Do you remember Pavlos Maropoulos from school? Was in the same class as us all the way through middle school. I think you do, actually, because I seem to remember you seeing a girl for a while about ten years ago that you told me was Pavlos’ ex. I think. Wasn’t she the girl that used to live at the bottom of the hill next to the cemetery? It sticks out in my mind now for the fact that you told me at the time that she said Pavlos had beaten her up when they were together and that he was a loose cannon. I remember I believed it at the time, mostly because I hadn’t spoken to him since school but had seen him walking around the streets a few times and noted that he had looked angry and weird. He’d grown his hair long, was always dressed in black with angry slogans on his t-shirts, wore dog collars and spikes and stuff like that, and when he walked past you you could hear the tinny noise leakage emanating from the headphones that covered his ears, aggressive screamy metal music. And he had been lifting weights since we’d left school, had added a bit of bulk. He always looked like he might throw a brick through a glass bus shelter, just for the hell of it. So the idea that he would partake in a bit of domestic abuse was easy to buy into. Then again, though, at that age I used to pretty much believe anything I was told, so long as it was interesting. As I sit here now I’m not so sure that I believe the story. I’m not as prone to judge people on rumours as I once was. Especially considering how many tall tales used to get thrown around our neighbourhood. Anyway, the reason I ask if you remember him is that a couple of weeks ago he sent me a friend request on Facebook. Out of the blue. I hadn’t spoken to him in 15 years, not since we left school, and hadn’t thought of him in about ten years, not since you were seeing that girl.
Pain isn’t something I am skilled at dealing with. Escaping pain, however, I am as good at as an Irish traveller is at fighting. Shrooms being my route of choice these days. It’s where the love lives. When life gets too ugly for me to be able to look at it, I discreetly slip away from the world and pay a visit to the realm of contentedness. These past few weeks I’ve been going there more regularly than I would usually need to. I am feeling emptier than I have in years. My spirit has been extinguished. An ache that won’t shift. A constant nausea. Too many shit things all taking place at the same time. A friend, one of life’s good humans, is lying in a hospital bed while her young kids and husband can only sit and put their faith in doctors and medical technology. Christmas. New Year. And not to mention the rejection dealt to me by a woman, – well, two rejections. Just one woman. But I was fool enough to climb back into her bed the moment she let me and then in the morning deja vu – who has, although not intentionally, absolutely crushed any confidence or feeling of self-worth that I had in myself before I met her. Destroyed. Man, I was in such a good place before that girl came into my life and turned it upside down. These things combined have knocked me on my arse. Not that anyone will know it. I am not a talker. Friends trying to engage me in conversation about what’s going on in my life just make me recoil. They meet a brick wall. It is not my way. Nor am I a social user of anything. I don’t like to have company when I’m feeling the benefits of whatever it is that my body has ingested. I fly solo. A bit of Me Time. I wait until I know I have the flat to myself for a night, and if that situation doesn’t arrive I take a bus out to my mum’s house in the sticks. No city, no cars, no street lights, no noise, and most importantly no people. A retreat. A place where I can get under the covers, drink tea, get as stoned as I want without being disturbed, and float away with the aid of some shrooms and some psytrance. It gives me perspective. Helps me to remember, even if only for a short while, that I have been prescribed an extreme dose of good fortune and managed to escape the poverty by being given the opportunity to work again, after a few years of sitting in a damp corner, occasionally having food gifted me by charities, shoplifting at times, and at other times just going without nutrition. Makes me realise that surely that was a far less desirable situation to be in than the current one of emotional trauma over a woman. Emotion is forgotten when you’re starving. These days I can eat when I’m hungry. I can drink when I’m thirsty. And I can smoke weed when I’m…….. awake. Basically. This time last year I couldn’t do any of those things. Well, as my dad used to say to me as a kid, “There’s plenty of water in the tap.” So I could drink. But you get the point. Things have been worse. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
A week or so ago when I didn’t have any work the next day, I travelled out to my mum’s with everything I needed to be able to chill out. In the evening I laid down on the settee in the living room, ate some shrooms, wrapped myself in a blanket, got comfortable, pulled my hood up over my head, put my music in my ears and closed my eyes to block out the telly in the corner of the room that my mum was sat on the other settee watching. She knew to leave me in peace to enjoy my trip. And then the usual vivid memories started to come over me. The ones where I am actually back there, experiencing it again but at the same time detached, like Scrooge stood next to the ghost of Christmas past. If that makes sense. I went back to a night almost 20 years ago.
Teachers are human beings. When I was a kid I had no idea. I’ve been travelling back in my mind to my school days a lot lately, replaying interactions teenage me had with certain teachers, and seeing things in a completely different light to how I did back then. I can step into the heads of those old teachers of mine, see where they were coming from. Because I am them now. I’m a teacher. How that happened I do not know, but it did, and it has been my profession on and off for ten years this year. And yea, teachers are human beings. Flawed. Unhinged. And with a beautifully twisted and well articulated sense of humour. That last sentence is open to accusations of writer’s bias. So be it.
I know that teachers are these things not only because I am one, that would be too small a sample section, but because I am also surrounded by them. Most of the things I do I do with teachers. I hang out with teachers, I drink with teachers, I get stoned with teachers, I discuss life with teachers, I argue with teachers, I sleep with teachers, I watch football with teachers, I get my advice from teachers. The woman currently the object of my attentions is a teacher. I even have a teacher for a flatmate. My living-room has a massive whiteboard on the wall and a fold-up table used solely for giving evening lessons. My living-room is a classroom with settees and a telly, for fuck’s sake! So I feel I am qualified to speak about teachers.
I was, for want of a better word, a challenge to my teachers. A pain in the arse. Although they must have liked my company, because they chose on an almost daily basis to spend an extra hour (sometimes two) of their time with me after the final bell had rung for the day, in detention. Man, in the winter I rarely got home before dark. And I only lived up the road. Detention. How is that allowed?
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.
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.