As I'm in the midst of getting 'Reasons to be Cheerful Part One' ready for print, I'm not able to dedicate quite as much time to blogging as I'd like to, and so I thought I'd share with you an excerpt from another book I'm working on. Part fact, part fiction, a bit of swearing and a lot about teenage girls who have the magical combination of the funds to buy alcohol and an off-licence owner who never ever asks for ID....
'The Great Tampon Fire'I have never been sure whether our parents were too distracted by their own grief to try to exert more authority over what we got up to during the evenings, or if they truly did believe that we were responsible young people in possession of basic survival skills and a spare ten pence to phone home. Whichever it was, we were frequently out most, or all, of the night and always nowhere near where we had told our parents we were going to be. With friends who were now at college we had a ready supply of invites to parties and people old enough, and willing, to buy alcohol for us. This was a time of much revelry, cheap cider, black leggings and moshing to Neds Atomic Dustbin. It was also a time of going out and not thinking about how, or if, we were going to get home. And it was inevitable at some point that we would end up roughing it, as Annette and me did after one such party in Bramley.
Bramley was a short train ride from Basingstoke and boasted five pubs for a village with less than five hundred people. Living in the countryside requires the constitution to cope with extreme weather, extreme boredom and extremely high alcohol consumption. This night would test us for all three. We had told our parents we were staying ‘at a friend’s’ and so arrived full of excitement and a sense of being very clever at getting an all-night pass. The venue was the village hall and we were in our finest indie kid attire. I was attempting to rock Robert Smith-style hair back-combed to within an inch of its life and Annette was pale and angular, with eight-hole Doc Martins. I was planning to save up and trump her by buying some ten-hole ones in Ox blood red but until then had to make do with cheapo monkey boots from the army surplus store.
By the time we arrived, the party was already well underway, the room full of goths and shoe-gazers; Inspiral Carpets ‘Cool as Fuck’ t-shirts alongside frayed cardigans. But even teenagers, who hate everything, secretly like a disco light, and so flashes of red, green and blue cut their way through the thick fug of cigarette smoke. The parents, aware that their presence would cause a huge dent in their son’s cool, had left us to it, hoping that the evening would not result in them facing a huge bill for damages or having to publish a public apology on the Parish Notice Board.
We walked in, our green plastic bags each containing six cans of Special Brew (our tastes at that time were dominated by strength rather than seeking out hints of gooseberry and citrus aromas) and in our pockets a pack of twenty Consulate menthol cigarettes. Somehow smelling and tasting like a minty ashtray was far chicer than smelling and tasting like a normal one. We sought out the birthday boy, offered our congratulations and cracked open the first can.
We drank our way through our green bags and then set about procuring some more alcohol using our minty charms. I acquired a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale and Annette got a can of Tennents Super. We knocked them back and headed to the dance floor to flail our arms to ‘Sit Down’ by James. Unfortunately for me, the belly full of beer coupled with flailing and the fact that I was a fifteen year old girl, and not a six foot, sixteen stone man meant that I had definitely had more than enough and it was with a sense of great panic that I realised that there was a very real possibility that I was going to puke all over the person next to me. Somehow I managed to career through the room quickly enough for the arc of bile that left my mouth to reach a toilet and not the dance floor. I was at once relieved and then horrified. I had thrown up blood, and lots of it. I screamed for Annette but really didn’t need to as she had seen my swift exit and followed me in.
“Annette, I’m dying man, I’m throwing up blood!”
“Blood, oh my God, oh my God, call an ambulance!”
“You’re such a twat Katrina”
Annette crouched down, rubbed my back and gently explained that in the same way that Sugar Puffs makes your wee smell, Newcastle Brown Ale makes your sick red.
On discovering that I wasn’t about to die, I perked up, stuffed half a pack of Wrigleys in my mouth to disguise the foul taste of Newky Pukey and went back to dance.
The rest of the evening was the expected mix of drunkenness, crap fights and mums and dads arriving to collect their teenagers; instantly making them look five in front of their friends. By the time it was all over it was half past Midnight and it was then that we realised the following:
Everyone we knew had gone home.
We had no way of getting home.
It was a sobering thought. There was the option of calling Annette’s dad to come and get us but as she put it “he’s told me if I cause him any more aggro this week he’s going to throw me out” so we decided against risking his wrath and instead bit the bullet, nicked some left overs and walked out into the night. We decided to make our way to the train station as we had figured that the mythical ‘Milk Train’ that we believed travelled up and down the country delivering vats of the white stuff to towns and cities before being put on milk floats would probably stop by in the next few hours and drop us off in Basingstoke before the morning.
How wrong we were….
We got to the station and looked around. It was a typical village station – two small platforms with two benches, one locked waiting room and that was that. We took a bench each and decided to try to curl up and get some sleep. It was there that we learned a simple equation:
Light clothing + February in England + bench for bed = sub optimal sleeping conditions and possibility of dying of exposure.
After an hour of fruitless shifting (you can’t ‘plump up’ a wooden bench) and shivering to the point of aching we decided to do something about our predicament. We would light a fire.....