would be far more appalled by the thought that their parents did know what went on with them, which a lot of them probably do.
“So you really don’t think it was better back then?” John asked me.
I fell back into the room from miles away to answer his question.
“No, I think it was just different” I replied. “Like you said, there’s less to worry about when you’re that age – but then you kind of maybe worry about different things.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t that good back then. Maybe it’s just cos we were really fucking young.”
I reckoned it probably was, and I wondered if I’d look back on my present self in the same way in a few years. I figured I probably would, and it was a slightly unsettling thought.
by Roya Brehl