I turn to the pages reserved for portrait photos of all of the school’s teachers. There are 83. Coincidentally the year of my birth. 46 are women, 37 are men. It’s a pointless, juvenile and sexist thing to do, but I do it anyway; I go through each of the 46 female teachers, counting the ones that I would sleep with now if they appeared exactly as they did then. Five. Two taught foreign languages. At school I never saw them as anything other than stuffy, boring women who I imagined had no life outside of the school. Nothing attractive about them. Now though, through my 30-year old eyes, they look alright. And interesting. Like they’ve got more to talk about than the process of conjugating irregular verbs. And we could chat in different languages if I met them today. About life. But back then I was more concerned with drawing Hitler moustaches on every face in the course book. Brilliant.
Also in the list of five is my Year 8 form tutor. She taught drama and food tech. All us boys knew she was hot, even then, but she was also extremely annoying. Always bollocking me for something insignificant. And in a pretentious voice. But she did look good. Probably the most attractive of all our teachers and the one we all fancied was the English teacher with the Italian name. Her reputation was tarnished though, at least outwardly, among all the boys, when it was discovered that she didn’t regularly shave her armpits. Never bothered me one little bit though. And wouldn’t now either. The fifth teacher I don’t remember what she taught or anything about her. I was never in one of her classes.
90s hair was cool. But in a really shit way. 1996-97 was the transition period from curtains hair and the bowl cut, or as we called it, ‘I’ll have the number one high step, please, Norm.’ Norm was the barber. Everyone called him Dodgy Norm, which eventually just got shortened to Dodge. This affectionate nickname alluded to the fact that if you went into his shop in the morning you got a fairly decent job done on your Barnet. However, if you happened to pop in in the afternoon, after he had enjoyed his liquid lunch in the pub across the road, you were met by a somewhat more dodgy Norm. And naturally as school kids the only opportunity we got to go in there was after school; in the afternoon. Ah, the Step. If you wanted the bowl cut to go in a straight line around your head you asked for the ‘high step.’ If you asked for just a step, the barber shaped it into a wedge at the back. It looked like a duck’s arse. You had to have the high step. And towards the end of Curtain Hair’s reign not even the number one high step was enough. No. For your hair to get any sort of respect during the final days of the Bowl Cut Empire you had to throw in an undercut. ‘A number one high step undercut, please, Dodgy Norm.’
Then at the back end of 96 the changing of the guard took place. The curtains were closed for the final time. ‘I’ll have a number one French crop, please, Dodgy Norm.’ And by 1998 it was no longer the number one French crop, it was the ‘Nought point five French crop, please, Dodge.’ The 0.5. Basically, bald. The guard off. Shaved down to the scalp round the back and sides and then blended in to what little bit of hair you have left on the top of your head after it’s been taken as short as scissors will allow. It’s essentially the Forrest Gump cut. And then the best part, plastering it down with a fistful of sticky Happy Shopper Wet Look gel. 59p a pot. Bright blue stuff. Or bright green. They were both the same product, just with different names. One was Wet Look. The other was Firm Hold. Both made your hair look wet. Both held it firm. Both made the top of your head feel like a barn floor. And both stung your eyes when it rained and it ran down your forehead and into them. But it was a price worth paying for the right look. You had to look hard as a kid at the end of the last millenium, and that meant looking smart. Short tidy hair, yes. Floppy curtains, no.
Dodgy Norm passed from cancer a few years ago. He is still talked about by everyone as a local legend. The bloke everyone knew, everyone talked to and everyone liked and respected. A great bloke.
Me in the summer of 96. I only agreed to pose for the photo cos I knew that some time about eighteen years later I’d be reminiscing about curtains hair on the world wide web, and I thought a snap would come in handy
A couple of weeks ago my mum gave me something I had totally forgotten she’d kept. Something I had totally forgotten even existed. My school yearbook from 1996-97, the year I started secondary school. I was 13. I spent the next week or so taking a trip down memory lane each night, hours and hours of reminiscing. Whilst smoking a lot of weed. And writing down whatever memories and thoughts were conjured up in my mind by the pictures. Here’s some of the shit I wrote in the notebook:
Sitting in the front row of her class photo is the first girl I ever fell in love with. I remember when she moved to our school. I was 11. She was 12. An older woman. Way out of my league. Was never interested. But we would walk home from school together sometimes. She lived round the corner on the estate. Either in the grey block of flats or the house opposite it. I can’t remember exactly. I used to see her knocking about with boyfriends older than me. Hated it. Until I just looked at this picture I hadn’t seen her face in about fifteen years. I remember vividly her South African accent. Strong it was. At first, anyway.
I’m pretty sure that girl, my first love, ha! settled down almost straight after finishing school and started a family. I seem to recall seeing her pushing a pram. That first child she had can’t be too far off the age that we are in these photos. Man, time just disappears. Blink. Gone.
On page 54 there’s the kid who I had my first fight of secondary school with. And who I continued to fight with about once every three months in the middle of the field at lunch time for the next few years. “Fight! Fight! Fight!” The whole school’s formed a circle around the action. Better fight like you mean it! In about our third tear-up that kid gave me my first ever pummelling. He was in the year above, but for our first two fights he was near enough the same size as me. Then he had a growth spurt. I could be heard gulping, cartoon style. Fight three toughened me up for fight four, though, so it wasn’t a bad thing. We were sworn enemies for three years, constantly throwing punches at each other. It must have been over something fucking important. Must’ve been, right? Yea. One day a mate of mine threw an apple core in the direction of his group of mates on the field at lunchtime. It hit him in the head. He mistakenly took me for the culprit. He shoved me. Then he shoved me again. I threw a punch. In my mind that would be the end of it. He’d go down like a sack of spuds. Like on the telly. But my mind overestimated my power. He punched me back. We exchanged blows. He threw a lot more than me but didn’t land a single one. By that time I was into my third year of Korean martial art Tang Soo Do. Fuck yea! Who’s laughing?? I was a blocking machine! Wax on, wax off. Too busy blocking to remember to throw many, though. The kids in my year shouted for me. The kids in his year shouted for him. Two teachers dragged us by our collars inside. Detention after school.